Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


WHAT ensued upon the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland has been told recently in a book written under most singular circumstances—a compilation from state records and official documents—a book which the reader may take in his hand, and challenge the wide world for another such true story.

About twenty-one years ago an Irish professional gentleman, a member of the bar, a Protestant, educated in England, belonging to one of those noble Anglo-Norman families who early identified themselves in sympathy with Ireland as the country of their adoption, "received a commission from England to make some pedigree researches in Tipperary." He was well qualified for a task which enlisted at once the abilities of a jurist and the attainments of an archaeologist. By inclination and habit far removed from the stormy atmosphere of politics, his life had been largely devoted to the tranquil pursuits of study at home or in other lands. His literary and philosophic tastes, his legal schooling, and above all his professional experience, which in various occupations had brought him largely into contact with the practical realities of life in Ireland, all tended to give him an interest in the subject thus committed to his investigations. His client little thought, however—for a long time he little dreamed himself—that to the accident of such a commission would be traceable the existence subsequently of one of the most remarkable books ever printed in the English language, "The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland," by Mr. John P. Prendergast.

It would be hopeless to attempt to abbreviate or summarize the startling romance, the mournful tragedy of history—"the record of a nation's woes"—which Mr. Prendergast, as he tells us, discovered in the dust-covered cell of that gloomy tower in Dublin Castle yard, apparently the same that once was the dungeon of Hugh Roe O'Donnell.[1] I therefore relinquish all idea of following in detail the transactions which immediately followed upon the capitulation of the Irish armies, "when," says Mr. Prendergast, "there took place a scene not witnessed in Europe since the conquest of Spain by the Vandals." "Indeed," he continues, "it is injustice to the Vandals to equal them with the English of 1652; for the Vandals came as strangers and conquerors in an age of force and barbarism; nor did they banish the people, though they seized and divided their lands by lot; but the English of 1652 were of the same nation as half of the chief families in Ireland, and at that time had the island under their sway for five hundred years.

"The captains and men of war of the Irish, amounting to forty thousand men and upward, they banished into Spain, where they took service under that king; others of them with a crowd of orphan girls were transported to serve the English planters in the West Indies; and the remnant of the nation not banished or transported were to be transplanted into Connaught, while the conquering army divided the ancient inheritances of the Irish among them by lot."

James essayed the plantation of Ulster, as Henry and Elizabeth had the colonization of Munster. The republican parliament went much further, "improving" to the full their dreadful "opportunity." They decided to colonize three provinces—Leinster, Munster, and Ulster—converting the fourth (Connaught) into a vast encircled prison, into which such of the doomed natives as were not either transported as white slaves to Barbadoes, kept for servitude by the new settlers, or allowed to expatriate themselves as a privilege, might be driven on pain of immediate death; the calculation being, that in the desolate tracts assigned as their unsheltered prison they must inevitably perish ere long.

The American poet Longfellow has, in the poem of "Evangeline," immortalized the story of Acadia. How many a heart has melted into pity, how many an eye has filled with tears, perusing his metrical relation of the "transplanting" and dispersion of that one little community "on the shore of the basin of Minas!" But alas! how few recall or realize the fact—if, indeed, aware of it at all—that not one but hundreds of such dispersions, infinitely more tragical and more romantic, were witnessed in Ireland in the year 1654, when in every hamlet throughout three provinces "the sentence of expulsion was sped from door to door!" Longfellow describes to us how the English captain read aloud to the dismayed and grief-stricken villagers of Grand Pré the decree for their dispersion. Unconsciously, the poet merely described the form directed by an act of the English parliament to be adopted all over Ireland, when, "by beat of drumme and sound of trumpett, on some markett day, within tenn days after the same shall come unto them within their respective precincts," "the governor and commissioners of revenue, or any two or more of them within every precinct," were ordered to publish and proclaim "this present declaration:" to wit, that "all the ancient estates and farms of the people of Ireland were to belong to the adventurers and the army of England, and that the parliament had assigned Connaught (America was not then accessible) for the habitation of the Irish nation, whither they must transplant with their wives and daughters and children before the 1st of May following (1654), under penalty of death if found on this side of the Shannon after that day."

"Connaught was selected for the habitation of all the Irish nation," we are reminded, "by reason of its being surrounded by the sea and the Shannon all but ten miles, and the whole easily made into line by a few forts.[2] To further secure the imprisonment of the nation, and to cut them off from relief by the sea, a belt four miles wide, commencing one mile west of Sligo, and so winding along the seacoast and the Shannon, was reserved by the act (September 27, 1653) from being set out to the Irish, and was to be given to the soldiery to plant." The Irish were not to attempt to pass "the four mile line," as it was called, or to enter a walled town (or to come within five miles of certain specified towns) "on pain of death."[3]

Need we marvel that all over the land the loud wail of grief and despair resounded for days together? It was one universal scene of distracted leave-taking, and then along every road that led toward Connaught, each a via dolorosa, the sorrowing cavalcades streamed, weary, fainting, and footsore, weeping aloud! Toward the seaports moved other processions; alas! of not less mournful character—the Irish regiments marching to embark for exile; or the gangs in charge to be transported and sold into slavery in the pestilential settlements of the West Indies!. Of young boys and girls alone Sir William Petty confesses six thousand were thus transported; "but the total number of Irish sent to perish in the tobacco islands, as they were called, were estimated in some Irish accounts at one hundred thousand." Force was necessary to collect them; but vain was all resistance. Bands of soldiery went about tearing from the arms of their shrieking parents young children of ten or twelve years, then chaining them in gangs, they marched them to the nearest port! "Henry Cromwell (Oliver's son), who was most active in the kidnapping of Irish 'white slaves,' writing from Ireland to Secretary Thurloe, says: "I think it might be of like advantage to your affairs, there, and ours here, if you should think to send one thousand five hundred or two thousand young boys of twelve or fourteen years of age to the place aforementioned (West Indies). Who knows but it may be the means to make them Englishmen—I mean, rather, Christians.' Thurloe answers: 'The committee of the council have voted one thousand girls and as many youths to be taken up for that purpose.'"

The piety of the amiable kidnapper will be noted. But it was always so with his class; whether confiscating or transplanting, whether robbing the Irish, or selling them into slavery, it was always for their spiritual or temporal good—to sanctify or to civilize them. Accordingly we read that at this period "the parliamentary commissioners in Dublin published a proclamation by which and other edicts any Catholic priest found in Ireland after twenty days, was guilty of high treason, and liable to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; any person harboring such clergyman was liable to the penalty of death, and loss of goods and chattels; and any person knowing the place of concealment of a priest and not disclosing it to the authorities might be publicly whipped, and further punished with amputation of ears.

Any person absent from the parish church on a Sunday was liable to a fine of thirty pence; magistrates might take away the children of Catholics and send them to England for education, and might tender the oath of abjuration to all persons at the age of twenty-one years, who, on refusal, were liable to imprisonment during pleasure, and the forfeiture of two-thirds of their real and personal estates.

"The same price of five pounds was set on the head of a priest, and on that of a wolf, and the production of either head was a sufficient claim for the reward. The military being distributed in small parties over the country, and their vigilance kept alive by sectarian rancor and the promise of reward, it must have been difficult for a priest to escape detection; but many of them, nevertheless, braved the danger for their poor scattered flocks; and, residing in caverns in the mountains, or in lonely hovels in the bogs, they issued forth at night to carry the consolations of religion to the huts of their oppressed and suffering countrymen."[4]

"Ludlow," continues the same author, "relates in his 'Memoirs' (vol. i., page 422, De Vevay, 1691) how, when marching from Dundalk to Castleblaney, probably near the close of 1652, he discovered a few of the Irish in a cave, and how his party spent two days in endeavoring to smother them by smoke. It appears that the poor fugitives preserved themselves from suffocation during this operation by holding their faces close to the surface of some running water in the cavern, and that one of this party was armed with a pistol, with which he shot the foremost of the troopers who were entering the mouth of the cave after the first day's smoking. Ludlow caused the trial to be repeated, and the crevices through which the smoke escaped having been closed, 'another smoke was made.' The next time the soldiers entered with helmets and breastplates, but they found the only armed man dead, inside the entrance, where he was, suffocated at his post, while the other fugitives still preserved life at the little brook. Fifteen were put to the sword within the cave, and four dragged out alive; but Ludlow does not mention whether he hanged these then or not; but one at, least of the original number was a Catholic priest, for the soldiers found a crucifix, chalice, and priest's robes in the cavern."

Of our kindred, old or young, sold into slavery in the "tobacco islands," we hear no more in history, and shall hear no more until the last great accounting day. Of those little ones—just old enough to feel all the pangs of such a ruthless and eternal severance from loving mother from fond father, from brothers and playmates, from all of happiness on earth—-no record tells the fate. We only know that a few years subsequently there survived of them in the islands barely the remembrance that they came in shiploads and perished soon—too young to stand the climate or endure the toil! But at home—in the rifled nest of the parents' hearts—what a memory of them was kept! There the image of each little victim was enshrined; and father and mother, bowed with years and suffering, went down to the grave "still thinking, ever thinking" of the absent, the cherished one, whom they were never to see on earth again, now writhing beneath a planter's lash, or filling a nameless grave in Jamaican soil! Yes, that army of innocents vanish from the record here; but the great God who marked the slaughters of Herod has kept a reckoning of the crime that in that hour so notably likened Ireland to Rachel weeping for her children.

But there was another army—other of the expatriated—of whom we are not to lose sight, the "Irish swordmen," so called in the European writings of the time; the Irish regiments who elected to go into exile, preferring to

Where freedom and their God might lead,"

rather than be bondsmen under a bigot-yoke at home. "Foreign nations were apprised by the Kilkenny Articles that the Irish were to be allowed to engage in the service of any state in amity with the Commonwealth. The valor of the Irish soldier was well known abroad. From the time of the Munster plantation by Queen Elizabeth, numerous exiles had taken service in the Spanish army. There were Irish regiments serving in the Low Countries. The Prince of Orange declared they were 'born soldiers'; and Henry the Fourth of France publicly called Hugh O'Neill 'the third soldier of the age,' and he said there was no nation made better troops than the Irish when drilled. Agents from the King of Spain, the King of Poland, and the Prince De Conde, were now contending for the services of Irish troops. Don Ricardo White, in May, 1652, shipped seven thousand in batches from Waterford, Kinsale, Galway, Limerick, and Bantry, for the King of Spain. Colonel Christopher Mayo got liberty in September, 1652, to beat his drums to raise three thousand for the same king. Lord Muskerry took five thousand to the King of Poland. In July, 1654, three thousand five hundred, commanded by Colonel Edmund Droyer, went to serve the Prince De Conde. Sir Walter Dungan and others got liberty to beat their drums in different garrisons, to a rallying of their men that laid down arms with them in order to a rendezvous, and to depart for Spain. They got permission to march their men together to the different ports, their pipers perhaps playing 'Ha til, Ha til, Ha til, mi tulidh'—'We return, we return no more!'[5] Between 1651 and 1664, thirty-four thousand (of whom few ever saw their loved native land again were transported into foreign parts."[6]

While the roads to Connaught were as I have described witnessing a stream of hapless fugitives—prisoners rather, plodding wearily to their dungeon and grave—a singular scene was going on in London. At an office or bureau appointed for the purpose by government, a lottery was held, whereat the farms, houses, and estates from which the owners had thus been driven were being "drawn" by or on behalf of the soldiers and officers of the army, and the "adventurers"—i.e. petty shopkeepers in London, and others who had lent money for the war on the Irish. The mode of conducting the lottery or drawing was regulated by public ordinance. Not unfrequently a vulgar and illiterate trooper "drew" the mansion and estate of an Irish nobleman, who was glad to accept permission to inhabit, for a few weeks merely, the stable or the cowshed [7] with his lady and children, pending their setting out for Connaught! This same lottery was the "settlement" (varied a little by further confiscations to the same end forty years subsequently (by which the now existing landed proprietary was "planted" upon Ireland.

Between a proprietary thus planted and the bulk of the population, as well as the tenantry under them, it is not to be marveled that feelings the reverse of cordial prevailed. From the first they scowled at each other. The plundered and trampled people despised and hated the "Cromwellian brood," as they were called, never regarding them as more than vulgar and violent usurpers of other men's estates. The Cromwellians, on the other hand, feared and hated the serf-peasantry, whose secret sentiments and desires of hostility they well knew. Nothing but the fusing spirit of nationality obliterates such feelings as these; but no such spirit was allowed to fuse the Cromwellian "landlords" and the Irish tenantry. The former were taught to consider themselves as a foreign garrison, endowed to watch and keep down, and levy a land-tribute off the native tillers of the soil; moreover "the salt of the land," the elect of the Lord, the ruling class, alone entitled to be ranked as saints or citizens. So they looked to and leaned all on England, without whom they thought they must be massacred. "Aliens in race and language, and in religion," they had not one tie in common with the subject population; and so both classes unhappily grew up to be what they remain very much in our own day—more of taskmasters and bondsmen than landlords and tenants.


[1] "I now thought of searching the Record Commissioners' Reports, and found there were several volumes of the very date required, 1650-1659, in the custody of the clerk of the privy council, preserved in the heavily embattled tower which forms the most striking feature of the Castle of Dublin. They were only accessible at that day through the order of the lord lieutenant or chief secretary for Ireland. I obtained, at length, in the month of September, 1849, an order. It may be easily imagined with what interest I followed the porter up the dark winding stone staircase of this gloomy tower, once the prison of the castle, and was ushered into a small central space that seemed dark, even after the dark stairs we had just left. As the eye became accustomed to the spot, it appeared that the doors of five cells made in the prodigious thickness of the tower walls, opened on the central space. From one of them Hugh Roe O'Donel is said to have escaped, by getting down the privy of his cell to the Poddle River that runs around the base of the tower. The place was covered with the dust of twenty years; but opening a couple of volumes of the statutes—one as a clean spot to place my coat upon, the other to sit on—I took my seat in the cell exactly opposite to the one just mentioned, as it looked to the south over the castle garden, and had better light. In this tower I found a series of Order Books of the Commissioners of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England for the affairs of Ireland, together with domestic correspondence and Books of Establishments from 1650 to 1659. They were marked on the back by the letter A over a number, as will be observed in the various references in the notes to the present sketch. Here I found the records of a nation's woes. I felt that I had at last reached the haven I had been so long seeking. There I sat, extracting, for many weeks, until I began to know the voices of many of the corporals that came with the guard to relieve the sentry in the castle yard below, and every drum and bugle call of the regiment quartered in the Ship Street barracks. At length, between the labor of copying and excitement at the astonishing drama performing, as it were, before my eyes, my heart by some strange movements warned me it was necessary to retire for a time. But I again and again returned at intervals, sometimes of months, sometimes of years."—Preface to "The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland."

[2] "March 9, 1654-5.—Order—Passes over the Shannon between Jamestown and Sligo to be closed, so as to make one entire line between Connaught and the adjacent parts of Leinster and Ulster."

[3] "How strict was the imprisonment of the transplanted in Connaught may be judged when it required a special order for Lord Trimbleston, Sir Richard Barnwall, Mr. Patrick Netterville, and others, then dwelling in the suburbs of Athlone on the Connaught side, to pass and repass the bridge into the part of the town on the Leinster side on their business; and only on giving security not to pass without special leave of the governor."—"Cromwellian. Settlement;" with a reference to the State Record

[4] Haverty.

[5] "The tune with which the departing Highlanders usually bid farewell to their native shores."—Preface to Sir Walter Scott's "Legend of Montrose."

[6] Prendergast's "Cromwellian Settlement."

[7] See the case of the then proprietor of the magnificent place now called Woodlands, county Dublin.—"Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland."