The Guardian has an inside splash on an historical project that will keep the more obsessive among us in ammunition for years. Ever since 1641 Protestants Great Fear that Catholics will suddenly rise up and slaughter them has been part of the psyche. As Jonathan Bardon puts it, the sworn statements were written partly to justify the massive confiscation of land held by Catholics. But the fear has never left Protestants, sometimes with good cause, just as Catholic resentment at the land grab persists to this day, perhaps most vividly in Fermanagh. 1641 had a later significance. As Home Rule was emerging as a policy in the 1880s, 1641 controversy featured strongly in the politically polarised battle between the historians Froude and Lecky. Froude believed that history showed that the Irish, although they could be charming, were basically bloody minded and unfit for self government. JA Froude
there had been, was and ever will be but one way of governing Ireland, by putting authority exclusively in the hands of men of personal probity.. and loyal to the English connection.
WEH Lecky an Anglo-Irish liberal unionist, declared his greater objectivity
No one else in Ireland can supply the antidote ( to Froude).. for I have the ear of the English and am one of the very few persons in Ireland who are not under the influence of an overpowering craze..
Extracts from Owen Boycott in the Guardian
The 350-year-old writing is barely legible, the spelling across 19,000 pages of text erratic. The events they chronicle, however, poisoned Anglo-Irish relations for centuries, focusing attention on atrocities inflicted predominantly by dispossessed Irish Catholic rebels on Anglo-Scottish, Protestant settlers. The barbarities are still emblazoned on Orange Order banners and loyalist murals in Northern Ireland.
Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, one of the principal investigators at Trinity, believes that new language analysis methods will allow the documents to be explored “in a way we couldn’t have done 10 or 15 years ago during the Troubles”.
The rebellion, which broke out in October 1641, was a significant moment in the formation of identity in Ireland, she told the Guardian. Estimates of the numbers killed vary from 4,000 to up to 200,000. It began in Ulster but spread across the country. The depositions were ordered by government commissioners, many of the Church of Ireland clergymen, who recorded the victims’ testimonies.”They did it in the hope of obtaining evidence against the rebels and also as a crude form of insurance claim against lost property,” Ohlmeyer said
Contemporary historians verdict on 1641
Modern Ireland 1600-1972 Roy Foster pps 85 86
What people thought of that bloody autumn conditions events and attitudes .. for generations to come.. But the reliability of those accounts must remain suspect.. These resemble a pornography of violence and the may indicate more about contemporary mentality than actual massacres But there is more than enough evidence to indicate the horrific suffering of non-combatants.
Irish historians have been reluctant to accept these depositions as having any value.. Certainly much of the evidence is fantastic, exaggerated and even salacious.. but some of the statement are supported by other evidence.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London