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Rinuccini and Civil War in Ireland, 1644-49

Andrew Boyd tells the story of the ill-fated mission of a papal nuncio whose blundering zeal doomed the hopes of Irish Catholics of profiting from the civil war between Charles I and his Parliament in England.

‘I must tell you', writes Lord Castlehaven in his Memoirs, 'that about this time (midsummer 1645) there arrived in the West of Ireland Rinuccini, Archbishop and Prince of Fermo, in quality of Nuncio, sent by Pope Innocent the Tenth, to the Confederate Catholics'. Castlehaven remembered that he had been 'encamped before Youghal' when news of Rinuccini's arrival was brought to him, and he recalled that as Rinuccini's frigate San Pietro was approaching Waterford it was sighted by a parliamentary warship 'commanded by one Plunkett' and pursued westwards along the coast of Munster. But on the second day the galley-stove in the parliamentary ship caught fire, so Plunkett, fearing that his ammunition would explode, abandoned the chase and made for Kinsale.

Rinuccini escaped and landed next day on the mountainous coast of Kerry, and that, Lord Castlehaven lamented, 'was to the great misfortune of the Confederate Catholics and many other good and valuable interests'. But why should Castlehaven, who was after all, Commander-in-Chief of the Catholic armies in Ireland, have written so scathingly of the pope's nuncio? This is the exact question that opens up the whole history of what happened, and of what might have happened, during Rinuccini's embassy in Ireland.

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