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1642] CONFEDERATION OF KILKENNY
General Monroe and Scotch army in Ulster.
The southern rebels were further sub-divided into two sections—a lay section consisting of lords and gentlemen; clerical section consisting of bishops and priests.
In October 1642, the southern rebels established a government of their own in Kilkenny, and formed a parliament or 'confederation, in which sat eleven spiritual and fourteen temporal peers, and 226 commoners.
The policy of Owen Roe O'Neil was clear and well defined. It was a policy of war. The policy of the Confederation of Kilkenny was confused and irresolute. It was a policy of peace. The one desired to combine aīl Ireland against the English, and to drive them from the island. The other wanted to win concessions from the English, and to live in friendship and union with them. The Royalists turned their attention to the 'Confederates' of Kilkenny, in the hope of drawing them to the side of the king. The lay party in the Confederation were willing to treat with Charles on the terms of religious toleration, but the clerical party would consent to nothing short of the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in all its former power and grandeur. Thus was the Irish camp in the south split into two divisions, which led to endless intrigues and quarrels, and ultimately brought disaster on the Irish cause. Towards the end of 1642 the Irish forces in the field were commanded by Barry in Munster, by Preston in Leinster, and by Burke in Connaught. These officers were directly appointed by the Confederation of Kilkenny. Owen Roe O'Neil commanded in Ulster, and though, of course, in touch with the Confederation,' he practically held a position of absolute independence. His first act on becoming chief of the Ulster rebels was to condemn in indignant language the outrages which had disgraced the outbreak in the north. He would rather, he said, join the English than tolerate such atrocities. He next sent, under safe conduct, to Dundalk all the prisoners whom he found in the hands of the insurgents.
Finally, he devoted himself to training and organising his men, until he converted what had been a rabble into a disciplined and effective army.
After a desultory warfare, Ormond, representing the interests of the king, made a truce with the Confederation on September 15, 1643, for one year, much to the disgust of the clerical party in that body, and of Owen Roe O'Neil, who believed that it was a time for fighting and not for treating. By the conduct of the Confederation, a year was lost in useless negotiations, which only paralysed the action of O'Neil, and wasted the energies of the country. Meanwhile the Parliamentary general, Monroe, held his ground. And so the years 1644, and even 1645, passed. The indecision, supineness and neglect of the Confederation left O'Neil powerless to march against Monroe. There was a war of skirmishes, which helped to discipline O'Neil's army, but there were no
THE BATTLE OF BENBURB
pitched battles to give a decisive turn to the struggle, one way or the other.
At length, in November 1645, Rinuccini, the Papal Nuncio, arrived with arms, ammunition and stores for the rebels. He flung himself at once
the side of the clerical party in the Confederation, recognised the genius of O'Neil, sent for him, supplied him with war material, and bade him take the field against Monroe. O'Neil lost no time in carrying out the mandate of the Nuncio. Hastening to Ulster, he gathered his forces together, and, advancing to meet Monroe, took up strong position
at Benburb, within miles of Armagh.
Here, about the spot where the Oona and the Blackwater meet, the battle was fought on of June 1646. The engagement was commenced by Monroe opening a heavy fire on the Irish force which had been sent to defend a defile through which he had to pass.
Under the cover of this fire, his horse advanced and swept the Irish before them. The main body of his marched through, and confronted O'Neil. The Irish infantry, which had been placed well under cover, now opened a raking fire on the Scottish ranks. Monroe ordered up his artillery, but the nature of the ground interfered seriously with the play of the guns. He ordered his cavalry to charge, but the Irish pikemen met them steadily, and drove them back with slaughter. So far
O'Neil had acted on the defensive, making the most of his position, and sparing his men. But now, as the rays of the setting sun fell on the baffled Scotch, and subjected them to the inconvenience which the Irish had borne all the day, he ordered a general advance. Monroe had already despaired of victory, and was sounding a retreat, when the Irish, seeing the enemy hesitate and waver, fell furiously upon them, and forced them back on all sides. Monroe made a feeble attempt to rally his forces, but the onset of the Irish was irresistible, and Monroe's army was routed and almost annihilated.
An English historian has graphically de scribed its defeat and overthrow.
‘Sir James Montgomery's regiment was the only one which retired in a body; all the others fled in the utmost confusion, and most of the infantry were cut in pieces. Colonel Conway, after having two horses shot under him, made his escape almost miraculously to Newry with Captain Burke and about forty horse. Lord Montgomery was taken prisoner with about twenty-one officers and one hundred and fifty common soldiers. There were found three thousand, two hundred and forty - three slain on the field of battle, and others were killed next day in the pursuit.
O'Neil had only about seventy killed, and two hundred wounded. He took all the Scots' artillery, being four field - pieces, with most of their arms, thirty-two colours, their tents and baggage. The booty was very great :
one thousand, five hundred draught horses were taken, and two months' provisions for the Scotch army-enough to serve the Ulster Irish (a hardy people, used to live on potatoes and butter, and content generally with only milk and shoes ?) double the time. Monroe fled without his wig and coat to Lisnegarvy, and immediately burned Dundrum, deserted Portadown, Clare, Glanevy, Downepatrick, and other places.'
The victory of Benburb put heart into the rebels. O'Neil was the hero of the hour. Rinuccini sent for him to march southwards to attack the English forces there. But, in the south, all was division and confusion. Preston, the Confederate general in Leinster, hated O'Neil, and would not loyally co-operate with him. Meanwhile, Ormond (who had been appointed lord-lieutenant by Charles in 1644), was now placed in a position of great embarrassment, and even of great peril, in Dublin. In 1647 the king had been beaten by the Parliamentary forces, had flung himself on the protection of the Scots, and had been surrendered by the Scots to the Parliament. The royal cause was lost. Ormond was now hemmed in on one side by a Parliamentary army under Jones, and on the other by an Irish army which had at last advanced on the city under O'Neil and Preston. The lord-lieutenant had now to chose between two evils—surrender to the Irish rebels, or surrender to the English rebels. He chose what he conceived to be the lesser evil, and, on July 28, 1647, threw open