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Hence the impossible mission of the Nuncio, Archbishop Rinuccini, and another chapter in the tragic story of Ireland, which then lies prostrate before the fury of Cromwell. Tadhg F. That statement is to be found in the instructions issued to Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, Prince Archbishop of Fermo, on the occasion of his assignment as Nuncio to the Catholic Confederation in Ireland. What it means is that the Irish, like other Catholics who acknowledged papal supremacy, nevertheless entertained doubts and suspicions about the policies of the Holy See.

But what distinguishes the Irish from many other peoples — then and now — is the fact that they are too often full of suspicious doubts, not so much about the Holy See or any other distant power, as about one another.

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Certainly this was the case during the existence of the Confederation of Kilkenny, from to Few aspects of Irish history are so complex, or can evoke such different viewpoints even today, after the passage of three and a half centuries. How was it that the Confederacy, consisting entirely of Catholics pledged to defend their religious freedoms against a common enemy, should spend these years in a futile internecine struggle?

Why did the Nuncio, despatched in response to an appeal from the Confederates and received with such ceremonial honours at Kilkenny, eventually fail so lamentably in his mission and be forced to leave Ireland amidst bitterness and recrimination? What was it that brought about the collapse of the Confederation, leaving Ireland prostrate before the avenging armies of Cromwell? Rinuccini has been harshly treated by history.

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Such is human nature that there is rarely much sympathy for a failure, and it is certain that he did fail in what he was sent to do. The kindest comment his critics have about him is that he didn't understand the Irish : that he was the wrong man for the job.


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Some time ago, when a more robustly nationalist stance was taken by Irish historians, Rinuccini had his defenders, who blamed his. This would certainly also be the view of W. For a fair assessment of Rinuccini and his mission one has to situate him in his time and place, and to judge him by reference to the circumstances of that time rather than those of today.

We are in the period of the wars of religion and at the beginning of the Puritan revolution in England. Charles I, a civilized and courteous man but remote from his people and given to a stubborn belief in the divine right of kings, is in an increasingly desperate situation in his struggle with the English parliament. The year , when Rinuccini arrived in Ireland, was also the year of the battle of Naseby, the first of a long series of defeats for the royalists which ultimately were to lead to the imprisonment and execution of the king.


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For years already Charles had attempted to secure armed assistance from his Irish subjects against those who opposed him in arms at home. In January , for instance, responding to the protestations of loyalty from the Confederates in Kilkenny, he instructed Ormond to open negotiations with them in order to secure a truce in the Irish war, and if this were successful, to bring over an Irish army to Chester to aid the royalist cause.

How was this received in Kilkenny? The choice of that city as the seat of the Catholic Confederacy was a great advantage to those who sought to win the Confederates to the royalist cause in England. This was Ormond territory, where for centuries the Butler interest was predominant.


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From an early date this Anglo-Norman family had astutely built up its ownership and control of Kilkenny, as well as its palatinate in Tipperary. Through a system of land purchases and leases the earls of Ormond had consolidated their power over this region of Ireland and those who dwelt there, especially over the patrician merchant class of which Kilkenny speaks with pride, even today. The Catholic Confederacy was a mix of this class, almost all of whom were of Anglo-Norman origin, and of the Old Irish : those who had suffered most from the confiscations and plantations under Elizabeth and James,.

W McLoughlin, Pt. Dionysius Massari , dean of Fermo, sec. They are all trained in arms, especially now that they are at war. Those who apply themselves to letters are very learned, and well fitted to the professions and sciences. Their manners are marked by their extreme simplicity, and they mix freely in conversation on all occasions without suspicion or jealousy. Their dress differs from ours, and is somewhat like the French. They also wear cloaks reaching to their heels and tufted locks of hair, and they go without any licad-dress, content with linen bands bound up in the Greek fashion, which display their natural beauty to much advantage.

History Ireland

Their families are very large. Some have as many as thirty children, all living; not a few have fifteen or twenty, and all these children are handsome, tall and strong, the majority being fair-haired, white-skinned and red-complexioned.

They are constantly pledging healths, the usual drinks being Spanish wines, French claret, very good beer and excellent milk. Butter is used abundantly with all kinds of food. There is also plenty of fruit -apples, pears, plums and artichokes. All eatables are cheap. A fat ox costs sixteen shillings, a sheep fifteen pence, a pair of capons, or fowls, five pence; eggs a farthing each, and other things in proportion.

Partly it resulted from itsfailure to provide the reformed Church of Ireland with the tools itneeded to do the job, especially the publication of the Bible and theBook of Common Prayer in Irish, until it was too late to be effective. Partly it flowed from the religious divisions within Protestantism andthe prevailing Presbyterianism of the new plantation communities. Itwas the failure of the Protestant Reformation in Ireland that helped togenerate the success of the Counter-Reformation, which was well underway by the first quarter of the seventeenth century.

Catholic Reformation in Ireland: The Mission of Rinuccini 1645-1649

When eventuallythe English authorities did begin to mould the Church of Ireland totheir liking in the s it was too late to make much impact and theexperiment was cut short by the English Civil War, and the accompanyingpolitical instability in Ireland, in the s. The rebellion that took place in Ireland in , though politicallydesigned to support the king against parliament, was in religious termsaimed at securing greater freedom and an enhanced status for IrishRoman Catholicism. A meeting at Kilkenny in established aConfederation of the Catholics in Ireland, in effect a provisionalgovernment for those areas of Ireland under the control of the RomanCatholic landowners.

It was as a result of this situation that thepapacy decided in to appoint Giovanni Battista Rinuccini,archbishop of the Italian diocese of Fermo, as papal nuncio to Irelandwith the task of reinstating Roman Catholicism as the de jure, as wellas the de facto, majority religion of the Irish people by agreementwith the beleaguered Charles I. It was a failed mission and, after fouryears in Ireland —9 , Rinuccini was obliged to departempty-handed, having succeeded only in dividing the Roman Catholicleadership of Ireland. The success of theIrish Counter-Reformation had enabled episcopal appointments to be madeto nineteen out of 30 dioceses by Rinuccini added to these bysecuring appointments to the dioceses of Ardagh, Clonmacnois, Dromore,Ferns, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Ross, so that by only four Irishdioceses—Achonry, Derry, Kildare and Killala—remained without bishops.

Yet after the departure of Rinuccini in , and the onslaught of theCromwellian persecution, the collapse of this episcopate was even moredramatic. By the late s most of the confederate bishops were deadand the few that remained technically in possession of their sees hadfled the country. The restoration of the Irish Roman Catholicepiscopate in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was aslow and laborious process.