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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 6286

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Cromwell had hardly set foot upon Irish soil before he took complete control of the situation. The enterprise, in his own eyes and in those of many who accompanied him, wore all the sacred hue of a crusade. "We are come," he announced, solemnly, upon his arrival in Dublin, "to ask an account of the innocent blood that hath been shed, and to endeavour to bring to an account all who, by appearing in arms, shall justify the same."

Three thousand troops, the flower of the English cavaliers, with some of the Royalists of the Pale--none of whom, it may be said, had anything to say to the Ulster massacres--had been hastily thrown by Ormond into Drogheda, under Sir Arthur Ashton, a gallant Royalist officer; and to Drogheda, accordingly in September Cromwell marched. Summoned to yield, the garrison refused. They were attacked, and fought desperately, driving back their assailants at the first assault. At the second, a breach was made in the walls, and Ashton and his force were driven into the citadel. "Being thus entered," Cromwell's despatch to the Parliament runs, "we refused them quarter. I believe we put to the sword the whole number of the defendents. I do not think thirty escaped. Those that did are in safe custody for the Barbadoes.... I wish," he adds, a little later in the same despatch, "all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone."

From Drogheda, the Lord-General turned south to Wexford. Here an equally energetic defence was followed by an equally successful assault, and this also by a similar drama of slaughter. "There was lost of the enemy," he himself writes, "not many less than two thousand; and, I believe, not twenty of yours from first to last." The soldiers, he goes on to say, "got a very good booty in this place." Of "the former inhabitants ... most of them are run away, and many of them killed in this service. It were to be wished that some honest people would come and plant here[12]."

[12] "Cromwell's Letters and Speeches"--Carlyle.

The grim candour of these despatches needs no comment. We see the whole situation with that vividness which only a relation at first hand ever gives. The effect of these two examples was instantaneous. Most of the other towns surrendered upon the first summons. The Irish army fell back in all directions. An attempt was made to save Kilkenny, but after a week's defence it was surrendered. The same thing happened at Clonmel, and within a few months of his arrival nearly every strong place, except Waterford and Limerick, were in the Lord-General's hands.

That Cromwell, from his own point of view, was justified in these proceedings, and that he held himself--even when slaughtering English Royalists in revenge for the acts of Irish rebels--a divinely-appointed agent sent to execute justice upon the ungodly, there can be little doubt. As regards ordinary justice his conduct was exemplary. Unlike most of the armies that had from time to time ravaged Ireland, he allowed no disorder. His soldiers were forbidden by proclamation to plunder, and were hanged, "in ropes of authentic hemp," as Carlyle remarks, when they did so. The

merciless slaughter of two entire garrisons is a hideous deed, and a deed, too, which appeals with peculiar force to the popular imagination. As compared to many acts perpetrated from time to time in Ireland, it seems, if one examines it coolly, to fade into comparative whiteness, and may certainly be paralleled elsewhere. A far deeper and more ineffaceable stain rests--as will be seen in another chapter--upon Cromwell's rule in Ireland; one, moreover, not so readily justified by custom or any grim necessities of warfare.

The final steps by which the struggle was crushed out were comparatively tedious. Cromwell's men were attacked by that "country sickness" which seems at that time to have been inseparable from Irish campaigns. Writing from Ross in November, he says, "I scarce know one officer amongst us who has not been sick." His own presence, too, was urgently required in England, so that he was forced before long to set sail, leaving the completion of the campaign in the hands of others.

In the Royalist camp, the state of affairs was meanwhile absolutely desperate. The Munster colonists had gone over almost to a man to the enemy. The "panther Inchiquin" had taken another bound in the same direction. The quarrels between Ormond and the old Irish party had grown bitterer than ever The hatred of the extreme Catholic party towards him appears to have been if anything rather deeper than their hatred to Cromwell, and all the recent disasters were charged by them to his want of generalship. The young king had been announced at one moment to be upon the point of arriving in person in Ireland. "One must go and die there, for it is shameful to live elsewhere!" he is reported to have cried, with a depth of feeling very unlike his usual utterances. He got as far as Jersey, but there paused. Ireland under Cromwell's rule was not exactly a pleasant royal residence, and, on the whole, he appears to have thought it wiser to go no further.

His signature, a year later, of the Covenant, in return for the Scotch allegiance, brought about a final collapse of the always thinly cemented pact in Ireland. The old Catholic party thereupon broke wholly away from Ormond, and after a short struggle he was again driven into exile. From this time forward, there was no longer a royal party of any sort left in the country.

Under Hugh O'Neill, a cousin of Owen Roe, who--fortunately, perhaps, for himself--had died shortly after Cromwell's arrival, the struggle was carried on for some time longer. As in later times, Limerick was one of the last places to yield. Despite the evident hopelessness of the struggle, Hugh O'Neill and his half-starved men held it with a courage which awoke admiration even amongst the Cromwellians. When it was surrendered the Irish officers received permission to take service abroad. Galway, with a few other towns and castles, which still held out, now surrendered. The eight years' civil war was at last over, and nothing remained for the victors to do but to stamp out the last sparks, and call upon the survivors to pay the forfeit.


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