Confederate Ireland, 1642–1649
A constitutional and political analysis
Micheál Ó Siochrú
This book examines political and constitutional developments in confederate Ireland from the formation of embryonic governmental institutions in 1642, until the signing of the 'Second Ormond Peace' in 1649.
The study of confederate Ireland (the only example of sustained self-government by the Irish on a national level before 1919) has suffered from a somewhat negative bias, due in part to the shadow cast by the Ulster massacres of 1641. In contrast to that cataclysmic event, the following decade was seemingly characterised by nothing more than confusion and chaos, as a multiplicity of factions battled inconclusively for control of the kingdom. Even the war appeared remarkable for its lack of major engagements, overshadowed by endless negotiations between Irish Catholics and Charles I. Finally, any confederate achievements in the political arena (and there were many) collapsed in the wake of the Cromwellian invasion. The primary goal of this book has been to resurrect these political achievements and to challenge certain misconceptions common to most previously published research on the nature and operation of the confederate association. These misconceptions originate in a failure to accurately classify the different social and cultural groups who formed that alliance, leading to a misunderstanding of the relationship between the confederates and, more importantly, of what originally united, and ultimately divided them.
The over-simplified, bi-polar classification of the confederate allies into ethnic groups (Old English and native Irish), has diverted attention from how the political process within the association actually operated. In particular, the evolution of a sophisticated parliamentary system, based on the General Assembly in Kilkenny, has largely been ignored. Moreover, the emergence of a highly influential group of moderates, led by Nicholas Plunkett, which sought to plot a political course between the two main factions (peace and clerical), has not hitherto been recognised.
This book charts the development of the political middle ground within the confederate association, which eventually marginalised the extremes. The moderates promoted a vision of an Irish kingdom, strong, independent and tolerant of diversity, in which loyalty to the Stuart monarchy, rather than ethnicity or religious affiliation, was the primary political consideration. As such, they were not revolutionary separatists but reforming nationalists, anticipating the tradition of Grattan and Parnell. Unlike their 18th- and 19th-century counterparts, however, the confederates actually governed the country (or at least most of it) for over six years, and, for this reason alone, their efforts warrant a more detailed scrutiny and a more sympathetic assessment than they have so far received.
Micheál Ó Siochrú holds a PhD from Trinity College, Dublin and is lecturing there in 17th-century history.