History of the Irish (Presbyterian) Church from the Irish Rebellion to the Death of Charles I.

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

previous page | contents | start of chapter | next page



THE immunities and privileges secured through the overthrow of Wentworth and the High Commission court were shared equally by Roman Catholics and Protestants, as was both just and right. While the Romanists were suffering the common grievances resulting from the wicked government of the earl of Strafford, they were ready to make common cause with the Protestants. But when they were freed from the oppression they had so long endured, and their religion and their clergy were no longer molested in their religious rites, they began to cherish the hope that they might attain to that political ascendency which their preponderance of numbers seemed to warrant. Incited alike by their own ambitious leaders, their hatred of Protestantism and the promises and intrigues of the king, they ere long aimed at nothing less than the entire overthrow of the British power in Ireland.

The native Irish, many of whom were descendants of the ancient chieftains, and who were the hereditary enemies of the English, joined in the insurrection, with the expectation of recovering their forfeited landed property, and from a desire to re-establish Romanism. They were encouraged by promised assistance from their friends on the Continent, by whose aid they hoped to drive out all English usurpers and to restore the nation to its former independence. They were incited to rebellion also by the priests, who had taught them to hate and abhor both the persons and religion of the Protestants, and their prejudices, as also the great ignorance in which they were kept by their spiritual advisers, rendered them the easy dupes of designing leaders. The priests, in their turn, were instigated by the emissaries of the pope, ambitious to recover his supremacy over a country which had been regarded as “the especial patrimony of the Romish see.” A prominent object, therefore, of the rebellion was the destruction of Protestantism, and from the first the watchword was the extirpation of all heretics.

The plan contemplated, on a certain fixed day, the simultaneous seizure of Dublin and the principal forts and castles throughout the kingdom, and the disarming and securing those who would not join in the insurrection. Though the conspirators carried on their proceedings with the utmost caution and secrecy, the lords-justices and some of the Protestant nobility received information of the plot in time to secure the safety of the metropolis and some of the most important castles and towns. Through intelligence furnished by a converted Romanist who had been urged to join the conspirators, measures were hastily adopted whereby Belfast, Enniskillen, Derry, Coleraine, Carrickfergus and the town and castle of Antrim were secured against capture and pillage by the rebels. These towns served as places of refuge for the persecuted and famishing Protestants who were driven from their desolated homes, and where the Scots of Ulster rallied and held in check the insurgents in their otherwise unimpeded progress until English arms could be sent to aid in their subjection.

Notwithstanding these precautionary measures, such was the success of the uprising that in little more than a fortnight from its commencement the rebels were masters of the greater part of Ulster, together with the two neighboring counties, and had collected a force of thirty thousand men actuated by hatred of the English as conquerors and heretics, and thirsting for their blood. The undisciplined and revengeful soldiers were encouraged to give free scope to their worst passions by the native Irish leaders, who aimed at nothing less than the extirpation of all Protestants. Their orders were, “Spare neither man, woman nor child. The English are meat for dogs; there shall not be one drop of English blood left within the kingdom.” Well did they obey the commands of their superiors. The havoc was terrible. “An universal massacre ensued; nor age, nor sex, nor infancy was spared; all conditions were involved in the general ruin. In vain did the unhappy victim appeal to the sacred ties of humanity, hospitality, family connection, and all the tender obligations of social commerce; companions, friends, relatives, not only denied protection, but dealt with their own hands the fatal blow.” The houses of the victims were either consumed with fire or leveled with the ground. Their cattle, because they had belonged to abhorred heretics, were either killed or covered with wounds and turned loose to abide a lingering, painful end. Their valuable stores of grain were wantonly squandered and destroyed, so that famine ensued, owing to the scarcity of food. The refusal of the rebels to bury the corpses of their murdered victims in many places induced a pestilential fever, which carried off great numbers of the inhabitants who had escaped the fury of their enemies. So destructive was the pestilence that it was computed that in Coleraine six thousand died in four months, in Carrickfergus two thousand five hundred, in Belfast and Malone above two thousand, and in Antrim and other places a like proportion.

But we will not dwell upon this terrible scene of blood, which rivaled in its carnage that of St. Bartholomew. History records no more dreadful massacres than were perpetrated by the blood-thirsty savages who were let loose upon Ulster. Not satisfied with slaying defenceless women and children, they took a fiendish delight in first tormenting them, and their appeals for mercy and cries of pain were answered with revilings and insults.[1]

On no class did these sufferings fall more heavily than on the Protestant ministers. Being marked out specially for persecution by the priests who instigated the rebellion, they were shown no quarter. In a small part of Ulster alone thirty were murdered, while a much larger number died in circumstances of extreme wretchedness and poverty. Bishop Bedell was the only Englishman in the whole county of Cavan who was permitted to live undisturbed in his own house. Even he, though he had labored so earnestly for the good of the Irish people, and with a humility and disinterestedness that had commanded the respect of the most bigoted Romanists in his diocese, was at last arrested and imprisoned, and only released a few weeks before his death. As an evidence of the respect entertained for him, the privilege of burial by the side of his wife in the churchyard of Kilmore was granted, and a large force of rebels attended his funeral, who, when they fired a volley over his grave, expressed the wish that the last of the English might rest in peace. Having esteemed him as the best of the English bishops who had labored among them, they were resolved he should be the last left in Ireland.

previous page | contents | start of chapter | next page


[1] Lest any one may think we have exaggerated the horrors of this insurrection, we append what the historian Froude says respecting it: “The order was to drive the English settlers and their families from their houses and strip men, women and children even of the clothes upon their backs. … On the morning of the fatal Saturday there appeared before the houses of the settlers gangs of armed Irish, who demanded instant possession, and on being admitted ejected the entire families, and stripped most of them to the skin. Many resisted and were killed, many sought shelter in the houses of their Irish neighbors, with whom they had lived in intimacy. The doors of their neighbors were opened in seeming hospitality, but within they were not human beings—not even human savages —but ferocious beasts. The priests had so charmed the Irish, and laid such bloody impressions on them, that it was held a mortal sin to give relief or protection to the English. &hellip Savage creatures of both sexes, yelping in chorus and brandishing their skenes, boys practicing their young hands in stabbing and torturing the English children,—these were the scenes which were witnessed daily throughout all parts of Ulster. The distinction between Scots and English soon vanished. Religion was made the new dividing-line, and the one crime was to be a Protestant. … The priests told the people ‘that the Protestants were worse than dogs—they were devils and served the devil—and the killing of them was a meritorious act.’”—Froude, vol. i., pp. 97, 107, 108.

Roman Catholic historians in vain deny these charges. Depositions filling forty volumes are still preserved in the library of Trinity College which tell the tale with perfect distinctness and consistency.