is a remarkable debut performance. First monographs by the likes
of Aidan Clarke (The Old English in Ireland), Brendan Bradshaw
(The Dissolution of the Monasteries), Nicholas Canny (The
Elizabethan Conquest) immediately spring to mind but in fact Ó
Siochrú's achievement is all the greater because his subject
is of central importance in Ireland’s constitutional and political development.
In fact a better comparison might be with Michael Perceval Maxwell’s
Outbreak of the Irish rebellion of 1641, a mature, rounded study
of the bloody upheaval which set the wheels in motion for the establishment
of the Catholic Confederation the following year. What is important
is that both books have attempted the difficult and unfashionable task
of writing narrative history. It is painstaking work but by contextualising
events in a logical sequence they elide as fabulous many of the theories
which fellow historians have derived from work on mere fragments of
the whole scene. There is no single big body of material to work on
for the Confederacy – its records were destroyed in fires in 1711 and
1922. Ó Siochrú has managed to pull off this feat by finding
new attendance rolls and lists for the meetings of Confederate institutions
as well as by piecing together events from a myriad of other documents
and accounts. He gives due credit to the late Donal Cregan who
did seminal work on the period. Nevertheless Ó Siochrú
exudes confidence and rightly so. He struts around slapping down
the work of other historians with shouts of 'mistaken' and makes short
shrift of historical figures who do not come up to UN peacekeeping standards-for
instance Sir Charles Coote in Connacht is dismissed as ‘a notorious
is a narrative where political interest groups, constitutional manoeuvrings
and negotiations take centre stage. Indeed it is Ó Siochrú’s
contention that the political developments at Kilkenny were of prime
importance and that the military action was secondary. For those
interested in military history reference should be made instead to
Jerrold Casway's Owen Roe O'Neill and David Stevenson's Scottish
Covenanters and Irish Confederates and a eye kept peeled for the
forthcoming publications of Padraig Lenihan. Many other angles
to this multi-sided conflict as well as the Cromwellian aftermath
can be found in Jane Ohlmeyer’s Ireland from Independence to Occupation.
highlights of the narrative are the founding of the confederation,
the rejection of the first Ormond peace and the concluding of the
second one. The association was put together after 1641 to restore
law and order, negotiate with the crown and organise militarily against
the threat from the English parliament. Former Irish parliamentarians
and the Catholic church were the prime movers. Here it would
also have been interesting to speculate to what extent confederate
structure was modelled on previous delegate bodies selected informally
to negotiate with the Crown, for example, the Graces in the mid-1620s.
Patrick Darcy, Richard Martin, and their backer the Earl of Clanricard
had a good grounding in such lobbying. Kilkenny was the meeting
place because it was safe, relatively central and had a large hall
at Robert Shee's house. The Earl of Glamorgan's secret treaty
with the Confederates on behalf of Charles I made over the head of
Ormond, the king’s constitutional representative as lord lieutenant,
might have been narrated in more detail. At this point rapid
political changes were kaleidoscopic and one is continuously forced
to refer to the footnotes for further information. The explanation
for the rejection of the Ormond peace is better. The arrival
of Rinuccini from Rome had a galvanic effect for sure but it is really
the activism of a centre party rather than the extremism of the nuncio
and his clique which sees the treaty rejected overwhelmingly by 288
votes to twelve. A well-narrated episode is that following the
Inchiquin Peace of 1648. Ceasefire with the notorious lnchiquin
was a political necessity and the split was bad but not disastrous.
This time Ormond's friends on the supreme council silenced the nuncio,
the centre held onto most of its agenda and Plunkett and French had
returned emptyhanded from Rome. At the same time the king was
facing trial in England and even Ormond was desperate for a settlement.
trends emerge from this study. The old ethnic divisions of Gaelic
Irish and Old English were not much on display in the deliberations
and disputes of the Confederates. These were latent tensions
which Ormond tried to play on at the time and which Bellings subsequently
emphasised in his partisan account of the conflict. What was
conspicuous was the Confederates' unity of purpose as Irish Catholics
attempting to hold on to and restore their political, religious and
property rights. Here the confederate oath was of singular binding
importance representing as it did their ethos and their final negotiating
them maintenance of the oath was a sine qua non in the same
way as the upholding Of church and king was for the royalists or the
Act of Adventurers for the parliamentarians. The real division,
Ó Siochrú argues, was a class division. For instance
Ulster landowners were accepted as equals whereas Owen Roe’s Ulster
soldiers were hated because they perpetrated continual depredations
being forced to live off the land outside their home province.
He dispenses with the old terms of ‘Ormondist’ and ‘Nuncioist’
and/or ‘Clericalist’. The Ormondists were related or connected
to Ormond but were by no means at his beck and call and contained
Gaelic Irish like Muskerry as well as Old English. He reckons
they would be better termed the ‘peace party’. The opponents
likewise would be better known as the ‘war party’ - they were not
all clergy or Gaelic Irish or followers of Rinuccini. Out of
this careful study emerges a group of moderates led by lawyers like
Darcy, gentry like Plunkett and clergy like French who, steering the
fortunes of the confederacy between the Scylia and Charybdis of war
and peace kept their eyes on the prize of a lasting and just settlement.
These men were activists working mainly in the General Assembly, who
though a small core like the peace and war groupings, usually managed
to sway the non-committed majority.
the prompting of this group the general assembly proved a innovative
body. In a sense it continued the constitutional development
already begun by the 1640 parliament. The main reason for the
growth in the General Assembly’s authority was its desire to control
the Supreme Council, the confederate executive, which managed the
negotiations with Ormond. A peace deal which allowed only the
most powerful Catholics security of tenure and de facto toleration
was no use to the grass roots. As a result beginning with the ‘Propositions’
of 1644 the assembly gradually exerted control over the executive,
regulating its membership, forcing it to establish a separate judiciary
and eventually taking charge of the peace process to such an extent
that in the final lap Ormond had to negotiate with it as a body.
As a result important concessions were eventually won on the religious,
parliamentary and plantation fronts to the extent there was even a
possibility that the unbeneficed Catholic clergy and the dispossessed
Ulster Irish might have been satisfied in the end. The assembly
also attempted as best it could to keep the clerical interest under
the thumb and the armies of the confederacy under civil authority.
This lack of a centralised command was questionable though understandable;
moreover the willingness of the civil arm to reward itself and its
burgeoning posse of officeholders out of the meagre confederate tax-base
deprived the army of much-needed resources for pay and munitions.
It is plain that against a very difficult background, indeed because
of it, Irish Catholics developed a highly sophisticated system of
governance, one moving towards accountable, responsible and representative
government. They did not lag behind the Scottish Covenanters
or English Parliamentarians but were making similar strides.
Furthermore like their contemporaries across the water they gave a
constitutional configuration to a burgeoning confessional nationalism
which in Ireland meant sinking centuries of difference between Gall
and Gaedheal in the common name of Éireannach.
study also throws up a hitherto unknown hero Nicholas Plunkett.
I knew about Darcy and French but little about Plunkett who was chairman
of the General Assembly. He emerges as a John Hume-like figure
trying to reconcile all parties, to keep the show on the road and
at the end attain peace with justice by getting something for everyone.
Ó Siochrú compares Plunkett to John Pym who led the
middle party in the English House of Commons in the 1640s. The
story also has a villain-Ormond. From time to time aspersions
are cast upon the actions of O'Neill, Rinuccini, and Preston but the
author sees the lord lieutenant as the epitome of bad faith.
This man served his own interests rather than his master’s bringing
up the question of clerical property to undermine the first peace
initiative and handing Dublin over to the English Parliamentarians
to hold up and ultimately scupper the second. Bishop Nicholas
French was surely right to publish his famous castigation entitled
The Unkind Deserter of True Men and Loyal Friends when Ormond
continued to act in the same way after the Restoration.
is an important book which is also reasonably priced and well-produced.
It is a piece of positive revisionism about Ireland in the 1640s.
Some of its findings will of course be challenged in due course but
the main edifice it has constructed should stand the test of time'
Hiram Morgan, History Ireland.