The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 17 XVII,
January to June, 1905
There is no subject connected with Irish history about which so many untruths have been told as about the Rebellion of 1641. Thirty years ago a brilliant English writer—perhaps the most brilliant English writer of our generation—wrote a book called The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century; and the account which he then gave of the Rebellion has passed current in England since. The idea which, in the main, still exists in the English mind about the Rebellion of 1641 is, that it was a wanton massacre of the English settlers in Ulster having its origin in the murdering propensities of the Irish race. It is the old story of the double dose of original sin which, it is supposed, was given to the Irish at the beginning. There is another cause which has helped to “nail this particular lie to the mast” (as a member of the House of Commons once said). No intelligent person now attempts to justify Cromwell’s operations in Ireland. But his apologists say that he went to the country as an avenging angel—went to avenge the ‘massacre of 1641.’ Cromwell himself, in fact, took this view of the case. ‘I am persuaded,’ he wrote to the Parliament from Drogheda, ‘that this is a righteous judgment of God upon those barbarous wretches who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood.’ The unconscious humour of this sentence is delightful. Three thousand persons were slaughtered at Drogheda. Of these half (it is said) were English royalists who had no more to do with the ‘massacres of 1641’ than Cromwell himself. Of the other half who were Irish, there is not a particle of evidence to show that any of them were concerned in the Rebellion.
‘At Drogheda,’ says Mr. Lecky, ‘there had been no pretence of a massacre and a large proportion of the garrison were English.’ In fact Cromwell’s sentence is grotesque in the unconsciousness of its humour.
There is another point with which I wish to deal at once. The figures given of the English ‘massacred’ in 1641, are appalling. First it was said that 30,000 were ‘murdered.’ These figures rose gradually to 50,000, to 100,000, to 150,000, to 200,000, to 300,000. Well, these figures, can easily be disposed of. There were not 300,000 English in all Ireland in 1641. There were not 200,000 English in Ulster. There were not 100,000, there were not 50,000, there were not 30,000—there were 20,000. Later on we shall see how many of the 20,000 fell; but for the present, I shall pass from this part of the subject asking the reader to bear in mind that we have to deal with 20,000, and not with 300,000.
There is yet another matter on which I must touch by way of introduction. This Rebellion is often spoken of as if English and Irish stood on a footing of perfect equality with reference to it. This, of course, is not the case. The English came as conquerors. That is a vital point to be borne in mind in considering the ethics of the question. It is the duty of every people to defend their territory against the foreign invader. ‘I would rather die,’ said the great Lord Halifax, ‘than see a blade of English grass crushed by the foot of a foreign trespasser.’ This is a sentiment which we can all admire. It is a noble sentiment. But there is nothing specially sacred in an English blade of grass. The blades of grass of other soils are quite as well entitled to be defended. It is possible, indeed, that a people, in defending their own territory, may commit excesses; and for these excesses they must stand at the Bar of History. But it is not for the conqueror to complain. Let me put a homely case. A burglar enters your house. Instead of showing him quietly to the door, you seize him neck and crop, pitch him into the street, and fracture his skull. It may be that you have acted with unnecessary, and even reprehensible violence. But, if, when the burglar takes his stand in the dock, he complains that you broke his head, what think you would the judge say? Why, the answer is obvious: What business had you in the house? And so, it may be, that Ireland must stand at the Bar of History, for the excesses of 1641; but England must not be the accuser. The honest householder may have exceeded the bounds of moderation in defending his property against the thief. But Bill Sykes must not come forward as the accusing angel.
The Rebellion of 1641 was a continuance of the war waged by the Irish not only to defend their land, but to preserve the very existence of their race. To make this point clear, a brief retrospect of Irish history, for at least a hundred years before the Rebellion, is necessary. In 1541, Henry VIII summoned a parliament in Ireland. In that parliament Irish chiefs, and Norman barons sat side by side. It was a thoroughly representative Irish body. The Speaker addressed the House of Commons in Irish; and his speech was translated into English by the Earl of Ormonde. Irish sentiment was not wholly ignored, Irish views were more or less considered. The question for the Irish was whether they should carry on the war to the bitter end, or, being worsted in the field, accept honourable terms of peace. Henry’s English advisers in Ireland and in England urged him to give the Irish no terms. The true policy, they said, was to root out the Irish race, and to pour in English settlers to possess the land. Henry refused to adopt this policy. He resolved to make honourable terms with the vanquished. The chiefs were to acknowledge him as ‘King of Ireland;’ he was to leave them in possession of their lands (though they were to hold these lands on the terms of feudal tenure rather than in accordance with Irish tribal law), and in the enjoyment of political autonomy. The policy of wholesale extermination and confiscation (urged upon the King) was utterly repudiated. The ‘peace ‘so made left Ireland tranquil.’ Well would it have been both for England, and Ireland,’ says Mr. Joyce, ‘if a similar policy had been followed in the succeeding reigns.’
Henry died in 1547. The breath was scarcely out of his body when everything was changed. The policy of extermination and confiscation—the policy of ‘stamping out the Irish,’ as if, to use the language of Mr. Froude, they were of ‘no more value than their own wolves’— was at once adopted, and rigorously enforced.
In 1547, the Chiefs of Leix and Offaly were attacked. The O’Moores, the O’Connors, the O’Dempseys were driven from their possessions, and a horde of English settlers—the Barringtons, the Cosbies, the Breretons, the Hartpools, the Deverels, the Bowens, and the Pigots —poured into the country to seize the lands of the plundered clans. A fierce struggle followed. ‘The war fare which ensued,’ says Mr. Richey, ‘resembled that waged by the early settlers in America with the native tribes. No mercy whatever was shown to the natives, no act of treachery was considered dishonourable, no personal tortures and indignities were spared to the captives.’ This warfare went on during the reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. The combatants, on both sides, were at length exhausted, and terms of peace were proposed. It was agreed that the English settlers should hold the lands they had captured, and that the Irish clans should keep the lands they had preserved; and that both should, in future, live side by side in friendship. In 1577 the English invited the Irish chiefs to meet them in conference at the Rath of Mallamast, in order that the terms of peace should be ratified. The Irish—the O’Moores, the O’Lalors, the O’Kellys, the O’Donnellys—came with their retainers to the number of 200. They were met by the English settlers—the Cosbeys, the Hovedens, the Hartpools. The Irish—who were unarmed—marched between files of English soldiers into the rath. But none of them ever returned. When the last man had filed past, the English soldiers surrounded the fort, and the doomed clans were slaughtered to a man.
The warfare of extermination was carried on in the North as well as in the South. In 1570 the lands of the Ardes in the County Down was granted to Elizabeth’s Secretary, Sir Thomas Smith. In 1573, Smith sent his son to take possession of the territory and to drive out the ‘wolves.’ The ‘wolves’ on this occasion were the O’Neils of Clandeboy. They fought for their homes. Smith’s son was killed, and the ‘settlement’ was abandoned.
In 1573, Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, was granted the whole of what is now called the County of Antrim. He was given plenary powers to exterminate the natives; and he exercised these powers to the full. He attacked the O’Neils of Clandeboy. Again they fought for their homes. He found he could not destroy them, and he made peace with Sir Brian O’Neil. On the termination of the struggle Brian invited Essex to his castle. Essex, accompanied by a military escort, came. He remained for three days. There were festivities in his honour. He was treated with royal hospitality. On the third day, when Brian’s household had retired to rest, Essex called in his soldiers, surrounded the castle, seized Brian, his wife, and brother, and ‘put all his people men, women, youths, and maidens to the sword.’ Brian, his wife, and brother were sent to Dublin Castle, where ‘they were cut into quarters.’
In 1575, Essex sent Captain Norris with a force of English soldiers to attack the Scots in Rathlin Island. The Scots defended themselves bravely, but they were overpowered, and men, women, and children were mercilessly slaughtered. The massacre lasted for several days. While it was going on Essex wrote cheerfully to the Queen: ‘News be brought to me that they be occupied still in killing, and have slain that they have found in caves and cliffs of the sea to the number of 300 or 400 more.’
Despite these atrocities, the ‘settlement’ was a failure. Essex returned to Dublin baffled and chagrined, and died in 1576, as many a scoundrel has died before and since, full of religious sentiments. Two more incidents of the Elizabethan wars may be mentioned:—
An English officer, a friend of the Viceroy [says Mr. Lecky], invited seventeen Irish gentlemen to supper, and when they rose from the table had them all stabbed. A Catholic Archbishop fell into the hands of the English authorities, and before they sent him to the gallows they tortured him to extort a confession of treason by one of the most horrible torments human nature can endure—by roasting his feet with fire.
But, as Mr. Lecky rightly says, these ‘isolated episodes, by diverting the mind from the broad features of the war, serve rather to diminish than to enhance its atrocity.’ He continues:—
The suppression of the native race in the wars against Shane O’Neil, Desmond, and Tyrone, was carried on with a ferocity which surpassed that of Alva in the Netherlands, and has seldom been exceeded in the pages of history. . . . The slaughter of Irishmen was looked upon as literally the slaughter of wild beasts. Not only the men, but even the women and children who fell into the hands of the English were deliberately and systematically butchered. The sword was not found efficient. But another method was found much more efficacious. Year after year, over a great part of all Ireland, all means of human subsistence was destroyed, no quarter was given to prisoners who surrendered, and the whole population was skillfully and steadily starved to death. The pictures of the condition of Ireland at this time are as terrible as anything in human history.
And all this was done in pursuance of a well defined policy.
The Government [continues Mr. Lecky] believed that the one effectual policy for making Ireland useful to England was, in the words of Sir John Davies, to root out the Irish from the soil, to confiscate the property of the septs, and to plant the country systematically with English tenants.
The plantation of Ulster came between 1603 and 1610. The Irish chiefs were dispossessed, and English and Scotch adventurers poured in to take their place. The native population was driven from the rich lands to the poor, and English and Scotch tenants were imported instead.
Says Mr. Gardiner:—
Six counties were declared to be forfeited to the Crown, under an artificial treason law which had no hold on the Irish conscience. English and Scotch colonists were brought in to occupy the richest parts of the soil. The children of the land were thrust forth to find what sustenance they could on the leavings of the intruders, and were debarred even the poor privilege of serving the new settlers for hire, lest they should be tempted to fall upon their masters unawares. . . . Everything which had been done in Ireland since . . . 1607 had been of a nature to lead up to such a catastrophe [as the Rebellion of 1641].
Unheard of confiscations were made in the northern parts, upon grounds of plots and conspiracies never proved upon their supposed authors. The war of chicane succeeded to the war of arms, and of hostile statutes; a regular series of operations were carried on in the ordinary courts of Justice, and by special commissions, and inquisitions; first under the pretence of tenures, and then of titles in the crown, for the purpose of the total extirpation of the interest of the natives in their own soil—until this species of ravage being carried to the last excess of oppression and insolence … it kindled the flames of that rebellion which broke out in 1641.
Finally, Mr. Lecky sums up the policy which had been pursued prior to the rebellion in the following words:—
It had become clear beyond all doubt to the native population that the old scheme of rooting them out from the soil was the settled policy of the Government; that the land which remained to them was marked as a prey by hungry adventurers, by the refuse of the population of England and Scotland, by men who cared no more for their rights and happiness than they did for the rights and happiness of the worms which were severed by their own spades.
Thus, throughout the reigns of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth, and James I was the ‘wind sown.’ In the reign of Charles I, the ‘whirlwind was reaped.’ Provoked by the ‘accumulated wrongs and animosities’ of generations, the people rose against the foreign oppressors who had robbed them of their lands and planned the destruction of their race.
Behind them [says Mr. Lecky] lay the maddening recollections of the wars of Elizabeth, when their parents had been starved by thousands, when unresisting peasants, when women, when children, had been deliberately massacred, and when no quarter had been given to the prisoners. Before them lay the gloomy and almost certain prospect of banishment from the land which remained to them [and] of the extirpation of the religion which was fast becoming the passion as well as the consolation of their lives.
The Rebellion broke out in Ulster on the night of October 22nd, 1641. It was the rising of an undisciplined body of men, a ‘tumultuary rabble.’ On the 30th of November, Ormonde wrote to the King, ‘the rebels are in great numbers, for the most part merely armed with such weapons as would rather show them to be a tumultuary rabble, than an army.’ They first rushed on the English settlements, and drove the settlers from the lands of which their fathers had been robbed only thirty years before. The Scotch settlers were not attacked. The Irish, apparently, desired to have no quarrel with them. The wrongs inflicted on Ireland had not been done by Scotland, but by England. It was the English name that was abominated. It was the Englishman that represented the dominion of the foreigner. It was his presence that revived memories of the past, and stirred up fears for the future. It was the the power of England that had crushed Ireland and, naturally, it was on the English ‘garrison,’ that the Irish fell. The English settlers were driven out, as the natives had been driven out thirty years before. The settlers were left to shift for themselves as the natives had been left to shift for themselves, the natives recovered their own. The settlers fled for refuge to the towns, perishing in thousands, through want and cold on the way. ‘Probably,’ says Mr. Lecky, ‘by far the greater number of those who were represented as massacred, died in this manner from cold, want, and hardships.’
Those who perished [says Mr. Gardiner] were for the most part those who were driven naked through the cold November nights amongst a population which refused them a scanty covering, or a morsel of food in their hour of trial. To the Irish it seemed mercy enough when no actual blow was struck against the flying rout. Men hardly beyond middle life could remember the days when Mountjoy had harried Ulster, and when the sunken eye, and the pallid cheek of those who had been dearest to them had told too surely of the pitiless might of the Englishman.
As the English had sown, so had they reaped.
It is clear that at the outset there was no intention on the part of the rebels to commit murders. Their sole object was to drive out the settlers and to recover the lands. Mr. Lecky reminds us, that even Sir Phelim O’Neil—the one blameworthy rebel leader—’had the reputation much more of a weak and incapable than of a deliberately cruel man.’ On the 24th of October, he issued a proclamation ‘denouncing the penalty of death against any who committed outrages,’ and declaring that the ‘rising was not against the King,’ but only for the defence and liberty of ourselves, and the Irish natives of this kingdom.’ On the same day—October 24th—Chichester wrote to the King from Belfast, saying:—
The Irish in the northern parts of your Majesty’s Kingdom of Ireland, two nights last past, did rise with force, and have taken Charlemont, Dungannon, Tonragee, and The Newry, with Your Majesty’s stores there—towns all of good consequence—and have slain only one man.
On the 23rd December, 1641, a Commission was issued by the Government to make inquiries on oath respecting the rebellion. The spirit in which the Commissioners— Mr. Jones, Dean of Kilmore, and several other Protestant clergymen—set to work may be gathered from the statement of the objects of the Commission: ‘To keep up the memory of the outrages committed by the Irish to posterity.’ Nevertheless, it is a curious fact, that, in this Commission there is no direction to inquire into the ‘murders’ committed by the Irish. The Commissioners are instructed only to inquire into the ‘losses’ sustained by the English, and the ‘robberies’ committed by the Irish. A second Commission was issued on the 18th of January, 1642, and ‘murders’ were included in it; but the fact that ‘murders’ were not included in the first seems to show that murders were not a prominent feature at the outbreak of the Rebellion. The general character of the Rebellion may, perhaps, be gathered from the following extract from Clogy’s Life of Bedell:—
There was no people under Heaven lived in a more flourishing state and condition for peace and plenty of all things desirable in this life, when, on a sudden, we were turned out of house and hold, and stripped of all outward enjoyments, and left naked and bare in the winter; and on the Sabbath day put to flight but had no place to flee to. The land that was a little before like a garden of Eden was speedily turned into a desolate wilderness.
The best history of the Rebellion was written by Mr. Warner, a Protestant clergyman, who lived in Ireland in the eighteenth century. He had strong prejudices against the Irish and the Catholics. Nevertheless, he wrote:—
Whatever cruelties are to be charged upon the Irish in the prosecution of their undertaking—and they are numerous and horrid—yet their first intention went no further than to strip the English and Protestants of their power and possessions, and, unless forced to it by opposition, not to shed any blood.
‘Blood’ was ultimately ‘shed;’ ‘horrid crimes’ were committed by the ‘tumultuary rabble;’ but not, in all probability, until the disciplined armies of England showed the example.
It is certain [says Mr. Lecky] that there was nothing resembling a massacre in the first days of the Rebellion. It is equally certain that, before a week had passed, the troops slaughtered numbers of the rebels without the loss of a man on their side. And [he adds] it is very difficult to distinguish [the cases of those] who were murdered in cold blood from the case of those who perished in fight; and it must be remembered that during the latter part of the time the English had been waging what was little less than a war of extermination against the Irish.
Petty, one of the Cromwellian plunderers, who naturally hated the people whom he had helped to rob, says, upon this question of who began the bloodshed: ‘As for the bloodshed in the contest, God best knows who did occasion it ‘—a remarkable statement from such a quarter. ‘Horrid crimes,’ cold-blooded murders, were ultimately committed by the Irish, and Sir Phelim O’Neil shares responsibility for some of these excesses. To what extent he was responsible it may be difficult to say, but it is clear that he was quite unable to restrain the excesses of the ‘tumultuary rabble,’ when they had been driven to outrageous extremes by the butcheries of the disciplined armies of England.
It is probable [says Mr. Lecky, speaking of the charges brought against Phelim O’Neil] that these crimes [the murder of English persons] were exaggerated, and it is a remarkable and a significant fact that, when Owen Roe O’Neil assumed the command in July, 1642, he found English prisoners alive in [Phelim’s] camp.
It was stated that Sir Phelim O’Neil murdered Lord Caulfield. But Prendergast says:—
[Phelim O’Neil] treated Lord Caulfield and his family with great care when he surprised the fort of Charlemont on the 23rd day of October, 1641; there Lord Caulfield was kept until the 14th of January, when he was sent, under an escort to Clongorth Castle.
Lord Caulfield was shot at Clongorth Castle by one of the ‘rabble;’ but O’Neil was absent at the time, and knew nothing of the business. Mr. Lecky mentions the fact that ‘numbers of Protestants were sheltered by the mother of Sir Phelim O’Neil;’ and Mr. Walpole—an Englishman—in his history of Ireland, says:—
In recounting the ferocity of the Irish insurgents, it should not, however, be forgotten that there were frequent cases of English and Scotch Protestants being protected by their Irish neighbours, and owing life and safety to their unselfish generosity. Some of the Irish priests, and Jesuits, were especially conspicuous for these acts of Christian mercy, hiding terrified suppliants under the altar cloths, and striving to stop the blood shed at the risk of their own lives.
It is notorious, that wherever the rebels were led by competent commanders, outrages were rarely, if ever, committed. This was notably the case in the County Cavan, where Philip O’Reilly led the insurgents. No doubt fugitives were robbed, and sometimes killed by wandering bandits and starving and infuriated peasants; but, in the main, as Mr. Lecky says, ‘there appears to have been no general attempt to destroy the fugitives.’ O’Reilly captured Belturbet. He allowed 800 English settlers to leave with their property. They set out for Dublin. The rector who accompanied them tells us what happened:—
That night we all lay in open fields. Next day we were met by a party of Rebels, who killed some, robbed and spoiled the rest. Me they stripped to my shirt in miserable weather; my wife was not so barbarously used; both of us, with a multitude of others, hurried to Moein Hall. That night we lay in heaps, expecting every hour to be massacred.
But they were not massacred. They ultimately reached Kilmore in safety, and took refuge with Bishop Bedell. Finally, the numbers of fugitives increased to 2,000, and these, then, continued their march to Dublin, accompanied by a rebel guard of 200. At first the guard did their duty successfully, protecting the settlers from the fury of starving and naked peasants, who hung on the flank of the refugees. At last, as the mob swelled to larger dimensions, the guard was rushed, and the refugees plundered:—
The warm clothes of the hated English [says Mr. Gardiner] would be a precious possession in the cold winter nights which were approaching. It was but a moment’s work to rush upon the helpless crowd, to strip both men and women to the skin, and to send them on in their misery. Irish women and Irish children rushed to the spoil even more savagely than the men.
But we do not hear that any of the refugees were killed. Out of the whole 2,000, 100 perished on the way, from cold and hunger, the rest reached Dublin safely, but miserably.
Bishop Bedell was, as I have said, the English Protestant Bishop of Kilmore. The County of Cavan, in which he lived, was wholly in the hands of the rebels. He was absolutely at their mercy. But he was not only left unmolested, but he was allowed to protect the refugees who flocked to him from all quarters. He was for a time kept in captivity on Lough Erne; but even then, as his biographer and son-in-law Clogy, tells us, he was allowed perfect liberty, ‘to use the divine exercises of God’s worship, to pray, read, preach, and sing the songs of Zion in a strange land, as the Three Children, though, in the next room, the priest was acting his Babylonish Mass.’
Bedell died in the hands of the rebels in February, 1642. Says Clogy:—
He was laid in the grave, according to his desire in his last will and testament, hard by his wife’s coffin that had been buried there four years before. The chiefs of the Irish Rebels gathered their forces together, and, accompanied the corpse from Mr. Sheridan’s house to the churchyard of Kilmore, in a great solemnity; and desired Alexander Clogy, the Minister of Cavan, to perform the Office for the Dead (according to our manner in the former times), and promised not to interrupt in the least; but we, being surrounded with armed men, esteemed it more prudent to bury him, as all the patriarchs, prophets, Christ and His apostles, and all saints and martyrs, in former ages, were, than attempt such a hazardous office (and sacrifice for the dead, as they call it), and needless at such a time in the presence of those Egyptians. But instead thereof, they gave him a volley of shot, and said with a loud voice: Requiescat in pace ultimus Anglorum.
Bedell’s family, with about 1,200 English, set out later for Dublin. They were escorted by a rebel guard of 2,000.
The Rebels [says Clogy] offered us no violence—save in the night, when our men were weary with continual watching, they would steal away a good horse, and run off—but were very civil to us all the way, and many of them wept at our parting from them, that had lived so long and peaceably amongst them, as if we had been one people with them.
The essential fact to emphasise, in dealing with the outrages perpetrated during the Rebellion is, that, while the outrages committed by the rebels, were the acts of a ‘tumultuary rabble,’ the outrages committed by the English were the acts of disciplined armies, stimulated by authoritative commanders, and sanctioned by Parliament. ‘From the very beginning,’ says Mr. Lecky, ‘the English Parliament did the utmost in its power to give the contest the character of a war of extermination.’ Excesses one naturally expects from a ‘tumultuary rabble;’ one does not expect them from disciplined armies and civilized governments. But the armies and the govern ment of England exulted in the slaughter of the Irish. Sir C. Coote, St. Leger, Sir F. Hamilton, Sir William Parsons, Sir Arthur Loftus carried fire and sword through out the country, butchering indiscriminately guilty and innocent, men, women, and children. ‘These men,’ says Mr. Lecky, ‘rivalled the worst crimes perpetrated in the days of Mountjoy and Carew.’ ‘The soldiers,’ says Carte, ‘in executing the orders of the Lords Justices murdered all persons promiscuously, not sparing the women, and sometimes not children.’ Lord Castlehaven says that ‘orders were issued to the parties sent to every quarter to spare neither man, woman, nor child.’
The expression, ‘nits make lice,’ was used by the soldiers to justify the murder of infants. All these things were done not by a rabble, but by trained soldiers carrying out the orders of their commanders who, in all they did, acted under the authority of the English Parliament. Far different was the conduct of the great Irish leader, Owen Roe O’Neil. He took command of the Ulster Rebels in July, 1642. His first act was to send all the English prisoners whom he found in camp to Dundalk; his next to issue a proclamation condemning outrages, and making the awful threat that he would rather join the English than tolerate excesses. He soon converted the rabble into an army; and that army gave a good account of itself at Benburb and Clonmel.
‘All the Irish officers,’ as Mr. Lecky tells us, ‘laboured to give a character of humanity to the war.’ All the English officers laboured to give it a character of inhumanity. Parliament itself stimulated the butcheries of the soldiers. In 1643, there was a cessation of hostilities.
The cessation of hostilities [says Clarendon] was no sooner known in England, but the two Houses declared against it . . . persuading the people that the Rebels were brought to their last gasp, and reduced to so terrible a famine that, like cannibals, they did eat one another; and must have been destroyed immediately, and utterly rooted out, if, by Popish counsels at Court, the King had not been persuaded to consent to this cessation.
I repeat, that the civilized government which provokes, or sanctions outrage, is infinitely a greater criminal than the ‘tumultuary rabble’ which, maddened by injustice and oppression, and goaded by fears of utter destruction, rushes into violent excesses.
The last question is, how many of the English fell in the Rebellion? The most reliable English authority on this subject, despite his anti-Irish prejudices, is Warner. Writing about the year 1763, and having examined all the materials collected by English hands, he sums up the evidence thus:—
The number of people killed upon positive evidence collected in two years after the insurrection broke out, adding them all together, amounts only 4,109; on the report of other Protestants 1,619 more; and on the report of some of the Rebels a further number of 300; the whole making 4,028.
Besides these, he tells us, that ‘8,000’ were ‘killed by ill-usage’. Thus, the grand total would, according to this estimate, amount to 12,000 English destroyed in one way or another—a total sufficiently terrible, but far below the original estimates which, as we have seen, varied between 30,000 and 300,000. I think, that, at this time of day it is absolutely impossible to say, with precise accuracy, how many of the 12,000 fell in battle, or were killed in defending their houses and property; how many perished by cold, want, and hunger, or were murdered in cold blood. I am myself prepared to accept Mr. Lecky’s statement of the case, that, ‘probably by far the greater number of those who were represented as massacred died in this manner [driven from their homes in the winter nights] from cold, and want, and hardship.’ How many of the Irish fell? I know not, and I do not think that anyone knows. The Irish were not left in a position to make estimates; and the English writers cared not to reckon the number of ‘wolves,’ or ‘worms’ that were destroyed. One statement, however, may be made:—
We can hardly [says Mr. Lecky] have a shorter or more graphic picture of the manner in which the war was conducted, than is furnished by one of the items of Sir William Cole’s own catalogue of the services performed by his regiment in Ulster—’starved and famished of the vulgar sort, whose goods were seized by this regiment, 7,000.’
Twelve thousand English were destroyed by the whole ‘tumultuary [Irish] rabble’ in Ulster. Seven thousand Irish were destroyed in that province by one disciplined English regiment, acting under the orders of an authoritative English commander, who manifestly gloried in his work.
To sum up the whole question of the Rebellion of 1641, it comes to this:—
1. The Rebellion broke out after ninety years of untold wrongs and miseries inflicted on the native race;
2. It took place in that part of the country which, thirty years before, had been the scene of wholesale confiscations;
3. The original intention of the rebels was to drive out the English settlers, and to recover the lands from which the native population had been dispossessed;
4. Murders and outrages began when a war of extermination was waged against the Irish;
5. The outrages committed by the Irish were committed by a ‘tumultuary rabble’;
6. The outrages committed by the English were committed by disciplined armies, stimulated by authoritative commanders, and provoked or sanctioned by the English Government;
7. Finally, all the Irish officers laboured to give the war a character of humanity; all the English officers laboured to give the war a character of inhumanity.
In considering the whole case and, generally, in judging the sins of the conquerors and the conquered, it should never be forgotten that the one comes to attack, the other to defend; that the one comes to rob, the other to hold what is his own; that the one fights to enslave, and that the other rightly struggles to be free.
R. Barry O’Brien.
Source: Internet Archive