Cromwell in Ireland (3)

Eleanor Hull
Cromwell in Ireland | start of chapter

The debt claimed by the Adventurers amounted to £336,000, to be paid in lands the position of which was to be determined by lot. Ten counties of the richest part of Ireland—Limerick, Tipperary, King’s and Queen’s Counties, Meath and Westmeath, Down, Antrim, Armagh, and Waterford—some of them planted with English and Scottish during the last century, were now to be handed over to the newcomers, halved between the army and the Adventurers. Louth was reserved as additional security to the purchasers, and several counties, mostly in the North and in Leinster, with Kerry, were put aside as additional security to the soldiers for arrears of pay due to them.

The counties of Dublin, Kildare, Carlow, and Cork, with all Church lands, were held back for bestowal on notable regicides and other favoured persons. It was eventually found that even these vast forfeitures, which included the whole of Ireland except Connacht and Clare, the two districts reserved for the uprooted inhabitants, were not sufficient to pay off the long-standing arrears of pay, and portions of Sligo and Mayo, intended for the dispossessed landowners, were eventually added to them.

This great confiscation of a whole country is usually spoken of as a transplanting of the Irish to make way for English. It affected all the Catholic Irish gentry, especially those who had been in arms between October, 1641, and September, 1643. But it was land that was wanted, and in their effort to find lands to go round the hundreds of creditors who were pressing their claims, it suited those in authority to sweep together Irish, old English and Scottish, those who had resisted the rebellion as well as those who had taken part in it. The Settlement was largely an act of vengeance on those who had been loyal to the King.

Protestants and Presbyterians as well as Catholics were evicted, but it was the Catholic gentry of English descent who suffered most. Among the list of persons excluded by name from pardon both as to life and estate were the noblest families in the country, beginning with the Earl of Ormonde, the only Protestant of his family, Lords Clanricarde, Mayo, Castlehaven, Fingall, Roscommon, and Westmeath—Royalists who had throughout declared their abhorrence of the rebellion; Viscounts Iveagh and Montgomery of the Ardes, of Scottish blood; the Barons of Slane, of Louth, of Athenry, belonging to the old English families of the Flemings, Plunketts, and Berminghams; Richard Bellings, who had resisted the old Irish party, and drawn up many declarations of loyalty to the King; and Bramhall, Protestant Bishop of Derry.

Of old Irish descent were Sir Phelim O’Neill, Muskerry, Inchiquin, the O’Conor Don, Moores, Byrnes, O’Tooles, and O’Flahertys, some only of whom were actively engaged in the rebellion, even if they were sympathetic to the insurgents.[24]

Lord Antrim, who had raised the Irish army which fought for the King under Montrose and retrieved his waning fortunes, had his whole estate taken from him, but he was later allowed a small subsidy for services at Ross, where he appears to have advised surrender to the Parliamentary forces. It was only after years of struggle that he was restored in 1663 as an “innocent papist,” one of four so favoured in the North of Ireland; two of the others being Sir Henry Magennis and Sir Henry O’Neill.[25]

Next to those who were held to have forfeited the right to life and property came various grades of supposed guilt, ranging from those who had been in command or actively engaged against the Puritan forces to those whose homes happened to have been anywhere within the quarters occupied by the rebels, even if they had taken no part whatever in the fighting but had merely lived quietly at home. None could entirely escape who had not shown “constant good affection” to the Parliamentary cause throughout the entire period, and few indeed there were who could pretend to have been thoroughly consistent in their attachment to Puritanism.

All others forfeited from one-third to two-thirds of their properties, receiving an equivalent to the remainder, on paper, in Connacht or Clare. But it was soon found that these districts did not provide enough land for all claimants, especially as the claims of the soldiers cut off large slices even of these lands, pushing the new settlers out of the few habitable districts into the waste and mountainous lands beyond them.

There were noblemen like Lord Trimleston, who had the rich fattening grounds of Co. Meath; Lord Ikerrin, with farms and ripening cornfields in Tipperary; the Talbots of Malahide; the Cheevers, with a fine estate at Monkstown, near Dublin. These found themselves, at the beginning of harvest, ordered to transplant to the west, and though an attempt was made to give them better lands than their less fortunate neighbours, as coming from the richest pasture and agricultural portions of Ireland, this arrangement could only be very imperfectly carried out.

The time given to transplant was too short for niceties, and the claims and complaints far too many to receive adequate attention. The Act was passed in August 1652, after which a hasty survey was made and the lands balloted for in London in September 1653. By May 1, 1654, all removals had to be accomplished by the inhabitants in possession, to make way for the incoming owners. By carriage, by cart, or on foot they must, under pain of death if found after that date on the east of the Shannon, transport to Connacht and make their settlements there. A few terrible examples warned others that the threats of punishment for lingering beyond the allotted date were no empty ones. Nevertheless, like all schemes contrary to humanity and reason, the plan broke down.

Already when Fleetwood came over in September 1652 he saw that the task of removing the proprietors and their families and tenants from the three most fertile provinces of Ireland to one province of which a large part was uninhabitable was beyond the power of any Government to accomplish. The removals had to be made during the winter, and there were hundreds of delicate women, young children, and invalids to whom this would mean death; many of the cattle were not in condition to travel; the harvest was in the fields, waiting to be cut; and there would be no one to sow for the next year, for the evicted gentry were not likely to plant for the men who were evicting them. Delays had to be granted for all these reasons, and in order to permit the heads of families to go first and build some sort of shelters for their households. They were not permitted to take refuge in the towns, which were expressly reserved, with three miles round each. No transplanted person, were he the highest in the land, might enter these areas.

Aged great ladies, like Lady Thurles, Ormonde’s mother, and Lady Dunsany, were particularly hard to move. Though agents and Adventurers were clamouring at their doors they declined to stir. Lady Dunsany boldly said that if her lands were wanted they would have to carry her out of them. Lady Thurles had rescued and supported the English during the rebellion, numbers of whom found refuge in her house. She had subscribed two heavy loans to the English army and when pillaged by the insurgents she had welcomed an English army to Thurles. Even the Commissioners found her “a very deserving person.” But her home was “in enemy quarters,” and she had four thousand fertile acres; she was a Catholic in religion, and with so many damning qualities against her it was only her personal friendship with Cromwell that secured for her, as a special act of grace, one reprieve after another from transplanting. Lady Ormonde was in much the same position. It could not be forgotten that she “had commanded her own servants out of their beds” during the rebellion to accommodate the distressed English with whom she filled the rooms of Kilkenny Castle; she was given Dunmore House and a pension, of which she only received a fraction, on condition of giving nothing to her husband. But these were exceptional cases.

More fortunate were the poorer Irish. If they had no real or personal estate to the value of £10 they might, by submitting to the Commonwealth and living peacefully and obediently, obtain pardon. Husbandmen, ploughmen, artificers and labourers had more chance than those in a higher position. As had happened in Ulster,[26] they were needed by the new proprietors, who were many of them ignorant of a farmer’s life and knew little of conditions in Ireland. It happened fortunately for them that the order for removal covered the harvest and sowing seasons. Their old masters left them behind to reap the harvest for them, and the newcomers, finding them on the properties, and seeking in vain for servants, were only too glad to keep them on to sow in the spring. But large numbers clung to their old masters, and we have lists of retainers transplanting with the families with whom they had lived. They preferred the hard work of turning Connacht into ploughland to coming under the rule of strangers.

The actual facts of the re-settlement were different from what had been contemplated. When the time came for the soldiers to settle it was found that large numbers of them had, for a little badly-needed ready money, sold their holdings to their officers, often for far less than the actual value of the land, and had gone out of the country. Some of the officers had in this way built up large properties at the expense of their disbanded men. Of the original Adventurers, too, few cared to leave their businesses in London to risk a totally different kind of life in Ireland. They also were ready to sell. The Commissioners found the claims most complicated, some properties having changed hands already several times since their original sale in 1653.

In spite of Fleetwood, who was a doctrinaire Puritan of the dour kind, there were still unremoved proprietors “playing loath to depart” in the spring of 1654, and frequent letters complain to the Government that the work was moving slowly, and that many were breaking out as ‘Tories’ or brigands rather than settle on their plots. In many cases these plots existed only in the imagination of the Commissioners, the allotted lands not being sufficient for the purchasers. It was only by the most threatening orders and wholesale arrests that numbers of owners could be got to move. The prisons were choked, “such batches being brought in that there was not gaol room to contain them.”

The young men passed in hundreds out of the country to take service in Spain and France, many who should have been exempted being forced to go by the inflexible Fleetwood. Lord Muskerry had leave to transport five thousand of his old followers out of Ireland to any country in amity with the Commonwealth, and he chose to take them to the King of Poland; others went under their old officers to serve the Prince of Conde or the King of Spain.

Petty [27] calculates that thirty-four thousand men went abroad between 1651 and 1654; elsewhere he gives forty thousand, including boys, women, and priests, the last being all expatriated by law. An evil fate overtook the women and boys who, to the number of six thousand, were sent into slavery to the plantations of America and the West Indies. Thither were sent the wives of the men who had gone abroad, or the widows left after the recent wars, besides the destitute people wandering with their families about the country or turned out of the gaols. While the agents of the King of Spain were treating with the Government for the swordsmen and taking away the best blood of the kingdom to fight in foreign wars, Bristol agents were contracting with kidnappers and governors of prisons for boys, women, and girls to be sent to the sugar-plantations. It was only when the ruffians engaged in this work began to lay their hands on English children that this shocking traffic was stopped.[28]

The results of all this horror were not quite what was intended. The country swarmed with ‘Tories,’ who hovered in the woods and mountains near their old homes and made the lives of the planters a misery by their depredations and raids. They seemed to increase with the same rapidity as the wolves, which now once more infested the country. Many of the men who had followed their officers abroad returned home to swell the parties of brigands that roamed about under chosen leaders, and the exploits of captains of outlaws like Redmond O’Hanlon, “the Tory of the Fews,” became famous far beyond their native land. The hunting of Tories became part of a settler’s normal life, and the rewards for captures were as great as for the killing of wolves.[29]

An unforeseen result of the new conditions of life was the speedy fraternization between the Cromwellian soldier-planters and the Irish among whom they settled. Unlike the Adventurers, many of the soldiers had been for some years in Ireland, with the inevitable result that they felt on friendly terms with the young people of the country, and marriages became frequent. However distasteful it might be theoretically for a Cromwellian Puritan to marry a Catholic Irish girl, human nature proved stronger than theological prejudice, and in spite of proclamations and punishments these marriages still went on. When rebuked, the soldiers averred that their wives had turned Protestant; thereupon courts presided over by army veterans were set up to examine the proficiency of the converts in the tenets of their new faith.

How many of the young Irish wives outwitted Cromwell’s godly veterans history does not say. Their children were soon all talking Irish and living as the Irish lived. Forty years after the settlement and seven after the battle of the Boyne a writer remarks that many of Oliver’s soldiers could not speak a word of English. “And,” he adds, “what is more strange, the same may be said of some of the children of King William’s soldiers, who came but t’other day into the country.”[30] The descendants of this mixed soldier race were in after days to become the turbulent populations of Tipperary and Westmeath.

Thus was Ireland ‘settled’ by the Die-hards of Cromwell’s day by the oft-desired expedient of extirpating the inhabitants and replanting with English. Orrery declared that the tremendous scheme “had so broken and shattered that nation that they could never make head afterwards.”[31] Yet so far was the nation from being settled by Cromwell’s policy that Ormonde, on his return as Viceroy in 1662, said that he found Ireland “as divided and unsettled a country as is or ever was in Christendom.” The memory of “the curse of Cromwell” has outlived any later troubles, and is not yet extinct after the lapse of over two and a half centuries.