MacCarthy, Donough (1594–1665), 2nd Viscount Muskerry , 1st earl of Clancarty , soldier and politician, was second (but first surviving) son of Cormac Oge MacCarthy, 1st Viscount Muskerry, and Margaret, daughter of Donough O'Brien, 4th earl of Thomond (qv). Although his family were catholics of native Irish stock, their long tradition of loyal service to the English crown had enabled them to retain extensive lands in Co. Cork. Little is known of Donough's upbringing or education, and he did not emerge onto the national stage until the 1630s. His marriage to Eleanor Butler, sister of James (qv), 12th earl of Ormond, provided MacCarthy with an extended network of political allies, which he exploited with great skill throughout his career. Based at Macroom in Co. Cork, he also owned estates in Waterford, becoming a freeman of the city in 1633. Knighted the following year, MacCarthy received a baronetcy in 1638. He was elected MP for Co. Cork in 1634 and again in 1640; his father also attended both these parliaments, sitting in the house of lords. MacCarthy played an active role during the 1640–41 parliament, convincing his brother-in-law Ormond to drop stalling tactics, delaying the adoption of articles against the lord lieutenant, Thomas Wentworth (qv), earl of Strafford. In December 1640 MacCarthy travelled to London as a member of a commons committee to present a list of grievances to the king. He gave evidence at Strafford's trial, accusing the lord lieutenant of refusing travel licences to Irishmen who wished to visit the court.
On the death of his father (20 February 1641), MacCarthy inherited lands entirely free from debt and, having settled personal family affairs, returned to Dublin to sit in the house of lords as 2nd Viscount Muskerry. During the initial months of the uprising in late 1641, Muskerry remained loyal to the Dublin administration, but most of his tenants and adherents defected to the rebel cause. The insurgents' professed loyalty to the king, combined with the violent tactics of William St Leger (qv), lord president of Munster, finally convinced him to switch sides in March 1642. In a letter to the earl of Barrymore (qv), the viscount claimed that he had joined the rebellion to maintain ‘the catholic Roman religion, his majesty's prerogative and royal attributes to the government and ancient privileges of the poor kingdom of Ireland established and allowed by the dominion law of England’ (BL, Add. MS 25277, f. 58). He besieged the city of Limerick during the summer, but his personal rivalry with Maurice Roche, Viscount Fermoy (qv), another leading catholic magnate in Munster, hindered the progress of the catholic forces in the province. According to the deposition of John Purcell, Muskerry attended the first general assembly of the confederate catholics in Kilkenny in October 1642. Assembly members appointed Garret Barry (qv), a continental veteran, as a compromise commander in Munster, with Muskerry as one of his subordinate officers.
After his victory over the royalist Sir Charles Vavasor at Cloughleigh (June 1643), the viscount adopted an increasingly central role in confederate affairs. During the summer, he headed a committee, nominated by the second general assembly, to conclude a cessation with the royalists. He also became president of the Munster provincial council, gradually eclipsing his most prominent local rival, Viscount Fermoy. The death of Nicholas Preston (qv), Viscount Gormanston, in July 1643 deprived the Pale lords of their natural leader, allowing a new clique centred on Muskerry and Richard Butler (qv), Viscount Mountgarret, Ormond's great-uncle, to assume control of confederate government. This peace faction favoured a speedy settlement with the king, in return for a minimum of concessions, and talks between the two sides dominated proceedings until 1646. Ormond's increasing prominence on the royalist side (he was appointed lord lieutenant at the end of 1643) further facilitated the rise of Muskerry, who could exploit his special relationship with Dublin at crucial times. In November 1643 the general assembly appointed the viscount as head of a delegation to negotiate peace terms with the king in Oxford. The subsequent talks failed to bridge the gap between the two sides, although they agreed to continue the process back in Ireland. The confederate general assembly in July 1644 established a committee of treaty for this purpose, with Muskerry as one of its most active and influential members. At this same assembly Muskerry replaced Viscount Fermoy as Munster representative on the executive supreme council, thus consolidating his position of prominence at Kilkenny.
For the next two years, Muskerry and his peace faction adherents tried desperately to agree terms with the royalists, despite Ormond's reluctance to compromise on religious issues. The intervention of Edward Somerset (qv), earl of Glamorgan, as special envoy from the king in June 1645 seemed to offer the prospect of a breakthrough. In August 1645 Muskerry and the other confederate commissioners signed a secret peace treaty with Glamorgan, who promised a number of religious concessions from the king in return for military and financial assistance. The subsequent arrival of the papal nuncio, GianBattista Rinuccini (qv), further complicated matters, as his tougher stance on religion helped unite the disparate opposition groups in Kilkenny. The arrest of Glamorgan by Ormond in December 1645, after the parliamentarians in England published a copy of his secret treaty, convinced the nuncio that the royalists could not be trusted. He favoured an immediate attack on Dublin, which was only prevented by the swift intervention of Muskerry. He brokered a compromise agreement between the various factions in Kilkenny, in a desperate attempt to salvage the peace process. While negotiations continued with the royalists, the viscount reluctantly agreed to lead the Munster forces against the parliamentarians who had seized the vital fortress at Bunratty on the Shannon. His lacklustre conduct of the siege exasperated Rinuccini, but in July 1646 the castle finally fell to the confederate army, which dispersed shortly afterwards due to lack of pay and internal divisions.
Despite the success at Bunratty, and the great victory achieved by Owen Roe O'Neill (qv) at Benburb in June 1646 over the Scottish covenanters, Muskerry remained convinced of the necessity of a peace deal with the royalists. He travelled to Dublin at the end of July to witness the declaration by Ormond of the treaty agreed with the confederate negotiators back in March. His absence from the council board at Kilkenny at this crucial juncture proved costly, as opponents of the deal (led by the bishops at Waterford) mounted a successful challenge to the authority of the peace faction. Within a few weeks the treaty had collapsed and the nuncio formed a new supreme council, dominated by adherents of the clerical faction. Imprisoned in Kilkenny castle, Muskerry also lost his military command, replaced as Munster general by the earl of Glamorgan. After the failure of the confederate assault on Dublin, a moderate faction led by Nicholas Plunkett (qv) began to dictate confederate policy. Plunkett called a general assembly and released all the peace faction prisoners, including Muskerry, who campaigned vigorously in the subsequent elections.
The general assembly, which met in January 1647, rejected the peace treaty but exonerated its authors from any blame, reelecting Muskerry to the supreme council. For the next two months he plotted a return to power, finally fleeing to the camp of the Munster army in June, where a number of officers proclaimed him as their commander. Anxious to avoid a confederate civil war, the supreme council decided not to confront the coup leaders, although a number of clerical supporters quit the Munster army in protest. His subsequent actions are difficult to decipher, as myriad plots – some involving the royalist George Digby and the French envoys in Kilkenny – threatened to tear the confederate association apart. Muskerry favoured plans to seize power in Kilkenny, and declare for the king, or alternatively to bring the troops under his command across to France. Any hopes of a royalist–confederate alliance were temporarily thwarted by the surrender of Dublin by Ormond to the forces of the English parliament in June 1647. Deeply disappointed, Muskerry handed over command of the Munster forces to Theobald, Viscount Taaffe (qv), in order to concentrate on political affairs in Kilkenny.
The subsequent general assembly (November 1647) elected a new supreme council (including Muskerry) with a peace faction majority. Assembly members also appointed the viscount and Geoffrey Browne (qv), along with Randal MacDonnell (qv), marquis of Antrim, as agents to negotiate with the exiled English royal court in Paris. Muskerry and Browne, who left Ireland in early 1648, travelled with secret instructions from Taaffe and the confederate commander in Leinster, Thomas Preston (qv), promising support if the prince of Wales would come to Ireland for the ‘reestablishment of the king's authority in all his dominions’ (quoted in Ó Siochrú, 172, n. 116). Ormond, now resident in Paris, envisaged a grand coalition, encompassing royalists, Scottish covenanters, and Irish confederates, to challenge the English parliament. Muskerry sailed for Ireland in June to prepare the ground for Ormond's return, confident of majority confederate support. The lord lieutenant reached Cork in late Septenber 1648, a few weeks after the opening session of the final general assembly. The confederates created a new committee of treaty to negotiate with Ormond, although Muskerry declined to join, believing his presence might prove divisive. Nonetheless, he directed all his energy into ensuring that the assembly accepted a new peace deal, which was finally ratified in January 1649. Ormond headed the new alliance, with Muskerry as one of his principal advisors.
Throughout most of 1649 Munster remained firmly in royalist hands, but in November Lord Broghill persuaded the towns of Cork, Youghal, Bandon, and Kinsale to declare for parliament. The following April the royalist forces in the province suffered a catastrophic defeat at Macroom. Muskerry continued to fight on in Cork and Kerry but the situation was becoming increasingly desperate. In April 1651 Ormond's deputy, Ulick Burke (qv), marquis of Clanricarde, granted him supreme command in Munster, in the absence of James Tuchet (qv), earl of Castlehaven, but he had trouble maintaining his forces. Muskerry suffered another defeat at the hands of Broghill in June 1651, and during the summer of 1652 Gen. Edmund Ludlow (qv) launched an offensive against the few remaining royalist-held areas in Munster. Muskerry's last stronghold, Ross Castle, surrendered in June, forcing the viscount to seek terms. When he was acquitted in 1653 after being tried for accessory to the murder of protestants in the early stages of the 1641 rebellion, the Cromwellian regime retried him in February 1654 for his part in various royalist conspiracies. According to one account, he owed his life to Lady Ormond's (qv) influence with the judges.
He sailed for the Continent shortly afterwards, where he became one of the principal advisors to the exiled Charles Stuart. Muskerry travelled to Poland in 1655 with Richard Bellings (qv), to offer the service of Irish catholic troops, and on 27 November 1658 he received the title of earl of Clancarty. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II ordered that the earl recover all his previous lands, more than 80,000 acres. By May 1661 Clancarty was once again in full possession of his estates, ‘without waiting for compensation to the settlers’ (quoted in Ohlmeyer, 269). He wrote a number of reports testifying to the loyalty and service of numerous Irish catholics, assisting them in any way he could to recover their lands.
Clancarty travelled to Ireland one last time in 1664, visiting his estates, before returning to England. He died in London in August 1665, lamented by Ormond, who described him as ‘so worthy a gentleman and good a friend’ (CSPI, 1663–5, 618–19). He had three sons, Cormac, Callaghan (qv), and Justin. Cormac, his heir, was sent to France as a teenager to gain military experience, and by the 1650s had risen to the position of colonel in the French army. In 1656 he switched allegiance to the Spaniards, serving in the regiment of the duke of York. This service undoubtedly strengthened his family's case for the restoration of estates after 1660. Cormac was killed in June 1665 at the battle of Lowestoft two months before the death of his father. Clancarty therefore was succeeded by his infant grandson Charles, who died the following year, and then by his brother Callaghan, who converted to protestantism.