Wednesday 22 March 2017

To Hell or to Connaught!

"If this people shall headily run on after their Prelates and other Clergy and other leaders, I hope to be free from the misery and desolation, blood and ruin that shall befall them, and shall rejoice to exercise utmost authority against them." (Oliver Cromwell)

Irish Catholics were driven out of their homeland in 1649 to Connaught courtesy

In 1649, Oliver Cromwell decreed that all Irish Catholics were to be banished to one of the four provinces of Ireland, the poorest one, while the three remaining provinces were reserved for English settlement.  "To hell or to Connaught!" became the battle cry.  

After King Charles I was beheaded in January of 1649, Oliver Cromwell was sent to Ireland to bring the Royalist Army into submission.  Cromwell took the opportunity to purge much of the area of the Irish inhabitants.  The Irish Catholics started to flee over the Shannon River but not all of them made it in time. A group of men women and children, seeking refuge in a church in Drogheda, were slaughtered.  Cromwell explained:  "I put all of them to the sword but 30, and they are on their way to Barbados.  I believe that all their Friars were knocked on the head but two, the one of which was Fr. Peter Taaff whom the soldiers took the next day and made an end to him..."

The Act for the Settlement of Ireland of 1652 was a reaction to the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Participants and bystanders would either be killed or have their land confiscated.  Some say that Connaught was chosen because it was the poorest province of Ireland.  Others say that this was the English Protestants' way of keeping the Irish Catholic landowners "penned between the sea and the River Shannon."  

While Irish Catholics were threatened with death, it is a myth that they were all killed.  Rather their land was confiscated and they became servants to the new English landowners.  The servants and their descendants worked the land and paid taxes to the English for the land that they used to own for almost 200 years.  The Potato Famine hit, decimating the population.  Ireland's population would never recover.

Note:  Today, St. Patrick's Day is only an official holiday in Ireland and Montserrat, the destination of the fleeing Irish Catholics in 1649.

Siege of Drogheda site courtesy 

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