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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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Adoption of the Constitution of the Irish Free State

The Constitution of the Irish Free State (Irish: Bunreacht Shaorstát Eireann) is adopted by Act of Dáil Éireann sitting as a constituent assembly on October 25, 1922. In accordance with Article 83 of the Constitution, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 of the British Parliament, which comes into effect upon receiving the royal assent on December 5, 1922, provides that the Constitution will come into effect upon the issue of a Royal Proclamation, which is done on December 6, 1922. In 1937 the Constitution of the Irish Free State is replaced by the modern Constitution of Ireland following a referendum.

Shortly after the British evacuate their troops from Dublin Castle in January 1922, Michael Collins sets about establishing a committee to draft a new constitution for the nascent Irish Free State which would come into being in December 1922. Collins chairs the first meeting of that committee and at that point is its chairman, but is assassinated before the constitution is finalised. Darrell Figgis, the vice-chairman becomes acting Chair. The committee produces three draft texts, designated A, B and C. Draft A is signed by Figgis, James McNeill and John O’Byrne. Draft B is signed by James G. Douglas, C.J. France and Hugh Kennedy and it differs substantially from draft A only in proposals regarding the Executive. Draft C is the most novel of the three. It is signed by Alfred O’Rahilly and James Murnaghan, and provides for the possibility of representation for the people of the northern counties in the Dáil in the event of that area opting out of the proposed free state.

On March 31, 1922, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament called the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 is passed. It gives the force of law to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which had been negotiated between the British government and Irish leaders in 1921. It also provides by for the election of a body to be called the “House of the Parliament,” sometimes called the “Provisional Parliament,” to which the Provisional Government establishes under that act will be responsible. The act gives no power to the Provisional Parliament to enact a constitution for the Irish Free State. In due course, “the House of the Parliament,” provided for by that act, is elected and meets on September 9, 1922, and calling itself Dáil Éireann, proceeds to sit as a constituent assembly for the settlement of what becomes the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

The Constitution establishes a parliamentary system of government under a form of constitutional monarchy, and contains guarantees of certain fundamental rights. It is intended that the constitution would be a rigid document that, after an initial period, could be amended only by referendum. However, amendments are made to the Constitution’s amendment procedure, so that all amendments can be and are in fact made by a simple Act of the Oireachtas (parliament).

Following a change of government in 1932 and the adoption of the Statute of Westminster 1931, a series of amendments progressively removes many of the provisions that had been required by the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

(Pictured: The Constitution Committee meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, 1922)