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Reversing The Conquest

Pádraig Lenihan
An Argument Defending the Right of the Kingdom of Ireland (1645), by Conor O’Mahony, edited by John Minahane, Aubane Historical Society, €25, ISBN: 978-1903497630 Could a Catholic subject give allegiance to a Protestant monarch? Conor O’Mahony, a Jesuit teacher of scholastic theology at the Irish College in Lisbon, answered: “No.” His “sustained and intellectually rigorous” response was the Disputatio apologetica de iure regni Hiberniae1. It was purportedly published in Frankfurt (actually in Lisbon) in 1645 and comprises two parts. The Disputatio proper outlines the arguments that might be offered to bolster English claims to rule Ireland, only to reject them one by one. Thus, O’Mahony denies that the English crown might have acquired prescriptive rights (in layman’s language a sort of squatter’s title) during the centuries since the Anglo-Norman conquest because the Papal Bull Laudabiliter which conferred the lordship of Ireland on Henry II back in the twelfth century was fraudulent: “what was invalid from the beginning does not come into force with the passage of time”. He then switches from legal and scholastic argument to a radical and subversive idea propounded on both sides of the Reformation’s confessional divide: subjects need not, indeed sometimes must not, obey their monarch. So, even if one grants that “… the kings of England once were true and legitimate lords of Ireland …”, that is no longer so since Henry VIII and his successors became “heretics and tyrants”. The Exhortatio urged the Hiberni or Irish to “choose for themselves a Catholic king”, a native-born “brother”. He justifies this by using opaque mystical symbolism to compare the Irish to the Israelites revolting against Naas, King of the Ammonites, who would pluck the right eye out of every Hebrew. John Minahane has translated both Disputatio and Exhortatio and embedded them in extensive commentary and notes. I will consider the translation first. He generously acknowledges that his work is congruent with other projects reclaiming and disseminating neo-Latin histories, polemics (lots of those) and theological works written in the 1640s, 1650s and 1660s by other exiled Irish Catholics like John Lynch and John Callaghan. One such project is headed by Jason Harris in University College Cork. Another is the massive undertaking to translate the six volumes of O’Connell’s and O’Farrell’s Commentarius Rinuccianus. The latter project is led by Billy Kelly of the University of Ulster, Micheál Ó Siochrú of Trinity College Dublin and James Maguire of the Irish Manuscript Commission. The Commentarius provides a continuous and quite detailed narrative of campaigns, battles…



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