Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. V.—: Civil War—The Republic—Cromwell. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. V.—: Civil War—The Republic—Cromwell. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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Civil War—The Republic—Cromwell.
It may be said that from the moment when Charles I. no longer persecuted Ireland, and abandoned the great project of the time, to make it protestant at all hazards, he was no longer king of England.
Thenceforward the true sovereign was the parliament; it was no longer an English king nor his delegate that was at war with Ireland,—it was England herself, puritan and protestant England, no longer restrained in its hatred by a prince less the enemy of the Catholics than of the Puritans. England henceforth enters into close contact with Ireland, which had become more free in its hostility to England, since the king, who favoured the Catholics in combating the Puritans, lost his power.
Two terrible cries of destruction were raised; one in England, “War against the Catholics of Ireland!” The other in Ireland, “War against the Protestants of England!” It is difficult to say which of these clamours was first raised, just as when two armies meet eager to engage, it is often impossible to decide which has begun the battle.
The day in which Scotch puritanism became master of the king and of England, Catholic Ireland was at once menaced with extermination. It did not wait for aggression to commence its defence, and in the month of October 1641 a terrible insurrection burst forth. All the Irish of Ulster whom James had so ingeniously expelled from their habitations and lands, to put English and Scotch in their places, rose in masses and fell on the Protestant settlers. In a few days, O’Neill, the Irish leader, was at the head of thirty thousand soldiers.
In this awful moment, when all the passions of the Irish were at work, we may judge which passion was predominant in their souls; and it is remarkable that in the first moment not a single Scotchman was killed; their vengeance in the beginning was directed against the English. Was not this because the national sentiment was still superior to religious passions? The Scotch, from their puritanism, were the most terrible enemies of Catholic Ireland; but they were new enemies, whilst their inveterate enemies, the enemies of five centuries, were the English, the English of Henry II., the first invader, the English of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, the last conquerors, the English of James I., protestant and plundering settlers.
In the execution of this terrible vengeance, in which so many ancient resentments were united, cruelties were committed which will scarcely bear recital.
The insurrection was at first regular; the insurgents limited themselves to resuming the property of which they had been deprived, without committing any useless violence. Their rapid success, at first undisputed, gave them the generosity of strength, and their first triumphs having been followed by some reverses, their violence knew no bounds; they became sanguinary and murderous; they vowed not to leave an Englishman alive.
It was then that a civil and religious war displayed itself in all its horrors.
Leland, speaking of the treatment which the prisoners received, says, “Their miserable prisoners, confined in different quarters, were brought out, under pretence of being conducted to the English settlements. Their guards goaded them forward like beasts, exulting in their sufferings, and determined on the destruction of those who had not already sunk under their tortures. Sometimes they enclosed them in some house or castle, which they set on fire, with a brutal indifference to their cries, and a hellish triumph over their agonies. Sometimes the captive English were plunged into the first river to which they had been driven by their tormentors. One hundred and ninety were at once precipitated from the bridge of Portadown. Irish ecclesiastics were seen encouraging the carnage. The women forgot the tenderness of their sex; pursued the English with execrations, and embrued their hands in blood; even children in their feeble malice lifted the dagger against the helpless prisoners.” (Leland, vol. iii. p.127).
In a short time more than twelve thousand Protestants, Anglicans or Presbyterians, were massacred.* Those not deprived of life were driven from their lands and houses, which were resumed by the old possessors.
The impulsive and determining cause of this sanguinary insurrection has long been disputed by historians. Inveterate hatred of England,—the desire of recovering the property of which they had been plundered—religious animosity—emulation of the Scots, who had forced a presbyterian covenant from the king, leading the Irish to hope for success in extorting a catholic covenant—fear of being exterminated by the Protestants—the intrigues of the Catholic powers on the continent, have been all assigned as motives by different writers. Is it necessary to choose amongst these causes, and declare any single one the real cause! I think not: it seems to me more just and true to say, that all these motives, and all these passions, have more or less concurred in a single result, which doubtless would have been produced without their union.
Whether the Irish were the aggressors or the attacked in this bloody tragedy remains undecided; still it is very certain that the English Protestants and Scotch Presbyterians accepted with a sort of joy the struggle of extermination which was offered.
It is a generally accredited opinion, that the lords justices of Ireland could have destroyed the insurrection in its bud, and that, instead of doing so, they endeavoured to render it more terrible and extensive.* One of these lords justices, Sir Wm. Parsons, whose name deserves to be recorded that it may be branded with infamy, fomented the revolt, hoping to enrich himself by the confiscations of the insurgents; and the plan of this ruler and his colleagues was to engage as many as possible in the outbreak, in order that, by augmenting the number of the culpable, the harvest of confiscations, after the conclusion of the war, should be increased.*
I have no doubt that sordid passions played their part at the epoch of which I write; for never are sordid passions more abundant than when they are shaded by great passions; but what I more firmly believe is, that it was not in the power of any of the governors of Ireland to prevent a sanguinary conflict between implacable enemies, when an opportunity of battle was offered.†
Remark—that the combatants were Protestant England and Catholic Ireland.
The English nation then declared by its parliament that it would no longer tolerate popery in Ireland, (Dec. 8th, 1641;) all England then cried out with one voice, Catholic Ireland must be destroyed; Protestantism must be established in Ireland; the last Irishman must be exterminated, rather than allow Catholicism in the country.
To sustain the expense of this merciless war, parliament borrowed an immense sum of money, for the payment of which it mortgaged beforehand the properties of the Catholics of Ireland. Two million five hundred thousand acres were thus pledged to the fanatic lenders. This war of destruction was to be waged against the Irish wherever they were found; an ordinance of parliament prescribed “that no quarter should be given to any Irishman, or Papist born in Ireland, that should be taken in hostility against the parliament, either upon the sea or in England.” A captain of a parliamentary frigate, named Swanly, having seized a ship with seventy Irishmen on board, tied them back to back, and threw them into the sea. After the battles of Philiphaugh and Corbie’s Dale, the Scotch shot all their Irish prisoners without mercy. It is wondrous to see how faithfully laws are observed when they are executed by the passions.*
It seemed, at this moment, as if the whole life and power of England were directed against Ireland: all the puritan passions which had been so impetuous in England, rushed with far different force on catholic Ireland. These passions were assuaged in England by the sympathy they met, but in Ireland they found a barrier which irritated them and rendered them violent. It was no longer the fanatic puritanism which made an irruption from Scotland into England in the midst of an army of saints; the puritanism that invaded Ireland rushed like a bird of prey to its quarry, bringing in its train some generous emotions, but many ignoble calculations and mercenary desires.
England sent to Ireland an army of fifty thousand English and Scotch Presbyterians and Independents, more desirous of vengeance than justice, more greedy of blood than truth, more desirous of adventures and riches than of religious success.*
Scarcely had the insurrection commenced, even before orders could be received from the English government, when the English army in Ireland gave a specimen of its zeal and sanguinary passions by the cruel manner in which it treated the revolted country. Among other deeds of extraordinary barbarity, it is recorded that, five or six days after the outbreak, Colonel Matthew massacred a hundred and fifty peasants, “starting them like hares out of the bushes.” The lords justices, the deputies of the English parliament, at the same time gave the most sanguinary instructions to the Earl of Ormond, the commander of the Anglo-Irish army.
He was directed not only to kill and destroy “rebels, and their adherents and relievers,” but also “to burn, waste, consume, and demolish all the places, towns, and houses, where they had been relieved and harboured, with all the corn and hay there, and also to kill and destroy all the male inhabitants capable of bearing arms.’”
One example will suffice to show how these instructions were fulfilled.
The Scottish soldiers who had reinforced the garrison of Carricfergus were possessed with an habitual hatred of popery, and inflamed to an implacable detestation of the Irish by multiplied accounts of their cruelties, horrible in themselves, and exaggerated, not only by the sufferers, but by those who boasted and magnified their barbarities. In one fatal night they issued from Carricfergus into an adjacent district called Island Magee, where a number of the poorer Irish resided, unoffending and untainted by the rebellion. If we may believe one of the leaders of this party, thirty families were assailed by them in their beds, and massacred with calm and deliberate cruelty.
But it was especially when the English republic was established, and when the head of Charles I. fell on the scaffold, that the irruption of the English into Ireland became more fierce and irresistible; then the predominant sentiment of England was no longer concealed, the desire for the destruction of Ireland was openly avowed; the English generals landing in Ireland brought with them carnage, pillage, conflagration. Treaties made with the insurgents were openly violated.* Ireland must perish, and, to attain this object, what matters it that moral law should be outraged? It is no longer a question about reducing the people to subjection; their extermination is required; it is even advantageous that they should resist—let them fight that they may be annihilated. Everything is consequently done to exasperate Ireland; the sacred places are profaned; tombs are robbed; Catholic churches are changed into barracks: the very graves are searched for plunder, and insulted by impious fanaticism.
“Ireland must be destroyed” is the cry of England, and extermination has selected its most formidable instrument. Cromwell is named general of the English army. This occurred in 1649. Nearly two centuries afterwards, I passed through the country traversed by Cromwell, and found it still full of the terror of his name.* The bloody traces of his passage are effaced from the soil, but they remain fixed in the minds of men. Cromwell met but two instances of firm resistance in Ireland, and let us see how he overcame them. The town of Drogeda refused to open its gates; he employed two weapons of a very different nature for its reduction. At the moment of assault, he offered life to those who capitulated. The town surrendered at discretion. Cromwell then, with great coolness, ordered that the garrison should be put to the sword.
“His soldiers, many of them with reluctance, butchered their prisoners. The governor and all the gallant officers, betrayed to slaughter by the cowardice of some of their troops, were massacred without mercy. For five days this hideous execution was continued with every circumstance of horror. A number of ecclesiastics was found within the walls, and Cromwell, as if commissioned to execute divine vengeance on these ministers of idolatry, ordered his soldiers to plunge their weapons into the helpless wretches. Some few of the garrison contrived to escape in disguise. Thirty persons only remained unslaughtered by an enemy glutted and oppressed by carnage, and these were immediately transported as slaves to Barbadoes.”
Wexford likewise closed its gates against Cromwell, and his soldiers proceeded to put all to the sword, who were found in arms, with an execution as horribly deliberate as that of Drogheda.
The memory of Cromwell continues sullied with these horrors; but all the infamy must not be attributed to him. He had only his share; even the initiative does not belong to him. Two years before, one of these indiscriminate massacres had been perpetrated by the parliamentary army in Ireland, under the command of Colonel Jones, when three or four thousand Irish prisoners were mercilessly put to the sword, after the victory at Danganhill.
It must be frankly confessed that these crimes belong less to the men than the time and the frightful passions of the epoch. They have been charged on a single man, because this man, more extraordinary than the rest, drew all attention to himself. Cromwell in Ireland was an agent rather than a mover; he made the most energetic use of the English hatred against Ireland, but he did not create it. If his army had not conquered Ireland, one of double or triple the force would have been sent. Constant mistakes are made respecting the power of a man; it is always set down too low or too high.
I could refute several other prejudices existing against Cromwell; and if this were the proper place, I could show that his was the first English army in Ireland that ever observed strict discipline, respected the inoffensive inhabitants, scrupulously paid for every article supplied on its march, and showed itself an instrument of order as well as of terror. The very same man who had so coolly commanded the massacres of Wexford and Drogeda, hanged two of his own soldiers for having stolen a couple of chickens from an Irish cabin. I might say, if I had leisure, that Cromwell was the first man before our time who had appreciated the future destiny of Ireland—its union with England; he realised not only the political but the parliamentary union, for in his time Ireland sent thirty members to the English parliament. Finally, I might add that his son, Henry Cromwell, was the most honest governor that Ireland had hitherto possessed: so disinterested was his administration, that at its close he had not money to defray the expenses of his passage to England.
Besides, Cromwell had not the omnipotence, even in Ireland, usually attributed to great actors on the stage of life. The conqueror of Marston Moor and Naseby was stopped in his march before the little town of Clonmel, in the attack of which he began by losing two thousand soldiers, and which he did not take until after a siege of two months. The destructive fanaticism of which Cromwell was the instrument and the guide, had encountered in Ireland a more pure and noble fanaticism,—that of a country defending its religious worship, and of religion defending a country. During the siege of Clonmel, the (Catholic) bishop of Ross, who had displayed great zeal in raising an army to relieve the besieged place, was made prisoner by Lord Broghill, who had become an auxiliary of Cromwell. He had been too distinguished in the war against the parliament to hope for mercy. Still Broghill promised the prelate his life, on condition that he would use his spiritual authority with the garrison of a fort near the field of battle, and persuade it to capitulate. The bishop of Ross allowed himself to be led to the front of the fort, so that the garrison could hear his words. The holy man then raising his voice, without losing for a moment his calmness and serenity, strenuously exhorted the soldiers to hold out against the enemies of their religion and their country. He then came back, and resigned himself to his fate.*
Individual and indiscriminate executions greatly advanced the work of destruction; but three circumstances impeded it; first, the recal of Cromwell to England; secondly, the disgust for blood which indulgence produces in the most sanguinary; and finally, the terror caused by these murders, which, leading the insurgents to submission, gave some respite to the wearied cruelty of the conquerors. After the exterminations of war came those of peace—that is to say, judicial executions. These were few, if we consider the time. There were not more than two hundred, on the severest inquisition, condemned to death. The tribunal by which the sentences of death were pronounced, has kept the name of Cromwell’s slaughter-house. We must add to this number several priests who were subsequently hanged for the mere fact of remaining in the country. Means were adopted to drive the Catholic proprietors and soldiers of Ireland into exile, but, after all, the Catholics remained in the proportion of eight to one to the Protestants.* It must be confessed that persecution is an ungrateful task, and that the extirpation of an entire people is very difficult, in spite of the assistance derived from massacres and proscriptions—in spite of the most murderous scourges.
Death and exile not having accomplished all that was expected of them, recourse was had to a last expedient, less violent, but not less iniquitous. It was resolved at all hazards to separate the English Protestants from the Irish Catholics; for the fate of the settlers sent by James I. was remembered, massacred by those whom they had plundered, and in the midst of whom they had the imprudence to live. The following expedient was adopted when it was found impossible to expel all Irishmen from Ireland. It was resolved to people three out of the four provinces, of which Ireland is composed, exclusively with Protestants, and to admit Catholics only into the fourth; not that even this was to be without Protestants, but that it was the only one in which Irish Catholics should be permitted to reside. This province, the last refuge of the Irish Catholics, was the province of Connaught, to which was added the county of Clare. All that war had ruined, all that poverty had protected from hatred or persecution—in a word, all the misery of Ireland, fled or was driven, into Connaught. But this wretched population was still the most noble in Ireland; it bore with it the faith of its ancestors and the love of its country. The whole future of Ireland was there. Having once entered Connaught, the Catholics were penned there like sheep; they were forbidden under pain of death to pass the borders. Their southern boundary was the right bank of the Shannon, and every Irishman found on the left bank could be slain with impunity. This right bank, where Ireland was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, was the famous county of Clare, which ten years ago sent the first Catholic member to parliament. Singular expiations often arise from great iniquities.
Thus, when the poor Irish, in the excess of their distress, dying with hunger, themselves, their wives, and their children, lifted their hands to heaven and implored mercy from their persecutors, Cromwell and his saints replied, “Go to hell or Connaught!”
I have said that Connaught was the only province in which Catholics were received, though it ceased not to be occupied by Protestants. It may easily be imagined how dangerous to their neighbours such an agglomeration of enemies, exasperated by their misery, must have proved, if they had not been restrained by some power in the midst of them. This power was that of the cities, which it was resolved to make Protestant, leaving only the rural districts to the Catholics. This was a more delicate task than the other, because the cities were almost exclusively inhabited by Catholics of English origin, who seemed to excite more interest than the native Irish. This, however, proved no obstacle. The English Catholics were expelled from their houses in the town, as the Irish had been from their cabins in the country. English or Scotch Protestants were immediately put in their place; the municipal offices were supplied from the army; captains became mayors, and sergeants aldermen. Sir Charles Coote, the republican general and president of Connaught, charged with the expulsion of Catholics from the town of Galway, called it “clearing the town.” In his report of his mission to the government, he says, that he had only left in Galway some persons of such advanced age and delicate health, that he could not drive them out on account of the severity of the season. The council of state approved the exception, but only on condition of his “taking care that the few so dispensed with should be removed as soon as the season would permit.”
We have already seen that the English, on their first landing, expelled all of Irish descent from the towns. We now see the English Protestants similarly banish all Catholics from these same towns; these Catholics were the descendants who, some centuries before, under the pretext of right of conquest, exercised towards the Irish the same violence which now in the name of religion was practised on themselves.
All these means having been employed, death, transportation, voluntary exile, and finally the removal from one part of Ireland to another, three fourths of the country were nearly vacant, and nothing remained but to take possession. This was the hideous moment of the civil war, when the division of the confiscated lands was made; it was the moment when cupidity showed itself more odious than even the sanguinary excesses of fanaticism; it was the moment when virtues, hitherto unassailable, were corrupted by the chance of wealth. Two classes of people especially profited by the rich spoils; Cromwell’s soldiers, that is, those who had served in the army since his landing in 1649; and the speculators or adventurers who had advanced money to the English government on the security of the soil of this unhappy country devoted to destruction.
Thus the sentence of extermination pronounced by England was executed. The Irish Catholics were driven from the soil; they were expelled from the cities; property and commerce had passed into the hands of Protestants; the Irish were struck with death or isolation.
[*]It cannot be necessary to enter here into any examination of the very different statements given of the numbers slain at the first outbreak of the insurrection; they vary from five thousand to one hundred thousand; still less need we balance the account with the massacres perpetrated by the officers of government at Bantry and the Island Magee. Beaumont adopts Warner’s calculation, which, however, is higher than that of Cromwell’s commissioners, who estimated the number of Protestants not slain in fair fight throughout Ireland during the whole war at nine thousand.—Tr.
[*]Warner, 103—Leland, iii. 140—Hallam, v. 279. (See also the autobiography of Borlase, who was one of the lords justices.)
[*]Leland, vol. iii. pp. 160, 161.
[†]Hallam, vol. v. p. 276.
[*]Dr. Borlase, who wrote a history of what he is pleased to call the rebellion of 1641, professedly to vindicate the character of his near relative, the lord justice, boasts that Sir W. Cole’s regiment killed two thousand five hundred rebels in several engagements, and adds, with horrid complacency, “there were starved and famished of the vulgar sort, whose goods were seized by this regiment, seven thousand.”—Tr.
[*]The army which Cromwell led to Ireland was composed chiefly of the Levellers, fanatics so called from their opposition to every rational form of government, and who were intent on establishing a species of theocracy, which they denominated “the dominion of the Lord and his saints.” The future Protector feared these wild visionaries, and resolved to avert their opposition to his meditated scheme of invasion, by sending them to Ireland. When the army assembled at Bristol, the object of the selection could not be concealed; the soldiers mutinied and refused to embark. But Cromwell’s personal influence produced obedience; at the same time their preachers worked upon the spiritual pride of these stern enthusiasts. They compared them to the Israelites proceeding to exterminate the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan, and declared that they were a people chosen to inherit a land of promise, and purge it of idolatry and superstition. The baser motives described by M. de Beaumont arose from the belief that they were about to conquer a land which “the Lord had granted as an inheritance to his saints.”—Tr.
[*]For instance, the capitulation of Galway.—See Hardiman, p. 133.
[*]One of the most bitter execrations in the mouth of an Irish peasant is, “The curse of Cromwell be on you.”—Tr.
[*]“His enemies,” says Leland, “could discover nothing in this conduct but insolence and obstinacy, for he was a papist and prelate.”
[*]Sir William Petty calculates that more than half a million of Irish perished by the sword, pestilence, famine, or exile, between 1641 and 1652.