The tenth year of the contest of which we have endeavoured to follow the most important events, opened upon the remaining Catholic leaders, greatly reduced in numbers and resources, but firm and undismayed. Two chief seaports, and some of the western counties still remained to them; and accordingly we find meetings of the Bishops and other notables during this year (1650), at Limerick, at Loughrea, and finally at Jamestown, in the neighbourhood of Owen O'Neil's nursery of the first "Catholic Army."
The Puritan commander was now Henry Ireton, son-in-law of Cromwell, by a marriage contracted about two years before. The completion of the Protector's policy could have devolved upon few persons more capable of understanding, or more fearless in executing it; and in two eventful campaigns he proved himself the able successor of the Protector. In August following Cromwell's departure, Waterford and Duncannon were taken by Ireton; and there only remained to the Confederates the fortresses of Sligo, Athlone, Limerick, and Galway, with the country included within the irregular quadrangle they describe. The younger Coote making a feint against Sligo, which Clanrickarde hastened to defend, turned suddenly on his steps, and surprised Athlone. Sligo, naturally a place of no great strength after the invention of artillery, soon after fell, so that Galway and Limerick alone were left, at the beginning of 1651, to bear all the brunt of Puritan hostility.
Political events of great interest happened during the two short years of Ireton's command. The Assembly, which met at Jamestown in August, and again at Loughrea in November, 1650, made the retirement of Ormond from the Government a condition of all future efforts in the royal cause, and that nobleman, deeply wounded by this condition, had finally sailed from Galway, in December, leaving to Clanrickarde the title of Lord Deputy, and to Castlehaven the command of the forces which still kept the field. The news from Scotland of the young king's subscription to the covenant, and denunciation of all terms with Irish Papists, came to aid the councils of those, who, like the eloquent French, Bishop of Ferns, demanded a national policy, irrespective of the exigencies of the Stuart family. An embassy was accordingly despatched to Brussels, to offer the title of King-Protector to the Duke of Lorraine, or failing with him, to treat with any "other Catholic prince, state, republic, or person, as they might deem expedient for the preservation of the Catholic religion and nation." A wide latitude, dictated by desperate circumstances. The ambassadors were Bishop French and Hugh Rochfort; the embassy one of the most curious and instructive in our annals.
The Duke expressed himself willing to undertake an expedition to Ireland--to supply arms and money to the Confederates--on the condition of receiving Athlone, Limerick, Athenry and Galway into his custody, with the title of Protector. A considerable sum of money (20,000 pounds) was forwarded at once; four Belgian frigates laden with stores were made ready for sea; the Canon De Henin was sent as envoy to the Confederates, and this last venture looked most promising of success, had not Clanrickarde in Galway, and Charles and Ormond in Paris, taking alarm at the new dignity conferred upon the Duke, countermined the Bishop of Ferns and Mr. Rochfort, and defeated by intrigue and correspondence their hopeful enterprise.
The decisive battle of Worcester, fought on the 3rd of September, 1651, drove Charles II. into that nine years' exile, from which he only returned on the death of Cromwell. It may be considered the last military event of importance in the English civil war. In Ireland the contest was destined to drag out another campaign, before the walls of the two gallant cities, Galway and Limerick.
Limerick was the first object of attack. Ireton, leaving Sankey to administer martial law in Tipperary, struck the Shannon opposite Killaloe, driving Castlehaven before him. Joined by Coote and Reynolds, fresh from the sieges of Athenry and Athlone, he moved upon Limerick by the Connaught bank of the river, while Castlehaven fled to Clanrickarde in Galway, with a guard of forty horse, all that remained intact of the 4,000 men bequeathed him by Ormond. From the side of Munster, Lord Muskerry attempted a diversion in favour of Limerick, but was repulsed at Castleishen, by "the flying camp" of Lord Broghill. The besiegers were thus not only delivered of a danger, but reinforced by native troops--if the "Undertakers" could be properly called so--which made them the most formidable army that had ever surrounded an Irish city. From early summer till the last week of October, the main force of the English and Anglo-Irish, supplied with every species of arm then invented, assailed the walls of Limerick. The plague, which during these months swept with such fearful mortality over the whole kingdom, struck down its defenders, and filled all its streets with desolation and grief. The heroic bishops, O'Brien of Emly, and O'Dwyer of Limerick, exerted themselves to uphold, by religious exhortations, the confidence of the besieged; while Hugh O'Neil and General Purcell maintained the courage of their men. Clanrickarde had offered to charge himself with the command, but the citizens preferred to trust in the skill and determination of the defender of Clonmel, whose very name was a talisman among them. The municipal government, however, composed of the men of property in the city, men whose trade was not war, whose religion was not enthusiastic, formed a third party,--a party in favour of peace at any price. With the Mayor at their head, they openly encouraged the surrender of one of the outworks to the besiegers, and this betrayal, on the 27th of October, compelled the surrender of the entire works. Thus Limerick fell, divided within itself by military, clerical, and municipal factions; thus glory and misfortune combined to consecrate its name in the national veneration, and the general memory of mankind. The Bishop of Emly and General Purcell were executed as traitors; the Bishop of Limerick escaped in the disguise of a common soldier, and died at Brussels; O'Neil's life was saved by a single vote; Sir Geoffrey Gabney, Aldermen Stritch and Fanning, and other leading Confederates, expiated their devotion upon the scaffold.
On the 12th of May following--seven months after the capture of Limerick, Galway fell. Ireton, who survived the former siege but a few days, was succeeded by Ludlow, a sincere republican of the school of Pym and Hampden--if that school can be called, in our modern sense, republican. It was the sad privilege of General Preston, whose name is associated with so many of the darkest, and with some of the brightest incidents of this war, to order the surrender of Galway, as he had two years previously given up Waterford. Thus the last open port, the last considerable town held by the Confederates, yielded to the overwhelming power of numbers and munitions, in the twelfth year of that illustrious war which Ireland waged for her religious and civil liberties, against the forces of the two adjoining kingdoms, sometimes estranged from one another, but always hostile alike to the religious belief and the political independence of the Irish people.
With the fall of Galway, the Confederate war drew rapidly to a close. Colonels Fitzpatrick, O'Dwyer, Grace, and Thorlogh O'Neil, surrendered their posts; Lords Enniskillen and West-Meath followed their example; Lord Muskerry yielded Ross Castle, on Killarney, in June; Clanrickarde laid down his arms at Carrick, in October. The usual terms granted were liberty to transport themselves and followers to the service of any foreign state or prince at peace with the commonwealth; a favoured few were permitted to live and die in peace on their own estates, under the watchful eye of some neighbouring garrison.
The chief actors in the Confederate war not already accounted for, terminated their days under many different circumstances. Mountgarrett and Bishop Rothe died before Galway fell, and were buried in the capital of the Confederacy; Bishop McMahon of Clogher, surrendered to Sir Charles Coote, and was executed like a felon by one he had saved from destruction a year before at Derry; Coote, after the Restoration, became Earl of Mountrath, and Broghill, Earl of Orrery; Clanrickarde died unnoticed on his English estate, under the Protectorate; Inchiquin, after many adventures in foreign lands, turned Catholic in his old age, and this burner of churches bequeathed an annual alms for masses for his soul; Jones, Corbet, Cook, and the fanatical preacher, Hugh Peters, perished on the scaffold with the other regicides executed by order of the English Parliament; Ormond having shared the evils of exile with the King, shared also the splendour of his restoration, became a Duke, and took his place, as if by common consent, at the head of the peerage of the empire; his Irish rental, which before the war was but 7,000 pounds a year, swelled suddenly on the Restoration to 80,000 pounds; Nicholas French, after some sojourn in Spain, where he was coadjutor to the Archbishop of Saint James, returned to Louvain, where he made his first studies, and there spent the evening of his days in the composition of those powerful pamphlets which kept alive the Irish cause at home and on the continent; a Roman patrician did the honours of sepulture to Luke Wadding, and Cromwell interred James Usher in Westminster Abbey; the heroic defender of Clonmel and Limerick, and the gallant, though vacillating Preston, were cordially received in France; while the consistent republican, Ludlow, took refuge as a fugitive in Switzerland.
Sir Phelim O'Neil, the first author of the war, was among the last to suffer the penalties of defeat. For a moment, towards the end, he renewed his sway over the remnant of Owen's soldiers, took Ballyshannon, and two or three other places. Compelled at last to surrender, he was carried to Dublin, and tried on a charge of treason, a committee closeted behind the bench dictating the interrogatories to his judges, and receiving his answers in reply. Condemned to death, as was expected, he was offered his life by the Puritan colonel, Hewson, on the very steps of the scaffold, if he would inculpate the late King Charles in the rising of 1641. This he "stoutly refused to do," and the execution proceeded with all its atrocious details. Whatever may have been the excesses committed under his command by a plundered people, at their first insurrection--and we know that they have been exaggerated beyond all bounds--it must be admitted he died the death of a Christian, a soldier, and a gentleman.