Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Events of Shame - Cromwellian invasion

Continuing my feature on events of shame in Ireland's history which last time focused on the Penal Laws, this time I shall focus on the vile sorry excuse for a human being that is Oliver Cromwell and his invasion of Ireland. Most of the following facts are taken from the excellent book, Six Days to Shake an Empire by Charles Duff.

- Oliver Cromwell was commissioned by his Council in England to bring the whole of Ireland under subjection and he landed in Dublin on 14th August, 1649

- He decided to make a start on Drogheda and he battered the walls for two days with cannon until a breach was made and then he gave the order to storm. The first two attempts were repulsed but the third succeeded and Cromwell gave the order ('in the heat of battle', he afterwards explained) for the general massacre that followed, lasting several days.

- The military defenders were cut down to a man and for five days the indiscriminate slaughter of the defenceless civil population of Irish continued: old people, youths, women and children were cut to pieces and not many others were able to escape. Friars and priests were 'knocked on head' as soon as seen.

- Cromwell's practical working mottoes in such circumstances were 'no quarter to be given' and in justification his explanation was that 'nits breed lice'.

- After the massacre, Cromwell sought to explain his actions in a letter to William Lenthall, speaker of the English Parliament:

"...I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood, and it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remourse and regret..."

- One garrisson after another soon surrendered in the face of hopeless odds and under 'The Cromwellian Act of Settlement', all Catholics who had lived in Ireland between 1641-1650 were to lose one-third of their lands absolutely, and in lieu for the remainder get lands wherever the government chose to send them - unless they could produce proof that they had supported Cromwell's 'Parliamentarians'!

- In September 1653, those who failed to produce proofs and whose lands were worth more than £10 a year were ordered to remove themselves to Connacht (including Clare).

- This iniquitous diktat-law was regarded by the Irish as giving the Catholics the choice of 'going to hell or Connacht', the most barren and poorest part of Ireland. Catholics living in towns were banished and, as far as possible, replaced by Protestants. The goal was to impoverish all Catholics, about nine-tenths of the population.

- There were some fine touches of English ironical humour about the Cromwellian Settlement: in effect Ireland was made to pay for her own conquest and, as an English historian tells us, 'was the great capital out of which the Cromwellian government paid all debts, rewarded all services, and performed all acts of bounty".

- There were incidentally some highly profitable by-products. Swarms everywhere of Irish orphans and starving unemployed, and wandering youths of both sexes had, somehow, to be dealt with by the government. So the government stepped in, rounded them up and sold them to commerical agents to dispose of. The agents soon found a market for these souls and shipped them to the West Indies, where they commanded good prices - as 'indentured labourers' for European colonizers. The agents were pleasantly surprised when the profits proved to be so good that they asked for more of the human merchandise. So when supplies failed, the agents just kidnapped suitable Irish and even expanded their export trade to include kidnapped English in both Ireland and England!

- Elizabeth's wars had all but finally destroyed the old Gaelic culture and civilization of Ireland. The Cromwellian settlement all but destroyed the vestiges of these which remained. It made Ireland an English colony in a fuller sense than any previous plantation before then, including that of Ulster.

It's important to highlight this shameful episode in Irish history as it adds greater context to later events which were to occur. Can anyone seriously begrudge the actions of Tone, Emmet, the Young Irelanders, the IRB and the men of 1916 for wanting to break the connection with England? It is hardly surprising that even today, Oliver Cromwell is despised in Ireland. He is arguably the most hated Englishmen who ever drew breath in the eyes of the Irish people.

The actions of Oliver Cromwell and the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland make up a disgraceful chapter in Irish history and it is important that modern generations acknowledge this terrible point in time.

In 2003, Oliver Cromwell was voted the tenth greatest Briton of all time by the British people in a poll conducted by the BBC.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

© 2008 United Irelander.