In 1649, a bitter struggle between England’s King Charles and his Puritan Parliament erupted in a civil war ending with victory for the Puritan anti-monarchists led by Oliver Cromwell. King Charles was beheaded and the newly appointed Council of Officers turned their well-trained, war toughened, fanatically anti-Catholic, army of zealots toward Ireland under the ruthless Cromwell. This was the foundation of the British Army. Prior to this time, freelance fighters and soldiers of fortune were recruited for specific campaigns. British Major-General Frank Kitson wrote in his book, Low Intensity Operations, When the regular army was first raised in the 17th century, `suppression of the Irish’ was coupled with the defense of the Protestant Religion as one of the two main reasons for its existence.
On August 14th, 1649, Cromwell landed at Dublin with 10,000 foot-soldiers, 4,000 cavalry, and sufficient artillery to crush all Irish and those loyalists who had supported the former King. On September 11, Cromwell began his campaign at Drogheda. For two days, 3,000 men defended the town against the onslaught until a breech in the walls allowed Cromwell’s army to storm in. What followed was to become the trademark of his conquests across Ireland. Under his personal orders, the army indiscriminately slaughtered the defenseless civilian population; for five days men, women, and children were hunted and butchered. On October 2nd, he called for a national day of thanksgiving to celebrate the dreadful slaughter of which he later wrote, The enemy were about 3,000 strong in the town. I believe we have put to the sword the whole number….. In this very place (Saint Peter’s Church) a thousand of them were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety.
On October 11th, after reducing the northern strongholds in quick succession, Cromwell swept south to Wexford where, as Lingard states in his History of England, Wexford was abandoned to the mercy of the assailants. The tragedy recently enacted at Drogheda was renewed. No distinction was made between the defenseless inhabitants and the armed soldiers, nor could the shrieks and prayers of the 300 females who had gathered round the great cross in the market-place, preserve them from the swords. Cromwell reduced the garrisons of Arklow, Inniscorthy and Ross on his way to Wexford. After Wexford, he attacked Waterford, laid waste to the cities of County Cork and rested at Youghal awaiting fresh supplies from England.
In January, 1650, Cromwell took the field again and reduced Fethard, Cashel, and Carrick. At Clonmel, he was met by Hugh O’Neill, nephew of Owen Roe, and a small garrison of 1,500 men. They put up the last major resistance to the Puritan army. By May, Cromwell left for England after the bloodiest campaign ever seen by the Irish. He left his son Henry, and General Ireton in charge. For the next two years, scattered pockets of resistance were systematically wiped out.
In 1652, after three years of slaughter, the last of the armed Irish Clansmen accepted Cromwell’s terms of surrender. In August, the Cromwellian Act of Settlement was passed stating that all property holders and land-owners who could not prove that they had supported Cromwell were to forfeit all properties and land and remove themselves west to the poorest and most barren part of Ireland or face execution. To Hell or To Connaught – a phrase that conjures up bitter feelings to this day – was the choice that the English gave. This amounted to the seizure of a fortune in personal property and over 11 million acres of the best land in Ireland. English speculators, who had advanced monies to raise the army for service in Ireland, were rewarded with confiscated land. Unable to pay its thousands of soldiers, the English government paid its debts in Irish land; thus was Ireland made to pay for her own conquest.
The Irish were given six months to move to Connaught. Some took to the hills and lived as outlaws, raiding the English settlements. More than 34,000 Irish went abroad to chance their fortunes and form the Irish Brigades of foreign armies. The ordinary Irish – that is, those who owned no property or land – were left to form a force of farm workers and laborers for their new English masters with the stipulation that they were not permitted to live in towns. It is at this time in Irish history that the descendants of the earlier Norman conquerors became as Irish as the Irish (never more Irish) since they were now dispossessed just as their ancestors had dispossessed the native Irish. They were now in the same social, economic, and political position as the native Irish. And the native Irish? They moved a step lower on the socio-economic ladder, and were molded into a caste of itinerant peasant laborers, forced to live in the woods and fields away from the towns in their own land.
Another sad result of Cromwell’s slaughter was the swarms of widows and orphaned children – starving, unemployable survivors of both sexes – who wandered everywhere. Some of their descendants wander Ireland still, but in 1652, the problem had to be dealt with. The English solved the problem by rounding them up and selling them to commercial agents to dispose of. A market was soon found for these poor souls and they were shipped to Bermuda, Barbados, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Virginia and other English colonies where they were sold as slaves. As far back as 1633, in the narrative of the voyage of Jesuit Father Andrew White and associates in the ships Dove and Ark from England to Maryland in Lord Baltimore’s expedition, we are told that on the way over they put in at Monserrat where they found a colony of Irishmen who had been banished from Virginia on account of professing the Catholic Faith (see Old Catholic Maryland, p. 14). London merchants found this traffic in flesh to be such a lucrative business that they were soon kidnaping other Irish men, women, and children to expand their trade. Records show, during the years 1651 to 1654, 6,400 young men and women were sent to Barbados and the English colonies in America; 2,000 more boys and girls were shipped the following year, and it has been estimated that in the year 1660 there were 10,000 Irish who had been distributed thus among the different English colonies in America (see American Catholic Quarterly Review, IX, 37). Of the total number thus shipped out of Ireland across the main, the estimates vary between 60,000 and 100,000 [Lingard, History of England“, X (Dolman ed., 1849), 366].
Those who ended up in theses colonies endured a hell on earth. Elderly men and women were sold first. Then the children were dragged kicking and screaming to the auction platform. They were stripped and examined. Rich planters and their wives required young boys as pages and young girls as servants, but homosexuals and pedophiles frequented the auctions buying children whose fate would be years of debauchery until they became too old for such purposes and they were sold to the brothels in Bridgetown for the pleasure of visiting sailors. Worst of all were the children who were made part of a cruel plan to develop a ‘master slave’. Irish children were considered trainable, but too susceptible to sunburn to make good workers in the hot sun; male Mandingo slaves from Africa were considered strongest, but less intelligent. To breed a perfect slave, Irish girls as young as 12-years old, who had never seen a black man before and some who couldn’t even understand English, were sent to breeding sheds where they were impregnated by Mandingo men until they too, by their early twenties, were considered ‘worn out’ and sold to the brothels. When a volcano destroyed a portion of Montserrat in 1995, files saved from the library on the island documented lineage records of those matings, kept in the same way as pedigrees are kept for dogs and thoroughbred horses. My God, those poor children!
Of all the English plantations of Ireland, Cromwell’s was the worst. But, the greatest of all plantations was the plantation of an unforgiving hatred in the hearts of the Irish, for the Irish never permitted themselves to forget it. To this day, the curse of Cromwell remains one of the harshest invectives an Irishman can utter. As we proud Irish-Americans prayerfully remember the tragedy of the twin towers on 9-11-2001, say a prayer for the victims of the tragedy that befell Ireland on 9-11-1649.