The Other 9-11

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.

America’s Birthday


Independence Day, July 4th is America’s biggest holiday.  It’s her birthday; but it doesn’t mark the day she won her independence, it marks the day when it was declared.  And the Irish were there.  Great numbers of them filled the ranks of Washington’s patriot army from foot soldiers to high ranking officers, and those who were unable to suffer the hardship of a colonial soldier, contributed in other ways.  The military won the war, but the ones who led the march toward the battlefield were the merchants, and community leaders who really shaped our destiny, for they were the ones who dreamt the dream, organized its creation, and supported its success.  And there were many Irish among them as well.

In the late 1700s, when increased Crown exploitation drove the colonists to protest, among the loudest were the Irish who had no great love for the Crown to begin with.  That was significant for there were many Irish in the colonies at the time; they had been coming since the 1650s.  The first noticeable influx into New England occurred in 1652 with the arrival of 400 Irish children sent by Cromwell to be sold as slaves.  From that time on, the shipment of men, women and children as indentured servants was common practice.  Among the first to come of their own volition were those who fought the English theft of their lands and ended up hunted men; they were followed by those Catholics and Presbyterians who fled the Penal Laws and persecution by the Church of England; some of whom were businessmen who sought to escape the economic oppression fostered on them by the Crown in order to benefit their British competitors.  The suppression of the Irish wool and linen trades reduced the population of Ulster by half a million; and they came to America with their looms and spinning wheels.

In the beginning, they came in such large numbers that one Massachusetts Court, fearing the “malignant spirit that has from time to time been manifest by the Irish against the English“, prohibited the Irish from its jurisdiction, and fined anyone who should buy an Irishman and bring him in.  But they came anyway.  Some altered their names and some settled in outlying areas like the ancestor of John Hancock who came from Co Down, and Capt. Daniel Patrick and Robert Feake – first white settlers in what is now Greenwich Conn.  They settled in New Hampshire, where they founded the town of Concord; in Vermont, where their sons would lend strength to the Green Mountain Boys led by Irish American John Stark and Limerick-born Matt Lyons; in New Hamphire where Capt Maginnis commanded the militia; and in other areas from Maine, home of the O’Briens who would capture the 1st British ship in the war that was yet to come, to Pennsylvania, founded by William Penn who had grown up in Co Cork.

They were a considerable presence in many communities.  In 1728, for example, it was reported that most of the 4,500 who landed at New Castle, Delaware were Irish.  Philadelphia likewise reported that 3,500 people from Ireland had arrived in the first two weeks of August, 1772.  They had obviously been arriving for a while since the city had a Hibernian Club as early as 1729; it later became the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, whose first President was  Stephen Moylan of Co Cork – soon to be one of Washington’s top Generals.  In 1772 and 73, Irish immigration to the American colonies was more than 18,500 and they were no friends of British colonialism.

There was no shortage of leaders either and men like Matthew Lyons, Patrick Henry, and other Irish and Irish American orators used their eloquence to urge separation from England.  When confrontations became frequent, it seemed that the Irish were always in the middle of it.  Among those killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770 was Irish-born Patrick Carr; Boston Tea Party participants met at an inn owned by man named Duggan; and the tea was dumped at Griffin’s Wharf by a group dressed as Indians, some of whom had a notably Irish accent.  While young Irishmen rushed to arms in support of Washington, Irish civilians, businessmen, and merchants participated in the deliberations of Councils and in Congress, and raised money to feed and clothe the army.  Irish-born Oliver Pollack personally raised over $300,000.00 – a considerable fortune at the time.

On July 1, 1776 after a year of hostilities, the leaders met to discuss their options.  A resolution was presented which read, “Be it resolved, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”   After much heated debate, the vote was indecisive.  They met again on July 2nd to continue the debate and finally the ayes carried the question.  On July 3rd, John Adams wrote to his wife that July 2nd was the most memorable day in the history of America and would be celebrated forever.  However, approval of the final draft of the document was not made until July 4th.

The Philadelphia State House was packed, despite the sweltering heat, as Secretary Charles Thomson of Co. Derry read the formal document that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Livingston had composed, and that he – Thomson – had drafted.  It was a declaration explaining why their action was justified.  After a full day of temper tantrums, modifying copy, shouting matches, further amendments and even more debate, Secretary Thomson recorded the changes, and America’s Declaration of Independence was complete.  Only Hancock and Thomson signed that day; the formal copy would not be ready for all signatures until July 19th.  Signing that Declaration carried enormous risk, for to the British it was an act of treason, punishable by death.  As Benjamin Franklin put it to the delegates, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  Among the courageous signers were 3 native-born Irish: James Smith, George Taylor and Matthew Thornton and many of Irish descent.  Philadelphia printer Charles Dunlop of Co Tyrone rolled out copies (now famed as the rare Dunlop Broadsides) that were snatched up before the ink was dry.  On July 8th the people first heard that document read – in an Irish accent – as Secretary Thomson read it to an anxiously awaiting public.

The event marked by the 4th of July is therefore, not the winning, but the declaring of America’s independence.  There would be many more years of struggle and sacrifice before the last battle was fought on March 10, 1783, but America had made her stand.  That last battle, by the way, saw Irish-born Commodore John Barry defeat the British ship Sybil.  He had been carrying a cargo of gold with which Congress would establish the new Bank of North America with the help of Irish-born Thomas Fitzsimmons.

Yes, the Irish were there, and the fact that they made loyal Americans is evidenced in the writings of Marquis de Chastellux who wrote after the revolution, “An Irishman, the instant he sets foot on American soil, becomes an American.  During the whole of the war, the English and Scots were treated with distrust, even with the best of attachment for the cause, but the native of Ireland stood in need of no other certificate than his accent.  While the Irish emigrant was fighting for America on land and sea, Irish merchants purses were always open and their persons devoted to the country’s cause, and on more than one imminent occasion Congress itself, and the very existence of America, owed its preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish.”

In Ireland, where funds were raised to support the American cause, the hopes of the Irish were with America to such an extent that America’s success inspired a liberation movement in Ireland and in 1798, the Irish attempted to duplicate the American example.  Unfortunately they were too close to England and it failed, and though young America was in no position to help the Irish, her hopes were with them.  President Washington wrote that “the Irish need that critical moment to shake off the badges of slavery they have worn for so long.”

It was perhaps best said by George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of the beloved first President and Martha Washington.  In 1828, he said, “Ireland’s generous sons, alike in the days of our gloom, and of our glory, shared in our misfortunes and joined in our successes; With undaunted courage (they) breasted the storm which once threatened to overwhelm us; and with aspirations deep and fervent for our cause, whether in the shock of liberty’s battles, or in the feeble expiring accents of famine and misery, cried from their hearts God Save America.  Then honored be the good old service of the sons of Erin in the war of Independence.  Let the shamrock be entwined with the laurels of the Revolution, and truth and justice, guiding the pen of history, inscribe on the tablets of American remembrance ‘Eternal Gratitude to Irishmen.’

Today, it might seem that many of our elected representatives have forgotten the debt owed to the Irish, but we haven’t.  Remember that as you hang out the stars and stripes on the Fourth of July.  Many Irish fought and died so that you would have the right to do so, so do it with pride.  And it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you made a copy of this history and gave it to your children to bring in to their teachers.