C. P. (Charles Patrick) Meehan.

The confederation of Kilkenny online

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"Hapless nation— hapless land —
Heap of uncementing Band !
Crumbled by a foreign weight,
And, by worse, domestic hate."

De. Dbekitak.














8S. Miehad and Joh»%


It was my most anxious desire that this Volume might
come from the Press without a single line of Preface or
Introduction. I feel, however, constrained to relinquish
my original intention ; but the observations I have to
make shall be few, and, I trust, satisfactory.

This volume, instead of preceding should have
followed, the "Rising of the North," commonly called
the " Great Popish Rebellion ;" but as the writer who
is to treat that important subject, has been prevented by
urgent public duties, from completing it, I exerted
whatever power in me lay to have the Confederation
ready for the month of August.

All the incidents which I have endeavoured to narrate
had their origin in two sources — one remote, the other
proximate ; the former is to be found in the " History of
the Confiscations during the reign of James I." and it is
presumed, that the readers of the '* Library of Ireland"
are already acquainted with that unparalleled system of
fraud and rapine so ably depicted by Mr. Mac Nevin.
The latter or proximate source is to be discovered in
the history of 1641 ; for out of the events of that year
sprang the remarkable Confederation, whose prelates and
military leaders shone out like stars in one of the darkest
and stormiest periods of our history. It is not my
province tc vindicate the men who originated that ex-
traordinary movement, so grossly misrepresented by
Warner, Temple, Borlase and others; that duty rests
with the man to whom this Volume Ijs dedicated, and it
would be difficult to find one more able or willing to
rescue the transaction of that period from the calumnies
in which interested parties have laboured to involve it.
I, therefore, will hasten to lay before the reader a
brief sketch of the events which have immediate reference
id the subject matter of tl»»6 volume.

Tlie accession of Charles I. was hailed by the Catholics
of Ireland as the dawning of hope and tranquillitj,
after the terrific persecutions and rapacity of his prede-
cessor. They fondly indulged the belief that the rack
and the thumb-screw would fall into disuse, and that
their religion would no longer be a pretext for sacrificing
their lives, and stripping them of the remnant of pro-
perty which a crowned and disgusting pedant suffered
them to retain. With a fatal confidence in Charles I.
they imagined that he would cause measures to be enacted
which would supersede that infamous penal code which
has no parallel in the history of any other country.
But in reality they hoped against hope. Ussher, whose
character for erudition none may gainsay, was a rabid
bigot, and the representative of a class who held it to
be " a grievous sin to give toleration to the Catholics,
or to "consent that they should freely exercise their
religion." — Ussher, as well as the other bishops who made
this avowal, spoke the sentiments of the Puritans in
England and in Ireland. Yet, with this declaration in
their ears, the infatuated Catholics dreamed that the
good-will and kind intentions of the monarch would come
between them and their implacable persecutors. Pro-
mises, it is true, were plenty, but they produced no
beneficial measures. Long-sufferings and passive obe-
dience under the most withering oppression, brought no
redress. The monarch who could so freely promise
concessions, had not the remotest idea of realizing them.
One hundred and twenty thousand pounds sterling,
were subscribed by the Catholics as the price of the
concessions, known as " graces." Such an enormous
sum from a people so grossly robbed by James I. must
have well nigh ruined their resources. Charles took it,
and with that perfidy which characterized all his acts,.
gave himself no concern to alleviate their sufferings oi
ameliorate their condition.

In 1633 he commissioned Strafford to proceed tc

Ireland as Lor J Deputy ; not indeed with tlie design ot re-
moving abuses, but ofperpetuating them. This man, wliose
name k, even now, a sound of dread and terror, enter-
tained an abhorence of the puritanic spirit so boldly
manifested by the Primate Ussher, and Bedel, Bishop oi
Kilmore. It was his ambition to extinguish it, but his
cherished project was to carry out the schemes of
James I., and a more terrible agent could not have been
found for the purpose. An exhaustless store for the
lovers of the marvellous and cruel, is to be found in
the history of the Spanish Inquisition ; but, disgusting
and terrific as its acts may have been, they furnish no
record of blacker guilt or more flagrant profligacy
tlian what may be collected from tl,.9 history of
Straflbrd's administration in Ireland. The promises
of the King, so often given to the Catholics, and so
warmly welcomed by them, were all violated on his
responsibility. The Commission of Defective Titles was
only another name for systematic plunder. The School
of Wards, with its insidious scheme for sapping the
faith of Catholics, was an apt instrument in the hands
of this unscrupulous Deputy, who hated the Irish as
much as he lusted after their substance. Nevertheless,
grant after grant was generously given, amounting in
all to three hundred and ten thousand pounds, in the
hope of securing themselves against persecution on the
jcore of religion, and having confirmed to them the
possession of their estates. But all in vain ; the statutes
known as those of "Uses" and "Wills" were passed in
the Irish parliament, and the religion of all Catholic
minors was left to the guidance of those who preached
extirpation of Popery as Gospel.

To suppose that Strafford's conduct elicited the dis-
pleasure of Charles I. would be a presumption not
warranted by history. On the contrary, the king who
participated in his guilt could not but applaud it. The
Commission of Defective Titles contemplated the


conflscatioii of the entire of Connaught— its ob-
ject was to subvert the title to every estate in the
whole province, and to e^aabUsh a ne^r plantation.
Compliant jurors were easily found, and Avhere they
were not, the Star Chamber, with its horrid engines,
was speedily resorted to. Tlie Lord Deputy Chichester,
in 1613, claimed the honor of this device, and it
succeeded, to Strafford's most sanguine Avishes, in
plundering the rightful possessors, and finding for tlic
crown. Nor did Strafford limit his sphere of evil action
to subverting the religion of the Irish Catholics and
divesting them of their patrimonial inheritance. The
Woollen Manufactures of Ireland were not suffered to
escape; they were pronounced injurious to English
speculation, and were consequently annihilated ; even
salt was adjudged a monopoly to the king, and the Lord
Deputy consoled himself with having sought to bring the
people to a conformity in religion, but above all, on hav
ing raised a good revenue for the crown. Hence, when
ne returned to England, and made a report of his con-
duct to the council, he was gratefully informed by the
king, that "if he had served him otherwise, he would
not have served him as he expected."

Strafford, or as he is yet known to the Irish peasantry
by the epithet of ' ' Black Tom, " was succeeded by Wandes-
ford, whose administration was too short-lived to be of any
benefit to the Catholics, if he ever contemplated such, or
of greater misery, which it is likely he meant to inflict.
Tyranny, less vexatious than this which we have glanced
at, would hare driven any other people to madness.
In fact, the Scotch Covenanters had no such provoca-
tion to rebellion, and yet they rose in might and
strength, and, in a great measure, brought about tl.at
terrible tragedy which commenced with the execution ot
S iraffbrd and terminated in the overthrow of the monarchy:
yet, withal, the Irish Catholics clang to the throne, as
if they had been its cherished objects j and, although it


has been the wont of others to applaud them for raising
men and money to aid the king in his efforts to crush
the Scotch, our habits of thought, at the present day,
must be far from justifying that over- weening loyalty
vhich induced them to arm in the cause of despotism.

Wandesford was succeeded by Sir William Parsons
and Sir John Borlase, two Puritans, who seem to have
thought of nothing save pillaging the Catholics and
anathematizing their religion. The odious tyranny of
these men — their wanton invasion of the most. sacred
rights, and the utter disregard of all the obligations of
oaths and conscience, find no counterpart, even in the
terrible time of Strafford. Human patience had reached
its limit — the people goaded to desperation, prepared to
fling off tlie yoke— a plot for seizing the Castle of Dub-
lin was laid— treachery was at work — the conspiracy
failed, but a revolution speedily followed. Prom north
to south the masses rose, headed by Sir Phelim O'Neill
and other chiefs of the old nobility. In the December
of 1641, a coalition took place between the Anglo- Irish
Catholics of the Pale, and the " ancient Irish." Out of
hat coalition sprung the Confederation, the avowed
object of which was, to assert by force of arms the
free and independent exercise of the Cathohc religion,
and the restoration of the churches to their rightful
inheritors. Of course, both parties, " the Catholics of
'.he Pale" and the "Celtic tribes," were solemnly
pledged to win back tneir estates and homesteads, or
perish in the struggle. They were glorious objects and
well worth fighting for. A congregation of bishops
pronounced the war to be "lawful and pious;" and
the men who were engaged in it must have triumphed
had they been true to themselves and firmly banded
together; but they were not. Mutual jealousies, dis-
trusts, temporizing expediency, and wily diplomacy
broke their compact array, and left them victims to the
horrors which subsequently desolated the land. But

even so ; in the annals of Europe it would be difficult
to find nobler devotion or more brilliant chivalry than
that wluch may be learned from this period of our
history. Could there have been a more spirit-stirring
motive for gallant achievements ? The faitli, for whose
independence those men drew their swords, was that
which our Apostle preached on the heights of Slane,
r,nd in the presence of the great assembly of Tara. The
lands of which the Catholics had been plundered were
theirs before the Norman set foot on our shores. The
descendants of the invaders who remained true to theii
religion, were robbed and tortured for their martyr-like
attachment to the ancient creed. Tlie churches which
the piety of Irish princes and Norman barons had ereeted
were in the gripe of usurpers, and were not the Irisi
Catholics justified before God and man in seeking to
expel them by force of arms ? In a country like Ireland,
at all times so fondly devoted to the Chair of St. Peter,
such events as these could not have been unaccompanied
by deeds of heroism which may have been equalled, but
certainly cannot be surpassed in the history of any
-ther country. Even now, after centuries of degrada-
vion and sufferings, are not the religious characteristics
of the Irish people still the same ? The love of their
religion, like that of Francesca, so thrillingly described
by Dante,* has endured and outlived bitter trial and
agonizing torment ; even now it docs not abandon them,
but seems to have been more closely wedded to their
hearts by the recollection of all the blood and tears it
cost them. That sublime passion brought death to the
*over and the loved ; but a resurrection has followed,
and Ireland is now the wonder and the admiration of
the world. Go where we will, we cannot meet any
section of tlie human race braver, purer, or more
generous ; their love of fatherland is only equalled by
their attaclunent to the ancient creed. Would you a^k
* Inferno. Canto V.

tlie Irish peasant, wlietlier toiling for a livelihood
"beyond the Atlantic foam," or brooding in sullen
silence over his miseries in his own land, what hope is
nearest to his heart, he wiU tell you, it is that of laying
his bones within these grey old ruins which chronicle
the rise and fall of his country ?

But, heaven forbid that it should be inferred from
these reflections that I or any one else designed to stir
an angry passion, or shadow forth a desire of resorting
to violence for the possession of these grand old temples,
now no longer ours. Too much blood has been already
shed in the struggle to win them back. Who would
strike a blow for the casket while the gem is in our
hands ? Enough for us that these majestic monuments
still remain indisputable evidences of our former great-
ness and the antiquity of our faith. It is not by armed
violence that they will ever revert to us ; — no, that con-
summation is only to be hoped for when
" Europe, repentant of her parricide,
Siiall . . . sue to be forgiven." ♦

But the age of the Confederation has gone by, and ex-
traordinary events have succeeded it. A Confederation of
another order has sprung up, and done much more for the
" dear old land" than all that the sword of Owen Roe
was able to accomplish; — " the voice and the pen" are
more potent weapons in the nineteenth century. Yet,
whilst we gladly acknowledge their efficiency, let us not
befool ourselves by seeking to disparage those who, in
the battle for liberty, resorted to the sword. The idea
of casting censure on Tell, or Hofer, or Hugh O'Neill,
is unworthy of a brave and generous people. In a coun-
try like this it would be dishonoring the memories of our
illustrious dead were we to depreciate that heroism which
held life not w^th possessing when deprived of the in
comparable blessings of freedom. All our hopes are now

• ChUde Farold. Canto lY.


jnked witli the great unarmed Confederacy which lias
brought mind and argument to combat irfjustice ; but
that Confederacy has reason to be guarded against the
weapons which ruined its martial predecessor. Even
now there is a Pale, the foundations of which are laid in
inveterate prejudices and hostile feelings. It is neces-
sary that it should disappear, and that all of us, of every
creed, be banded together in the peaceful determination
to " have oar own again," The fatalities which de-
stroyed the men of another period originated in crafty
diplomacy, soothing promises, and flattering expediency.
Heaven guard us against a recurrence of similar evils !
Unity and untiring exertion are our only means of esta-
blishing our legislative independence. To use the Ian
guage of an eloquent writer — " There is now no statute
of Kilkenny — no Catholic Confederacy — no Protestant
Ascendancy, to keep us from entire nationhood. The
religion of each is free, — the golden gates of prosperity
open in the vista of our pi-edestined path j we must
enter them hand-in-hand, or not at all." *

One word more, and I have done. I know full well
how unequal I have been to treat this momentous sub-
ject; but, if I lacked the necessary ability, no one
^an accuse me of want of industry. The volume which
will describe the wars of Cromwell is yet to be writ-
ten, and it will be the duty of the individual whose
province that is, to commence where I left off. The
congregation of the Prelates at Jamestown and Lough-
rea, as well as the Lorrain embassy, are intimately con-
nected with all that I have left untouched, and will be
fully developed in a subsequent volume. C. P. M.

* Jfation newspaper, Jund 27th, 18i3'




The twenty- third of October, 1G42, is a memorable
epoch in the annals of Ireland. On that day, the repre-
sentatives of the Irish Catholics, deputed by the cities,
counties, and towns, were assembling in the city of
Kilkenny, to deliberate on their actual position, and
organise a confederacy, the foundations of which had
been already laid.

It was a grand and solemn spectacle — nor does the his-
tory of any country record a more spirit-stirring scene
than that which was witnessed in the old city of St.
Canice,* at this momentous period. The rapid transition
from heart-breaking thraldom to bold and armed inde-
pendence, was never more convincingly manifest. Ire-
land, hitherto chained, and tortured by the most inhimian
enactments, beheld her sons, clergy and laity, repudiating
the despotism of Parsons and Borlase, who, in the
absence of Lord Leicester, held the reins of government,
and resorting to the only means left them for the redress
of their grievances — self-legislation and an appeal to

Who can adequately describe the feelings which, at
this moment, must have thrilled the hearts of the Irish
Catholics ? But thirty-nine years before, the Lord
Deputy Mountjoy, from the Castle of Dublin, sent an
insolent letter to the maj^r of Kilkenny, reprimanding
him for allowing the old abbey church of St. Francis to
be used for the celebration of the mass. His orders to

• >''

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Online LibraryC. P. (Charles Patrick) MeehanThe confederation of Kilkenny → online text (page 1 of 22)