Massacre at Wexford

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXX. ...continued

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These savage butcheries had the intended effect. The inhabitants of all the smaller towns fled at his approach, and the garrisons capitulated. Trim, Dundalk, Carlingford, and Newry, had yielded; but Wexford still held out. The garrison amounted to about 3,000 men, under the command of Colonel Sinnot, a brave loyalist. After some correspondence on both sides, a conference took place between four of the royalists and Cromwell, at which he contrived to bribe Captain Stafford, the Governor of the Castle. The conditions asked, preparatory to surrender, were liberty of conscience, and permission to withdraw in safety and with military honours.

Cromwell's idea of liberty of conscience was as peculiar as his idea of honour. He wrote to the Governor of Ross to say that he would not "meddle with any man's conscience;" but adds: "If by liberty of conscience you mean a liberty to exercise the Mass, I judge it best to use plain dealing, and to tell you now, where the Parliament of England have power, that will not be allowed of;"[1] which, in plain English, meant that he professed liberty of conscience, but allowed it only to such as agreed with himself. Of his estimation of honour, his dealings at Wexford afford a fair sample. As soon as he had found that Stafford could be bribed, he denounced the proposals of the garrison as abominable and impudent. The traitor opened the castle-gates, and the Parliamentary troops marched in. The besieged were amazed and panic-struck; yet, to their eternal credit, they made what even Cromwell admits to have been a "stiff resistance."

The massacre of Drogheda was renewed with all its horrors, and the treacherous General held in his hand all the time the formal offer of surrender which had been made by the townspeople and his own reply. He informs the Parliament that he did not intend to destroy the town, but his own letter reveals his treachery; and he congratulates his correspondents on the "unexpected providence" which had befallen them. He excuses the massacre on the plea of some outrages which had been offered to the "poor Protestants," forgetting what incomparably greater cruelties had been inflicted by the Protestants on the Catholics, both for their loyalty and for their religion.

MacGeoghegan mentions the massacre of two hundred women, who clung round the market-cross for protection.[2] His statement is not corroborated by contemporary authority; but there appears no reason to doubt that it may have taken place, from what has already been recorded at Drogheda on unquestionable authority. Owen Roe and Ormonde now leagued together for the royal cause, but their union was of short duration, for the Irish chieftain died almost immediately, and it was said, not without suspicion of having been poisoned by wearing a "pair of russet boots," sent to him by one Plunket, of Louth, who afterwards boasted of his exploit. His death was an irreparable loss to the Irish cause; for his noble and upright conduct had won him universal esteem, while his military prowess had secured him the respect even of his enemies. New Ross surrendered to Cromwell on the 18th of October, and Luke Taaffe, the Commander, joined Ormonde at Kilkenny. The garrisons of Cork, Youghal, Kinsale, and Bandon, revolted to Cromwell, through the intervention of Lord Broghill, son of the Earl of Cork, who became one of the leading Parliamentary officers. On the 24th of November, Cromwell attempted to take Waterford; but finding the place too strong for him, he marched on to Dungarvan. Here the garrison surrendered at discretion, and his troops proceeded to Cork through Youghal.

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[1] Allowed of.—Letters and Speeches, vol. i. p. 477.

[2] Protection.—Dr. French, the Catholic Bishop of Ferns, has given an account of the storming of Wexford, in a letter to the Papal Nuncio, in which he states that the soldiers were not content with simply murdering their victims, but used "divers sorts of torture." As he was then in the immediate neighbourhood, he had every opportunity of being correctly informed. Cromwell must have sanctioned this, if he did not encourage it.