Irish Confederate Wars

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Irish Confederate Wars or
Eleven Years' War
Part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Wenceslaus Hollar - supposed Irish atrocities during the Rebellion of 1641.jpg
Václav Hollar's engraving of supposed atrocities committed by Irish Catholics in the war of 1641
DateOctober 1641 – April 1653
(11 years and 6 months)

English Parliamentarian victory

  • Parliamentarian conquest of Ireland, defeat of the Royalists and crushing of Irish Catholic power.
Green harp flag of Ireland 17th century.svg Confederate Ireland
(allied with Royalists 1648–1650)
Flag of The Commonwealth.svg Parliamentarians Royal Standard of England (1603-1689).svg Royalists
(allied with Irish Confederates 1648–1650)
Commanders and leaders
Owen Roe O'Neill
(in Ulster)
Viscount Tara
(in Leinster)
Garret Barry
(in Munster)
John Burke
(in Connacht)
Earl of Inchiquin
Michael Jones
Oliver Cromwell
Henry Ireton
(May 1650–Nov 1651)
Charles Fleetwood
(Nov 1651–Apr 1653)
Robert Monro
(Scottish Covenanter in support of Parliament 1642–48)
Duke of Ormonde
(1641–Dec 1650)
Marquess of Clanricarde
(Dec 1650–Apr 1653)
George Munro
(Scottish Covenanter in support of Royalists 1648–50)
(incl. guerrillas)
20,000 at any one time
10,000 soldiers
(before 1649)
30,000 soldiers (after 1649)
Casualties and losses
25,000+ battlefield casualties
200,000+ civilians
(from war-related famine or disease)
12,000 transported to West Indies
(by 1660) [1]
8,000 soldiers killed
(more killed from locally raised units)
thousands of Scottish Covenanters killed
Total:200,000–620,000 killed

The Irish Confederate Wars, also called the Eleven Years' War (derived from the Irish language name Cogadh na hAon Bhliana Déag), took place in Ireland between 1641 and 1653. It was the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms – a series of civil wars in the kingdoms of Ireland, England and Scotland (all ruled by Charles I). The war in Ireland began with a rebellion in 1641 by Irish Catholics, who tried to seize control of the English administration in Ireland to force concessions for Catholics. This developed into an ethnic conflict between Gaelic Irish and old English Catholics on one side, and English and Scottish Protestant colonists on the other. Catholic leaders formed the Irish Catholic Confederation in 1642, which controlled most of Ireland and was loosely aligned with the Royalists. The Confederates and Royalists fought against the English Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters. In 1649, a Parliamentarian army led by Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland and by 1653 had conquered the island.

Irish language Goidelic (Gaelic) language spoken in Ireland and by Irish people

Irish is a Goidelic (Gaelic) language originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language in substantial areas of counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal, smaller areas of Waterford, Mayo and Meath, and a few other locations, and as a second language by a larger group of non-habitual speakers across the country.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

Wars of the Three Kingdoms series of conflicts in England, Ireland and Scotland between 1639 and 1651

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, sometimes known as the British Civil Wars, formed an intertwined series of conflicts that took place in the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland between 1639 and 1651. The English Civil War proper has become the best-known of these conflicts; it included the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of the kingdom's monarch, Charles I, by the English Parliament in 1649.


The war was both a religious and an ethnic conflict – fought over who would govern Ireland, whether it would be governed from England, which ethnic and religious group would own most of the land, and which religion would predominate in the country. It was the most destructive conflict in Irish history. [2]


The war in Ireland began with the Rebellion of 1641 in Ulster in October, during which many Scots and English Protestant settlers were killed. The rebellion spread throughout the country and at Kilkenny in 1642 the Association of The Confederate Catholics of Ireland was formed to organise the Catholic war effort. The Confederation was essentially an independent state and was a coalition of all shades of Irish Catholic society, both Gaelic and Old English. The Irish Confederates professed to side with the English Cavaliers during the ensuing civil wars, but mostly fought their own war in defence of the Catholic landed class's interests.

The Irish Rebellion of 1641 began as an attempted coup d'état by Irish Catholic gentry, who tried to seize control of the English administration in Ireland to force concessions for Catholics. The coup failed and the rebellion developed into an ethnic conflict between the Gaelic Irish and old English Catholics on one side, and both ethnically English Protestants and Scottish/Presbyterian planters on the other. This began a conflict known as the Irish Confederate Wars.

Ulster province in Ireland

Ulster is a province in the north of the island of Ireland. It is made up of nine counties, six of which are in Northern Ireland and three of which are in the Republic of Ireland. It is the second largest and second most populous of Ireland's four provinces, with Belfast being its biggest city. Unlike the other provinces, Ulster has a high percentage of Protestants, making up almost half of its population. English is the main language and Ulster English the main dialect. A minority also speak Irish, and there are Gaeltacht in southern Londonderry, the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast and in Donegal, where 25% of the total Gaeltacht population of Ireland is located. Lough Neagh, in the east, is the largest lake in the British Isles, while Lough Erne in the west is one of its largest lake networks. The main mountain ranges are the Mournes, Sperrins, Croaghgorms and Derryveagh Mountains.

Scottish people ethnic inhabitants of Scotland

The Scottish people or Scots, are a nation and Celtic ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically, they emerged from an amalgamation of two Celtic-speaking peoples, the Picts and Gaels, who founded the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. Later, the neighbouring Celtic-speaking Cumbrians, as well as Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons and Norse, were incorporated into the Scottish nation.

The Confederates ruled much of Ireland as a de facto sovereign state until 1649, and proclaimed their loyalty to Charles I. From 1642 to 1649, the Confederates fought against Scottish Covenanter and English Parliamentarian armies in Ireland. The Confederates, in the context of the English Civil War, were loosely allied with the English Royalists, but were divided over whether to send military help to them in the war there. Ultimately, they never sent troops to England, but did send an expedition to help the Scottish Royalists, sparking the Scottish Civil War.

Charles I of England 17th-century monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Charles I was the monarch over the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

English Civil War series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over, principally, the manner of England's governance. The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

The wars produced an extremely fractured array of forces in Ireland. The Protestant forces were split into three main factions (English Royalist, English Parliamentarian and Scottish Covenanter) as a result of the civil wars in England and Scotland. The Catholic Confederates themselves split on more than one occasion over the issue of whether their first loyalty was to the Catholic religion or to King Charles I (see the principal factions in the war).

The wars ended in the defeat of the Confederates. They and their English Royalist allies were defeated during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland by the New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell in 1649–53. [3] The wars following the 1641 revolt caused massive loss of life in Ireland, comparable in the country's history only with the Great Famine of the 1840s. The ultimate winner, the English parliament, arranged for the mass confiscation of land owned by Irish Catholics as punishment for the rebellion and to pay for the war. Although some of this land was returned after 1660 on the Restoration of the monarchy in England, the period marked the effective end of the old Catholic landed class.

Cromwellian conquest of Ireland

The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland or Cromwellian war in Ireland (1649–53) refers to the conquest of Ireland by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Cromwell invaded Ireland with his New Model Army on behalf of England's Rump Parliament in August 1649.

New Model Army army (1645-1660) in the English Civil War

The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration. It differed from other armies in the series of civil wars referred to as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in that it was intended as an army liable for service anywhere in the country, rather than being tied to a single area or garrison. Its soldiers became full-time professionals, rather than part-time militia. To establish a professional officer corps, the army's leaders were prohibited from having seats in either the House of Lords or House of Commons. This was to encourage their separation from the political or religious factions among the Parliamentarians.

Oliver Cromwell 17th-century English military and political leader

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader. He served as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 until his death, acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republic.

The plot, October 1641

The rebellion was intended to be a swift and mainly bloodless seizure of power in Ireland by a small group of conspirators led by Phelim O’Neill. Small bands of the plotter’s kin and dependents were mobilised in Dublin, Wicklow and Ulster, to take strategic buildings like Dublin Castle. Since there were only a small number of English soldiers stationed in Ireland, this had a reasonable chance of succeeding. Had it done so, the remaining English garrisons could well have surrendered, leaving Irish Catholics in a position of strength to negotiate their demands for civil reform, religious toleration and Irish self-government. However, the plot was betrayed at the last minute and as a result, the rebellion degenerated into chaotic violence. Following the outbreak of hostilities, the resentment of the native Irish Catholic population against the British Protestant settlers exploded into violence. Shortly after the outbreak of the rebellion, O'Neill issued the Proclamation of Dungannon which offered justification for the rising. He claimed that he was acting on the orders of Charles I.

The Rebellion, 1641–42

From 1641 to early 1642, the fighting in Ireland was characterised by small bands, raised by local lords or among local people, attacking civilians of opposing ethnic and religious groups. At first, Irish Catholic bands, particularly from Ulster, took the opportunity given them by the collapse of law and order, to settle scores with Protestant settlers who had occupied Irish land in the plantations of Ireland. Initially, the Irish Catholic gentry raised militia forces to try and contain the violence [4] but afterwards, when it was clear that the government in Dublin intended to punish all Catholics for the rebellion, [5] participated in the attacks on Protestants and fought English troops sent to put down the rebellion. In areas where British settlers were concentrated, around Cork, Dublin, Carrickfergus and Derry, they raised their own militia in self-defence and managed to hold off the rebel forces. All sides displayed extreme cruelty in this phase of the war. Around 4,000 Protestants were massacred and a further 12,000 may have died of privation after being driven from their homes. [6] [7] In one notorious incident, the Protestant inhabitants of Portadown were taken captive and then massacred on the bridge in the town. [8] The settlers responded in kind, as did the Government in Dublin, with attacks on the Irish civilian population. Massacres of Catholic civilians occurred at Rathlin Island and elsewhere. [9] The rebels from Ulster defeated a government force at Julianstown, but failed to take nearby Drogheda and were scattered when they advanced on Dublin.

By early 1642, there were four main concentrations of rebel forces; in Ulster under Phelim O'Neill, in the Pale around Dublin led by Viscount Gormanstown, in the south-east, led by the Butler family – in particular Lord Mountgarret and in the south-west, led by Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry.

The Confederates' war, 1642–48

Kilkenny Castle, seat of the Confederate General Assembly Kilkenny castle.jpg
Kilkenny Castle, seat of the Confederate General Assembly

Charles I wanted control of Ireland to mobilise its resources against his opponents in England and Scotland; the Scots and their English Parliamentary allies aimed to prevent this. Over the course of 1642, 10,000 Scots funded by Parliament landed in Coleraine and Carrickfergus, while English forces re-established control over Dublin. [10]

One of the last pieces of legislation approved by both Charles and Parliament before the outbreak of the First English Civil War was the March 1642 Adventurers Act; this funded the war in Ireland by loans that would be repaid by the sale of lands held by the Irish rebels. As a result, neither side would tolerate the autonomous Catholic state demanded by Irish leaders and both were committed to further land confiscations; enforcing the Adventurers Act was the primary objective of the 1649 Cromwellian conquest. [11]

This resulted in the formation of Irish Confederacy, based at Kilkenny; by the end of 1642, it controlled two thirds of Ireland, including the ports of Waterford and Wexford, through which they could receive aid from Catholic powers in Europe. While supported by most Irish Catholics, especially the clergy, many co-religionists among the upper classes were Royalists by inclination, who feared losing their own lands if the plantation settlements were overturned. Some fought against the Confederation, others like Clanricarde, stayed neutral. [12]

Forces initially available to the Confederacy were primarily militia and private levies, commanded by aristocratic amateurs like Lord Mountgarret. These suffered a series of defeats, including Liscarroll, Kilrush, New Ross and Glenmaquinn but the outbreak of the English Civil War in mid-1642 led to the recall of many English troops. This allowed Garret Barry, a returned Irish mercenary soldier, to capture Limerick in 1642, while the English garrison in Galway was forced to surrender by the townspeople in 1643.

By mid-1643, the Confederacy controlled large parts of Ireland, the exceptions being Ulster, Dublin and Cork. They were assisted by divisions among their opponents, with some areas held by forces loyal to Parliament, others by the Royalist Duke of Ormonde and the Covenanters pursuing their own agenda around Carrickfergus. The reality was an extremely complex mix of shifting loyalties; for various reasons, many Ulster Protestants regarded the Scots with hostility, as did some of their nominal allies in Parliament, including Cromwell. [13]


Inchiquin, commander in Munster, who defected to Parliament in 1644, then returned to the Royalists in 1648; an example of the complex mix of loyalties and motives Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin by Wright, John Michael.jpg
Inchiquin, commander in Munster, who defected to Parliament in 1644, then returned to the Royalists in 1648; an example of the complex mix of loyalties and motives

The Civil War gave the Confederates time to create regular, full-time armies and they were eventually able to support some 60,000 men in different areas. These were funded by an extensive system of taxation, equipped with supplies from France, Spain and the Papacy and led by Irish professionals like Thomas Preston and Owen Roe O'Neill, who had served in the Spanish army.

However, they arguably squandered an opportunity to conquer all of Ireland by signing a truce or 'cessation' with the Royalists on 15 September 1643, then spending the next three years in abortive negotiations. The period 1642 to 1646 was dominated by raids, with all sides attempting to starve their enemies by the destruction of crops and supplies, causing great loss of life, particularly among civilians. The bitterness it engendered is illustrated by a Parliamentary Ordinance of October 1644, which forbade 'giving of quarter to any Irishman or Papist born in Ireland who shall be taken in Hostility against the Parliament either upon the Sea or in England and Wales.' [14]

An offensive against Ulster in 1644 failed to make significant progress, while defeat at Marston Moor in July made it increasingly clear the English Royalists were losing the war; two weeks later, the Earl of Inchiquin defected to Parliament, giving them control of the ports of Cork, Kinsale and Youghal. [15] In late 1644, the Confederates took Bandon but Inchiquin retained control of Cork; Preston captured Duncannon in January 1645, then besieged Youghal but lack of supplies forced him to abandon the siege in March 1645. [16]


The opening years of the war saw widespread displacement of civilians – both sides practising what would now be called ethnic cleansing. In the initial phase of the rebellion in 1641, the vulnerable Protestant settler population fled to walled towns such as Dublin, Cork and Derry for protection. Others fled to England. When Ulster was occupied by Scottish Covenanter troops in 1642, they retaliated for the attacks on settlers by attacks on the Irish Catholic civilian population. As a result, it has been estimated that up to 30,000 people fled Ulster in 1642, to live in Confederate held territory. Many of them became camp followers of Owen Roe O'Neill's Ulster Army, living in clan-based groupings called "creaghts" and driving their herds of cattle around with the army. Outside of Ulster, the treatment of civilians was less harsh, although the "no-mans-land" in between Confederate and British held territory in Leinster and Munster was repeatedly raided and burned, with the result that it too became de-populated.

Victory and defeat for the Confederates

Bunratty Castle, besieged and taken by the Irish Confederates from an English Parliamentarian force in 1646. One of a string of Confederate victories in that year Bunrattybig.jpg
Bunratty Castle, besieged and taken by the Irish Confederates from an English Parliamentarian force in 1646. One of a string of Confederate victories in that year

However, the stalemate in Ireland was broken in 1646, with the end of the first English Civil War.

The Confederates, after their military ousted the Confederate Supreme Council who had signed a peace Treaty with the Royalists, abandoned further negotiations with the defeated Royalists and tried to re-take all of Ireland before the English Parliament could launch an invasion of the country. They were bolstered by the arrival in Ireland of the Papal Nuncio, Rinuccini, who brought with him large amounts of money and arms. They managed to capture a Parliamentarian stronghold at Bunratty castle in Clare and to smash the Scottish Covenanter army at the battle of Benburb and also take Sligo town. Late in the year, the Ulster and Leinster Confederate armies under Owen Roe O'Neill and Thomas Preston (a total of 18,000 men) laid siege to Dublin, trying to take the city from Ormonde’s Royalist garrison. However Ormonde had devastated the land around the capital and the Confederates, unable to supply their troops, had to lift the siege. In hindsight, this was the high tide for the Irish Confederates. Ormonde, who said that he "preferred English rebels to Irish ones", left Dublin and handed it over to a Parliamentarian army sent from England under Michael Jones. Further Parliamentarian reinforcements were sent to Cork in southern Ireland.

In 1647, these Parliamentarian forces inflicted a shattering series of defeats on the Confederates, ultimately forcing them to join a Royalist coalition to try to hold off a Parliamentarian invasion. Firstly, in August 1647, when it tried to march on Dublin, Thomas Preston's Leinster army was annihilated at the battle of Dungans Hill by Jones’ Parliamentarian army. This was the best trained and best equipped Confederate army and the loss of its manpower and equipment was a body blow to the Confederation. Secondly, the Parliamentarians based in Cork devastated the Confederates' territory in Munster, provoking famine among the civilian population. In September, they stormed Cashel, not only taking the town but also massacring its garrison and inhabitants, including several Catholic clerics. When the Irish Munster army brought them to battle at Knocknanauss in November, they too were crushed. Sligo also changed hands again – captured by the Ulster British settlers' army. The battles in this phase of the war were exceptionally bloody: in the battles of 1646–47, the losers had up to half of those engaged killed – most commonly in the rout after the battle was decided. In the three largest engagements of 1647, no less than 1% of the Irish male population (around 7,000–8,000 men) were killed in battle.

This string of defeats forced the Confederates to come to a deal with the Royalists, and to put their troops under their command. Amid factional fighting within their ranks over this deal, the Confederates dissolved their association in 1648 and accepted Ormonde as the commander in chief of the Royalist coalition in Ireland. Inchiquin, the Parliamentarian commander in Cork, also defected to the Royalists after the arrest of King Charles I.

The Confederates were fatally divided over this compromise. Rinuccini, the Papal Nuncio, threatened to excommunicate anyone who accepted the deal. Particularly galling for him was the alliance with Inchiquin, who had massacred Catholic civilians and clergy in Munster in 1647. There was even a brief period of civil war in 1648 between Owen Roe O'Neill's Ulster Army, as he refused to accept the Royalist alliance, and the new Royalist–Confederate coalition. O'Neill neglected to secure adequate supplies and was unable to force a change in policy on his former comrades. During this divisive period the Confederates missed a second strategic chance to reorganise while their opponents were engaged in the Second English Civil War (1648–49), which was lost by their royalist allies.

The Cromwellian War, 1649–1653

Oliver Cromwell landed in Ireland in 1649 to re-conquer the country on behalf of the English Parliament. He left in 1650, having taken eastern and southern Ireland - passing his command to Henry Ireton. Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg
Oliver Cromwell landed in Ireland in 1649 to re-conquer the country on behalf of the English Parliament. He left in 1650, having taken eastern and southern Ireland – passing his command to Henry Ireton.

The Confederate/Royalist coalition wasted valuable months fighting with Owen Roe O'Neill and other former Confederates instead of preparing to resist the impending Parliamentarian invasion of Ireland. O'Neill later re-joined the Confederate side. Belatedly, in summer 1649, Ormonde tried to take Dublin from the Parliamentarians, and was routed by Michael Jones at the battle of Rathmines.

Oliver Cromwell landed shortly afterwards with the New Model Army. Whereas the Confederates had failed to defeat their enemies in eight years of fighting, Cromwell was able to succeed in three years in conquering the entire island of Ireland, because his troops were well supplied, well equipped (especially with artillery), and well trained. Moreover, he had a huge supply of men, money and logistics to fund the campaign.

The Cromwellian Conquest

His first action was to secure the east coast of Ireland for supplies of men and logistics from England. To this end, he took Drogheda and Wexford, perpetrating massacres of the defenders of both towns. [17] [18] He also sent a force to the north to link up with the British settler army there. Those settlers who supported the Scots and Royalists were defeated by the Parliamentarians at the battle of Lisnagarvey.

Ormonde signally failed to mount a military defence of southern Ireland. He based his defences upon walled towns, which Cromwell systematically took one after the other with his ample supply of siege artillery. The Irish and Royalist field armies did not hold any strategic line of defence and instead were demoralised by a constant stream of defeats and withdrawals. Only at the siege of Clonmel did Cromwell suffer significant casualties (although disease also took a very heavy toll on his men). His losses were made good by the defection of the Royalist garrison of Cork, who had been Parliamentarians up to 1648, back to the Parliament side. Cromwell returned to England in 1650, passing his command to Henry Ireton.

In the north, the Parliamentarian/settler army met the Irish Ulster army at the battle of Scarrifholis and destroyed it. Ormonde was discredited and fled for France, to be replaced by Ulick Burke, Earl of Clanricarde. By 1651, the remaining Royalist/Irish forces were hemmed into an area west of the River Shannon, holding only the fortified cities of Limerick and Galway and an enclave in County Kerry, under Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry.

Ireton besieged Limerick while the northern Parliamentarian army under Charles Coote besieged Galway. Muskerry made an attempt to relieve Limerick, marching north from Kerry, and was routed by Roger Boyle at the battle of Knocknaclashy. Limerick and Galway were too well defended to be taken by storm, and were blockaded until hunger and disease forced them to surrender, Limerick in 1651, Galway in 1652. Waterford and Duncannon also surrendered in 1651.

Guerrilla War

Galway; the last Irish town to fall to the Parliamentarians, in 1652. Old-Galway.jpg
Galway; the last Irish town to fall to the Parliamentarians, in 1652.

While formal resistance ended, the harsh surrender terms resulted in a period of guerrilla warfare by bands of former soldiers, known as Tóraidhe or 'Tories.' These operated from rugged areas such as the Wicklow Mountains, looting supplies and attacking Parliamentary patrols, who responded with forced evictions and the destruction of crops. The result was widespread famine, aggravated by an outbreak of bubonic plague.

The last organised Irish force surrendered in Cavan in April 1653 and given passage to France to either serve in the French army or with the English Royalist Court in exile. Those captured after this point were executed or transported to penal colonies in the West Indies.

Ireland was plagued with small scale violence for the remainder of the 1650s, partly due to the 1652 Act for the Settlement of Ireland. This created a class of landless former farmers and dramatically altered patterns of Irish land holding, the percentage owned by Protestants increasing from 41% to 78% over the period 1641 to 1660. [19]

Shifting allegiances

The Irish Confederate wars was a complex conflict in which no less than four major armies fought in Ireland. These were the Royalists loyal to King Charles, the Scottish Covenanters (sent into Ulster in 1642 to protect Protestant planters after the massacres that marked the Irish rebellion of 1641 in that region), the Parliamentarian army, and the Irish Confederate army to whom most of the inhabitants of Ireland gave their allegiance. [20] During the wars, all of these forces came into conflict at one stage or another. To add to the turmoil, a brief civil war was fought between Irish Confederate factions in 1648.

The Royalists under Ormonde were in conflict with Irish Catholic forces from late 1641 to 1643. Their main enclave was in Dublin. A ceasefire with the Confederate Catholics lasted from 1643 until 1646, when the Confederates again came into conflict with the Royalists. After 1648 most of the Confederates and the Scots joined an alliance with the Royalists. This was the array of forces that was to face Cromwell's army in 1649. Ormonde's handling of the defence of Ireland was however rather inept so that by mid-1650 the defence of Ireland was conducted mainly by Irish Confederate leaders.

The Irish Confederates: formed in October 1642, the Confederation of Kilkenny was initially a rebel Irish Catholic movement, fighting against the English troops sent to put down the rebellion, though they insisted they were at war with the king's advisers and not with Charles himself. They also had to fight the Scottish army that landed in Ulster. From 1642 to 1649, the Confederates controlled most of Ireland except for east and west Ulster, Cork city and Dublin. A cessation was arranged with the Royalists in 1643 after the outbreak of civil war in England and negotiations began to bring the Confederates into the English conflict on the Royalist side. A strongly Catholic faction under the influence of the Irish Bishops and Nuncio Rinuccini emerged in 1646, which opposed signing a peace treaty that did not recognise the position of the Catholic Church in Ireland or return confiscated Catholic land. When this faction ousted the Confederate 'peace party' or pro-Royalists, the Confederates once again clashed with the English Royalists, who abandoned most of their positions in Ireland to the Parliamentarians during 1646. However, after fresh negotiations, an alliance was arranged between the Royalists and Confederates in 1648. Some Confederates (most notably the Ulster army) were however opposed to this treaty initiating a brief Irish Catholic civil war in 1648 in which the Ulster Confederate army was supported by the English Parliament.

The Scottish Covenanters arrived in Ireland in early 1642 to put down the uprising and thereby protect the lives and property of the Scottish Protestant settlers in Ulster. They held most of eastern Ulster for the duration of the war, but were badly weakened by their defeat by the Confederates at the battle of Benburb in 1646. They fought the Confederates (with the support of the English Parliament) from their arrival in Ulster in 1642 until 1648. After the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters' alliance broke down, the Scottish forces in Ulster joined the Confederates and Royalists in an alliance against their former allies in 1649.

The Parliamentarian Army gained a major foothold in Ireland for the first time in 1644, when Inchiquin's Cork-based Protestant force fell out with the Royalists over their ceasefire with the Confederates. The Protestant settler forces in the north west of Ireland, known as the Lagan Army (or Lagan Force), also came over to the Parliamentarians after 1644, deeming them to be the most reliably anti-Catholic of the English forces. The city of Dublin fell into Parliamentarian hands in 1646, when the Royalists surrendered it to an English Parliamentarian expeditionary force after the city was threatened by Confederate armies. In 1648 the Parliamentarians briefly gave support to Owen Roe O'Neill's Ulstermen after his fall out with the Confederates: Thus the extreme Catholic and Puritan forces were briefly allied for mutual expediency. The Ulster Catholic army however joined the Confederate-Royalist alliance after the shock of Cromwell's invasion in August 1649. The most potent Parliamentarian force was the New Model Army, which proceeded to conquer Ireland over the next four years and to enforce the Adventurers Act by conquering and selling Irish land to pay off its financial backers.


The death toll of the conflict was huge. William Petty, a Cromwellian who conducted the first scientific land and demographic survey of Ireland in the 1650s (the Down Survey), concluded that at least 400,000 people and maybe as many as 620,000 had died in Ireland between 1641 and 1653. The true figure may well be lower given Petty's outmoded methodology, but the lowest suggested is about 200,000. At the time, according to William Petty, the population of Ireland was only around 1.5 million inhabitants. It is estimated that about two thirds of the deaths were civilian. The Irish defeat led to the mass confiscation of Catholic owned land and the English Protestant domination of Ireland for over two centuries. [21]

The wars, especially the Cromwellian conquest, were long remembered in Irish culture. Gaelic Poetry of the post-war era laments lack of unity among Irish Catholics in the Confederation and their constant infighting, which was blamed for their failure to resist Cromwell. Other common themes include the mourning of the old Irish Catholic landed classes, which were destroyed in the wars, and the cruelty of the Parliamentarian forces. See Also Irish Poetry

See also

Soldiers: Alasdair MacColla, Hugh Dubh O'Neill, George Monck, Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel, Michael Jones, Theobald Taaffe 1st Earl of Carlingford

Political figures: Patrick D'Arcy, Richard Martyn, James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven, Richard Bellings, Nicholas French, Patrick O'Neill, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, Nicholas Plunkett, Charles II

Places: Clonmel, Rathfarnham Castle, Trim Castle, Cahir Castle, Narrow Water, Ross Castle, Rock of Cashel, Charlemont Fort


  1. Mícheál Ó Siochrú/RTÉ ONE, Cromwell in Ireland Part 2. Broadcast 16/9/2008.
  2. "The Eleven Years War 1641-52 – A Brief Overview". 10 January 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  3. Philip McKeiver; A New History of Cromwell's Irish Campaign,Advance Press, 2007, ISBN   978-0-9554663-0-4
  4. Padraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War 1641–49, p33-34, "The Catholic elite of Meath dithered for a whole month between trying to rein in popular rebels and going into rebellion themselves". "Right up to the eve of the encounter at Julianstown, the local Catholic nobility and most of the gentry still backed the government"
  5. Lenihan, p23, "Bellings, the future secretary of the Confederate Catholics, claimed the Lords Justice, in response to the rebellion, showed they wanted to drive the Old English into following the example of the Ulster insurgents by their offensively wide description of the insurgents as some "evil affected Irish Papists"
  6. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer, p. 278, 'William Petty's figure of 37,000 Protestants massacred... is far too high, perhaps by a factor of ten, certainly more recent research suggests that a much more realistic figure is roughly 4,000 deaths.'
  7. Staff, Secrets of Lough Kernan BBC, Legacies UK history local to you,website of the BBC. Accessed 17 December 2007
  8. Hull, Eleanor (1931). A History of Ireland , Chapter "The Rebellion of 1641–42" website of Library Ireland
  9. Royle, Trevor (2004), Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638–1660, London: Abacus, ISBN   0-349-11564-8 p.143
  10. Lenihan, Padraig (ed), Young, John (author) (2001). Scotland & Ireland 1641-1691 in Conquest and Resistance: War in Seventeenth-Century Ireland. Brill. p. 59. ISBN   978-9004117433.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  11. Manganiello, Stephen (2004). The Concise Encyclopedia of the Revolutions and Wars of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1639-1660. Scarecrow Press. p. 160. ISBN   978-0810851009.
  12. Lenihan, Padraig (2016). Consolidating Conquest: Ireland 1603-1727 (Longman History of Ireland). Routledge. pp. 109–110. ISBN   978-1138140639.
  13. Lenihan & Young pp. 60-61
  14. Firth, CH (ed), Rait, RS (ed). "'Table of acts: 1644', in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660". British History Online. Retrieved 21 February 2019.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  15. Lenihan, Padraig (ed), Kerrigan, Paul (author) (2001). Ireland in Naval Strategy 1641-1691 in Conquest and Resistance: War in Seventeenth-Century Ireland. Brill. p. 157. ISBN   978-9004117433.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  16. McKeiver, Philip (2008). A New History of Cromwell's Irish Campaign. Advance Press. ISBN   978-0955466304.
  17. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer, p.98.
  18. Fraser, Antonia (1973). Cromwell, Our Chief of Men, and Cromwell: the Lord Protector (Phoenix Press), ISBN   0-7538-1331-9 pp.344–46.
  19. Bottigheimer, Karl (November 1967). "English Money and Irish Land: The 'Adventurers' in the Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland". Journal of British Studies. 7 (1): 12.
  20. Lenihan, Consolidating Conquest, p109-110
  21. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer, p.278

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