Lord Tyrconnell: The last of the old Catholic viceroys

The Last Cavalier: Richard Talbot (1631-91)

J. Anthony Gaughan

Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell, was Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1687 to 1689. The Jacobite historian, Charles O’Kelly, described him as “of moderate parts but of an unbounded ambition and in private friendships inconstant”. 

The disgruntled Thomas Sheridan, who served as Talbot’s chief secretary, was even less flattering. He remembered him as “most insolent in prosperity and most abject in adversity, a cunning dissembling courtier, of mean judgment and small understanding, uncertain and unsteady in his resolutions, turning with every wind to bring about his ambitious ends…”.

This comprehensive biography provides a far more nuanced profile of the much-maligned Richard Talbot.  


The son of Sir Michael Talbot of Carton Castle, Co. Kildare, Richard had seven brothers, three of whom were ordained and one, Peter, a Jesuit was to serve as Archbishop of Dublin from 1669 to 1680.  

The Talbots were an ‘old English’ family. 

They set themselves apart from the new wave of settlers from Britain, associated themselves with the Counter Reformation and refused to attend the services of the new Protestant State Church.

At the age of 16, Richard joined a royalist cavalry regiment. He fought bravely at the battle of Dungan’s Hill and later was badly wounded and left for dead at the capture and sack of Drogheda by Cromwell. 

Subsequently he was involved with three others in a plot to assassinate Cromwell. The plot was betrayed and the would-be assassins were imprisoned.

On escaping from prison, Richard fled to the continent. There he met and became a trusted friend of James, the Duke of York, brother of Charles II and the future James II. 

Following the peaceful restoration of the monarchy, he returned to England, where he became an agent for those in Ireland who had been unfairly dispossessed of their lands by Cromwellians.  

The author expertly leads the reader through the bewildering miasma of plots, sub-plots and counter-plots swirling around the royal court at that time. Both Richard and Peter were involved in much of this intrigue. Ironically, they were both falsely accused of involvement in the notorious Titus Oates plot.

Both were imprisoned. Richard, owing to his influential connections, managed to escape, but Peter lingered on in prison until he died.

With the accession of James II, Talbot was charged with replacing ‘disaffected officers’, in effect, Cromwellians in the army in Ireland. He was appointed Lord Deputy and continued apace with the policy and to catholicise the civil administration, as well as the army.

The inevitable reaction to this and other attempts to implement this policy – James’ ‘grand design’ – in England prompted the coup d’état, known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’. In the following war against the forces of William of Orange, Talbot was a leading figure. He fought valiantly in the battle of the Boyne.

Subsequently, however, he caused serious divisions among the Jacobite forces because of his feud with Patrick Sarsfield, the Earl of Lucan. He died six weeks before the capitulation of Limerick and the so-called ‘Treaty of Limerick’.

As Pádraig Lenihan illustrates, the success or failure of Talbot’s interventions varied with circumstances. Thus in 1688, with James II still on his English throne, Talbot was on the verge of remarkable success: in Ireland, the army, judiciary and civil administration were in Catholic hands, the king’s permission to modify the restoration settlement had been secured and boroughs had been transformed to guarantee a Catholic parliament.

With a valedictory flourish, Lenihan speculates that, had Talbot survived to conduct the final negotiations at Limerick, he might well have done better than Sarsfield. He could hardly have done worse.