Ulster 1641

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2016), Letters, Volume 24

Sir,—I commence by quoting John Gibney (‘What about Island Magee? Another version of the 1641 Rebellion’, HI 21.1, Jan./Feb. 2013, pp 22–5): ‘Irish Catholics had their own views on what happened in 1641’.
Can I assume that the reason Irish Catholics have their ‘own views’ about 1641 is because Irish Catholic educators who taught them preferred to promote a view which removed any suggestion that the actions of the Ulster Catholics were premeditated and not Christian?

I had no interest in Irish history until I read a book, The Irish martyrs (2005), which, in relation to Protestant casualties, states (p.149) that ‘a number were killed’ (suggesting four or five). This got me interested and I purchased a local publication, Down and Connor: ashort history. The chapter ‘Insurrection in Ulster’ (p.37) starts: ‘In October 1641 Ulster Catholics rose in rebellion against the Crown’. You have to question why, after all that has been written about Ulster in 1641, present-day eminent Irish academics are prepared to give such erroneous history. What motive do they have? Nicholas Canny in Making Ireland British suggests that the attitude is historic:

‘Consequently the 1641 insurrection in Ireland, apart from its initial outbreak, is generally passed over in silence—as the Catholic authors of the seventeenth century had wished it would be and has been accorded but cursory mention even in the most detailed academic narratives. Even where it is discussed it is implied that what happened in 1641 was a result of a short-term breakdown of authority in the province of Ulster alone’ (p.467).

Why would Nicholas Canny suggest that Catholic authors hope the events in Ulster in 1641 be forgotten? Is it because it reflects negatively on the Ulster Catholic actions? The two Irish history books above confirm that denial and misinformation are still being promoted in the 21st century. When have you last heard any discussion by Irish historians about events in Ulster in 1641?

I have come to the conclusion that many Irish historians who do mention Ulster in 1641 try to confuse. Instead of identifying those who attacked Ulster Protestants as being Catholics, they try to reduce the sectarian element of their actions by describing those involved in the attacks as ‘usurpers’, the dispossessed and, most blatantly, as ‘rebels’. That they were neither rebels nor ‘against the Crown’ was confirmed at the very start by Sir Phelim O’Neill, the leader of the Ulster Catholics. This is further confirmed by the presence of six Ulster Catholic delegates at the Confederation of Kilkenny (1642–9), which supported King Charles I. If proof is required about the extent of Ulster Catholic guilt in the killing of hundreds of Ulster Protestants, it was displayed at Kilkenny in 1645 and 1646. The Ulster Catholic leader, Sir Phelim O’Neill, on two occasions presented the appropriately named ‘Act of Oblivion’ to the Confederation. Sir Phelim’s hope was that the Confederation would present this to the English authorities, who would ‘forgive and forget’ the killing of hundreds of Ulster Protestants in 1641. The Irish Catholics were pro-King Charles I and opposed to Oliver Cromwell.
Seumas MacManus in The story of the Irish race (1921) verifies the ferocity of the attacks and what the intention of the Ulster Catholic attacks was:

‘It burst in a fierce red flood that swept the terrorised Protestants before it—and just narrowly missed sweeping them from Ulster forever. In a few days Sir Phelim O’Neill was proclaimed head of a numerous Ulster Catholic army of 30,000 men’ (pp 408–9).

Even in the North of Ireland discussion about the events of Ulster in 1641 is avoided. We recently had the 50th anniversary of the death of an exceptional man, Richard Hayward. His book In praise of Ulster (1938) is probably the only one ever published that gives accurate and precise details about how province-wide the attacks on the Ulster Protestants were. Discussions about Hayward took place on the radio but with no mention of his historical ability.
My copy of the Douay Testament, page 126, St John, chapter 8, verse 32, says: ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.—Yours etc.,

Co. Antrim


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