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The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost

Part III. History of the County of Clare
Chapter 21. Catholic Confederation

Confederation of Kilkenny; Murrogh-an-Tothain, Baron and Earl of Inchiquin—Frequent changes of his political and religious creed; Barnabas, Earl of Thomond; his vascillating conduct; forced to receive a contingent of English troops into his castle of Bunratty; Presbyterian fleet arrives in the Shannon and anchors at Grass Island

Like all the other Catholic Irishmen of the time, the Catholic people of Clare took an active interest in the proceedings of the Confederation of Kilkenny, and they sent deputies from the county to attend its meetings. [1] Murrogh Baron, and afterwards Earl of Inchiquin, called Morrogh-an-Toitain, (of the burnings), formed an exception. He was conspicuous by his activity and military skill in those troubled days. At one moment he was a Confederate Catholic, at another a Protestant and a Parliamentarian. After changing his political and religious creed no less than four times, he at last died a Catholic. His exploits belong to the general history of the country, but it may be assumed that, amongst his followers and soldiers, were many of his kinsmen, and tenants from Clare. His powerful relative, Barnabas, Earl of Thomond, while in religion he steadily adhered to Protestantism, was no less wavering in his political principles. As may be seen, in the Depositions of the dispossessed Protestants of Clare, his fidelity to the English was much a subject of doubt, and as it was a matter of the utmost importance to the contending parties to secure the support of so powerful a noble, each tried to win him over to its side. His sympathies leaned towards the cause of the King and the Confederate Catholics, but he was forced to receive into his castle of Bunratty, where he then resided, a garrison of Parliamentary English. These had been brought over from England by a part of the Parliamentarian fleet commanded by Sir William Penn, and had arrived in the Shannon on the 11th of March, 1646. [2] On its way upwards, from the mouth of the river, the soldiers on board had perpetrated various atrocities on the inhabitants along the banks. It anchored off Bunratty, on the same evening, between six and seven o’clock, and a trumpeter was immediately despatched to the Earl, with a letter from Sir William Penn, and from Lieut. Colonel MacAdam, who commanded on board. He professed to receive the message kindly, and knowing the King’s cause to be desperate, promised to take the side of the new comers against the Catholics. After certain negociations had been concluded the next day, between the English, and Sir Teige MacMahon, Bart., of Clonderalaw, on the part of the Earl,—that nobleman himself not appearing at the conference,—they landed 700 men on an island contiguous to Bunratty. Captain Huntly meeting them there, invited their chiefs, on behalf of Thomond, to come and confer with him at his place of residence. They found him still irresolute and evasive, but by acting upon his hopes and his fears, they succeded in binding him irrevocably to the cause of the Parliament of England. They then dined with him, and it was arranged that the soldiers should march over, the same evening, from the island, and be quartered in the out-buildings surrounding the castle. One of the ships, loaded with military supplies, which the pilot assured them might go up the river Ogarney, within three cables length of Bunratty, with five fathoms of depth at low water, grounded on a ledge of rocks, six feet high, at the north side of the river, and was not got off without difficulty, and sustaining severe damage.

It was determined that the fleet should remain in the Shannon, at a convenient distance, so as to send military stores and reinforcements to the garrison when wanted, and at the same time, intercept the trade of the river, from its mouth to Limerick. Such an obstacle as this to the traffic of an important city, could not be suffered to exist without the utmost detriment to the affairs of the Irish party. Neither could the possession, by strangers from England, of so important a fortress as Bunratty, placed as it was, in a most advantageous strategical situation, and situate in the midst of a Catholic country, be permitted without serious injury. The Confederates, accordingly resolved, that immediate steps should be taken for its recovery, and Lord Muskerry, General Purcell, General Stephenson, and Colonel Purcell, the three last being officers who had served in the wars of Germany, were appointed to that duty. With these were associated Alexander MacDonnell, and Donogh O’Callaghan of Clonmeen.