Pacification of Munster

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


MEANWHILE the detachments detailed by Carew were doing their savage and merciless work throughout Cork and Kerry. According to Carew's own version, the occupation of these troops, day by day, was the seeking out and murdering in cold blood of all the native inhabitants, men, women, and children; and when they were not murdering they were cow-stealing and corn-burning. How to extirpate the hapless people—how to blast and desolate the land, rather than it should afford sustenance to even a solitary fugitive of the doomed race—was the constant effort of the English commanders. Carew was not the first of his name to signalize himself in such work. It was the process by which Munster had been "pacified"—i.e., desolated—barely thirty years before. It was that by which Cromwell, forty years subsequently, pursued the same end. It was a system, the infamy of which, among the nations of the world, pagan or Christian, is wholly monopolized by England.

The impartial reader, be his nationality English or Irish, perusing the authentic documents stored in the State Paper Office, is forced to admit that it was not war in even its severest sense, but murder in its most hideous and heartless atrocity, that was waged upon the Irish people in the process of subjugating them. It was not that process of conquest the wounds of which, though sharp and severe for the moment, soon cicatrize with time. Such conquests other countries have passed through, and time has either fused the conqueror and the conquered, or obliterated all bitterness or hate between them. Had Ireland, too, been conquered thus, like happy results might be looked for; but as the process was woefully different, so has the product been; so must it ever be, till the laws of nature are reversed and revolutionized, and grapes grow on thorns and figs on thistles. It was not war—-which might be forgotten on both sides—but murder which to this day is remembered on one side with a terrible memory.

A thoroughly English historian—Froude—writing in our day on these events, has found the testimony of the State Paper Office too powerful to resist; and with all his natural and legitimate bias or sympathy in favor of his own country, his candor as a historian more than once constitutes him an accuser of the infamies to which I have been referring. "The English nation," he says, "was shuddering over the atrocities of the Duke of Alva. The children in the nurseries were being inflamed to patriotic rage and madness by the tales of Spanish tyranny. Yet Alva's bloody sword never touched the young, the defenseless, or those whose sex even dogs can recognize and respect."[1]

"Sir Peter Carew has been seen murdering women and children, and babies that had scarcely left the breast; but Sir Peter Carew was not called on to answer for his conduct, and remained in favor with the deputy. Gilbert, who was left in command at Kilmallock, was illustrating yet, more signally the same tendency.[2]

"Nor was Gilbert a bad man. As times went he passed for a brave and chivalrous gentleman; not the least distinguished in that high band of adventurers who carried the English flag into the western hemisphere, a founder of colonies, an explorer of unknown seas, a man of science, and, above all, a man of special piety. He regarded himself as dealing rather with savage beasts than with human beings, and when he tracked them to their dens he strangled the cubs and rooted out the entire broods."[3]

"The Gilbert method of treatment," says Mr. Froude again, "has this disadvantage, that it must be carried out to the last extremity, or it ought not to be tried at all. The dead do not come back; and if the mothers and the babies are slaughtered with the men, the race gives no further trouble; but the work must be done thoroughly; partial and fitful cruelty lays up only a long debt of deserved and ever-deepening hate."

The work on this occasion happening not to be-"done thoroughly," Mr. Froude immediately proceeds to explain:

"In justice to the English soldiers, however, it must be said that it was no fault of theirs if any Irish child of that generation was allowed to live to manhood."[4]

The same historian frankly warns his readers against supposing that such work was exceptional on the part of the English forces. From the language of the official documents before him; he says, "the inference is but too natural that work of this kind was the road to preferment, and that this, or something like it, was the ordinary employment of the 'Saxon' garrisons in Ireland."[5]

Such, then, was the work in which Carew the Second and his garrisons occupied themselves on the fall of Kinsale.

Sir Charles Wilmot at the head of fifteen hundred men was dispatched to desolate the whole of Kerry; and on the 9th of March Carew formally issued a commission to the Earl of Thomond "to assemble bis forces together, consisting of two thousand and five hundred foot in list, and fifty horse," for the purpose of wasting Carbery, Bear, and Bantry, and making a reconnaissance of Dunboy.[6] Thomond accordingly "marched as far as the abbey of Bantrie, and there had notice that Donnell O'Sullivan Beare and his people, by the advice of two Spaniards, an Italian, and a fryer called Dominicke Collins, did still continue their workes about the castle of Dunboy."

"Hereupon the earl left seven hundred men in list in the Whiddy (an island lying within the Bay of Bantrie) very convenient for the service, and himself with the rest of his forces returned to Corke, where having made relation of the particulars of his journey, it was found necessary that the president, without any protractions or delay, should draw all the forces in the province to a head against them."[7]


[1] Froude's "History of England," vol. x., p. 508.

[2] Ibid., p. 509.

[3] Ibid., p. 508.

[4] Ibid., p. 507..

[5] Ibid., p. 512.

[6] "The service you are to performe is to doe all your endeavour to burne the rebels' Corne in Carbery, Bear, and Bantry, take their Cowes, and to use all hostile prosecution upon the persons of the people, as in such cases of rebellion is accustomed...When you are in Beare (if you may without any apparent perill), your lordship shall doe well to take a view of the Castle of Dunboy, whereby wee may be the better instructed how to proceed for the taking of it when time convenient shall be afforded."—Instructions given to the Earl of Thomond, March 9th.—"Pacata Hibernia."

[7] "Pacata Hibernia."