Public Memory of the 1641 Irish Rebellion in the Nineteenth Century British and Irish press. by David Doherty


The Irish Confederate Wars began in 1641 when the Catholic aristocracy staged an unsuccessful coup against English Protestant rule there.  In The Bloody Bridge, published in 1903, Thomas Fitzpatrick described the insurrection as an episode ‘about which men wrote, as desperately as they fought’.[1]  The sentiment is utterly apt.  Allegations of atrocities committed by Catholics on Protestants in 1641 have been a source of propaganda since the rebellion itself.

It remains an incendiary subject.  Professor Simon Schama appeared on the BBC in March 2019 to give a historian’s perspective on Brexit.  The issue of the Irish border was, he thought, simply the most recent of the ‘violently torn apart moments’ arising from the vexed history of Britain and Ireland.  The other instances of comparable magnitude were in the 1640s and the 1880s. ‘Over and over again in British history’ said Schama, ‘Ireland, Ireland, Ireland.’[2] 

The century following the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798 and the Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 saw the 1641 Rising alluded to in the British and Irish newspapers numerous times.  This paper will consider the public memory of 1641 in the nineteenth century popular press during the Catholic Emancipation movement in the early decades, through the Great Famine and rise of Fenianism, to the tumultuous Home Rule campaigns from the 1880s onwards. 

It will examine the ways in which 1641 attained particular significance often, but not always, during these periods of heightened activity and aggravated tensions in the Anglo-Irish socio-political nexus, amidst perpetual fears of rekindled rebellion and of ultramontanism, the notion of Catholic loyalty to the Pope over the Crown.  It will show how Unionists accepted the seventeenth century Deposition evidence that Catholics were encouraged to commit barbaric violence by the Church hierarchy, and exploited this tradition to demonstrate that Catholicism was innately barbaric. 

It will argue that the concept of Papal infallibility was bastardised to something closer to immutability to propagate the idea that, if Catholics had acted barbarously with sanction from the Pope in the seventeenth century, then it was manifest that they would do so in the nineteenth century.  It will be shown that constructing this debased caricature was intended precisely to ruin the causes of Catholic Emancipation, Irish Home Rule and general improvement of civil and political rights and restore the English Protestant hierarchy. 

In The Shadow of a Year, John Gibney’s analysis of the legacy of 1641 in Irish history, he records the nineteenth century reader who annotated their history of the Rebellion with the phrase, ‘like the year 1798.’  But we know no more than that of their thoughts on the parallels.[3] The newspaper articles and correspondence considered here are a valuable resource because they are expansive, opinionated and reactionary.  As John Tosh observes, ‘the most revealing source is that which is written with no thought for posterity.’[4]  And Norman Fairclough has noted that, ‘dominant ideologies become ingrained in everyday discourse (and) rationalised as ‘common-sense’ assumptions’.[5]   The newspaper evidence fulfils both of these maxims.   They address the legacy of 1641 to the immediate matters of the day and in doing so unabashedly reveal a prevailing anti-Catholic dogma.  Consideration of this evidence provides a singular perspective on the historical enmity which informed Anglo-Irish political discourse in the nineteenth century and which continues to present formidable questions.

1800-1820, Union

Attempts to settle the ‘Catholic question’ during the formation of the Union of Ireland and Great Britain in 1800 were prevented by King George III and wider Protestant opposition in 1801.  The failed Second United Irishmen Rebellion of July 1803 saw its leader Robert Emmet hanged.[6]  The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland still had support in Westminster where, in 1805, Henry Grattan’s Catholic petition was defeated in the Commons. Indeed, belief in Catholic atrocity in 1641 bolstered the foundations of the Protestant Ascendancy and, it was argued,  justified the punitive measures which maintained it.[7]   In a further act of oppression, since Catholic compliance was imperative during the Napoleonic wars, the pro-Catholic press was suppressed in 1813-14.[8]  This tack, consistent with the imperialist approach of fostering negative stereotypes to vindicate subjugation, is reflected in John Tosh’s discussion of ‘the invented traditions of nationalism’:

For all their scholarly principle, the nineteenth-century historicists found it hard to resist the demand for one-dimensional, nation-building history, and many did not even try … (nations) required a historical rationale of past glories to be revived, or ancient wrongs to be avenged … Nationalism of this kind rests on the assertion of tradition, rather than an interpretation of history.’[9] 

Despite this turbulence, the Morning Post of 29 August 1816 is the only paper to make explicit reference to 1641 during these first two decades. Recent ‘assassinations’ in Ireland, it said, arose ‘from the sanguinary Canons of the Romish Church, which prescribe, as a matter of religious duty, the destruction of (Protestant) heretics … and some of them offer a full remission of sins to such persons as shall do so.’ 

Suggesting that killing non-Catholics attained spiritual reward was doubtless intended to infer that these latest murders followed a doctrinal tradition of meritorious religious violence. It alleged that Popes ‘often instigated subjects to rise in rebellion’ and attributed the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of French Huguenots in 1572 and ‘the religious butcheries’ in Ireland in 1641, 1689 and 1798 to the ‘canons of the Romish church, and the zeal of its clergy.’ Moreover, it claimed that Catholics had sworn oaths to Napoleon to unseat the English Government.  The French threat motivated English anti-Catholicism and 1641 retained its totemic potency.[10]  The Post concludes,

This has obviously arisen from the Canons of the Romish Church, which inspires its votaries with a strong spirit of disaffection to a Protestant State, and an inveterate hatred to all persons as heretics, who happen not to be within its pale.  Though the practical effects of these diabolical principles have produced unutterable calamities, for some centuries, in many European States, and in none more than in the British Isles, the members of a certain august Assembly, in discussing the savage and barbarous state of Ireland, seem to be radically ignorant of the religious principles which occasion it. [11]

This example may be isolated in the first quarter of the century – there are no more in the evidence until 1827 – but it is no less significant.  It typifies many of the mentions of 1641 by a hostile press thereafter:  that Irish Catholic barbarity was condoned and instructed by the Church hierarchy, that Catholicism threatened the Protestant state, that unsubdued Ireland was a gateway for hostile European powers and that it was reckless of Parliament to ignore the warnings that Catholic infidelity persisted in perpetuity.  Whilst, according to Gibney, dwindling formal public remembrance of 1641 might signify that by this time the Protestant establishment was rejecting ‘overtly sectarian commemorations’,[12] this solitary instance fairly anticipates what followed. 

1820s, Catholic Relief

On 23 March 1820 Robert Peel, an opponent of Catholic emancipation who had resigned his post as Chief Secretary for Ireland two years before, wrote to Irish politician John Wilson Croker:

Do not you think that the tone of England – of that great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, obstinacy, newspaper paragraphs, which is called public opinion – is more liberal – to use an odious but intelligible phrase – than the policy of the Government?[13] 

Croker’s response, if he gave one, has not been preserved.  But by the end of the decade Peel had taken a pragmatic view on the inevitability and necessity to bow to the public demand for Catholic emancipation.  That Peel himself drafted the Relief Bill of 1829 demonstrates that, despite his reservations, he was realistic enough to recognise the need to capitulate.  As John Stuart Mill wrote to the French author Gustave d’Eichthal, Catholic Emancipation was ‘one of those great events … by which institutions of a country are brought into harmony with the better part of the mind of that country.’[14] 

But naturally there was public opposition as well, and as the emancipation movement had expanded, sectarianism grew in proportion.   Protestants were increasingly reminded that each easing of the penal laws in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had resulted in rebellion and the slaughter of their predecessors.   Brunswick Clubs, provoked by ‘The Great Emancipator’ Daniel O’Connell’s successes, planned ‘tangible reminders of this perceived connection’ in never-to-be-erected monuments to the Protestant victims of 1641.[15] 

O’Connell’s founding of The Catholic Association in May 1823 was ‘treated in lavish detail’ in the nationalist press. Plunket’s and Burdett’s Catholic Relief Bills were successful in the Commons but defeated in the Lords in 1821 and 1825 respectively.  Liberal Protestant emancipationist Villiers Stuart’s success in Waterford over Lord Beresford in July 1826 heralded subsequent victories for emancipationist candidates and demonstrated a new found willingness for tenants to defy their landlords on which way to vote.[16] 

On 6 March 1827 Parliament debated a motion for Catholic Emancipation.  The Times reported the following day that Tory Sir John Singleton Copley asked the House to consider the circumstances in which anti-Catholic legislation – – ‘the bulwark of the liberties of the country’ – was enacted during the reigns of Mary, Elizabeth and James I.  There were cheers from some when he asked them ‘to recollect the circumstances which occurred in Ireland, in 1641, when the country was plunged in bloodshed by that insurrection and massacre, which for savage cruelty remained without a parallel.’  Was it wonderful, he asked, that those who witnessed these ‘atrocities’, should ‘enact such laws as in those times, and forever after, should guard against a repetition of such outrages.’ [17]  He singularly undermined his insistence that he held no anti-Catholic prejudices by insisting that crimes by Irish Catholics of the past, 1641 chief amongst them, made it necessary to retain such oppressive legislation.

The Derby Mercury of December 1828 was an anti-Catholic omnibus.  The difficulty had not been to source its ‘facts’, but ‘to choose from amongst the immense multitude which crimson the pages of history.’ It began with an excerpt from Hume’s History of England of 1757 entitled ‘Irish Massacre in 1641’ describing the ‘universal massacre’ at the hands of ‘inhuman foes’:

Without provocation, without opposition, the astonished English – living in profound peace and full security, were massacred by their nearest neighbours, with whom they had long upheld a continual intercourse of kindness and good offices.

Next was perhaps the most intriguing, and certainly the most sinister, inclusion.   It purported to be a full ‘reproduction’ of Urban VIII’s 1643 Bull granting remission of sins to Irish Catholics fighting ‘heretics’.  It was a forgery. It closely follows the characteristic structure of crusade encyclicals, as the reproduction below shows, and was followed by an article giving warning that should England ‘remove restraint’, Popery in Ireland would ‘soon return to its former deformity.’[18]

Fig. 1 The forged ‘Papal Letter’

It was not entirely outlandish.  There are parallels between the mobilisation of popular religious sectarianism for political ends in 1641 and, for example, the Albigensian Crusade from 1209 where the French aristocracy intervened at the behest of Pope Innocent III to rid Languedoc of Cathar heretics but which ended with the County of Toulouse coming under the ambit of the French Crown and Rome.   In any event, the letter seems to have been accepted as genuine.  It would arise again in later years.

On page one of The Mercury was a letter from Reverend Henry Crewe, a Church of England minister deeply anxious about the ’Catholic Question.’  He was particularly troubled by  support within his own church for ‘an Anti-Christian religion’ and particularly their resolution not to oppose Catholic Emancipation until the Government deliver their opinion on the matter.  The Bible, he said, ‘condemns that Religion in the most clear and unqualified terms, and enjoins me to watch against its encroachments in every way.’[19] 

Taking care to show his prejudices did not extend to individual Catholics, he advanced the view that they enjoyed every privilege in England and that Catholics in Ireland did indeed require emancipation but only from ‘those chains of ignorance and bigotry’ which Catholicism imposed. He concluded that he feared that Catholics were not ‘patriots’, a clear allusion to ultramontanism.[20]

As the inevitability of Catholic Emancipation dawned, Orangemen, Tories and other Protestants resolved to establish a new movement to warn the government against making concessions.[21] At the Clare by-election, O’Connell’s rhetoric incorporated ‘a calculated mix of historical illusion, exaggeration and chauvinism’ and won him 2,057 votes against local landlord William Fitzgerald’s 982.  In this victory, as Alvin Jackson puts it, ‘the formidable forces of Catholic Ireland had been paraded for the benefit of the government.’[22]

‘An English Protestant’ wrote to The Morning Post in January 1829 to report that his literary club had concluded that the ‘Inquisition of the Romish Church’ was the ‘foulest’ act of the human species.  This discussion gave impulse to broader condemnation of Catholicism, culminating in a warning that a rising like 1641 had not been repeated, not because of ‘superior light and improved humanity’ in Ireland, but want of freedom to carry it out.  Catholics were the same in 1829 as they always had been and their failure to declare to the contrary – ‘never have I heard any such declarations, either in oral, or written, or printed communication to the public’ – confirmed as much.  He concluded by inviting ‘declarations of abhorrence’ from Catholic contemporaries for ‘the unparalleled cruelty and persecutions of their predecessors.’[23]

That February, the pseudonymous ‘Luther’ addressed ‘all rational and unprejudiced’ readers of The Morning Post on the question of ‘Catholic Intolerance.’  On the premise that Catholics – ‘bigoted slaves’ – privileged the authority of the Pope over the Crown, he wondered whether England’s ‘pre-eminence in civil and religious liberty’, and success in commerce, art and science was not the consequence of throwing off ‘the base yolk of Popery at the Reformation’ and whether anyone could ‘seriously believe that these Papists … are fit and proper persons to legislate impartially in our Protestant Houses of Peers and Commons?’  Moreover, with 1641 as his example, he asked if Catholics were bound ‘by their very creed’ to murder Protestants.[24]

A week later, ‘An English bull dog of the Protestant breed’ wrote to that ‘impartial paper’, The Morning Post, to contest O’Connell’s description of Protestants (‘the most excellent men of Ireland’) as ‘bloodhounds’.  His accompanying sketch of the events of 1641, however, fell short of impartiality:

What description of bloodhounds were those Roman Popish Catholics who, in the year 1641, murdered, by regular conspiracy and by all kinds of torture, at the instigation of the Pope and the Priests, upwards of 50,000 Protestants, … merely because they were of the pure and Christian Protestant faith, and refused to bow down to the Popish idols?’

He presumed that O’Connell, ‘in his Popish Calendar’ would consider those who excited rebellion in 1641 and 1798 ‘almost as Saints.’[25]  It is surely no coincidence that this issue of The Morning Post also reported on O’Connell arriving to take his seat in Parliament to cries of ‘no popery’ and his party brandishing their pistols in response.[26]

Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley’s experience of the brutal Spanish Peninsular War in 1808 had left him keen to avoid similar nationalist conflict in Ireland.  Like Peel, he recognised that Catholic Emancipation was the means of preventing the looming rebellion.  The Emancipation Act of 1829 allowed Catholics admittance to Parliament and to public office and was a significant achievement against a Protestant constitution which made Catholic liberties essentially treasonous. 

Eugenio Biagini has argued that Irish constitutional nationalism and British radicalism at this time shared ‘a common emphasis’ on democracy and constitutional liberty.[27]  Fergus O’Ferrall recognises that ‘the Catholic struggle … set the pattern for the struggle for popular rights.’  As O’Ferrall points out, Daniel O’Connell, the Chartists and the Anti-Corn Law League all built upon the gains made in 1820s, of which Catholic Emancipation was arguably the most significant.[28]  O’Connell’s involvement in wider political reform movements in the 1830s certainly reflects this.

1830s, Emancipated

The Emancipation Act of 1829 was a humiliation for the Protestant ascendancy and led to Catholic dominance of Irish politics.  Historical wrongs against Catholics had been emphasised during the emancipation movement and it was upon these foundations that constitutional nationalism was constructed.[29]  With a hostile reaction to O’Connell’s election to Westminster in 1828, the 1830s saw an abundance of references to 1641 in the Protestant press. 

In August 1835, The Times complained of O’Connell’s growing influence in Parliament and his vainglorious posturing as the representative of all Ireland.  However, it said, his opponents were no longer like ‘the unprepared Protestants of Ireland in the year 1641.’ [30] 

In December that year, an anonymous letter to that paper took up the attack on O’Connell for propagating ‘the most rage-exciting misrepresentations of the feelings and views of the English and Protestants.’  Entitled ‘Popish Rebellion in Ireland in 1641 – Facts well deserving of attention at the present’, it drew comparison between ‘the horrible excitement which is now published to the Irish Roman Catholic population with that which in 1641 was made instrument of the most dreadful massacre on record.’ It set out extracts of Lyland’s account of 1641 describing ‘savage’ and ‘barbarous’ Catholics who ‘exulted’ in the suffering of their prisoners and who ‘emitted a hellish triumph over their expiring agonies.’  

The letter compared the ‘sanguinary malignity and murderous fury’ circulated by O’Connell ‘amongst the ignorant Popish populace of Ireland’ to accounts of Catholic priests ‘encouraging the carnage’ at the drowning at Portadown in 1641 and similar ‘horrid scenes re-enacted not long since – in the rebellion of 1798.’  O’Connell had lately been studying and quoting this ‘dreadful history’ and, the letter ventured, he may have taken from them some example of ‘sanguinary excitement.’ [31]  But O’Connell was not a ‘physical force nationalist.’  Rather, he followed eighteenth-century Catholics who pledged loyalty to the monarch hoping for political compromise in return.

The anonymous letter also appeared in The Standard alongside a report of a meeting at Brighton ‘to expose the real character and purposes of Popery’ where Reverend Mortimer O’Sullivan was frequently interrupted by a group of one hundred ‘dirty unwashed, hired to abuse.’  An audience member wrote to express his hope that O’Sullivan should be ‘the means of rousing the Protestants of this empire, and cause them … to exert themselves to prevent the horrors and blasphemy of Popery again becoming the ascendants in these realms.’

O’Sullivan ended by arguing that in the cities, where religion was absent and ‘the gin shop and the beer house … vomit forth the like set that disgraced the meeting today’, the people were vulnerable to the influences of ‘bankrupt politicians.’  In doing so he anticipated the social reformers from the 1840s whose fears of the spread of Chartism amongst the urban poor in part motivated their surveys.  And in correlating Catholicism with general social problems of intemperance and violence in the cities, he highlighted the inextricable conjunction between religion and social politics in Britain at that time:

The most important blessing would arise if useful populations were circulated amongst them, showing forth the terrors of Popery in former times, and its’ no less demoniac spirit now; and if you, (the Editor), will lend your powerful aid in recommending Protestant Associations in every village in the kingdom, I am sure we may laugh to scorn all that the gin-drinking brawlers in the large towns may attempt against our Protestant establishment. [32]

In August 1836 the matter of the forged papal document arose again.  Reverend J H Todd wrote to the Christian Observer refuting their assertion he had purposely cultivated the belief that it was authentic.  He reassured the editor that he had made public the error as soon as it was known.  Instead, he claimed that he had publicised the fraud because he believed that Catholics in 1641, ‘to have as truly promoted the designs of the Church of Rome, as if those measures had been dictated by the Pope and his Cardinals.’  It was a brazen response to being exposed and the editor responded that Todd was not ‘well advised in reviving the subject’ and took the reasonable view that it was outlandish to insist that a canard, once exposed, still supported his proposition.  The Editor continued,

Our full belief … was, that the pamphlet was meant to be, what the newspapers call, a ‘hoax’, or ‘mystification’, in order to puzzle people; so as to get the matter talked about, and to make an impression, and to have the genuineness of the letter gravely discussed, pro and con, … (not) desiring that in the end the public should be deceived … but hoping that in the meantime attention would be drawn to the author’s just and forcible arguments … against the latitudinarian system of education in Ireland.

 The editor concluded that the pamphlet was indeed intended to be taken as genuine and warned ‘lovers of caricature’ to be wary in future.[33]  Such disputes amongst Protestants over how to respond to the ‘threat’ of Catholic Emancipation would occur again.

In January 1836 O’Connell presented a revisionist account of 1641 at a Catholic Charity meeting in Birmingham.  He concluded that the violence attributed to Irish Catholics had been considerably overstated and focussed instead on violence by ‘Covenanter’ forces.  He challenged the Protestant argument that ruthless treatment of Catholics was vindicated by their predecessors’ transgressions by asserting that, in 1688 when three quarters of the Irish Parliament were Catholics, no retaliatory laws were passed.  These he mentioned to remind the ‘unscrupulous’ Mortimer O’Sullivan of the good feeling that Catholics in Ireland had always held towards Protestants.[34]

 ‘All the turmoil proceeds from the Romanists’, wrote The Standard of 5 October 1838.   Protestants, on the other hand, were content ‘with that social state under which civilisation and wealth have advanced.’  It contrasted the ‘intelligent and propertied’ Protestants with the Catholic majority, the ‘poorest and most uncivilised portion of the United Kingdom.’ Protestantism, it said, was being destroyed in Ireland and ’the slaves of Romanism’ were traitors to the national interest who, if unchecked, ‘will take up arms, and declare war against the Empire.’ 

It protested that anti-Catholic views were stifled by accusations of bigotry from those who failed to realise that claims of prejudice were ‘but parts of the well-considered and elaborate scheme of Romanist aggression.’  And the weightiest argument in support of this was that Catholics had massacred Protestants in 1641 and were only feigning to have changed since:

We are, in truth, reverting rapidly to the Popery of the 16th and 17th centuries; or rather, Popery is throwing off the disguise which it wore through the last, and the beginning of the present centuries; for it has been always the same – always perfidious – always cruel – always, to the extent of its opportunities, aggressive.[35]

By now the Protestant rhetoric had assumed an established form.  Catholics were deceitful and brutal and any impression to the contrary was a deception.  The absence of a recent massacre was not the consequence of their reformed character but an indication of the successful implementation of the Protestant state’s justifiably uncompromising governance.    Emancipation had been a concession too far and they were keen to ensure that there were no further dispensations. 

1840s, Trial & Famine

The Great Famine of 1845 to 1851, which killed an estimated one million people and caused around one and half millions to emigrate, saw an intensification of interest in Irish affairs amid concerns over refugees.  The relief ordered in November 1845 by Conservative Prime Minister Peel did not arrive in Ireland until the following January and was of little use.  The government overcame its laissez faire dogma and, from March 1846, controlled the price of grain in an effort to reverse rising food prices.  It established work schemes but their efficacy was diminished by many victims being too weak to work. 

In June 1846 Peel’s administration was replaced by Lord Russell’s Whig government.  Market intervention, work schemes and relief commissions ended by May 1847.  Soup kitchens were relatively effective but short lived.  The Poor Law Amendment (Ireland) Act in June 1847 was constrained by Whig concerns about economic freedom and cost.  The perception of government incompetence or malice aggravated anti-English sentiment but the emergency overtook the nationalist cause.  This in turn emphasised the inadequacies of O’Connell’s constitutional approach and guided Irish nationalism towards direct violent action for the 50 years that followed.[36]

Before the calamity however, The Glasgow Herald of 5 February 1844 published an excerpt from Montgomery Martin’s Ireland Before and After the Union entitled ‘The Irish Massacre in 1641.’  Martin cited English barrister Rowley Lascalles’s Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae (1826-7) as ‘amply’ demonstrating why penal laws were ‘rigorously enacted against the Romanists, not because they were of a different religion, but because no man’s life was safe from their conspiracies, and horrible plots.’  This prejudiced account exploited contemporary fears and bigotry, bringing to bear the recurring motifs of brutality and treachery to warn Protestants to be vigilant when consorting with Catholics:

Protestants everywhere mingled with the Papists, on the most friendly terms, and, without any real or assumed superiority, (and) were so completely stupefied and confounded with the suddenness of the insurrection … In conformity with the hypocritical pretence of the present day, and its existing and most dangerous agitation, so, in 1641, the cry at first was ‘a peaceable revolution’, ‘no bloodshed’, ‘no personal violence’, ‘loyalty to the sovereign.’

Hume’s History of England, concluded Martin, had shown the rebellion was unprovoked, orchestrated by priests, committed by ‘demoniac assassins’ and ‘worthy to be held in perpetual detestation and abhorrence’.  He quoted Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History which reinforced the need to curb Catholicism:

The maintenance of all liberty, civil and religious, depends on circumscribing Popery within proper bounds, since Popery is not a system of innocent speculative opinions, but a yoke of despotism; an enormous mixture of priests and princely tyranny, designed to enslave the conscience of mankind, and to destroy their most sacred and invaluable rights.[37]

The Herald also carried the transcript of the Parliamentary debate on the Queen’s speech. Joseph Hume complained of the considerable military presence in Ireland ‘where the people were tranquil in everything but their language, and where no force at all would be necessary if justice were but done to that country.’ Lord Russell said ‘he was not willing to sanction the late measures of the Government in that country’ and reformist John Roebuck thought it odd Parliament had not addressed the threat of repealing the Union,

The silence of the House on this night might have the worse effect on the question of repeal, it would enable Mr O’Connell to tell the Irish people that the British Parliament took no account of them.  (He) intended to bring forward an amendment on the subject of Ireland; but after the course taken by Lord John Russell … such an amendment on this night was precluded; and it was fit that the people should know that the Noble Lord and his friends had deserted them.’[38]

The Irish State Trials of 1844 saw O’Connell and others tried for conspiracy on account of their campaign to dissolve the Union.  Since the trials were ongoing, Parliamentarians were prevented from mentioning them but they are worth considering here.  Amongst O’Connell’s co-accused was Sir John Grey, the Protestant owner of the nationalist Freeman’s Journal and much was made of their treatment of Irish history as evidence of seditious intentions.  The farcical trial undermined the dignity of Irish justice as much as it precipitated the end of O’Connell’s political career.

The Herald attributed the slow progress of the trial to the ‘traversers’’ determination ‘to avail themselves of every opportunity of obstruction and annoyance that fate may throw in their way.’  It noted Roebuck’s denunciation in the House of the conduct of the Irish Attorney-General Thomas Cusack-Smith for allowing himself to be so provoked by Mr Fitzgibbon, Counsel for Grey, that he challenged him to a duel.  The Herald defended the Prosecutor:

Anyone who has bestowed any attention on the progress of these trials must have observed that from first to last the great effort … has been to expose the Attorney-General to contempt – to magnify every official mistake into an evidence of incapacity on his part, and to ascribe every effort of his to the most malignant hatred of the accused.  That his temper should wax threadbare under the continuance of such systematic provocation is not wonderful. [39]

It had indeed been suggested in court that Cusack-Smith was prejudiced.  Fitzgibbon told the jury: ‘the Prosecutor here is not acting merely as counsel … he is acting for himself and his own credit with his party.’  When the court adjourned, Cusack-Smith sent a note to Fitzgibbon demanding a retraction and apology and, ‘in the event of his declining to do so, that he should name a friend with the view to an adjustment of the injury complained of.’ 

The Herald recalled that abuse and duels at the Irish bar had been commonplace but that ‘the practice is abated, but not altogether abolished’.  It did not condone the reaction but anticipated,

The portion of the press which is inimical to Mr Smith, and opposed to these prosecutions, will endeavour, by decrying and defaming the one, to defeat and injure the other; but we doubt of their success.  The deep provocation given … must be taken into account; and people will think that the Right Hon. Gentleman did a very proper thing in a somewhat irregular way.

It continued with an excerpt from The Times, incredulous that Britain had been exposed to ridicule throughout Europe during this important matter, ‘when the Attorney General – the advocate of law, and order, and government – diverts the course of proceedings by an appeal to the Court of 12 paces.’  It went on:

Those who were anxious for the cause of justice, and for the integrity of the British Empire, were just congratulating themselves that Mr Smith, was really doing his work like a gentleman and a lawyer, when, lo! The thunderclap of Tuesday comes down upon us … the Queen’s Attorney-General, wig, silk-gown, and all, electrifies the embodied justice of Ireland by insisting on the satisfaction of shooting at the counsel for the traversers. 

But The Times made plain that these were a peculiarly Irish affair.  The manner in which an Irish Attorney-General ‘vindicates the law’ and above all the manner in which an Irish Court permits such a ‘truly Irish legal argument!’  It concluded, however, that even if such an ‘escapade’ were favoured by the Irish people and tolerated by their Court, ‘it still remains a degradation to a court of justice – an immoral, illegal, uncivilised exhibition with which no people ought to be indulged.[40]

Fitzgibbons quoted O’Connell’s 1841 and 1842 speeches to prove he had encouraged the Repeal Association to be nonviolent, to report anyone who attempted to administer illegal oaths and to accept that the Union could only be dissolved legally by Parliament.  He sought to show that O’Connell’s denunciation of the radical Chartists and the violent Whiteboys was authentic.  Addressing the charge of conspiring to sow disaffection in the army he said that, on the contrary, O’Connell sought to remedy hostility toward the British army amongst the Irish soldiers. 

In his Memoir on Ireland Native and Saxon, published in 1843 and dedicated to Queen Victoria, O’Connell had followed the alternative version of 1641 advanced by eighteenth century physician and campaigner for Catholic rights John Curry whose rejection of the idea that Protestants had been massacred had aided the emancipatory movement.[41] O’Connell framed 1641 as a reasonable response to oppressions: ‘the demoniacal means by which Protestantism and English power achieved their ascendancy in Ireland.’  He was unequivocal that accounts of atrocity were constructed explicitly to justify cruelties by the English in Ireland from the seventeenth century onwards: ‘It is manifest that nothing could gratify them more than being able to substantiate against the Irish the charges of massacre or murder. The absence of any such charge is indeed a trumpet-tongued acquittal.’

O’Connell rejected the number of deaths in 1641 alleged by Protestant writers and reasoned that ‘these villains had therefore the deepest interest in falsely accusing the Irish of cruelty. It is manifest that nothing could gratify them more than being able to substantiate against the Irish the charges of massacre or murder.’ [42]

Where the prosecution had used the John Kells Ingram poem The Memory of the Dead to demonstrate that O’Connell and the Repeal Association supported revenge and rebellion, Fitzgibbon argued instead that it was to remind the Irish ‘strongly, energetically, and emphatically, of the woes, miseries, crimes, and affiliations, brought upon their ancestors by rebellion.’   

And the lines in the poem, ending with ‘Remember ’98!’ bid the readers remember the event, but not to the disgrace of the sufferers, but to avoid his misguided and mistaken opinions.  Was it criminal to remember the poor victims of ’98 without exaggeration? [43]

Their view of past rebellion was thus an important part of the evidence again O’Connell and his fellow accused.  The government took the threat of O’Connell and his Monster Meetings seriously and there must have been fear of insurrection as the Irish State trials show, but there is scant mention of 1641 in the 1840s press.  Of course, this will never be an entirely consistent barometer with which to measure the public mood.  But perhaps the catastrophic damage caused by the Famine or the constitutional approach of the by then elderly Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association diminished the dread of rebellion.   But with civil unrest and Fenianism arising in the decades to come, fearful Protestants once again looked to 1641 for evidence of the Catholic threat.

1850s, Civil Unrest

In 1850 the Catholic Church Hierarchy in England was re-established without government consent.  It was considered an act of papal aggression and intensified anti-Catholic attitudes.[44]  On 23 October 1850, The Standard pronounced that ‘Romanism’ aimed to rid Ireland of Protestant landlords in particular and Protestants in general.  It warned that, whilst the murderous effects of Catholic government had not reached the mainland in 1641 ‘the advance of Romanism in Ireland and the Tractarian corruptions in England’ justified the latest criticism of the 1829 Catholic Relief Act.[45]

In 1854 The Standard reported on a ‘Diabolical Attempt to Upset an Excursion Train on the Londonderry and Enniskillen Railway’.  The train carried a large group of Orangemen and their families (‘hundreds of the most respectable persons’) travelling to ‘celebrate one of the most glorious events in the history of any country, the defence of Londonderry.’  They had no doubt as to the perpetrators:

This is Popery; this is the teaching of the State-nurtured priesthood of Maynooth.  Papists may hold their monster meetings … uncontrolled by lawful authority and perfectly unmolested by the Protestant population; but if Protestants attempt to indulge in a commemoration of the most glorious achievements of their ancestors – achievements which ensured liberty to all without distinction of creed – they, their wives, and infant children are devoted to a wholesale massacre.

Again, historical infractions and Catholic intransigence were dragged into the light of this latest ‘manifestation of savage Romanism.’  Referring to 1641, the Smithfield riots, the Gunpowder Plot and 1798 it complained,

they who are not restrained by conscience or shame from acting over again the atrocities which we may not so much as name, are the especial favourites of the professors of liberality …. ‘Semper eadem’ is the motto of Roma, and what Romanism was in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, it is at this hour – a persecuting and murderous superstition – that superstition which a few weeks ago dealt eternal happiness to the unconfessing and therefore unrepentant murderers of Mr Bateson.[46]

Land agent and magistrate Thomas Bateson was made a ‘martyr of cowardly and blood-thirsty savagery’ in 1851 from ‘missionaries of those earthly hells, Ribbon lodges’ near Castleblaney, County Monaghan.[47]  The exact nature of Ribbonism is disputed by historians who variously describe them as a disparate collective of lodges formed as a response to Orangeism by poor Catholic agrarian workers to fight for better rights and conditions or as a coherent national body organised to achieve Irish independence.  The truth is likely somewhere in between but the significant violence they were involved in with the Orange Order amply demonstrates that they were a tangible presence in the second quarter of the century.[48]

The Belfast News-Letter of 8 September 1856 complained of the ‘libels against British rule’ in Ireland by the foreign press.  It produced an extract from the Verona Gazette describing British Liberalism in Ireland and India, as ‘a barbarism which luckily has no example elsewhere’ and British rule in Ireland as a ‘morbid cancer’ which fostered a spirit of insurrection in Ireland only kept in check by the brutal control exercised by the government there. 

The News-Letter expressed sardonic surprise that an Italian journal did not respect the Papal authority by which Ireland was ‘annexed’ to the English throne.  Since the Reformation, the Papacy had tried to sever this appropriation ‘by all the arts which it well knows how to employ’ and, the ‘necessary’ retribution and suppression aside, the Irish people were indulged to a great extent – as the prevalence and power of ‘Popish Bishops’ in a ‘Protestant Nation’ showed.  It continued:

the Ireland of 1856 is no more the Ireland of 1841 than it is the Ireland of 1641.  Ireland is now materially and morally as much a part of England as Cumberland or Cornwall, and every hour renders the identification of the two countries more complete … Articles like that of the Verona Gazette can have no effect but to accelerate it; for an Irishman must feel indignant at being regarded as less than what they are, the brothers of those whom an Irishman (Goldsmith) call ‘lords of the human race.’ [49]

The Standard of 23 September 1859 claimed that Catholics comprised the majority of the occupants of Irish workhouses, even in Protestant ‘strongholds’ such as Belfast, and became ‘second flocks’ for priests who exploited ‘the superstitious fears of these paupers’ to compel them to reject the English translation Douay Bible, despite Irish Catholic Church approval.  It complained of ‘the spirit in which knowledge is attempted to be extinguished in the Belfast workhouses’ amongst inmates ‘living on the funds of the industrious’ and cultivated the persistent fear that Ireland prioritised Rome over London by reporting that efforts were being made in rural areas to prevent teaching Catholic children ‘even that amount of knowledge which at the end of the last century the authorities of Rome were willing to permit.’  Catholicism, it suggested, was regressing and promulgating ‘Ultramontane doctrine’ to expand the authority of the Pope:

There is something exceedingly peculiar in the present phase of Romanism in Ireland.  It exhibits Ultramontanism devouring national Romanism.  The priests, whose exploits in the massacre of 1641 the Young Ireland minstrel sang, as ‘Kindly Irish of the Irish – neither Saxon nor Italian,’ have disappeared.[50]

The ‘minstrel’ was Samuel Ferguson, a poet of Protestant landowner class who, though opposed to Irish independence, founded the Protestant Repeal Association in pursuit of Ireland achieving equal partnership in union with England rather than remain its dominion.  The lines are from the final verse of ‘The Welshmen of Tirawley’ in which he praised the ‘new stems of freedom planted, with many a goodly sapling, Of manliness and virtue’ brought to Ireland by Cromwell, ‘which while their children cherish, kindly Irish of the Irish, Neither Saxons nor Italians, May the mighty God of Freedom, Speed them well.’

Justin Quinn observes that ‘the dig that Ferguson gets in with the reference to ‘Italians’ reminds readers that Roman Catholicism is no more native to the country than the Saxon.’[51]  The Standard used this model to highlight that resistance led by the Church of Rome in 1641 was no more Irish than the English they endeavoured to repel, since English involvement in Ireland commenced with Henry II’s twelfth century invasion under the authority of the Pope who wished to assert Rome’s authority over the Irish Church. 

The intricate history goes to show how crude the popular interpretation of Ultrmontanism was – expressed in the ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’ slogans of the 1870s – but equally demonstrates the ease with which a pejorative anti-Catholic paradigm endured.

1860s, Fenianism

The architects of Fenianism in the 1850s were alert to the importance of the international situation in the same way that their United Irishmen predecessors had been.  With deteriorating relations between France and Britain raising the risk of war, their founder James Stephens recognised similar conditions to those which had given rise to 1798.  The Liberal Independent Irish Party’s failure to assert political influence played a part in reviving the appetite for violence by the late 1850s.  By the 1860s Fenianism’s goal was military revolution to achieve an independent Irish Republic, in contrast to the Young Irelanders who sought constitutional independence.[52]

In 1865 Paul Cullen, rector of the Irish college at Rome, attempted to formalise the subjection of Catholic Ireland to clerical leadership which the Dublin Evening Mail took to be a further attempt to ‘Ultramontanise’ the Irish people.  As Jackson notes, ‘his failure kept alive both the fluid relationship between Catholicism and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the broader possibility of a non-sectarian nationalism.’[53]

On 5 August 1865, Stephens directed John O’Mahony, a founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in America, to send Civil War veterans and money in support of the IRB.  There was no rebellion that year but, in Jackson’s view, ‘the most complete (if highly flawed) expression of the Fenian ideal came not in any socialistic treatise but with the intensive revolutionary plans of 1865-7 and the Fenian Rising of 1867.’ 

The Rising, though unsuccessful, saw a provisional Government of Ireland formed with a republican, internationalist manifesto.  In March, the renewed uprising amounted to little more than a series of skirmishes, except in Dublin where numbers were greater but lack of leadership made successes equally unattainable.  William Gladstone’s success at the General Election of 1868 was partly a result of the public exposure of the Irish political question which ’67 prompted.[54]

As preparations for ’67 began, The Belfast News-Letter of 17 February 1865 published a letter from an anonymous Captain in North Augusta, Canada to a friend in County Wexford.  He warned of the danger of apathy amongst the Protestants of Ireland in the face of Providential warnings of the ‘murderous’ Fenians.  Pikes in the style of 1798 had been discovered ‘with an Irish Papist of the name of Maguire’ in a Toronto tavern.  ‘Disclosure’ he wrote, ‘has been made by a spy in the camp of the enemy, who has disclosed the whole dark and wicked conspiracy meditated against the lives of the Protestants of Great Britain and Ireland, and of these colonies.’ 

He  believed that weapons were being stockpiled in Catholic Churches in Ireland, men drilled and plans well advanced, ‘and it is intended to have simultaneous risings on some night to be fixed on by the central authority, when a wholesale massacre is to take place, similar to that of 1641 in Ireland.’  In language conspicuously comparable to the Depositions, he described the ‘satanic designs’ of men worse than ‘savages’, to slaughter their neighbours.  It concludes,

While the smile of apparent friendship greets us in the street, the wicked heart meditates the blood of its victim; that the hand tendered in the morning in apparent kindness and good nature, may, before the sun again rises, grasp the murderous pike, and plunge it to the hilt in human gore.  Let Protestants, then, forget their past dissensions, and let all be prepared and united together – let them not sleep nor slumber till they have carried out Oliver Cromwell’s advice to his soldiers, ‘Put your trust in God, my boys, but keep your powder dry.’[55]

The Government lacked confidence in ordinary measures to cope with the crisis. Both houses of Parliament convened on Saturday 17 February 1866.  The Bill proposing the suspension of Habeas Corpus passed the Commons and was read before the Lords, where Earl Russell conveyed the government’s regret at finding themselves ‘compelled to propose the present measure for the suspension … of the Constitution in one portion of Her Majesty’s dominions’ when presented with an ‘extensive and formidable conspiracy’ in Ireland.

Moving the Bill, Russell blamed the American Civil War for disturbing the ‘peace and tranquillity’ in Ireland since, following the war, the Irish in America had conspired to invade Ireland or Canada to levy war against the Queen.  The present emergency arose, he said, when this agitation spread to Ireland.  The immediate concern was ‘to secure peace and order in Ireland, and maintain the authority of the Queen.’  Although the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had sought to suppress the insurrection without suspending Habeas Corpus, enquiry had shown that ‘the spirit of Fenianism’ had spread and ‘fresh emissaries were arriving from America, and that a great fabrication of bullets and implements of war was being carried on.’[56] 

Fenians in the 1860s, many of whom had fought in the American Civil War,  looked to the romantic nationalism of Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation, to 1798 and 1848.[57] Just as the Irish had been encouraged by the American and French republicans in the 1790s, the American Civil War was significant for Ireland, providing battle experience for Irish Americans and invigorating the will to fight the British.[58]

Where the 1812 Anglo-American War had come too soon after the failures of ’98 and the Emmet rising to agitate nationalism, the possibility of British involvement in the American Civil War after 1861 could be exploited by Fenian activists.  The American Civil War was thus one of the principal instances of Fenianism responding to international events in the furtherance of their aims. Clan na Gael were in turn fortified by American Fenianism to remain revolutionary throughout the period when the IRB aligned with the constitutional Home Rule movement in the late 1860s into the 1870s.[59] 

The government passed the act suspending Habeas Corpus and the leaders were gathered into prison and the rest dispersed.  The Times of 22 February reported it in celebratory tones, 

The words of the National Anthem have seldom had a more gratifying illustration than in the tremendous blow just struck at the Fenian Brotherhood by the Government.  Their ‘politics’ and knavish tricks’ have been thoroughly ‘confounded.’ 

It praised Parliament’s ‘wonderful celerity (that) enabled the Government to prevent horrors such as Ireland has not known since 1641’ and censured those who underestimated the danger though they ‘knew not the desperate character’ of men familiar ‘with burning and slaughter and plunder for three or four years in the Southern States of America.’[60]

In November 1867 the Belfast News-Letter reported on ‘the latest form which treason has assumed.’   It explicitly said that the ‘Fenian conspiracy’, was the heir to 1641 and 1798 in its planning and execution:

Its objects, and the means of accomplishing them, are precisely the same as those which characterised every combination against the Protestant institutions and Protestant faith of Great Britain and Ireland, from the massacre of 1641 down to the present hour – a reign of terror, inaugurated with baptism of blood, whose ghastly banquets were held over innocent victims.  As in 1798, we have evidently to contend with a secret committee, … its chief aim to make conspicuous loyalty the mark for cruel punishment; whilst now as then, and at all times, the conspirators seem determined that their nicknamed patriotism shall find its equivalent in the devastation and universal ruin of the kingdom.[61]

After the 1867 Rising the execution of Irish rebels supplied the Fenian cause with martyrs for Irish independence. As Beiner notes, indefatigable remembrance of the defeats for Young Ireland in 1848 and the Fenians in 1867 – ‘hagiographic histories’ – contrasted with triumphalist celebration of Protestant hegemony.  Perhaps none more so than the Manchester Martyrs.[62] 

Where the Independent Irish Party provided parliamentary representation for the Home Rule movement, Fenianism achieved popular political support and the title of ‘martyr’ enhanced the idea that Fenianism was a particularly Catholic cause, although it did not augur wholesale approval from the Church.  The Martyrs – William Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien – forcibly broke Fenian officers from prison in Manchester and were hanged for shooting dead a police guard in the process.  Their sacrifice brought greater alignment between the militants and the Catholic elite who appreciated the patriotism of those once suspected of anarchy or socialism.[63] 

Grand Master of the English Orange Order, Edward Harper, lectured in Blackburn in April 1868.  He told the audience that Gladstone, who would be elected Liberal Prime Minister that December, wished to disestablish the Church of Ireland and overturn the settlement of 1688 nullifying Irish Protestant allegiance to England or, as Harper put it, – ‘probe the gem of Protestantism’ out of the Crown of the United Kingdom.  Gladstone’s disestablishment initiative in 1868/9 was also in part an electoral strategy to break the links between Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism and Conservatism.[64] 

The Irish Anglicans regarded the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 ‘as a British surrender in the face of the Fenian threat.’ [65]  In a departure from the usual warning that Ireland would act as a departure point for an invading Catholic power, Harper conjectured that if this came about,

The first thing the President of the United States would do would be to send a fleet of ironclads to Ireland, and they which have three or four millions of Romanists ready to receive them with open arms … Ireland would no longer be a thorn in (England’s) side, but it would be a battering ram that would pull down the constitution of the country, and spread disaster and misery throughout our shores.

Harper again reached for 1641 to explain present misfortunes, arguing that the weakness of the Protestant minority in Ireland was not a sign their Church was failing there but a consequence of massacre since ‘we should have had their descendants, if these men had not been slain by cruel and merciless Rome.’  And, he warned, ‘the Romish Church is always the same’ and if Rome had power in England ‘she would send forth the fire and the sword through the land, and she would crush our liberties as well as our religion.’[66]

By the end of the 1860s then, the old fears and prejudices showed no signs of abating.

Fenianism receded when a constitutional movement emerged in Isaac Butt’s Home Rule League who were mindful of the mistakes made by the Independent Irish Party which had opened the door to militarism in the 1850s.[67]  The 1873 Fenian Convention accordingly suspended plans for insurrection and replaced it with support for the Home Rule movement. The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland waned in the years after the Famine and in the 1870s was replaced with the doctrine of unionism in the face of fears that a Home Rule Ireland would be dominated by an oppressing Catholics majority.[68] 

From the mid-1870s, Irish Catholic Bishops sought to regain their political influence which had been diminished by their association with Gladstonian Liberalism and which would ultimately see them court nationalist loyalty by supporting Parnellism in the 1880s.[69]  The 1870s thus created the conditions for the turbulence of the following decade but saw fairly little upheaval itself.  The popular press was relatively lean on mention of 1641 but two book reviews are worth considering.

In November 1872, the Daily News reviewed James Froude’s English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century.  It noted his biases and his ‘ideal of Irish government’ when Cromwell, ‘not only avenged the massacres of the English in 1641, but gave Ireland peace.’  Froude’s principal complaint, it said, was England’s failure to assert control of the Irish who were incapable of governing themselves.  The reviewer was mindful of the harm this might bring:

It will be read with the greatest interest and will exert an effect on English opinion … Irishmen will regard it as an attack upon their national character, and we cannot say that they will be wrong.  Mr Froude has used his large knowledge, his great ability, and his untiring conscientiousness to but little purpose, because a preconceived theory of national character, or of the qualities of the Celtic race, warps his conclusions and vitiates the moral he draws from the interesting but painful story he undertakes to tell.[70]

The English in Ireland was Froude’s warning from history of the threat which Irish Home Rule posed to the Empire.  It is an arresting example of what Patrick Geary has described as history in the nineteenth century ‘as an instrument of European nationalism.’[71]    Froude was pre-disposed to trust the Depositions and refuted the revisionist work of Curry which O’Connell had relied on.  His interest in Ireland was entwined with his anxiety for the preservation of the Protestant constitution and the Empire and his concept of racial hierarchy was motivated by a desire to justify an oppressive British hegemony.[72] 

Irish historian William Lecky criticised Froude’s racial theories and his supremacist bigotry was such that West Indian author John Jacob Thomas coined the term ‘Froudacity’ to encapsulate this attitude.[73]  As Gibney observes, ‘The English in Ireland is perhaps best seen as (Froude’s) contribution to contemporary politics.’ [74] 

The Embassy in Ireland, Annie Hutton’s translation of Archbishop Rinuccini’s correspondence from Ireland during the Confederate Wars was reviewed in Freeman’s Journal in October 1873.  Freeman’s portrayed 1641 as a rising against oppression, ‘with such fury that many of the English throughout the island fell victims to the loosened rage of the original inhabitants.’  Where Hutton’s stated that ‘all, without distinction, were bathed in the blood of the English’, Freeman’s responded,

There is no need to dwell upon the absolutely preposterous character of this strange exaggeration, suffice to say that for such blood as was shed by the maddened, long-tortured Irish there was exacted a horrible vengeance.  The enormities into which the people were goaded were made the excuse by the English for a war of extermination.[75]

Also mentioned was a Dr M’Donnell, by his own description an eighty-three-year-old uncompromising Protestant and earnest Unionist and a lifelong religious-equality and anti-Ascendancy Whig.  The article adds that he was also the Medical Commissioner of the Poor Law Board during the years after the famine, an office where ‘he found opportunity to unite high professional sympathies with a genuine concern for the suffering of the people.’  Given the foregoing, the article was not disappointed to find his account of 1641 was the model of historiographical integrity: ‘an intelligent and dispassionate rehearsal of circumstances which partisanship and sectarianism have cruelly disguised.’[76] 

Towards the end of the 1870s the Conservatives moved away from a general anti-Catholic stance and, more so than the Liberals, tended towards supporting tenant land purchase.[77]  As will be seen, shifts in policy, allegiance and ideology such as these would typify Anglo-Irish politics in the 1880s and provided the shifting landscape for the upheaval of Charles Stewart Parnell’s Home Rule campaigns.

1880s, Home Rule

The 1880s were a turbulent decade in Anglo-Irish affairs.  The Liberal party of Gladstone and Chamberlain was supportive of a limited form of Home Rule.[78] The Conservatives were keen not to give the impression they were in any way allies of Parnell.[79]   But, as noted above, they differed from the Liberals in so far as they were more receptive to Irish Nationalists’ demands for tenant ownership and Catholic education.[80] Whilst the main British parties vacillated in accordance with their own ambitions, the 1885 Irish Nationalist manifesto boasted that they stuck to their political principles come what may.[81] 

The enduring agrarian unrest enflamed during the Land War of 1879–82.’[82]  The 1881 Land Act ended absolute property rights for landowners and the 1885 Ashbourne Act introduced government loans for tenants to buy out landlords. [83]  During this period Parnell dissociated from the IRB and radical militarismand assumed de facto centralised control of the Irish National League ‘under the plumage of local representation.’[84]  Jackson neatly summarises Parnell’s inheritance from O’Connell,

O’Connell provided a political constituency for Parnell, and a political strategy … in the 1830s, his alliance with the Whigs, his relationship with the Church, his gradualism – the willingness to accept ‘instalments’ of justice – all foreshadowed Parnell.  They shared a broadly similar relationship to violence, communicating with the militants while channelling popular aggression into constitutional paths.[85]

James Loughlin has similarly noted that Parnell’s ability to pose both as a ‘constitutionalist’ and ‘revolutionary’ allowed him to appeal to moderates and extremists alike.[86]

Whilst electioneering in Hull in November 1881, Randolph Churchill complained of the ‘misery and lawlessness’ in Ireland under Gladstone’s government.  The Belfast News-Letter’s report of his campaign said Ireland had rarely been anything but and that 1641 ‘gave painful proof of the barbarity of the aboriginal race, because there was no excuse but malice for the massacre which occurred at that time.’  The Conservatives, Churchill said, ‘would keep sedition in hand’ since the Liberals looked passively ‘at the anarchy, the mob law, murder of landlords and defiance of the authority of the Crown.’[87]

The Glasgow Herald reported the Grand Master’s speech at the 12th of July Orange parades the following year.  Catholicism was not so much concerned with religion but ‘a system of priestcraft’ resolute on ‘the complete subjugation of all men’ and establishing the Pope as ‘supreme and absolute Lord of the whole world.’  Those ignorant of the ‘nature and principles of Popery’ might mistake that the Catholic Church had progressed beyond the ‘persecuting spirit’  which ‘kindled fires for the burning of Protestants, and drenched the soil of France with Protestant blood in the massacre of St Bartholomew’s day, and the soil of Ireland in the massacre of 1641’  But it was the duty of Protestants, he said, to resist any concessions ‘to the demands of Papists.’ [88]

The Reform Act of 1884 widened suffrage and led to nationalist successes in many Irish constituencies.[89]  Freemans Journal in 1884 mocked Froude’s contribution of a preface for a selection of 1641 Depositions.   He was, they anticipated, ‘sure to display all that delicate regard for the truth’ and that ‘fine perception of historical impartiality’ which marked his past publications on the subject.  His ‘veracious and unprejudiced’ colleague Mary Hickson, they said, would certainly assist in circulating his ‘absurd views which now prevail in certain anti-Catholic circles in regards to this much misrepresented episode of Irish history.’[90]

Hickson’s Ireland in the Seventeenth Century was naturally divisive.  Froude approved and contributed the foreword.  As one reviewer noted,

The war of opinion has succeeded to the war of conquest, making impartiality almost hopeless in the attempt of each side to enhance the guilt of its adversary and to withhold all evidence of its own.

Hickson, an Irish Protestant, and English historian Robert Dunlop discussed the veracity of the Depositions in The English Historical Review.   Dunlop (quite correctly) thought the circumstances in which they were compiled rendered them unreliable.  Hickson, who had studied the original depositions closely, was of the view that massacres had taken place but, ‘there is nothing in the MS depositions of 1641–1654 to support the ultra-English and ultra-Protestant view of the events of those years, nor yet the ultra-Roman Catholic and ultra-Irish view.’  Her response to Dunlop was balanced: ‘I reject the mere hearsay, but I accept facts as related by eye-witnesses.’ 

Irish historian John Prendergast rejected the idea of massacre and thought 1641 a justified and proportionate reaction to oppression.  He was highly critical of Froude, writing to Freeman’s Journal in response to Froude’s lectures that ‘his language is that of the hypocrite, and there is poison under that tongue.’  On reading the book he went further: ‘I would withdraw the term cold-blooded hypocrite and substitute blood thirsty fanatic.’[91]  The Nation praised Prendergast’s for it.[92] 

It is no wonder that Loughlin has called this ‘the Irish historiographical battle.’[93]  Prendergast wrote to Lecky in rancorous language:  ‘this devil Froude and this hell born fury—this she-devil—Miss Hickson, are intolerable to me . . . , the only persons I hate on earth!’[94]  And Lecky addressed the fundamental problem in his review of Froude:

This book belongs to the class of histories which are written not for the purpose of giving a simple and impartial narrative of events, but clearly and most avowedly for the purpose of enforcing certain political doctrines  … a work which we believe can hardly fail to injure the reputation of its author . . . ; With a recklessness of consequences that cannot be too deeply deplored, with a studied offensiveness of language that can only be intended to irritate and insult, he has thrown a new brand of discord into the smouldering embers of Irish discontent.[95]

A reader of Freeman’s resumed the criticism of Hickson.  Signing himself ‘Historicus’, his letter impugned her ‘venomous production’ for its attack upon the humanity of Irish character when it should be remembered that in 1641 Irish leaders, ‘reprobated and denounced the commission of crime in the strongest and sternest language.’  Those wishing verification of this should refer to the ‘Contemporary History of Irish Affairs, 1641-1652,’ edited by John Gilbert, for evidence enough ‘to convince any unprejudiced mind that the Irish ‘rebels’ of 1641 were anything but the sanguinary monsters they have been depicted in the notorious ‘depositions.’ Gilbert, like Prendergast (‘the honest Protestant author of ‘The Cromwellian Settlement,’), was ‘grossly misrepresented and violently attacked by Miss Hickson’s volumes.’[96]

In the late 1870s Clan na Gael had distanced Fenianism from the Home Rule movement until the emergence of Parnell in 1878 made the constitutional approach tolerable once again.  Parnellism somewhat unified lower- and middle-class respectable Catholicism with the spirit of Fenianism bringing success for T M Healy in the Monaghan election in 1883.

Parnellism sought an Irish Parliamentary Party unimpeded by any alliance with an English party but their shared goal of Home Rule inevitably brought them into association with Gladstone’s Liberals.’[97]  In August 1885 Churchill wrote to Lord Carnarvon complaining of the alarmist responses in the English press to Parnell’s campaigns.[98] 

Gladstone’s emphasis on the constitutional rather than the belligerent history of Irish Nationalism meant he failed to appreciate the basis of the Ulster Unionists’ trepidations over Home Rule.[99] The Liberals and Parnell both believed Ulster’s opposition to be the preserve of Orangeism and bigotry when in fact it was a view held more widely by moderates as well.[100] 

This misconception was reflected in their reaction when Churchill spoke in support of Ulster resistance to Irish Home Rule at Belfast in February 1886.  Sir Edward Hamilton, Gladstone’s Private Secretary observed,

Churchill has delivered himself in Ulster.  He might have been more violent: he had evidently been somewhat gagged … It was a dangerous game of his to play.  The Orangemen do not require to be stirred.  They are in a habitual state of combustion and it only needs a small spark to ignite the combustible matter.[101]

In May 1886, The Aberdeen Weekly Journal published an excerpt from Froude’s English in Ireland under the title ‘The Irish Horrors of 1641:

There were not human beings – not even human savages – but ferocious beasts … Savage creatures of both sexes, yelping in chorus, and brandishing their skenes; boys practicing their young hands in stabbing and torturing the English children.

Adjacent was a letter from Prince Albert Victor of Wales thanking the citizens of Edinburgh for their display of loyalty to the throne during the International Exhibition in Edinburgh and an editorial highly critical of Gladstone’s speeches on the Irish Home Rule Bill and Land Purchase Bill, ‘made to win the cheers of the Parnelitte benches.’[102]  It cannot have been a coincidence.

In January 1886 Henry Labouchere told Parliament that the Liberals, in accordance with Gladstone’s wishes, would consider the ‘just and reasonable’ demand for a devolved Irish legislature without granting independence from ‘Imperial authority.’   Timothy Healy the Irish Nationalist member for South Londonderry had told the House, with prescience, that denying freedom to govern themselves risked ‘that the loyalty of Ireland would be driven into the north-eastern portion of the kingdom and then hedged in with a ring of fire.’   Conservative Thomas Waring said Parnell questioned why ‘the loyal gentlemen of Ireland’ did not accept the proposition of Home Rule.  Waring directed him to look to Irish history ‘when the party now represented by the hon. Gentleman held power in Ireland.’  They must begin in the year 1641 ‘to see what would be the probable result of any line of policy … (when) they knew what the loyal portion of the community suffered.’  They had ‘good reason’ he continued ‘to suppose that if the small party again held sway in Ireland, similar results would follow.’  His mention of 1641 was met with laughter and required no explanation.  It was a well-worn touchstone by 1886.[103]

In April 1886 Gladstone proposed a Home Rule Assembly in Dublin as well as 80 Irish members at Westminster.  That May The Times – which the following year published the infamous Pigott forgeries purporting to show Parnell condoning nationalist violence – reported several meetings held to discuss the Home Rule question. [104]   Mr Bourke MP had told a meeting of the Primrose League at King’s Lynn that Home Rule would be disastrous for Ireland.  The League had recently been formed to spread Conservative ‘values’ and Bourke’s reasoning fulfilled this absolutely:   

If this Bill passed there would be no landed aristocracy, there would be no landed gentry.  They were to be banished; they were to be purchased out.  The whole framework of society in Ireland would be altogether differently constituted to what it was in England, and society would be delivered up to Mr Parnell.

The same day at St James’s Hall, Piccadilly, nobility and churchmen convened to consider the motion, ‘Should Ireland have a separate Parliament?’  The ‘massacre … without warning in 1641’ was wrongly attributed to an instruction by Innocent X – his pontificate did not commence until 1644 – but his claim to Ireland as ‘an ancient possession’ of Rome was a good example of a Pope claiming power over temporal authority and supported the idea that the massacre was implemented by the Church.[105]

Mr Coulson addressed ministers of the Nonconforming Churches in a letter to The Times in June 1886.  His opposition to their support for a Gladstonian or Separatist candidate in the approaching general election typified the concerns of opponents to Home Rule.  Such a course, he said, ‘would deliver over to the persecution of the Papists all the Protestants in Ireland.’   The Catholic Church had opposed dissent with ‘the sword, the stake, and fire’ and he urged them to reflect on the ‘hecatombs of slaughter’ across Europe but particularly in Ireland in 1641.  He concluded that Catholic Ireland had always welcomed England’s enemies and, if independent, ‘they will do so again, and grievous war must be the result.’[106]

In The Sheffield Independent the following month ‘A Liberal’ quoted a letter from the Reverend John Whitty, who echoed Mr Coulson’s fears:

In the present alarming crisis folly only could forget the organised general midnight massacre of Protestants and of the English and Scotch residents, which – thrilling the civilised world with horror – took places in Ireland A.D. 1641 and, in the face of the existing dangerous conspiracy, it were crime to conceal, and would be madness to make light of the fact that, when in 1598 the Spaniards meditated  the conquest of England, the Papists of Ireland invited them to land in one of its (Ireland’s) estuaries.

The ‘Liberal’ described the letter superbly as a ‘promulgation of his screaming fears’, and suggested that folly, crime, and madness were not fitting descriptions of those who preferred to forget past conflicts but better applied to they who ‘think the memory of them appropriate to the present.’[107]

Meanwhile Froude had written an open letter to Ulster Unionists explicitly likening the Home Rule campaign to Irish rebellions of the past:

The present state of things is the inevitable consequence of all that has gone before. It will end as the 1641 business ended, or the 1690, or the 1798.  The anarchy will grow until it becomes intolerable.  John Bull will then pull on his boots and will do as he did before.  What will happen in the interval I do not pretend to guess.  You in Ulster I hope to see holding your own ground.  Stand steady, whatever comes.[108]

The Sheffield Independent in 1887 was critical of former Liberal MP Francis Foljambe who had shared a platform with Conservative unionists and adopted their favoured narrative: that precedent determined the inevitable outcome of Home Rule.  The paper reported his demands for patriotism over party:

He appealed to those before them to read history for themselves – not the one-sided history of amateur disclaimers – but the impartial history of their country; let them read the history of Ireland in 1641 and 1798, and then judge for themselves what kind of treatment the Protestants and the loyal minority of Ireland were likely to receive when the protection of the executive of this country was withdrawn.’[109]

As with Glasgow five years before, the 12th of July commemorations inflamed antagonisms.  In 1798, said the Belfast News-Letter, ‘demagogues tried to undo all that had been done at the close of the seventeenth century … at the end of another hundred years, the story is the same in relation to the schemes of the disaffected.’  It was this enmity, they said, which motivated loyalists to parade and publicly demonstrate their allegiance.  Disorder the preceding year was because ‘the loyal instincts’ of Protestants were provoked by the ‘base attempts of Mr Gladstone to thrust them out of the British Empire.’ But there would be no repeat in 1887.

Three great efforts were made to bring the Protestants of Ireland into servitude: and mark the results!  After 1641, and 1690, and 1798, Ireland was a wilderness; but Protestantism rose, like a Phoenix out of its own ashes, stronger and more glorious than before. [110]

Reverend Witherow of Westbourne Presbyterian Church used his lecture on the ‘Tercentenary of the Defeat of the Spanish Armada’ to show that God was on England’s side in 1588 and, for that matter, in 1688.  Victory ensured her colonies would retain all the ‘blessings and privileges’ of Protestantism, ‘and should never have to submit to the heavy and galling yoke of Rome.’  The study of this history, he thought, showed that with fidelity to God and Protestantism they need not fear any enemy.  Moreover, it demonstrated that Catholicism was a ‘malignant’ enemy responsible for death and massacre which was to be withstood and never trusted. 

‘We the Protestants of Ireland’ he said, ‘have no wish to see the bloody scenes of 1641 enacted over again’  and so would contest all efforts ‘to place in the hands of the party who committed the massacres of that terrible year the power to make and execute the laws of this country.’  He hoped that his lecture would induce his audience to read the history he had referred to.   Gladstone, he said, had confessed his mistake in not reading Irish history until about two years before, although the Reverend thought ‘that in reading Irish history in the way which he, by his actions showed he had done, he had made a mistake in commencing at all.’[111]

That same year, W E Kochs, author of Religious, Political, And Historical Aspects of Romanism, Protestantism, And Christianity wrote a letter to The Western Mail.  Cardiff had recently witnessed a man who called himself ‘father’, dressed in monk’s clothing with head shorn, preaching to Protestant crowds.  ‘Can there be anything more anomalous, curious, and contradictory to behold in this enlightened nineteenth century than that?’ asked Kochs.  It was, he surmised, an attempt to convert the ‘ignorant and apathetic Protestant minds’ to Roman Catholicism and reminded him of several ‘massacres’, including 1641,

in all of which there were the monks dressed in the same class of garments and with their heads shaved, who animated and fired the mob and soldiers on to massacre every Protestant and let none escape, promising them the Pope’s pardon for all their sins and a place in Heaven for doing so; yea, we read how monks pushed the venerable martyrs into the flames of the stakes.[112]

It is more likely that they were appealing to the working men of Wales, not on the basis of religion, but on class and Celtic solidarity which inspired considerable support there for Irish Home Rule.[113]

In November 1888, the Royal Cornwall Gazette reviewed Two Chapters of Irish History by T Dunbar Ingram.  They were clear on the utility of the book and their remarks are worth considering at length:

The present book may with advantage be consulted by all who desire to arrive at a sound understanding upon the various questions of the past which affect the history of to-day … the curse of the country has throughout been the intrigues carried on by the Catholics … The revolts of 1641 and 1688 are both marked with dire disaster to the country; violence and rapine were universal, and prevailed in every corner of the land … and we are fools to listen to accusations of intolerance against (Protestants) … who saw nothing around them but the merciless persecution of their Protestant brethren by the Roman Catholic Governments of Europe.[114]

In the following months the Aberdeen Journal joined in praise of Ingram who, they said, had enlightened ‘the English reader on the true bearing of important incidents in Irish history.’ Condemnation from Gladstone was ‘more conspicuous for coarseness and audacity of assertion than for either accuracy or good taste’ and, in the subsequent debate, Gladstone’s inadequate knowledge of Irish history was ‘conclusively displayed.’[115]

In June 1889 Gladstone, by then out of office, addressed a meeting at Truro, on the question of a devolved legislature for Ireland.   He depicted 1641 as a justified rebellion against intolerable cruelty in the cause of their country. It was only since the founding of the Orange Order ‘to infuse into the country the poison of religious bigotry (and) hand down to posterity the memory of intolerance and narrowness for many generations’ that the ‘admirable union’ amongst the people of Ireland had been disrupted.[116]

But by the turn of the decade the relationship between the Liberals, the fractured Irish Party and Parnell had deteriorated giving the advantage to the unionists.[117] 

1890s, Gladstonianism

On 15 September 1890, two letters appeared in the Glasgow Herald. One, headed ‘Ulster and Home Rule’, was a precis of ‘what history says of the Catholic cruelties.’ Beginning with an account of Queen Mary’s suppression of Protestantism in Ireland in 1558, the most graphic descriptions of atrocity were reserved for 1641 where ‘Popish gentry’, having offered sanctuary to Protestant neighbours, ‘stripped them naked, and turned them out to perish amidst the snow by cold and hunger.’  There were ‘a few specimens of Catholic kindness to Irish Protestants’ whereby priests had promised ‘deliverance from punishment in the world to come!’ 

The other questioned the wisdom of ‘Gladstonian Scotchmen’ desiring Home Rule in Ireland whilst attempts were made to disestablish the Scottish Church which, they feared, may only precede the absorption of the Scottish courts into the British system:   ‘Then will the victory of Scotch Gladstonianism be complete, when, in the name of effete Liberalism, Scotland has been reduced to an English province.’[118]

The New Year edition of The Friendly Companion once more revived the forged Papal encyclical.  Entitled ‘A Papal Bull Blessing of Irish Rebels’, it described tens of thousands of Protestants ‘butchered in cold blood by the Roman Catholics rebels’ and asserted that Pope Urban VIII sent to Ireland a letter, ‘blessing these bloodthirsty rebels and giving them a special absolution from all their sins.’[119]  It made no reference to the disputed provenance of the document.

In May 1892, Belfast MP William Johnston spoke at Exeter Hall.  He moved that the meeting was opposed to the introduction of the Bill removing the safeguards ensuring a Protestant succession and ‘the preservation of the liberties of the Protestant people of this realm.’  Gladstone, he said, was capriciously warning against the ‘slavery’ of Catholicism whilst championing the measure to ‘remove the Protestantism of the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland and opening the Lord Chancellorship of England to Roman Catholics.’ 

He anticipated any failure to maintain Protestantism in Ireland and England would end in ‘the Protestants of Ireland sacrificed and massacred’ and reminded his audience that the rebels said they were soldiers fighting for Charles I in 1641.   Sir William Harcourt and Gladstone were preparing for a repeat of 1641, ‘for they evidently looked forward to the time when the forces of England would be used against the Protestants of Ireland.’[120]

Lecky’s History of Ireland, published in 1892, returned to the original sources to counter the ‘furious partisanship’ with which his subject had been treated.  His narrative of 1641 was a counterpoint to Froude’s and he argued that Protestant intolerance of Catholics had provoked the Rebellion and that reports of atrocity were exaggerated to prevent the Catholic hierarchy from reaching agreement with the government which might have led to the confiscation of Protestant estates.[121]  Lecky had been an Irish nationalist in the 1860s but with the advent of Parnellism and Fenianism he removed his support for an Irish parliament since, as a landlord, he stood to see his own class eradicated by agrarian reform.[122]

A correspondent to the Belfast News-Letter in August 1893 feared Catholic clergymen would dominate a Home Rule parliament and would trample the rights and liberties of Protestants in Ireland.  To assume otherwise would be to expect the Catholic Church ‘to act contrary to her own principles, and to the reverse of what she has ever done in all times and countries in which she has held sway.’

These fears were not entirely unjustified as Nationalist MP J Huntley McCarthy’s article in the same paper in February 1886 had injudiciously revealed.  In an independent Ireland, he said, the Catholic Church ‘that has for so long guided the nation through darkness and the shadow of the valley of death will exercise its loftiest duty as the guardian of a regenerated race.’[123]

As the News-Letter put it in 1891, ‘the rule of Mr Parnell is now the rule of the priest.’[124] The correspondent cited 1641 in support of this argument, however concluded that it was unlikely to reoccur.  More probably the Church would ‘try the game she has been playing with considerable success in Canada – to gradually squeeze the life out of Protestantism ‘by due process of law’.’[125] 

Adjacent to a column concerning the inevitability of Home Rule and beneath a short piece warning of the factionalism of Parnellism and Redmondism, was the following fragment:

‘Mr Gladstone still keeps up his interest in Irish books.  A bookseller in Dublin is exhibiting in his window an order from the ex-Premier for a large number of new and second-hand work on Irish history and literature, the subjects including the ’98 Rebellion, the Union, Young Ireland, the 1641 Rebellion, the Protestant Reformation in Ireland, Irish Ethnology etc.’[126]

J G MacNeill MP, an Irish Protestant Home Rule supporter, accused the English of hypocrisy in condemning Ottoman conduct in Armenia during the Hamidian crisis.   Although fearful that Catholic Nationalist Home Rule might give rise to a Catholic clergy and landowner hegemony, Protestant Home Rule advocates were equally stringent opponents of English rule in Ireland. [127]  

MacNeill said that atrocities perpetrated by order of the Ottoman government (‘a Government which is a disgrace to humanity’), should be ‘familiar to any student acquainted in the merest outline with the doings of the English Government in Ireland.’   Slaughter under Elizabeth I, in 1641, under Cromwell and in 1798 were his examples of ‘the devil’s work’ perpetrated in Ireland – ‘on an unoffending people’ – by the English government. ‘The series of incontestable facts, for whose truth Mr Lecky vouches his great authority,’ said MacNeill, ‘indisputably prove the English in Ireland in 1641 to be in no respect superior to the Turks in Armenia in 1895.’[128] 

Over the course of the nineteenth century the Orange Order formalised ‘The Twelfth’ as the focus of unionism in yet another iteration of political appropriation of the historical conflict.[129]  As Tosh has noted, ‘anniversaries starkly express the principles of political selection that underpin collective memory.’[130]  On 12th July 1897, Reverend Leitch reminded the gathering at County Armagh that the massacres in 1641, 1798 and elsewhere attested to the ‘undying hatred of Popery’ to Protestants in Ireland.  And since Rome had not changed, they should continue to commemorate victory at the Boyne.  He exhorted them to follow his example as an Orangeman who had initiated his sons ‘and trusted they would live to support its principles.’[131] 

In September 1897 Freeman’s opined that it was time that Ireland should condemn England’s ‘infamous barbarities’ in North West India.  The English, ‘a predatory race’, employed a simple method to suppress rebellion:

If men rebel in any particular place chivalrous English soldiers set fire to the homes of the people, destroy the food, rob and plunder the people for their cattle, and cast out the women and children to die of starvation. 

Individuals and nations exhibit ‘permanence of character’ said the article, appropriating the usual reproach of Catholicism.  And the ‘devil’s work’ done after 1641 in Ireland, and the lies created to justify it,

‘may be found at this moment in the hellish repression of an ancient people goaded to madness and rebellion in India.  Let Ireland, at any rate, be clear of this blood-guiltiness.’[132]

The centenary of 1798 was a natural focal point for reviving Irish nationalism following its brief wane in the wake of the death of Parnell in 1891 and nationalist commemoration was at its height as a reaction to Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee.’[133]  On 1 November 1898, Franciscan historian Father Patrick Kavanagh laid the foundation stone for the 1798 monument in the Bull Ring at Wexford where Cromwell had executed rebels in 1641.[134]  The centenary of ’98 was one of cultural rather than militant or political nationalism.[135]  Perhaps this is reflected in the near complete absence of mention of 1641 in the popular press hereafter as, in Gibney’s phrase, ‘the inflammatory utility of 1641’ receded to the margins of the collective memory of Britain and Ireland.[136]


Whilst 1641 has been almost entirely absent from the popular press since 1900, the Orange banners still seen today commemorating the Protestants who died at Portadown show that it has retained its divisive influence in loyalist circles.  Indeed, Portadown Heritage Tours, run by the Orange Order, still visit the River Bann where they claim there have been numerous sightings of ghosts of Protestants drowned there.  The organisers say the tours are intended to bring the community together. 

In 1989, Ulster Unionist David Trimble said that ‘one of the enduring folk memories of the Ulster-British people is the fear of massacre—the fear that the people may cease to be, at least culturally.’  And in 1991 an Orange Order video likened 1641 to the Holocaust and claimed that it still influenced the ‘siege mentality of the Ulster Protestant.’[137]  On 27 April 1996, The Irish Times contrasted Belfast Catholic youths, ‘gripping their off licence carry outs’ and fighting with police, with Orangemen who peacefully sought the ‘right of passage’(sic)  to march their traditional route.    It bemoaned the Tricolours which heralded the Catholic incomers and regretted that it was often forgotten that Orange marches were ‘triumphalism and territorial marking blended together’ as well as a celebration,

the British colony survived the massacres of 1641… loyalists saved the Protestant constitution by their epic defence of Derry through 105 days of siege, and … Protestants again and again successfully defended their liberties and were delivered from Popish domination.’[138]

An Orange Order rally marking the quincentenary of the Reformation was held in Portadown in 2017.  The parades – ‘unapologetically for the truths of the Reformed Evangelical Protestant faith’, as their website has it – paused at the Bann Bridge to lay a wreath for Protestants killed in the 1641 Portadown massacre.[139]  As Thomas Macaulay wrote in 1848 in his History of England:

It is impossible for the moralist or the statesman to look with unmixed complacency on the solemnities with which Londonderry commemorates her deliverance.  Unhappily, the animosities of her brave champions have descended with their glory.[140]

MacAulay was a historian convinced of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ superiority over the Irish.[141] But even he was alert to the danger of preserving acrimony along with remembrance.  Like him, Lecky, Froude and Prendergast all wrote with a mind to contemporary issues.[142]  Tosh has observed more generally the tension between collective memory’s burdens of past experience and contemporary values.[143]  Or as nineteenth century historian Edward Augustus Freeman observed, ‘History is past politics, and politics present history.’[144] 

In January 2019 The Telegraph wrote ‘In defence of Oliver Cromwell, the man who saved England from tyranny.’  It numbered the Ulster Protestant dead after 1641 as between 4,000 and 12,000 and highlighted Cromwell’s injunction not to commit violence ‘toward Country People or any persons whatsoever, unless they be actually in arms or office with the enemy.’ It concluded that ‘Cromwell’s so-called war crimes, as cruel and unjustified as they may now appear, do need to be seen in their historical context.’[145] 

The Irish Times that month worried that a hard Brexit would mean the re-introduction of the Irish Border and thought it important to review how the border came about in the first place:

1641: Ulster explodes in open warfare between English and Scottish settlers and the native Irish, dispossessed Catholics take revenge on settlers, slaughtering thousands. In 1642 Scottish Covenanters, a Presbyterian militia, invade the North and take their revenge on many of the Catholic inhabitants. Tit-for-tat killings continue for the next decade … The massacre of Protestant settlers has a profound impact on the psyche of those who settle in Ulster.[146]

It is worth here recalling the Liberal in 1886 who asked if it were more foolish to forget the conflicts of the past or to yoke them to contemporary affairs.  It is a question worth contemplating when, as recently as 2012, columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote in The Irish Times that the Depositions ‘remain available for use, not just as evidence of the past, but as warnings of a potential future.’[147] 

This paper has sought to show how in the nineteenth century, often on the feeblest of justifications, such an attitude saw the reports of atrocity in 1641 exploited to legitimise suppression of Catholics.  As Fitzpatrick observed in 1903,

To inflame the passions of the superior race, the hearsay horrors would be quite effective as if the allegations were proved by eye-witnesses – with some people it is so, even to the present hour.[148]

Ireland is once again dominating British politics as the intractable Brexit negotiations continue.  Since Schama appeared on the BBC, Parliament’s rejection of Theresa May’s Third Withdrawal Agreement has seen Boris Johnson replace her as Prime Minister.   Gladstone’s limited success in understanding the importance of past conflict to contemporary Irish affairs was not for the want of trying, but Johnson’s careless posturing on the question of the Irish border betrays his complete indifference to the entrenched historical tensions which are at the heart of the issue. 

Should the United Kingdom fail to achieve a trade agreement with the European Union, then establishing a favourable deal with the United States is vital.  But the US is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and relations will be damaged if a ‘hard border’ on the island of Ireland threatens the peace.  The situation is complicated yet more by the insistence of the Democratic Unionist Party, on whom the Conservative government still rely, that Northern Ireland’s relationship with the EU is the same as the rest of Britain’s, which is effectively a demand for a reinstatement of visible border control.  The situation will become all the more combustible if this entails police from the mainland or a paramilitary presence.  

Sectarian tensions are thus once again intensifying and the preservation of historical enmities which continue to exert their influence over Irish society, culture and politics are worthy of our attention.  The legacy of the nineteenth century correspondents and historians who kept the partisan memories of 1641 alive is certainly a striking example of this.


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[1] The Bloody Bridge, Thomas Fitzpatrick, (Dublin, 1903), p.ix, accessed 26 July 2018

[2] Newsnight, BBC2, 27 March 2019,

[3] The Shadow of a Year: The 1641 Rebellion in Irish History and Memory, John Gibney, (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), p16

[4] The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in The Study of History, John Tosh, (London, 2015), pp75-78

[5] Language and Power, Norman Fairclough, (London, 1989), p6

[6] Gladstone, Home Rule and the Ulster Question 1882-93, James Loughlin, (Dublin, 1986), p17

[7] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p68

[8] Ireland 1798-1998: War, Peace and Beyond, Alvin Jackson, (Oxford, 1999), pp27-29

[9] The Pursuit of History, Tosh, pp13-15

[10] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p48

[11] ‘Irish Catholics’, Morning Post, 29 Aug. 1816. British Library Newspapers (hereafter BLN), Accessed 3 Sept. 2018.

[12] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p47

[13] Catholic Emancipation: Daniel O’Connell and the birth of Irish Democracy 1820-30,

Fergus O’Ferrall, (Dublin, 1985), p269

[14] Ibid, pp269-270

[15] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p62

[16] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, pp30-33

[17] ‘House of Commons, Tuesday, March 6.’ The Times, 7 Mar. 1827, The Times Digital Archive (hereafter TDA), Accessed 6 Sept. 2018.

[18] ‘The Catholic Question.’, Derby Mercury (Derby, England) 10 December 1828: British Library Newspapers., accessed 27 July 2018

[19] ‘The Catholic Question.’, Rev Henry Crewe, Derby Mercury (Derby, England) 10 Dec. 1828: BLN,, accessed 27 July 2018

[20] It is perhaps here worth noting parenthetically some letters published in the Derby Mercury in July 1843 between Reverend Crewe and a Nonconformist Minister, John Corbin in which Crewe accused Protestant Dissenters of being ‘friends’ of Roman Catholics.  In response Corbin wrote that he regretted Crewe did not,

‘distinguish between the civil rights and liberties of Papists, and the cause of Popery.  The former we did seek to promote … The only way in which we can hope successfully to oppose the growing influence of the Catholic Church, will be to treat its members with justice, respect, and kindness.’   Their debate sheds a useful light on Crewe’s position in 1828 which appears to have only hardened in the meantime.

[21] Catholic Emancipation, O’Ferrall, p206

[22] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, p34

[23] ‘The Spirit of Catholicism’ Morning Post, 30 Jan. 1829. BLN, Accessed 7 Sept. 2018

[24] ‘Catholic Intolerance.’ Morning Post, 4 Feb. 1829. BLN,, Accessed 10 Sept. 2018.

[25] ‘Bloodhounds.’ Morning Post, 11 Feb. 1829. BLN,, Accessed 11 September 2018

[26] ‘Mr. O’Connell’s Arrival.’ Morning Post, 11 Feb. 1829. BLN,, Accessed 11 September 2018.

[27] British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906, Eugenio Biagini, (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p109

[28] Catholic Emancipation, O’Ferrall, pp271-2

[29] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, p36

[30] ‘The most palpable falsehood, repeated a dozen times a day, bids a fair chance of passing at last for truth’ Times, 25 Aug. 1835, p. 5. TDA,,  Accessed 11 Sept. 2018.

[31] ‘Popish Rebellion in Ireland in 1641-Facts Well Deserving Attention at Present.’ The Times, 16 Dec. 1835, p. 3. TDA, Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.

[32] ‘Protestant Meeting at Brighton.’ The Standard, 16 Dec. 1835. BLN,, accessed 2 Sept. 2018.

[33] The Christian Observer Conducted by Members of the Established Church for the Year 1836, (London, 1836),  pp588-596, accessed 31 July 2018

[34] ‘Mr. O’Connell in Birmingham.’ Morning Post, 1 Feb. 1836, p. [1] +. BLN, Accessed 11 September 2018                                          

[35] ‘Multiple News Items.’ The Standard, 5 Oct. 1838. BLN,, Accessed 14 Sept. 2018.

[36] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, pp68-85

[37] ‘The Irish Massacre In 1641.’ Glasgow Herald, 5 Feb. 1844. BLN,, Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.

[38] ‘House of Commons Feb. 1.’ Glasgow Herald, 5 Feb. 1844. BLN, accessed 6 October 2018

[39] ‘The Parliamentary Session’ Glasgow Herald, 5 Feb. 1844. BLN,  

Accessed 2 Oct. 2018.

[40] ‘Scene Between the Attorney-General and Mr. Fitzgibbon.’ Glasgow Herald, 5 Feb. 1844. BLN,

Accessed 3 Oct. 2018

[41] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p8

[42] Ibid, pp101-102

[43] Ibid, p102

[44] ‘The Papal Aggression of 1850’, Walter Ralls, in Church History Vol. 43, No. 2 (Jun., 1974),  (Cambridge, 1974),, accessed 29 July 2019, p242

[45] ‘Multiple News Items.’ The Standard, 23 Oct. 1850. BLN, Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.

[46]  ‘Multiple News Items.’ The Standard, 18 September 1854. BLN, accessed 14 October 2018.  ‘Semper eadem: always the same’

[47] ‘Dreadful Murder in the North of Ireland.’ Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper, 14 Dec. 1851. BLN, Accessed 26 May 2019.

[48]  ‘Agrarian Violence and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Myth of Ribbonism’, Irish Economic and Social History 13, A C Murray, (Dublin, 1986),, accessed 27 August 2019, p56

[49] ‘The Press.’ Belfast News-Letter, 8 Sept. 1856. BLN, Accessed 27 Apr. 2019.

[50] ‘Multiple News Items.’ The Standard, 23 September 1859, p. 4. BLN, 

Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.

[51] The Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800–2000, Justin Quinn, pp34-35, accessed 8 December 2018

[52] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, pp91-97

[53] Ibid, p103

[54] Ibid, pp97-105

[55] ‘Fenian Brotherhood.’ Belfast News-Letter, 17 Feb. 1865. BLN Accessed 19 October 2018

[56] Hansard 1803–2005, Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Bill, 17 February 1866,, accessed 30 April 2019

[57] Gladstone, Loughlin, p13

[58] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, p2-9

[59] Ibid, p93-113

[60] From Our Own Correspondent. ‘Dublin, Feb. 21.’ The Times, 22 February 1866, p. 9. TDA,, Accessed 19 Oct. 2018.

[61] ‘The Belfast News-Letter.’ Belfast News-Letter, 13 Nov. 1867. BLN,  Accessed 7 Jan. 2019. 

[62] ‘Between Trauma and Triumphalism: The Easter Rising, the Somme, and the Crux of Deep Memory in Modern Ireland’, Guy Beiner, Journal of British Studies, Vol. 46, No. 2 (April 2007), (Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp375-376

[63] Ireland 1798-1998: Jackson, pp101-3

[64] Ibid, pp217-8

[65] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, pp130-131

[66] ‘Great Meeting on The Irish Church’ Blackburn Standard, 22 Apr. 1868. BLN, Accessed 8 Jan. 2019. 

[67] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, (Oxford, 1999), p91-107

[68] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, pp130-131

[69] British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906, Biagini, p119

[70] ‘Mr. Froude On the English In Ireland.’ Daily News, 12 Nov. 1872. BLN, Accessed 9 Jan. 2019. 

[71] The Myth of Nations the Medieval Origins of Europe, Patrick Geary, (Princeton, 2002), p15

[72] The Pursuit of History, Tosh, pp240-243

[73] Gladstone, Loughlin, p9

[74] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, pp118-125

[75] ‘The Embassy in Ireland’ Freeman’s Journal, 10 Oct. 1873. BLN, Accessed 10 Jan. 2019. 

[76] ‘M’Donnell’s 1641.’ Freeman’s Journal, 1 Jan. 1879. BLN,, Accessed 6 October 2018.

[77] Parnell and the First Home Rule Episode 1884-87, Alan O’Day, (Dublin, 1986), p44

[78] Parnell and the First Home Rule Episode 1884-87, O’Day, pp1-2

[79] Ibid, pp41-42

[80] British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906, Biagini, pp16-17

[81] Ibid, p167

[82] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, pp130-131

[83] British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906, Biagini, p13

[84] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, pp123-131

[85] Ibid, p57-58

[86] Gladstone, Loughlin, p27

[87] ‘The Belfast News-Letter.’ Belfast News-Letter, 2 Nov. 1881. BLN, Accessed 14 Jan. 2019

[88] ‘The Twelfth Of July’ Glasgow Herald, 13 July 1882. BLN, Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.

[89] Parnell and the First Home Rule Episode 1884-87, O’Day, pp1-2

[90] London Correspondence’ Freeman’s Journal, 8 Feb. 1884. BLN, Accessed 29 Jan. 2019.

[91] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p117-118

[92] Ibid, p119

[93] Gladstone, Loughlin, p8

[94] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p134-138

[95] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p126-129

[96] ‘Dublin, Wednesday, August 27, 1884.’ Freeman’s Journal, 27 Aug. 1884. BLN,  Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.

[97] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, pp107-125

[98] Parnell and the First Home Rule Episode 1884-87, O’Day, p85

[99] Gladstone, Loughlin, p289

[100] Ibid, pp126-127

[101] Parnell and the First Home Rule Episode 1884-87, O’Day, p156

[102]  ‘The Irish Horrors Of 1641.’ Aberdeen Journal, 10 May 1886. BLN,  Accessed 8 June 2019.

[103] ‘House of Commons, Friday, Jan. 22.’ The Times, 23 Jan. 1886, TDA, Accessed 31 Jan. 2019. 

[104] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, pp133-144

[105] ‘The Political Situation.’ The Times, 27 May 1886, p. 7. TDA, Accessed 6 May 2019.

[106] ‘The General Election.’ The Times, 30 June 1886, p. 10. TDA,  Accessed 4 May 2019.

[107] ‘Spectator in Hallamshire.’ Sheffield Independent, 10 July 1886, p. 6. BLN, Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.

[108] Gladstone, Loughlin, pp162-163

[109] ‘Mr. Foljambe Presides Over Tories.’ Sheffield Independent, 26 May 1887, p. 3. BLN, Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.

[110] ‘Belfast: Monday, July 11, 1887.’ Belfast News-Letter, 11 July 1887. BLN, Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

[111] ‘Tercentenary of The Defeat of The Spanish Armada’ Belfast News-Letter, 19 May 1888. BLN, Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

[112] ‘Correspondence’ The Western Mail, 12 June 1888. BLN, Accessed 13 Feb. 2019

[113] British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906, Biagini, pp67-74

[114] ‘Multiple News Items.’ Royal Cornwall Gazette, 15 Nov. 1888, p. 6. BLN Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

[115] ‘Literature.’ Aberdeen Journal, 3 Jan. 1889. BLN, Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

[116] ‘Mr. Gladstone in Cornwall.’ Freeman’s Journal, 13 June 1889. BLN,, Accessed 4 Sept. 2018.

[117] Gladstone, Loughlin, pp218-219

[118] Letters to The Editor.’ Glasgow Herald, 15 Sept. 1890. BLN Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

[119] ‘A Papal Bull Blessing Irish Rebels.’ The Friendly Companion and Illustrated Instructor, 1 Jan. 1891, P. 21. 19th Century UK Periodicals, Http://Link.Galegroup.Com/Apps/Doc/Dx1901722338/Gdcs?U=Ustrath&Sid=Gdcs&Xid=890f8f5b Accessed 9 May 2019.

[120] ‘The Protestant Alliance.’ Belfast News-Letter, 27 May 1892. BLN, Http://Tinyurl.Galegroup.Com/Tinyurl/97euq3 Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.

[121] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p127

[122] Gladstone, Loughlin, pp9-10

[123] Gladstone, Loughlin, p165

[124] Ibid, p245

[125] ‘Correspondence.’ Belfast News-Letter, 3 Aug. 1893. BLN, Http://Tinyurl.Galegroup.Com/Tinyurl/97wif1 Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.

[126] ‘Japan And China.’ Freeman’s Journal, 21 Mar. 1895. BLNHttp://Tinyurl.Galegroup.Com/Tinyurl/97xhz7. Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.

[127] British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906, Biagini, p251

[128] ‘Ireland And Armenia.’ Freeman’s Journal, 2 Jan. 1896. BLN,  Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.

[129] ‘Between Trauma and Triumphalism’ Beiner, p372

[130] The Pursuit of History, Tosh, p259

[131] ‘The County Armagh Celebrations.’ Belfast News-Letter, 13 July 1897. BLN, Http://Tinyurl.Galegroup.Com/Tinyurl/97yq62 Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.

[132] ‘England And India.’ Freeman’s Journal, 29 Sept. 1897. BLN, Http://Tinyurl.Galegroup.Com/Tinyurl/983EU9 Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.

[133] ‘Between Trauma and Triumphalism’, Beiner, p376

[134] ‘1798, 1898 & The Political Implications Of Sheppard’s Monument’, John Turpin, History Ireland Website, Https://Www.Historyireland.Com/18th-19th-Century-History/1798-1898-The-Political-Implications-Of-Sheppards-Monument/,  Accessed 26/07/18

[135] Ireland 1798-1998, Jackson, p173

[136] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p137

[137] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p153-54

[138] ‘Loyal tributes to culture under siege’, The Irish Times, 27 April 1996,, accessed 15 January 2019

[139] ‘Loyal Orders set to rally for Reformation’,, Thursday, 4 May 04 2017,, accessed 15 January 2019

[140] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p153

[141] Gladstone, Loughlin, p224

[142] The Shadow of a Year, Gibney, p129

[143] The Pursuit of History, Tosh, pp274-5

[144]  ‘Edward Augustus Freeman’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911,*.html, accessed 04/08/2019

[145] ‘In defence of Oliver Cromwell, the man who saved England from tyranny’, The Telegraph, Andrew Roberts, 5 January 2019,, accessed 10 June 2019

[146] ‘Brexit Borderlands’, Irish Times, Ronan McGreevy , 24 January 2019,, accessed 10 June 2019

[147] ‘Deposition on Atrocities, 1641’, Irish Times,  Fintan O’Toole, 14 April 2012,, accessed 10 June 2019

[148] The Bloody Bridge, Fitzpatrick, pxx.  Emphasis added. accessed 1 August 2018

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