In June 1646, the Irish Confederate forces achieved one of their most brilliant but savage victories. For five long years, Ireland had been at war as Catholic Confederate troops fought running battles against Protestant English and Scottish forces. But after King Charles I had made peace with the Confederates, only the Scottish Covenanters fought on. Theirs was a brave but foolhardy decision.
At the Battle of Benburb, the Protestant forces were decimated. It was a bloody battle with all the ingrained viciousness of the island's sectarian conflict. The Confederate leader Owen Roe O'Neill was thirsting to avenge decades of Gaelic-Irish oppression at the hands of Protestant settlers, and he took it with interest. He commanded the field with brutality. 'At times in the lead, at times in their midst, the general was encouraging and inciting his men. The slaughter continued until the final disappearance of the last ray of twilight made further pursuit impossible. Numbers of the enemy were drowned in the Blackwater and in the lake of Knocknacloy.'
The modern Benburb Presbyterian church, which replaced the church built there in 1646
When news of this sweeping Catholic victory reached the Pope at Rome, he ordered a special Te Deum to be sung in O'Neill's honour at St. Peter's Cathedral. The Papacy smiled down as Ireland, after decades of oppression from the English, seemed to be on the verge of returning to the holy and apostolic Catholic Church. The forces of international Catholicism were once more on the march.
The Scottish troops holding Charles I prisoner in Newcastle panicked at this terrifying news. Their recent disagreements with the English Parliament over the fate of Charles I dissolved as the common enemy of Catholicism seemed once more to stalk the land. Instead of using the King as a bargaining chip to gain concessions from Parliament, the Covenanters decided to deal with Parliament directly so that they might, if necessary, form a revitalised alliance against the common Catholic enemy.