To Hell or Connaught

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VI | Start of Chapter

The phrase which described the Irish population as driven “to hell or Connaught” is still preserved among historical allusions.

So far as they could be got at, the Irish were driven into Connaught and compelled to stay there. Their limits were strictly assigned to them, and a sort of passport system was established.

Any native of the country endeavouring to go beyond his reservation was liable to be put to death without trial, and this practice of penal discipline was rigorously carried out.

Irishmen of rank who still wished to abide on the land had to wear a distinctive mark upon their dress, under pain of being put to death; and persons of humble station had to bear each a black mark on the right cheek, or run the risk of being branded or sent to the gibbet.

Many Irish historians tell us with pride that even these rigorous ordinances could not protect the followers and even the soldiers of Cromwell against what was then considered the detestable malaria of Irish influence.

Within less than half a century there were to be found in Ireland descendants of Cromwellian Ironsides who had lost the use of the English language, and carried on the business of their daily lives in the tongue of the native population.

The cultivation of the penal settlement, Connaught, did not go on very prosperously. The province was barren enough when this enforced settlement began, and the inmates to whom it was made a prison ground had not much heart for the culture of the soil, which was not to be theirs in any real sense.