Petitioners

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

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Remonstrances and complaints were sent to the faction who governed England, but all was in vain. The principal petitioners were the descendants of the English nobles; they were now, by a just retribution, suffering themselves the very miseries which they had so ruthlessly inflicted on the native Irish. The petitioners, says Mr. Prendergast,[1] were the noble and the wealthy, men of ancient English blood, descendants of the invaders—the FitzGeralds, the Butlers, the Plunkets, the Barnwalls, Dillons, Cheevers, Cusacks, names found appended to various schemes for extirpating or transplanting the Irish, after the subduing of Lord Thomas FitzGerald's rebellion in 1535—who were now to transplant as Irish. The native Irish were too poor to pay scriveners and messengers to the Council, and their sorrows were unheard; though under their rough coats beat hearts that felt as great pangs at being driven from their native homes as the highest in the land.

One of these English families demands special mention. Edmund Spenser's grandson was now commanded to transplant, as though he too had been "mere Irish;" and the very estate near Fermoy, which had been confiscated from the FitzGeralds seventy years before, and which the poet had obtained thus fraudulently, was now confiscated anew, and granted to Cromwell's soldiers. William Spenser protested; he pleaded his grandfather's name, he pleaded his grandfather's services, especially the odium he had incurred amongst the Irish by the way in which he had written of them; and lastly, William Spenser declares of himself that he had utterly renounced Popery since he came to years of discretion. But even Cromwell's interference could not save him; the soldiers were determined to have his lands, and they had them.

The commissioners appointed to conduct the transplanting had a busy time. They were overwhelmed with petitions: the heads of families demanding permission to return and save their crops; the women requesting to remain a few months longer for a similar purpose, when the men were not permitted to return. Hundreds of petitions were sent from aged and bedridden persons, to obtain leave to die in peace where they were. Then there were complaints from the officers who had charge of driving the people into the plantation; and above all, there was a charge, a grave charge, against the Irish people—they were as stiff-necked, wicked, and rebellious [2] as ever, and could not be brought to see that they were created for no other end than to be sacrificed for the benefit of English adventurers; and, moreover, they were declared to be a most treacherous race, for, years after, they might revenge all this kindness, by murdering the men who had taken possession of their lands and farms; and some had absolutely refused to transplant, and preferred death.

The manner in which these difficulties were met is thus recorded in a letter which was written for publication in London:—

"Athy, March 4, 1664-5. "I have only to acquaint you that the time prescribed for the transplantation of the Irish proprietors, and those that have been in arms and abettors of the rebellion, being near at hand, the officers are resolved to fill the gaols and to seize them; by which this bloody people will know that they [the officers] are not degenerated from English principles; though I presume we shall be very tender of hanging any except leading men; yet we shall make no scruple of sending them to the West Indies, where they will serve for planters, and help to plant the plantation that General Venables, it is hoped, hath reduced."

So examples were made. Mr. Edward Hetherington was hanged in Dublin, on the 3rd of April, 1655, with placards on his breast and back, on which were written, "For not transplanting;" and at the summer assizes of 1658, hundreds were condemned to death for the same cause, but were eventually sent as slaves to Barbadoes. The miseries of those who did transplant was scarcely less than those of the persons who were condemned to slavery. Some committed suicide, some went mad, all were reduced to the direst distress. The nobles of the land were as cruelly treated and as much distrusted as the poorest peasant. The very men who had laid down their arms and signed articles of peace at Kilkenny, were not spared; and the excuse offered was, that the Act of Parliament overrode the articles. One of the gentlemen thus betrayed was Lord Trimbleston, and his tomb may still be seen in the ruined Abbey of Kilconnell, with the epitaph:—

"HERE LIES MATHEW, LORD BARON OF TRIMBLESTON, ONE OF THE TRANSPLANTED."

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[1] Prendergast.—Cromwellian Settlement, p. 34. We can only recommend this volume to the consideration of our readers. It would be impossible, in anything less than a volume, to give the different details which Mr. Prendergast has brought together with so much judgment, and at the expense of years of research. We might have selected some cases from his work, but, on the whole, we think it will be more satisfactory to the reader to peruse it in its entirety. It may be obtained from our publishers, Messrs. Longmans and Co., Paternoster-row, London.

[2] Rebellious.—If the subject were not so serious, the way in which the officials write about the feelings of the Irish would almost provoke a smile. They say: "It is the nature of this people to be rebellious; and they have been so much the more disposed to it, having been highly exasperated by the transplanting work." Surely they could not be expected to be anything else but rebellious and exasperated!


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