- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


The English republic rose from the scaffold of the King, in 1649; its first government was a "Council of State" of forty-one members; under this council, Cromwell held at first the title of Lord General; but, on the 16th December, 1653, he was solemnly installed, in Westminster Hall, as "Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland." He was then in his fifty-fourth year; his reign--if such it may be called--lasted less than five years.

The policy of the Protector towards Ireland is even less defensible than his military severities. For the barbarities of war there may be some apology, the poor one at least that such outrages are inseparable from war itself; but for the cold-blooded, deliberate atrocities of peace, no such defence can be permitted before the tribunal of a free posterity.

The Long Parliament, still dragging out its date, under the shadow of Cromwell's great name, declared in its session of 1652, the rebellion in Ireland "subdued and ended," and proceeded to legislate for that kingdom as a conquered country. On the 12th of August, they passed their Act of Settlement, the authorship of which was attributed to Lord Orrery, in this respect the worthy son of the first Earl of Cork. Under this Act, there were four chief descriptions of persons whose status was thus settled: 1st. All ecclesiastics and royalist proprietors were exempted from pardon of life or estate. 2nd. All royalist commissioned officers were condemned to banishment, and the forfeit of two-thirds of their property, one-third being retained for the support of their wives and children. 3rd. Those who had not been in arms, but could be shown, by a Parliamentary commission, to have manifested "a constant, good affection" to the war, were to forfeit one-third of their estates, and receive "an equivalent" for the remaining two-thirds west of the Shannon. 4th. All husbandmen and others of the inferior sort, "not possessed of lands or goods exceeding the value of 10 pounds," were to have a free pardon, on condition also of transporting themselves across the Shannon.

This last condition of the Cromwellian settlement distinguished it, in our annals, from every other proscription of the native population formerly attempted. The great river of Ireland, rising in the mountains of Leitrim, nearly severs the five western counties from the rest of the kingdom. The province thus set apart, though one of the largest in superficial extent, had also the largest proportion of waste and water, mountain and moorland. The new inhabitants were there to congregate from all the other provinces before the 1st day of May, 1654, under penalty of outlawry and all its consequences; and when there, they were not to appear within two miles of the Shannon or four miles of the sea. A rigorous passport system, to evade which was death without form of trial, completed this settlement, the design of which was to shut up the remaining Catholic inhabitants from all intercourse with mankind, and all communion with the other inhabitants of their own country.

A new survey of the whole kingdom was also ordered, under the direction of Dr. William Petty, the fortunate economist, who founded the house of Lansdowne. By him the surface of the kingdom was estimated at ten millions and a half plantation acres, three of which were deducted for waste and water. Of the remainder, above 5,000,000 were in Catholic hands in 1641; 300,000 were church and college lands; and 2,000,000 were in possession of the Protestant settlers of the reigns of James and Elizabeth. Under the Protectorate, 5,000,000 acres were confiscate; this enormous spoil, two-thirds of the whole island, went to the soldiers and adventurers who had served against the Irish, or had contributed to the military chest, since 1641--except 700,000 acres given in "exchange" to the banished in Clare and Connaught; and 1,200,000 confirmed to "innocent Papists." Such was the complete uprooting of the ancient tenantry or clansmen, from their original holdings, that during the survey, orders of Parliament were issued to bring back individuals from Connaught to point out the boundaries of parishes in Munster. It cannot be imputed among the sins so freely laid to the historical account of the native legislature, that an Irish parliament had any share in sanctioning this universal spoliation. Cromwell anticipated the union of the kingdoms by a hundred and fifty years, when he summoned, in 1653, that assembly over which "Praise-God Barebones" presided; members for Ireland and Scotland sat on the same benches with the commons of England. Oliver's first deputy in the government of Ireland was his son-in-law, Fleetwood, who had married the widow of Ireton; but his real representative was his fourth son, Henry Cromwell, Commander-in-Chief of the army. In 1657, the title of Lord Deputy was transferred from Fleetwood to Henry, who united the supreme civil and military authority in his own person, until the eve of the restoration, of which he became an active partisan. We may thus properly embrace the five years of the Protectorate as the period of Henry Cromwell's administration.

In the absence of a Parliament, the government of Ireland was vested in the Deputy, the Commander-in-Chief, and four commissioners, Ludlow, Corbett, Jones, and Weaver. There was, moreover, a High Court of Justice, which perambulated the kingdom, and exercised an absolute authority over life and property, greater than even Strafford's Court of Castle Chamber had pretended to. Over this court presided Lord Lowther, assisted by Mr. Justice Donnellan, by Cooke, solicitor to the Parliament on the trial of King Charles, and the regicide, Reynolds. By this court, Sir Phelim O'Neil, Viscount Mayo, and Colonels O'Toole and Bagnall, were condemned and executed; by them the mother of Colonel Fitzpatrick was burnt at the stake; and Lords Muskerry and Clanmaliere set at liberty, through some secret influence. The commissioners were not behind the High Court of Justice in executive offices of severity. Children under age, of both sexes, were captured by thousands, and sold as slaves to the tobacco planters of Virginia and the West Indies. Secretary Thurloe informs Henry Cromwell that "the Committee of the Council have authorized 1,000 girls and as many youths, to be taken up for that purpose." Sir William Petty mentions 6,000 Irish boys and girls shipped to the West Indies. Some cotemporary accounts make the total number of children and adults so transported 100,000 souls. To this decimation, we may add 34,000 men of fighting age, who had permission to enter the armies of foreign powers, at peace with the commonwealth. The chief commissioners, sitting at Dublin, had their deputies in a commission of delinquencies, sitting at Athlone, and another of transportation, sitting at Loughrea. Under their superintendence, the distribution made of the soil among the Puritans "was nearly as complete as that of Canaan by the Israelites." Whenever native labourers were found absolutely necessary for the cultivation of the estates of their new masters, they were barely tolerated "as the Gibeonites had been by Joshua." Such Irish gentlemen as had obtained pardons, were obliged to wear a distinctive mark on their dress under pain of death; those of inferior rank were obliged to wear a round black spot on the right cheek under pain of the branding iron and the gallows; if a Puritan lost his life in any district inhabited by Catholics, the whole population were held subject to military execution. For the rest, whenever "Tory" or recusant fell into the hands of these military colonists, or the garrisons which knitted them together, they were assailed with the war cry of the Jews--"That thy feet may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and that the tongues of thy dogs may be red with the same." Thus penned in between "the mile line" of the Shannon, and "the four mile-line" of the sea, the remnant of the Irish nation passed seven years of a bondage unequalled in severity by anything which can be found in the annals of Christendom.

The conquest was not only a military but a religious subjugation. The 27th of Elizabeth--the old act of uniformity--was rigorously enforced. The Catholic lawyers were disbarred and silenced; the Catholic schoolmasters were forbidden to teach, under pain of felony. Recusants, surrounded in glens and caves, offering up the holy sacrifice through the ministry of some daring priest, were shot down or smoked out like vermin. The ecclesiastics never, in any instance, were allowed to escape. Among those who suffered death during the short space of the Protectorate, are counted "three bishops and three hundred ecclesiastics." The surviving prelates were in exile, except the bedridden Bishop of Kilmore, who for years had been unable to officiate. So that, now, that ancient hierarchy which in the worst Danish wars had still recruited its ranks as fast as they were broken, seemed on the very eve of extinction. Throughout all the island no episcopal hand remained to bless altars, to ordain priests, or to confirm the faithful. The Irish church as well as the Irish state, touched its lowest point of suffering and endurance in the decade which intervened between the death of Charles I. and the death of Cromwell.

The new population imposed upon the kingdom, soon split up into a multitude of sects. Some of them became Quakers: many adhered to the Anabaptists; others, after the Restoration, conformed to the established church. That deeper tincture of Puritanism which may be traced in the Irish, as compared with the English establishment, took its origin even more from the Cromwellian settlement than from the Calvinistic teachings of Archbishop Usher.

Oliver died in 1658, on his "fortunate day," the 3rd of September, leaving England to experience twenty months of republican intrigue and anarchy. Richard Cromwell-- Lambert--Ludlow--Monck--each played his part in this stormy interval, till, the time being ripe for a restoration, Charles II. landed at Dover on the 23rd of May, 1660 and was carried in triumph to London.

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.