The 1641 Depositions: Day 2

On Friday, 22nd October Lord Bannside PC (Dr Paisley) and the President of Ireland Mary McAleese opened the 1641 Depositions Exhibition in the majestic Long Room of Trinity College. The room was filled with academics and representatives from the National Library and the National Gallery, as well as Andrew Staunton of the British Embassy, Auralie Bonal of the French Embassy and PS Raghavan, the Indian Ambassador. Thousands of Protestants lost their lives in this Rebellion, the majority being killed in Ulster. Around 50 researchers, librarians and academics from Trinity and the Universities of Aberdeen and Cambridge trawled through 19,000 pages and 31 volumes to study 8,000 depositions in which 90,000 people are named. The depositions detail in vivid and harrowing terms crimes committed by the Irish Catholic insurgents, both Gaelic Irish and Old English, including torture, assaults, stripping, imprisonment and murder as well as the loss of goods.

Many of the Protestants lost their lives by being forced unclothed into the midst of a bitter winter. 155 were drowned in the River Bann at Portadown Bridge in one of the worst atrocities. 17 men, women and children were murdered in the Parish of Drumcree. Iconic images of this still adorn Orange Order banners, and are an important historical memory in that area, contributing to local feeling and coming to the fore in the ongoing Drumcree Crisis. All in all, such perceptions are an integral part of the British/Unionist/ Protestant identity, generally ignored by the academic establishment in Northern Ireland, who are trapped in Irish nationalist ideologies.

President McAleese set that other Friday, October 22nd of 1641 in context when she said “Ireland was a powder keg … in the wake of the Elizabethan conquest.” She described the rebellion intended by the instigators as a “conservative coup spun out of control”. She said that there was everything to be gained from interrogating the past calmly and coherently, in order to understand each others passions more comprehensively … ” to help us transcend those baleful forces of history so that we can make a new history of good neighbourliness.”

Lord Bannside replied “Our fellow countrymen and women in the 1600’s knew trouble as we have, thank God, never known it. The testimonials before us in this exhibition tell in graphic detail the losses they sustained and the crimes carried out against them. These troubles were not borne by one social class or another or by one gender or another. They were not limited by age nor limited by religious belief. Perhaps the most telling aspect of this material is that it bears witnesses to the scale of the wrongdoing while at the same time individualising it. Here lie tragic stories of individuals – here too is a dark story of our land. To learn this story I believe is to know who we are, why we have had to witness our own trouble and why we live in a divided island … May we really learn what this exhibition can really teach us”.

He graciously thanked those who had invited him to the event and asked God’s blessing of everyone in the room adding “and in the words of Lord Carson who was a great man – he was well known to Trinity and to this City – what did he say – he said ”God Save Ulster”. I would be willing now to just stretch a bit harder and I would like to say “God Save Ulster and the three other parts of this island”. Being a Ballymena man I am putting Ulster first….”

To be continued

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