1641: Some Context


by Pat Muldowney,
Church and State; First Quarter, 2011

Historic massacres have been in the news recently. Large numbers of British Protestant settlers were killed in horrific circumstances by hordes of rebellious natives in a frenzy of religious hatred. This despite the fact that the settlers, whatever their faults, were bringing civic values, industry, modernity and progress to an antiquated country mired in backwardness and superstition.

In the ensuing chaos, order was finally restored by a determined military campaign in which the Irish Brigadier- General John Nicholson played a leading part, but at the cost of his own life.

The year was 1857. The British East India Company was constitutionally subject to the Moghal Emperor Bahadur Shah II who was the legal sovereign over much of present-day India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. British victories over the French and their Indian allies in 1759 (the Year of Victories, when the geopolitical shape of the modern world was laid down) placed the British East India Company in a good strategic position for further advances, a position which it made full use of, with practically non-stop conquest. Huge territories were grabbed under the Doctrine of Lapse. (On the assumption that Indians did not care who governed them, the Company took over kingdoms whose rulers died without a natural heir.) Though India had been one the world’s most prosperous places (otherwise it would have been no attraction), the first decade of East India Company power produced Famine on an unprecedented scale. Famine returned regularly as Indian economy was plundered, land tenure commercialised, and food production wrecked in favour of cotton, indigo and other commercial products to service Britain’s World Empire, and in favour of poppies, source of the opium forced on China by the mighty British Navy.

As the British in India became ever more grasping, bigoted and hostile towards the natives, a more widespread and better-organised rebellion broke out in 1857. A siege of British forces in Kanpur (Cawnpore) resulted in their surrender there. The surrendered British forces were massacred by the rebels. A hundred and twenty surviving British women and children were butchered with meat cleavers and their bodies thrown down a well.

Irish Massacres

Two centuries earlier the native Irish were judged to be in rebellion against proper authority. The constitutional ruler in 1641 was King Charles I, to whom the Irish “rebels” claimed to be in allegiance. They sought an alliance with him against his political and religious enemies in the English Parliament and in Scotland, where war had broken out a couple of years earlier. The Scottish rebels united in a Solemn League and Covenant for—

“the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, Church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissioners, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness; lest we partake in other men’s sins, and thereby be in danger to receive of their plagues; and that the Lord may be one, and his name one, in the three kingdoms {of Scotland, England and Ireland}”.

The 1641 Irish “rebels” seized the property of British settlers in Ulster, slaughtering about 200 Protestant civilians in Portadown and smaller numbers in some other places. An unknown number of civilian settlers died (perhaps five to ten thousand), mostly as a result of hardship when they were turned out of their new properties in Ulster. Propaganda turned this figure into more than 100,000 deliberately murdered by the Irish rebels, helping to fuel the fanaticism of Parliament and Scottish (including Ulster) Covenanters.

Even before Cromwellian reprisals began eight years later, the settler deaths were dwarfed by the scale of native Irish civilian mortality from hardship, Famine and massacre in a war precipitated by forces outside of Ireland. The Portadown massacre was itself a reprisal for earlier massacres carried out by settlers and Scottish forces. The native Irish had long and bitter experience of massacre and expulsion, and had good reason to fear the rebel forces from Scotland. Reason enough to take action in 1641 and try to take back by force what had been taken from them by force a few years earlier. (When it opposed his own Parliamentary faction, Cromwell himself considered uprooting the original plantation in favour of something else.)

In his book The Birth Of Ulster, military historian Cyril Falls extols the Plantation. He describes Sir John Davies organising the distribution of land after the defeat of Hugh O’Neill:

“{He} had seen Fermanagh before, but its charm made a fresh appeal to him, as it does to all … It was, he said, so pleasant and fruitful a country that, if he should make a full description thereof, it would rather be taken for a poetical fiction than for a true and serious narrative. … He had already determined to make his habitation there… a further proclamation was issued, giving permission to the natives on the undertakers’ estates throughout Ulster to remain until the following spring.”

Falls chronicles some aspects of the destruction of native society which made the Plantation possible. Leaving aside Elizabeth’s first war in Ireland, Falls estimates that several hundred thousand died in her second war. As a working hypothesis we might suppose this was out of a total population of a million or so. The second conquest was undertaken for Elizabeth by Lord Deputy Mountjoy and Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster. In charge of the army was Sir Arthur Chichester: “As energetic as Carew, … he was marked … by a cold savagery very different from the other’s ebullient brutality. While to uninstructed Irish Nationalists Cromwell is the English villain of Irish history, the better read reserve that place for Chichester.” Falls gives examples of Chichester’s methods.

“His policy was for the moment one of extermination pure and simple. … {Writing} to Mountjoy in May {1601, he says:} We have killed, burnt and spoiled all along {the shores of Lough Neagh} … in which journeys we have killed above one hundred people of all sorts, besides such as were burnt, how many I know not. We spare none of what quality or sex soever … The last service was upon Patrick O’Quin, whose house and town {baile fearann, town-land} was burnt, wife, son, children, and people slain, himself (as is now reported unto me) dead of a hurt received in flying from his house, and other gentlemen which received blows in following us in our return to the boat.

“In the eastern parts {of Ulster} famine had followed upon the devastations practised by Mountjoy and Chichester. The corpses of folk who had starved to death lay upon the high-ways… Only the kites and the wolves were fat, and the wolves had become so emboldened by lack of resistance that they pulled down grown men in the open country and in broad daylight.”

To this day, in a thirty mile radius of Carrickfergus, very little remains of the original population.

The Plantation of Ulster

The collapse of the organised native Ulster resistance facilitated further destruction at gunpoint and swordpoint, using bureaucracy, law and gallows over the following decades. The successful Plantation involved militarization of civilian settlers who remained on a war footing, as in the “Wild West”. A “Little House on the Prairie” mythology emerged. Falls quotes a chronicler:

“Now everybody minded their trades, and the ploughs, and the spade, building, and setting fruit-trees, etc., in orchards and gardens, and by ditching in their grounds. The old women spun, and the young girls plied their nimble fingers at knitting, and everybody was innocently busy. Now the Golden peaceable age renewed, no strife, contention, querulous lawyers, or Scottish or Irish feuds, between clans and families, and surnames, disturbing the tranquillity of those times.”

Elizabeth’s successor King James I/ VI made special provision for the subjects of his first kingdom:

“Forasmeikle as the Kingis Maiestie haueing resolued to reduce and setle vnder obedience the north pairt of the Kingdome of Ireland, which now by the providence of Almichtie God, and by the power and strength of his Maiesties royal army, is fred and disburdynit of the former rebellious and disobedient inhabitants thairof, … his Maiestie, for this effect, hes tane a verie princlie and good course … for planting of coloneis thairin …”

What awaited the colonists?

“There was now in all Ulster hardly a single rebel of note … Yet in little nests of about half a dozen the shaggy, trousered outlaws still haunted the woodlands, and woe betide the colonist who let his cattle stray after dark. Sir Toby Caulfield at Charlemont was one of the most powerful, experienced and popular Englishmen in Ulster, yet within caliver-shot of his fortress the wood-kerne often shared with the wolf the spoils of his pastures. … According to tradition, almost the only one of the Plantation period still alive in Ulster, the caliver, snap-chaunce, pike, or sword lay always in the furrow last turned, while the ploughman and his team turned the rest.” (The Birth of Ulster.)

Turning a difficulty into an opportunity, advertisements for colonists sometimes announced the shooting of wolves and woodkerne as one of the sports and entertainments available in the new colony. The woodkerne were native remnants.

But the quarrel of King Charles I with Parliament shifted the balance of power. Parliament, Ulster settlers and Scots feared that the King would empower the Catholics (both Irish and English) in Ireland in order to get his way. The Scots rebelled, giving the remaining native Irish in Ulster good reason to fear another cataclysmic onslaught by the settler forces and their allies. That is the background to the 1641 “rebellion”.

As to the massacres, an Irish Times (30.10.2010) article says:

“During the rising of 1641 Scottish soldiers attached to the garrison at nearby Carrickfergus were inflamed by rumours that Roman Catholics on Island Magee were attacking their Protestant neighbours. In retaliation they marched to the peninsula and massacred the Catholics, throwing dead and live bodies over the Gobbins cliffs into the sea 250 feet below.”

Island Magee

Islandmagee is the Antrim peninsula near Carrickfergus. When the 1641 rebels began seizing the property of settlers a number of massacres by settlers took place, including Islandmagee where the Catholics had not joined any rebellion. In reprisal the rebels massacred Protestants in Portadown and elsewhere. A 19th century poem, in the voice of a 1641 rebel, mentions Islandmagee and, implicitly, Portadown.

Joy! joy! the day is come at last, the day
of hope and pride –
And see! our crackling bonfires light old
Banna’s joyful tide,
And gladsome bell and bugle horn from
Iubhar’s captured Towers,
Hark! how they tell the Saxon swine,
this land is ours, IS OURS !

Come, trample down their foreign rule,
and smite its venal spawn,
Their foreign laws, their foreign church,
their ermine and their lawn,
With all the specious fry of fraud that
robbed us of our own,
And plant our ancient laws again, beneath
our lineal throne.

Pity! no, no, you dare not, Priest—not
you, our Father, dare
Preach to us now that Godless creed the
murderer’s blood to spare;
To spare his blood, while tombless still,
our slaughtered kin implore
“Graves and revenge”, from Guibin-Cliffs,
and Carraig’s bloody shore!

Pity!—could we “forget—forgive”, if we
were clods of clay,
Our martyred priests, our banished chiefs,
our race in dark decay,
And worse than all—you know it, Priest—
the daughters of our land,
With wrongs we blushed to name until
the sword was in our hand!

They banned our faith, they banned our
lives, they trod us unto earth,
Until our very patience stirred their bitter
hearts to mirth;
Even this great flame that wraps them
now, not we but they have bred,
Yes, this is their own work, and now,

Banna is the River Bann, Iubhar is Iubhar Chinn Trágha or Newry. Some priests gave refuge and protection to Protestants in Catholic Churches. The author of the poem The Muster of the North was Charles Gavan Duffy, a leader, with Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, of the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, which sought to develop an Irish national movement that, unlike Daniel O’Connell, would involve all religious denominations.

Unlike Mitchel and some other Young Ireland leaders, Duffy did not support the armed rebellion of 1848. He sought to undo the conquest of Ireland, in the sense of establishing tenant rights against landlords, and his pioneering tenant organisation supported and co-operated with the Protestant tenant rights organisation in Ulster. So in a different sense his work involved consolidation of the Plantation. Within fifty years this project bore fruit in the peaceful abolition of landlordism in Ireland as a whole, finally reversing the main feature of the conquest. (You might say the final consolidation of the plantation was achieved with the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements.)

Though elected to Parliament Duffy’s political efforts were frustrated, and he emigrated to Australia where he was again elected to Parliament, becoming Premier of Victoria.

Here is how the poet Thomas Moore, friend of Lord Byron, described the Islandmagee massacre. In his Memoirs of Captain Rock, like Duffy explaining to English readers the sources of “terrorist violence” in Ireland, Moore speaks in the voice of “Captain Rock”:

“November 18 (1641):

Tidings just come to hand, that on the night of the 13th ult., the English and Scotch of Carrickfergus, did issue forth, and attack and murder, in the island Magee, 3000 men, women and children, all innocent persons, there being as yet no appearance of revolt in that quarter. If this doth not cause all Ireland to rise on the sudden, then is the blood of her Mac’s run dry, and her ancient O’s become ciphers indeed” (Extracts from Captain Rock can be found in Thomas Moore: Political And Historical Writings On Irish And British Affairs, published by Athol Books in 1993).


Another comment comes down to us from an Irish Jesuit priest Conor O’ Mahony writing An Argument Defending The Right Of the Kingdom Of Ireland [scroll to the bottom of the page – shane] in Portugal in 1645. Much of the book, written in Latin, consists of interesting but archaic legalistic arguments to the effect that Ireland was not obliged to submit to any form of English rule, and should be an independent Catholic kingdom. But one paragraph of O’Mahony’s is evergreen and up-to-date:

“Irishmen of mine, continue and complete the work already begun of defending yourselves and your liberty, and kill your heretical opponents, and drive their supporters and collaborators from your midst. Already you have killed 150,000 of the enemy during these four or five years from 1641 to 1645, when I am writing these words. Your bellowing opponents admit this openly in their writings and you do not deny it; and I believe that even greater numbers of the heretical enemy have been killed, and if only they had all been! It remains for you to kill the remaining heretics or expel them from the territory of Ireland, lest the infection of their heretical errors should spread more widely in our Catholic country.” (Aubane Historical Society 2010, translated by John Minahane.)

Living in Portugal O’Mahony appears to have accepted at face value British propaganda about the scale of the Irish rebel massacres. And this implies that, while he must have known plenty about the Chichester campaign of extermination, and about the new and additional existential threat inherent in the Scottish rebellion, he probably did not know that the massacres by the Irish were in direct retaliation for massacres by the settlers. This was an excuse that O’Mahony did not have.

Whether the numbers of settlers killed by the Irish were 200, or 4000, or 100,000, O’Mahony’s intent is clear. Is this the voice of the Irish Himmler? Which kind of genocidal maniac was O’Mahony? Is there any comparison that can be made with other exterminations?

Sir Charles Dilke was in the way of becoming leader of the Liberal Party until a messy divorce cleared the way for Gladstone. In his book Greater Britain Dilke wrote: “The Anglo-Saxon is the only extirpating race on earth. Up to the commencement of the now inevitable destruction of the Red Indians of Central North America, of the Maoris, and of the Australians, by the English colonists, no numerous race has ever been blotted out by an invader.

In response to the Indian rebellion of 1857 Charles Dickens wrote: ‘I wish I were commander-in-chief in India … I should proclaim to them that I considered my holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the race.’

Forty years later Professor Gilbert Murray, a founder of the League of Nations and Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford University, wrote that “… the subject races in the British Empire … whom we cannot utilize we exterminate … Tasmanians were useless, and are all dead”. Around the same time H.G. Wells wrote: “There is only one sane and logical thing to be done with a really inferior race, and that is to exterminate it.”

The Editor of the Times newspaper, 2nd January 1852:

The pure Irish Celt is more than 1000 years behind the civilization of this age. … Men of large means and uncommon force of character may here and there have conquered the natural independence of the Irishman; but, as a general rule, he is intractable. … Hence, that miserable and helpless being the Irish cottier… Their condition and character has been so often described, especially in the memorable pages of the Devon Report, that we need not prove the existence of such a class incompatible with civilization. The Irish cottier, the man with his half-dozen acres, his bit of common right, but without floor, without chimney, without window, without furniture, and without a separation between the human and the brute inhabitants, was a mere savage; and calamitous as are the events by which it has come to pass, we now thank Heaven that we have lived to speak of the class as a class that has been. … we resign ourselves without reserve, though naturally not entirely without misgiving, to her continued depopulation until only a half or a third of the nine millions claimed for her by O’Connell remain. We may possibly live to see the day when her chief produce will be cattle, and English and Scotch the majority in her population. … Unquestionably there is much that is consolatory, and even comfortable, in the extraordinary turn that we witness in Irish affairs.

In American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, David Stannard described the attitude of a number of prominent people to extermination. George Washington wrote that Indians “…were wolves and beasts who deserved nothing from the whites but ‘total ruin’ …the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape”.

Thomas Jefferson: “…to pursue {Indians} to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach”.

Andrew Jackson, whose parents were products of the Plantation of Ulster, was founder of the Democratic Party and modern American democracy. The greatest Indian-killer of all American Presidents, he urged United States troops “…to root out from their dens and kill Indian women and their whelps”.

The eminent Harvard professor Oliver Wendell Holmes observed in 1855 that Indians were nothing more than a “half-filled outline of humanity” whose “extermination” was the necessary “solution of the problem of his relation to the white race”. Describing native peoples as “a sketch in red crayons of a rudimental manhood”, he added that it was only natural for the white man to “hate” the Indian and to “hunt him down like the wild beasts of the forest, and so the red-crayon sketch is rubbed out, and the canvas is ready for a picture of manhood a little more like God’s own image”.

In his testimony to the 1937 Palestine Commission of Lord Peel, Winston Churchill testified: “I do not admit that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race. . . has come in and taken their place.”


There are numerous examples of American Indians seeking to come to terms with the new society and become part of it, only to meet the same fate as those who took the opposite course and fought back against the exterminating settlers who sought to grab their farms and livelihoods. In their first major war against the Indians, the New England settlers included the “Praying Indians” in the general massacre. These were tribes, allied to the settlers, who had adopted Christianity. On 23rd April 1778 Chief White Eyes of the Lenne Lenape (Delawares) on the Tuscarawas River addressed the United States Congress: “I make the proposal that my entire tribe, the Lenne Lenape, become the 14th fire. We wish to join the other thirteen fires in your fight with Great Britain. We wish to enter the Union of States as a Christian state, and as an all-Indian state. We want to become a full and equal partner with your thirteen states.” Papers were duly signed, but when the fight with the British was won a crucial signature was found to be missing, and the Delawares went the same way as the Mohicans.

What about the Irish? Did they get any opportunity to give up their barbaric ways and become British/Christian?

Mountjoy, Carew, Davies, Chichester were, like many of their predecessors, closely connected to the first American settlers, many of them from Bristol and the West Country, and experience gained in Ireland was transferred across the Atlantic and vice versa. On both the Virginia and Irish frontiers they practised what the poet Edmund Spenser preached in his View Of The Present State Of Ireland—that the easiest and cheapest way to destroy the hostiles was to destroy their food supply. Chichester reported his satisfaction when his Irish enemies killed his Irish allies. Either way the land was cleared of vermin.

Chichester and the others were perfectly rational in their own terms (and probably in our terms these days). Killing out of hatred is mere self-indulgence, and a profligate waste of precious money. That’s the losers’ way. They did not kill and destroy just for the sake of it. They were businessmen first and foremost, acting on the most rational of financial calculation, which, combined with judicious application of overwhelming military force, is the secret of their world-wide success. Whenever the native occupants were subdued, expropriated and exterminated to manageable numbers, and whenever money could be made out of either the incoming settlers or the surviving natives, in Ireland or elsewhere, they preserved and looked after such resources for as long as they were useful to them. A depopulated wasteland is not a financial resource. They may have regarded the natives as vermin, but they wanted rents above all. And once they had got their hands on the real-estate it did not really matter who paid them the money so long as it kept flowing in.

Could the Irish have transformed themselves so they could be an asset rather than a liability to their new overlords? Sixty years earlier, when the monasteries and monastic lands were grabbed by Henry VIII, the Catholic nobility in Ireland, both native and English, were happy to share in the plunder and they accepted Henry as King—and perhaps also as Pope or leader of the Church. It seems not to be a foregone conclusion that the Irish, native or otherwise, would not conform to the English form of Reformation at that point. The famous Bishop Miler Magrath (Maolmhuire Mac Craith) functioned at various times as either a “Catholic” or a “Protestant” or both.

The lines below are a translation of a poem composed by “Protestant” Minister Pádraig Ó Dungain (Patrick Dunkin) in 1649 or thereabouts. The poem is in the ancient intricate dán díreach style. I give the first verse in Irish:

First verse:
Truagh mo thurus ó mo thír
Go Crích Mhanannáin mhín mhic Lir,
Idir triúr piúratán meabhail géar –
Gearr mo shaoghal má’s buan na fir.

Grievous my exile from my country/ To
the sweet land of Manannáin, son of
Lear (Isle of Man)/ Between three mad,
severe puritans—/ My life will be short
if these men persist.

The Judgement of Friday on the three (the Last Judgement, traditionally supposed to take place on Friday)/
Hamilton of Dún (Dún Phádraig, Downpatrick)
of the Clergy,/ Came to
us here from over the sea/ From the
land of Scotland, one of the three.

Master Lowe, and Master Browne—/ The
King of the Elements (grant) harm to
the pair:/ They prefer Parliament to
King/ They shall have an evil destiny.

Perverse their conscience, wrong-headed
their mind,/ Bishop or clergy they do
not like:/ They say not prayer or creed,/
I refuse to be of their kind.

Fasting or feastdays of the saints/—
Dreadful to relate!—they do not
observe;/ (The Virgin) Mary is no more
to them than a blade of grass—/ A race
without (faithfulness to) oaths, that do
not honour God.

They hate baptism, cross and church,/ The
gang of treachery; —the pity, O God,/
The faith of Patrick to be in decline/
And a religion without direction to be
in vogue.

Every steel-round-headed churl says:/
“Everlasting expulsion on the clans of
the O’Neills,/ And on the seed of kings,
the cause of all evil”—/ At the hands of
these my own people fell.

My heart is broken in my breast,/ From
the reproach (insult, offence) of the three
of evil disposition/ Against my country
and my lord;/ Relieve me, O God, from
this pain!

If Fergus mac Róigh (a knight of the
Craobh Rua (Red Branch of Ulster)
who went into the service of Queen
Maeve of Connacht
) were alive,/ Or
Cuchulainn—worthy of love—
(Cuchulainn fought Fergus in singlehanded
defence of Ulster in the epic
Táin Bó Cuailgne
)/ Or Murchadh, son
of Brian (Brian Boru), leader of the
battle-hosts,/ They would soon prevent
my torment.

Or Seán (Shane the Proud), son of Conn
(Conn Bacach Ó Néill) of the noble
judgements,/ Or the son of Hugh son of
Donal Óg (Ó Néill, early 1500’s),/ Or
the descendants of (Hugh) Baron (of
) Ó Néill,/ I would not be
long without justice.

O messenger going over the sea,/ Tell the
descendants of Conn (Céadchathach (of
the hundred battles
) 2nd century A.D.
king of Connacht, from whom Connacht
is named) of the routs,/ And to the
seed of the kings who pursued wellbeing,/
(Tell them of) my grief, my
sorrow, my sadness.

If Eoghan son of Art (Eoghan Rua Ó
Néill, commander of the confederate
army 1642-49
) should hear,/ Or the
descendant of Henry (?), beloved of
the battle-hosts,/ Or the descendants of
Hugh Buí Ó Néill (Clandeboye),
Or the king of the Bannside (another
O’Neill clan
) of warlike measures,/ Or
Savage of Strangford (of Norman
descent, settled in the de Courcy era
Or the descendants of Phelim (Ó Néill
) of the fierce routs,

Or the Russells (of Norman descent,
settled in the de Courcy era
) (should
hear of—from previous verse
) my evil
(fate) and my bondage,/ Their blood
and their rage would rise.

O Earl of Derby, generous warrior,/ High
King of (the Isle of) Man, gifted chief,/
Were it not for your honour and nobility,
my love,/ The day of my relief would
be long in coming.

A lane off Meath Street in Dublin was named after Dunkin. He was educated in Trinity College Dublin and served as Minister in the parish of Creggan in Co. Armagh in 1615. He was a friend of Archbishop Ussher, and was appointed Prebendary of Dunsfort, Co. Down, in 1640. Expelled from here (presumably by “Hamilton, Lowe and Browne”, see below) he found refuge with James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, who sheltered royalists in the Isle of Man before being himself beheaded by the Cromwellians in 1651. Dunkin fared better—after the Restoration, he was appointed Precentor of Armagh and Rector of Killeavy. The poem is an indication that, if English purpose was something other than conquest, plunder and extermination, there was a possibility of common ground that could have been built on and extended—that’s if any kind of peaceful co-existence was ever actually intended.

No doubt the Glorious Revolution and final conquest saw off the last of Dunkin’s kind.

In the Irish Parliament of 1613, with the recently ended Elizabethan war of extermination pointing the way ahead, on the heels of Elizabeth’s preceding carnage in Munster, the Irish Catholic leadership voted to accept the Ulster land grab. But nothing seemed to appease their enemies’ hatred, nor were they prepared to rest content with their new acquisitions.

Cyril Falls:

“{The 1613 Bill of Recognition} was an outstanding triumph for the Government, which has left Nationalist historians without an argument, except abuse of the recusant lords, knights and burgesses.”

This brings to mind the exchange in the film Goldfinger as a deadly laser beam edges towards Bond’s crotch and he desperately tries to cut a last-minute deal:

“- I think you’ve made your point, Goldfinger, thank you for the demonstration.
– Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Bond. It may be your last. (Pause) The purpose of our two previous encounters is now very clear to me. I do not expect to be distracted by another. (Walking away, hands in pockets) Goodnight, Mr. Bond.
– Do you expect me to talk?
– (Surprised amusement) No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!

In 1639 Christian jihadists went to war in Scotland, and in England their Parliamentary allies judicially murdered Thomas Wentworth [Strafford], the King’s Deputy in Ireland, one of the reasons being that he was not sufficiently militant against the Irish. A pathological hatred had taken hold. Thomas Babington Macaulay’s History Of England describes approvingly how mere suspicion of leniency towards the treacherous, superstitious, barbarian Irish played a major part in the downfall of two English kings. (Likewise, the mother country’s unwillingness to pay up for endless wars of expulsion and extermination against the indigenous peoples contributed to the rebellion of the American colonists, who complained:

“… {The King} has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. … He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions…” (Declaration of Independence.)

Macaulay wrote his thoughts about the Irish a few years before the Times editorial quoted above, about the same time as a brilliantly opportunist British Government policy decision finally solved this problem, as they thought, by bringing about the deaths of millions of Irish savages and the flight of millions more. (As a member of the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838 Macaulay actively promoted the colonial cultural destruction which helped to provoke the so-called Mutiny of 1857.)

Religious War in Europe

Jan Hus, the first successful modern Christian reformer, was burned for heresy in 1415, but his religious movement took root in Bohemia. In Prague, once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the governing Hussite Protestants defenestrated two officials of the Empire, marking the start of religious wars of the 1600s. (Sounds painful, but the window must have been on the ground floor as the two officials survived.) Defeated massively by Count von Tilly at the Battle of the White Mountain, the Czech nobility were given the choice of converting or emigrating. A Jesuit missionary drive to convert Bohemia was accompanied by over a century of Hapsburg oppression. They had a kind of revenge when a grandson of the deposed Hussite king became George I of England. Later a more tolerant regime admitted the Czechs into a measure of equality in the Empire, and they went on to reconstruct their language and national life in the 19th century. These days it seems that Bohemians and Moravians of all religious persuasions regard Hus as a national hero.

Some of the expelled Hussites settled in Poland, where a strong Calvinist movement grew among the Polish aristocracy. Here too there was a Jesuit missionary drive, and Catholicism recovered in Poland, but without forceful suppression of other religious beliefs. Likewise, in the Calvinist Dutch Republic, Socinians, Catholics, Anabaptists and other Christians were tolerated. (I wonder if this was what the English Puritans couldn’t accept in their Dutch exile, causing the Pilgrim Fathers to set off across the Atlantic to construct their “City on a Hill”—on land that other people had been living on for many millennia?)

But in Ireland execution, starvation and expulsion followed military defeats. Unlike the Hussites, conversion, conformity and “conditional admission to the new order” do not appear to have been on offer in any serious manner, no more than it was available in practice to the other indigenous peoples. Instead they were shipped as slaves to the Barbadoes or driven off to the barren and ever more congested west coast of Ireland. The objective was Irish land, not Irish souls. No serious, sustained effort was made to explain the truth to them and save them from eternal damnation. (In contrast, the British defeat of French Canada in 1759—the Year of Victories—was not followed by plunder, expulsion and destruction of French Catholic society.)

It seems the Irish conquest over-reached itself. Neglecting either to complete the extermination or to build an indigenous social basis of support, the conquest was dependent on its settlers. But these deserted in droves for easier meat in the “City on a Hill”. Settler emigration to North America from Ulster and the rest of Ireland weakened the colony. The Irish clung on against the odds. Preserved by the new miracle food from the Andes, their numbers recovered and expanded. As the colony declined, large numbers of the new property owners sold up during the following two centuries, and huge consolidated estates emerged, often extracting unheard-of rental revenues out of indigenous potato subsistence. The writing was on the wall—for both sides.

Reduction Baroque

After a short period in disrepute, Imperialism is coming back into fashion. Historians gloss over the atrocities. “If the Europeans hadn’t done it, some other “advanced” people would have colonised the Americas, and the indigenous peoples would have died out anyway— perhaps of Chinese diseases instead of European ones.” In other words they were naturally destined for extinction in the Darwinian way, and nobody is really to blame for it.

But the natives had diseases of their own, to which the settlers in their turn had no immunity. Syphilis for instance. So why is it that the natives were the ones who succumbed? War of the Worlds by the genocide advocate H.G. Wells has an interesting twist. The native earthlings have been completely defeated and are doomed to extinction. And then, all of a sudden, when all seems lost the colonising aliens die off en masse from the natives’ common cold.

If we take it that it’s inevitable that there was eventually going to be contact and interaction between Europeans and indigenous peoples, is it the case that the extermination itself was inevitable? Was there any other way?

A new book from Poland suggests a possible answer. The book is Muzyka Barokowa w Redukcjach Jezuickich (Baroque Music in the Jesuit Reductions), by Teresa Krasowska, published Lublin 2010.

The Reductions were a theocratic communist state, functioning without money, and extending across much of South America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Founded by Jesuit missionaries and populated by indigenous people, they achieved cultural, industrial, civic and municipal standards matching the best there was in Europe and out-stripping anything in contemporary colonial North and South America. Their standards of popular health, education and welfare were not matched anywhere in the rest of the world until the end of the 19th century. Everything about the Reductions flies in the face of what we envisage as historical and social reality. Jesuit ideology focussed on the souls of the Indians, not their bodies. According to Philip Caraman (The Vanished Arcadia) the Reductions developed, not in accordance with any utopian plan or theory, but by providing ad hoc solutions to the necessities of their situation and context.

Indigenous people voluntarily left their forest environment to enter the Reductions. Outside the Reductions the Indians were easy prey for capture, enslavement and mass murder by the Portuguese and Spanish colonists. In the Reductions they protected themselves with their own army, the best in the continent, trained by Jesuit veterans of the European wars. (Whether they would have given up their traditional life if there had been no existential threat from the settlers is another question. Occasionally white people were socialised into traditional indigenous life and refused to return to rigid and psychologically harsh European society. Which was more “advanced”? Which was more congenial?)

Each city, often populated by thousands of Indians with armed forces of their own, was overseen by two unarmed Jesuits. No other Europeans were allowed in. Needless to say, the Jesuits and the Reductions were feared and hated, usually for hypocritical reasons of bogus concern for Indian well-being. We rarely hear of the Reductions because the Enlightenment has comprehensively lost the argument against them. Here is an extract from Voltaire’s satire Candide:

“But whither wilt thou carry me? where can we go? what can we do with-out Cunegund?” cried the disconsolate Candide.

“By St. James of Compostella,” said Cacambo, “you were going to fight against the Jesuits of Paraguay; now let us go and fight for them; I know the road perfectly well; I’ll conduct you to their kingdom; they will be delighted with a captain that understands the Bulgarian drill; you will certainly make a prodigious fortune. If we cannot succeed in this world we may in another. It is a great pleasure to see new objects and perform new exploits.”

“Then you have been in Paraguay?” asked Candide. “Ay, marry, I have,” replied Cacambo. “I was a scout in the College of the Assumption, and am as well acquainted with the new government of the Los Padres as I am with the streets of Cadiz. Oh, it is an admirable government, that is most certain! The kingdom is at present upwards of three hundred leagues in diameter, and divided into thirty provinces; the fathers there are masters of everything, and the people have no money at all; this you must allow is the masterpiece of justice and reason. For my part, I see nothing so divine as the good fathers, who wage war in this part of the world against the troops of Spain and Portugal, at the same time that they hear the confessions of those very princes in Europe; who kill Spaniards in America and send them to Heaven at Madrid. This pleases me exceedingly, but let us push forward; you are going to see the happiest and most fortunate of all mortals. How charmed will those fathers be to hear that a captain who understands the Bulgarian military drill is coming to them.”

As soon as they reached the first barrier, Cacambo called to the advance guard, and told them that a captain wanted to speak to My Lord, the General. Notice was given to the main guard, and immediately a Paraguayan officer ran to throw himself at the feet of the Commandant to impart this news to him. Candide and Cacambo were immediately disarmed, and their two Andalusian horses were seized. The two strangers were conducted between two files of musketeers, the Commandant was at the further end with a three-cornered cap on his head, his gown tucked up, a sword by his side, and a half-pike in his hand; he made a sign, and instantly four and twenty soldiers drew up round the newcomers. A sergeant told them that they must wait, the Commandant could not speak to them; and that the Reverend Father Provincial did not suffer any Spaniard to open his mouth but in his presence, or to stay above three hours in the province.

“And where is the Reverend Father Provincial?” said Cacambo.

“He has just come from Mass and is at the parade,” replied the sergeant, “and in about three hours’ time you may possibly have the honor to kiss his spurs.”

“But,” said Cacambo, “the Captain, who, as well as myself, is perishing of hunger, is no Spaniard, but a German; therefore, pray, might we not be permitted to break our fast till we can be introduced to His Reverence?”

The sergeant immediately went and acquainted the Commandant with what he heard.

“God be praised,” said the Reverend Commandant, “since he is a German I will hear what he has to say; let him be brought to my arbor.”

He was a very handsome young man, round-faced, fair, and fresh-colored, his eyebrows were finely arched, he had a piercing eye, the tips of his ears were red, his lips vermilion, and he had a bold and commanding air; but such a boldness as neither resembled that of a Spaniard nor of a Jesuit. He ordered Candide and Cacambo to have their arms restored to them, together with their two Andalusian horses. Cacambo gave the poor beasts some oats to eat close by the arbor, keeping a strict eye upon them all the while for fear of surprise.

Candide having kissed the hem of the Commandant’s robe, they sat down to table.

“It seems you are a German,” said the Jesuit to him in that language.

“Yes, Reverend Father,” answered Candide.

As they pronounced these words they looked at each other with great amazement and with an emotion that neither could conceal.

“From what part of Germany do you come?” said the Jesuit.

“From the dirty province of Westphalia,” answered Candide. “I was born in the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh.”

“Oh heavens! is it possible?” said the Commandant. “What a miracle!” cried Candide.

“Can it be you?” said the Commandant. On this they both drew a few steps backwards, then running into each other’s arms, embraced, and wept profusely.

And so on. When the Jesuit order was suppressed by the Pope, the settlers got their opportunity and within a generation the Reductions were in ruins, a setback that the continent is only now beginning to recover from. A small part of the story is told in the 1986 film The Mission. Before they were engulfed, the Reduction Indians fought a final war against the Spaniards and Portuguese. The Jesuit most closely linked to this particular war effort was Fr Thaddeus Ennis (an Irishman according to Reductions historian R.B. Cunninghame- Graham. According to Philip Caraman, this was actually the Bohemian Fr. Tadeusz Enis.)

The Indians “owned” the Reductions. More than two centuries after their final defeat, their orchestral scores and manuscripts, tenaciously preserved from the cataclysm, have been restored and brought back into public performance with the help and encouragement of Polish priest Fr. Piotr Nawrot in Bolivia, in a further indication of indigenous revival across the continent. Teresa Krasowska’s new book provides a musicological analysis. It has an accompanying DVD recording of selected pieces performed in Lublin Cathedral.

The Irish Himmler?

In the above account of memorable massacres, where do the 1641 Ulster massacres fit in? At the end of World War II, about 12 million German civilians were expelled from various parts of Europe with the approval of the “international community”. Some of these were recent settlers in territories from which the original inhabitants had been massacred or expelled in the course of WW II—as in 17th century Ulster. Some of the Germans expelled at the end of the war had been complicit in, or approved of, or profited from, the Hitler-Himmler war-time atrocities and genocide—as in 17th century Ulster. But on the other hand, unlike 17th century Ulster, many of them had lived in peace in these places for many generations. Königsberg, city of Kant, Euler and Hilbert, is now the all-Russian Kaliningrad. About half a million of the former eastern Germans are known to have died in rapes, starvation, death marches, concentration camps, forced labour and massacres. Another two million or so “disappeared”, their fate unknown. The 1945 Decrees of Czech President Edvard Benes against the former Sudeten Germans, 700 years resident, are still in force.

Conor O’Mahony’s ideas were rejected in Ireland, and his book was ceremonially burned.

The Portadown massacre of Protestants has been singled out from the other horrors of that time. What about O’ Mahony’s genocide proposal? Did he propose to invade some other country, plunder it and wipe out much of its people? Or was he proposing retaliation against the agents and/or beneficiaries of such activity in his own country? Or, as in Kanpur, could we say that the innocent women and children of Portadown would never have come to any harm if they had not been induced to leave their own countries in the first place?

Was O’Mahony a Heinrich Himmler, an Edmund Spenser, an Arthur Chichester, a Charles Dickens, a Thomas Jefferson, an Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Winston Churchill, a Tadeusz Ennis, or an Edvard Benes?


Posted on May 20, 2011, in Ecumenism, International Ethics, Irish Church-State Relations, Irish Colleges on the Continent, Irish History, Irish Language, Irish Rebellion of 1641, Media Archives, Modernism, Persecution, Poetry, Portugal, Reformation, WW2. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. the attitude of england/britain towards the irish is well demonstrated in two legal cases of circa 1610. the much-vaunted ‘calvin’s case’ found that the law of a conquered christian nation survived to be taken into english common law. the ‘case of tanistry’, however, found that irish customary law (‘brehon law’) was void as barbaric custom, etc.

  2. Sean, yes and significantly both those cases were adjudicated in the reign of James I.

  1. Pingback: Competing Powers: Conor O’Mahony, Spain and England « Lux Occulta

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