Archbishop Rinuccini, Papal Nuncio and the Confederation of Kilkenny

Paddy Neary

The Supreme Council of the Kilkenny Confederation petitioned his Holiness Pope Innocent X for help in their struggle, and he decided to send a Nuncio to Ireland. He selected as Nuncio a man of great culture and piety, John Baptist Rinuccini, Archbishop of Fermo. This prelate was born in Rome on 15th September 1592, he came of a noble family of Florence.
He departed Rome early in 1645 and on reaching France, he bought a frigate of 28 guns, named the San Pietro. His suite consisted of 26 Italians and a number of Irish officers.
His Excellency brought with him as a gift from his Holiness to the Confederates 2000 muskets, 2000 cartouch boxes, 4000 swords, 2000 pike heads, 4000 brace of pistols, 20,000 lbs of powder with match in proportion. The money sent by his Holiness was estimated at £20,000 in Spanish Gold. This was the “wine from the Royal Pope” that Charles Mangan sings of in “My Dark Rosaleen”.
The frigate set sail on the 16th October 1645, on the fourth day out, the frigate was pursued by English ships for several hours which were soon left behind. At daybreak on the fifth day, the Captain of the San Pietro sighted a large warship and frigate in full pursuit. The chase continued for several hours with the San Pietro being driven 125 miles out of its course. The warship had caught fire and so the San Pietro was enabled to get away safely.
On the night of 21st October 1645, the frigate dropped anchor in Kenmare Bay Co. Kerry. The next morning, the Nuncio came ashore and his first halting place on Irish soil was a shepherds hut where he celebrated Mass. A huge number of people gathered when news of his arrival spread through the country side. After a short stay the Nuncio set out for Ardtully, then onto Macroom where Viscount Muskerry met him with a troop of fifty horsemen. After being welcomed to the town, the Bishop of Ardfert presented him with a horse upon which he later rode into Kilkenny. Later in Macroom, the Nuncio met a delegation from the Supreme Council. He then travelled onto Limerick where he was met by the clergy and officials. The aged Bishop, then 99 years of age had himself carried to the City gates and there knelt for the Apostolic Blessing. After a few days in Limerick, Rinnucini resumed his journey to Kilkenny via Cashel.

His Excellency entered Kilkenny on the 14th November 1645. He halted at the old Church of Saint Patrick. He then entered the church, vesting himself in the Insignia of Office. He mounted the richly caparisoned horse and proceeded to Saint Patrick’s Gate. There he was met by a group of fifty students from the Jesuit College who conveyed greetings in Latin verse. This group headed the procession which was composed of one hundred and fifty of the nobility and merchants on horseback. The streets were lined with Regiments of infantry and thousands of cheering people. Cannons boomed and church bells pealed.

As the procession wended its way through High Street, one of the group of students who had gathered at the Market Cross read an address of welcome to His Excellency. The procession continued to Saint Canices Cathedral, where the Bishop of Ossory Doctor Rothe welcomed the distinguished Italian. The Nuncio then ascended the High Altar, gave the Pontifical Blessing and intoned the Te Deum. On the Nuncios arrival in Kilkenny, he at once set to work to aid the Confederate cause. The news of Owe Rua O’Neill’s victory at Benburb was received by the people with great delight. It was a glorious epoch, new hope had come to the nation. All the people had banded together for Ireland’s cause. In the Parliament House assembled the leaders of Ireland. A Supreme Council was elected, who ordered that money should be minted, taxes levied, arms and ammunition made and armies raised. In front of the Parliament House, people paraded daily with music and banners flying. There for three years was regulated the Government of Ireland by Irishmen. When success was smiling on the cause, an ignominious Treaty was signed by the Viceroy, Lord Ormond on behalf of the King and the Confederates. The Nuncio and Owen Rua O’Neill were opposed to the Treaty and as a result of their opposition both were obliged to go on the run. About one hundred and seventy years ago a Confederate Banner was found concealed in a wall in the Black Abbey. This Banner is now in the Dominican House of Studies in Tallaght Co. Dublin. When repairs were being carried out at Rothe House in 1849, a Confederate banner was found in the wainscoting. This Banner is presently in the Headquarters of the Society of Antiquaries, Dublin. The magnificent stained glass window in Saint Canices Cathedral so impressed The Nuncio, that he offered £700 for it, this was refused by the authorities. When Cromwell’s forces arrived in Kilkenny a few years later, they smashed the window to pieces to obtain lead for the making of musket shot. Luckily the Nuncio had drawings made of the window and in the 1860s, replicas of the stained glass were manufactured and installed. On Christmas Day 1646, the Nuncio celebrated High Mass in Saint Canices Cathedral at which there was an overflowing congregation. Returning to Rome, Pope Innocent X gave the Nuncio a great welcome home and offered him a position at the Papal Court. He did not accept, deciding to return to his people at Fermo. He remained in Rome from November 1649 to June 1650, returning to Fermo where he was welcomed home by his flock.
News of the death of Owen Rua and the atrocities of Cromwell brought grief and brokenness to Rinnucini, he died on the 14th December 1653.


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