Cromwell in Ireland (2)

Eleanor Hull
Cromwell in Ireland | start of chapter

In the south Cromwell’s luck seemed to have turned. His army was held up at Waterford, and the gallantry of Colonel Hugh O’Neill thwarted all his efforts to take Clonmel. But an enemy stronger and more pitiless than the Irish army was fighting against Cromwell. The plague had broken out and was spreading rapidly through the south of Ireland; it had been introduced, rumour said, by some Spaniards into the house in Galway from which Rinuccini had fled abroad, as though to show the Divine disapproval of the Nuncio’s treatment in Ireland.

Cromwell’s soldiers had, like all English regiments, been perpetually sick of the “country’s disease,” and hundreds of them were in hospital in Dublin. He himself had been “crazy in his health,” and he writes in his quaint fashion from before Ross:

“To the praise of God I speak it, I scarce know an officer of forty amongst us that hath not been sick, and how many considerable ones we have lost, is no little thought of heart to us.”[16]

Among this weakened army the plague took its heavy toll. Jones, the late Governor of Dublin, died of it, and Ireton, who was appointed to the command of the Parliamentary armies on Cromwell’s abrupt recall on May 29, 1650, while still besieging Clonmel, ended his period of office by catching the plague after the siege of Limerick and dying of it on November 26th, 1651.

The siege of Clonmel had been the great triumph of the campaign for the Irish troops. Writing to Broghill, Cromwell had to confess himself twice beaten.[17] Two thousand of his army died at Clonmel in a siege lasting from Christmas to May, and more than once Cromwell threatened to raise the siege and withdraw his army.

An English writer says that at Clonmel “he found the stoutest enemy his army had ever met with in Ireland, and never was seen so hot a storm of so long continuance or so gallantly defended, neither in England nor in Ireland.”[18] The garrison fought on till their ammunition failed, and then they slipped silently away in the night to Waterford, so that the enemy on its surrender on May 10, 1650, entered a city from which their prey had departed.

Cromwell had to report before his return to England that though a tract of land along the shore was in his hands, yet it had little depth into the country, while the escape of O’Neill’s army had added 7,000 effective horse and foot to Ormonde and his allies.[19] Hugh O’Neill had fallen back on Limerick, which held out for three months and then was lost by treachery. When Ireton’s troops entered the pestilence-stricken city, which surrendered on October 27, they found it in a state of horror; “the living seemed like walking skeletons,” too few and weak to bury the dead.

Conditions in Galway were equally terrible. Lady Fanshawe, whose husband was working for the return of Charles II to Ireland, reaching Galway from Youghal, found it almost depopulated by plague. In the “very clean dwelling” where she found lodging, nine persons had died during the previous six months, but the host prudently kept back this discouraging piece of information until they bade him farewell.[20]

John Lynch, who was living in Galway, his native town, during the Confederate Wars, says that at Drogheda, Dublin, and Cork the burial-grounds could not contain the victims of the pestilence, and they had to be interred in pits. Of the sixty thousand English and Scottish soldiers sent to Ireland the great majority died of plague and distemper; in a few months Cromwell’s army of twelve thousand was reduced to less than half.

Events moved fast after Cromwell’s departure. A month later the astonishing news arrived in Ireland that Charles II had gone to Scotland, accepted the Scottish Covenant, declared the Peace of Ormonde with the Irish null and void, and rejected all compromise with the Irish Catholics. This astounding act of treachery on the part of the King, who had up to this moment been contemplating throwing himself on the support of the Irish, and was daily expected over to raise his standard and attempt the recovery of England from Ireland, threw the whole kingdom into a ferment.

Ormonde at first thought it was a forgery. The clergy, on the other hand, accused him of being a party to the transaction, and insisted on a conference at Galway with the Commissioners of Trust, who supported Ormonde, but it led to no result, and Ormonde determined to leave the country and find out for himself what the King’s intentions were. At the request of the Assembly he appointed the Earl of Clanricarde Viceroy in his absence, hoping that a Catholic Deputy might smooth the present difficulties, and on December 11 he sailed for France, to which safe shelter Charles had now returned.

He was followed by Colonels Vaughan, Wogan, Warren, and many other Royalists, and by “that treacherous panther” Inchiquin, who, like so many in his day, changed his religion and his loyalties to suit the whim of the moment or the chances of being on the winning side. Though reiterating their professions of fidelity to the Crown, the unrest of the country found expression in the expeditions of Viscount Taaffe, Sir Nicholas Plunket, and Jeffrey Brown to the Duke of Lorraine, who had long been considering a descent on Ireland in aid of Charles II, urged on by the intriguing Queen Mother from Paris. The arrangements for his coming were nearly completed, and at first the Viceroy seems to have thought well of the proposal; but a letter falling into his hands in which the Duke was styled “Protector of Ireland,” and an agreement proposed by which all the chief towns and forts of the south and west of Ireland were to be held by him in trust for the repayment of moneys disbursed, decided Clanricarde to put a peremptory end to the whole proceeding.

The Duke’s demands had risen as the correspondence proceeded, and it was evident that he intended to impose his authority upon the kingdom. But the towns were falling one after another into the hands of the Parliament. Ludlow had been made Commander-in-Chief on Ireton’s death, and even Clanricarde’s efforts were unavailing to stay the break-up of the Royalist party. The Viceroy was universally trusted and respected; it is said of him that no man ever loved his country more or his friend better, but the surrender of Galway, his native town, which he had believed to be impregnable, to Sir Charles Coote and the Parliament on May 12, was followed by that of the other garrisons in Connacht. Finding his efforts to rally his party unavailing, he retired to England in March 1652 and there died soon afterward.

Galway was the last town to enter the conflict of 1641 and the last to surrender. The country had been undermined by treachery constantly fomented by the Puritan party, and no one could trust his neighbour. In July 1652 Fleetwood, Cromwell’s son-in-law, was sent over as Commander-in-Chief, and in the following year Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector, and the new military despotism of the Protectorate replaced the old military despotism of the Crown.

The Protector turned his attention to the business of “settling” the countries of Scotland and Ireland, now definitely in his power. Charles II had suffered the humiliations imposed on him by the Scottish Covenanters for nothing.

The Covenanters, under Leslie, had been routed at Dunbar on September 3, 1650, and Charles had again taken flight to the Continent after his defeat at Worcester on the anniversary of Dunbar in the following year. The risings in the King’s favour were crushed with merciless rigour; the leaders suffered for their indiscretion on the scaffold; and the Royalists were forced to pay a tenth of their income to support the tyranny that was crushing them. In 1652 the “Settlement” of Ireland was taken vigorously in hand.

The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland was a vast measure of confiscation, under the excuse of punishment for the “massacre” of 1641, by which to satisfy the legal claims of two classes; on the one hand, the English who had in March 1642 subscribed to the costs of the Irish war, on the promise of receiving compensation in Irish land; and on the other hand, the soldiers and officers who had fought in Ireland and whose pay was long in arrears, who also were to be paid off in Irish settlement lands. The former were called ‘Adventurers’ and were in the main citizens of London, Puritan shopkeepers and tradesmen, who looked to advance the cause of Protestantism and to secure a good return for their money at the end of the war by this investment in rebel lands, thus forfeited beforehand. Some of the claimants had become entitled to extra lands by the ‘doubling ordinance’ by which they had been induced to pay up part of their loans at an earlier date in consideration of receiving larger properties in return. In practice it was found impossible to fulfil these special claims; there was not enough land to go round.[21]

Besides the Londoners there were a considerable number of applicants from the western counties of England, which had always been closely associated with Ireland by trade, and whose sympathies had been aroused by the arrival of numbers of refugees who had fled from Ireland in the early days of the 1641 rebellion to take shelter among them.

It was only by adopting some sweeping plan such as that suggested by the Earl of Cork during his Munster sessions in 1642, some months after the outbreak of the rebellion, that these extensive claims could be satisfied. He had indicted, in one comprehensive charge, all the leading Catholic gentry of the South of Ireland.

“Lords Viscount Roche, Mountgarret, Ikerrin and Muskerry, Barons Dunboyne and Castleconnell, Richard Butler, brother of the Earl of Ormonde … with all other baronets, knights, esquires, gentlemen, freeholders, and Popish priests, in number above 1100, that either dwell or have entered or done any rebellious act in those two counties.”

He adds that

“this course of proceedings was not by them suspected and doth much startle and terrify them; for now they begin to take notice, though too late, that they are in a good forwardness to be attainted and all their estates confiscated to the corruption of their blood and extirpation of them and their families.”[22]

These sessions were held in Waterford and Cork, when the South had only recently shown signs of disturbance or sympathy with the insurgents in the North. The Act of August 1652 carried into execution the designs outlined by Lord Cork ten years before. It was a deliberate proposal by the Puritan Parliament to destroy the monarchical principle in Ireland by uprooting the whole of the Catholic and some of the Protestant gentry of Ireland, most of whom had fought for the King long after the loyalists of England had given up his cause.

By the intolerable conditions imposed by the Bill they were to be forced to fly the country or submit to impoverishment, while the bulk of their properties were to be transferred to a new body of Puritan owners[23] drawn from a different class, for the most part strangers to the country and strongly prejudiced against its inhabitants. Wholesale confiscations of loyalist and Church properties were also going on in England, enlarging as the bills for the wars of the Parliament against the Sovereign came in, but nothing so sweeping as the practical resale of the whole country was contemplated elsewhere. The much-advertised massacre made it possible in Ireland.

Some years later, in September, 1658, a Commission was appointed to try those directly involved in the rebellion and accused of acts of murder. It seems to have been fairly conducted, numberless witnesses being called on both sides; and though much of the evidence given was coloured by the exaggerations which stories of terror necessarily acquire when repeated after years of embellishment, there was an evident desire to get at the truth and to act with justice. Sir Phelim O’Neill had been executed, chiefly on the ground of complicity in the murder of Lord Caulfeild. He atoned for a reckless life by the courage of his death. On the scaffold he refused to buy his life by accusing Charles I of having instigated the rebellion.

There had been other executions, chief among them that of Lord Maguire. Now the Commissioners made a number of acquittals, far too many being declared innocent to please planters who were hungry for the lands of the accused. Lord Muskerry, who was acquitted, gave a remarkable testimony to the justice of the Commission. He had suffered so many miseries and humiliations during his sojourn in Spain and Portugal, in raising troops for the Peninsula, that he had returned and thrown himself on the mercy of the Parliament. On his acquittal he exclaimed:

“I met many crosses in Spain and Portugal. I could get no rest till I came hither. … When I consider that in this court I came clear out of that blackness of blood by being so sifted, it is more to me than my estate. I can live without my estate but not without my credit.”

He regained most of his property after the Restoration.