The Ulster People: 27 – Oliver Cromwell – God’s Englishman

Cromwell’s campaign against the Royalist forces began with the storming of Drogheda on 11 September 1649. The resultant massacre was directed primarily against the English Royalist garrison and the clergy. A normal market was held in the town the following day. In October the Ironsides, now the finest army in Europe, took Wexford and, on finding evidence of atrocities committed against the town’s Protestant inhabitants, gave no quarter to the Irish garrison. The success of Cromwell, “God’s Englishman”, was predicated on the fact that he never fought a battle which he thought he could not win.

By the end of November the great Ulster leader, Owen Roe O’Neill, had died and the only Ulster strongholds left in Royalist hands were Charlemont and Enniskillen, while the Protestant Royalist garrisons of Cork, Youghal and Kinsale had joined Cromwell of their own volition. When Cromwell, the Lord Lieutenant and General for the Parliament of England, left Ireland on 26 May 1650 he was confident that his deputies would soon be able to finish the war, and that the Gaelic aristocracy was doomed, its caste system of social order destroyed for all time. Now Cromwell and his New Model Army could turn their attention to subduing his new adversaries, the Presbyterian Covenanters of Scotland.

Cromwell’s designs for the conquered Ireland were embodied in an Act of Settlement passed by the ‘Long Parliament’ in England in August 1652. This provided for an extensive forfeiture of land in Ulster, Leinster and Munster, ten counties of which were set aside to remunerate the Parliamentary soldiers and those who had contributed funds to the war effort. While the leaders of the rebellion had forfeited all rights to their land and property, many others who had not “manifested their constant good affection to the Commonwealth of England” were to suffer partial forfeiture, losing one fifth, one third or two thirds of their estates, according to the degree of their “delinquency”. A scheme was made whereby they would be obliged to accept lands in Connaught and Clare equal in value to the land which remained to them.

The Irish prisoners-of-war were allowed to enlist in the service of European nations and about 40,000 did so, chiefly going to Spain. Some two hundred persons were executed for their parts in the massacre of 1641, among them Sir Phelim O’Neill. Catholic priests were transported to the West Indies. The Episcopalians also suffered, as did the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians of Antrim and Down, for it was decided that they should be transported south, away from the Scottish mainland and continued support from Ayrshire (Carrick) and Galloway. Cromwell indeed drove all the Anglican bishops out of Ireland and every Presbyterian minister with the exception of five.

Although it was first announced that all “transplantable” persons should remove themselves by 1 May 1654 and that they should be liable to death if they didn’t, permission to delay for individuals was freely given. In April 1653, Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament and ruled as Lord Protector, and a change of policy towards the leading Ulster Scots meant that their transportation south was not carried into effect. Neither was the subsequent settlement of Ireland by Cromwellian soldiers a success, for not only did they need the Irish tenants but, despite strict attempts to prevent them, they intermarried with the Catholic Irish and within a generation many of them would become Catholics and fight for the Jacobite cause.

In 1645 Cromwell dispatched his son, Henry, to be ruler of Ireland and under his firm but mild government an increase in liberty was granted to Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian alike, and Ireland began to prosper again. During the remaining years of the Protectorate the ministers of the devout Covenanting sect gained a tremendous hold over the people of Galloway and Ayrshire. This was to have a profound influence on following events. Ministers were allowed to return to Ulster. An Irish State paper of 1660 states that “there are 40,000 Irish and 80,000 Scots in Ulster ready to bear arms, and not above 5,000 English in the whole province besides the army.”

To be continued

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