The Clearing of Galway (from The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland)

Extract from The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, by John Patrick Prendergast

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O'Connor

[One of the measures of the English parliament during the Protectorate was to sell several of the Irish towns in order to satisfy the demands of the soldiery and public creditors. The results of this step was that the old inhabitants were "cleared out" in order to make way for the new immigrants from England. In most cases the persons displaced were themselves originally of the English race. The following extract describes this process in the capital of Connaught.]

Galway seems to have been, even before the English conquest, the seat of foreign traders; and some time after the invasion of Henry II. the town is found inhabited by a number of families, all of French and English blood, who refused to intermarry with the Irish. Their relations with the native race may best be understood by one of the corporation by-laws, which enacts (A.D. 1518) that none of the inhabitants should admit any of the Burkes, M'Williams, Kellys, or any other sept into their houses, to the end "that neither O ne Mac should strutte ne swagger throughe the streets of Gallway." In 1641 the townsmen were all English. Richard Martin, one of the principal inhabitants, in announcing from Galway the outbreak of the Irish in the neighbourhood to Lord Ormond, informs him (December, 1641) that the town is disfurnished with arms and munitions, so that to defend those maiden walls they had but naked bodies; and in allusion to a rumour current that they would be allowed none, he says, God forbid it should be true. "If it be (said he) we are very unfortunate to be hated by some powerful neighbours for being all English; and to have our four hundred years' constant and unsuspected loyalty without the help of a garrison (until the last year, when there was no need for it) forgotten and buried."

Galway was the last fortress of the Irish in the war of 1641, and surrendered to Ludlow on the 20th March, 1652, on articles, securing the inhabitants their residences within the town, and the enjoyment of their houses and estates. The taxation was soon so great, that many of the townspeople quitted their habitations, and removed their cattle, unable to endure it. Consequently the contribution fell the heavier on the remaining inhabitants. This tax was collected from them every Saturday by sound of trumpet; and if not instantly paid, the soldiery rushed into the house, and seized what they could lay hands on. The sound of this trumpet every returning Saturday shook their souls with terror like the trumpet of the day of judgment. On the 15th March, 1653, the commissioners for Ireland, remarking upon the disaffection thus exhibited, confiscated the houses of those that had deserted the town. Those that fled were wise in time. On 23d July, 1655, all the Irish were directed to quit the town by the 1st of November following, the owners of houses, however, to receive compensation at eight years' purchase; in default the soldiers were to drive them out. On 30th October this order was executed. All the inhabitants, except the sick and bedrid, were at once banished, to provide accommodation for such English Protestants whose integrity to the state should entitle them to be trusted in a place of such importance; and Sir Charles Coote on the 7th November received the thanks of the government for clearing the town, with a request that he would remove the sick and bedrid as soon as the season might permit, and take care that the houses while empty were not spoiled by the soldiery. Among the sick and bedrid was not counted Robert French, a cripple, though not able to stand or sit without the assistance of another. He was helped out of the town by George French, and they betook themselves to a village in the country. They had converted all their little substance into money, in hopes to bestow the same in some bargain of advantage to them. But their banishment was peculiarly unfortunate. On the 10th June, 1664, in the dead time of the night, they were plundered of £44, 12s. in money, and of gold rings, spoons, and other things to the value of £20, and of their evidences, and writings of great value, by four unknown and disguised horsemen, who, upon fresh pursuit, could not be discovered in the country—only of late one of them was hanged in Galway. Ever since they were in a miserable condition, living on the charity of friends. They accordingly asked liberty of the lord-lieutenant and council to live again and abide in Galway, out of the danger of further plundering.

Mathew Quin and Mary Quin (otherwise Butler) his wife, asked liberty of the lord-lieutenant to clear the graveyard of Saint Francis's Abbey, without the walls in the north Franchises of the town of Galway, of the stones laid in heaps upon the graves by the late usurped power. It was the burial place of the petitioners and their ancestors since the reign of James I., and of very many inhabiting the town and country near it. The late Abbey was demolished by the usurpers, and the monuments defaced and taken away, and the stones laid down in great heaps upon the graves. So that the inhabitants who ought to be buried there cannot be interred in their ancestral vaults and graves without great charge and trouble. By such desolation the town was made ready for newer English to inhabit.

On 22d July, 1656, the commissioners for Ireland moved his highness, the lord-protector, and council of state, that some considerable merchants of London might be urged to occupy it, to revive its trade and repair the town, which was falling into ruin, being almost depopulated, and the houses falling down for want of inhabitants. But the city of London had known enough of Ireland. Star-chambered in 1637 for their neglect at Derry, and "censured in" £70,000, and their charter suspended, and their whole plantation effaced by the Irish war in 1641, they would venture no more. The lord-protector and council therefore turned to two less experienced cities. There was a large debt of £10,000 due to Liverpool for their loss and suffering for the good cause. The eminent deservings and losses of the city of Gloucester also had induced the parliament to order them £10,000, to be satisfied in forfeited lands in Ireland. The commissioners for Ireland now offered forfeited houses in Galway, rated at ten years' purchase, to the inhabitants of Liverpool and Gloucester, to satisfy their respective debts, and they were both to arrange about the planting of it with English Protestants. To induce them to accept the proposal, the commissioners enlarged upon the advantages of Galway. It lay open for trade with Spain, the Straits, the West Indies, and other places; no town or port in the three nations, London excepted, was more considerable. It had many noble uniform buildings of marble, though many of the houses had become ruinous by reason of the war, and the waste done by the impoverished English dwelling there. No Irish were permitted to live in the city, nor within three miles of it. If it were only properly inhabited by English, it might have a more hopeful gain by trade than when it was in the hands of the Irish that lived there. There was never a better opportunity of undertaking a plantation and settling manufactures there than the present, and they suggested that it might become another Derry.

The bait took. On 17th February, 1657-58, the houses in Flood Street, Key Street, Middle Street, Little Gate Street, south side of High Street, and other parts adjoining, valued to £1518, 8s. 9d. by the year, were set out to the well-affected inhabitants of Gloucester. Others of like value were set out to those of Liverpool. But no new Gloucester or Liverpool arose at Galway. Nor did her ancient crowds of shipping return to her bay.

For it is a comparatively easy thing to unsettle a nation or ruin a town, but not so easy to resettle the one, or to restore the other to prosperity, when ruined; and Galway, once frequented by ships with cargoes of French and Spanish wines, to supply the wassailings of the O'Neils and O'Donels, the O'Garas and the O'Kanes, her marble palaces handed over to strangers, and her gallant sons and dark-eyed daughters banished, remains for 200 years a ruin; her splendid port empty, while her "hungry air" in 1862 becomes the mock of the official stranger.

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John Patrick Prendergast