MoboReader > Literature > The Story of Ireland


The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 9839

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The total loss of life during-those weary eight years of war and anarchy has been estimated at no less than six hundred thousand lives, and there seems to be no reason to think that these figures are exaggerated. Whereas in 1641 the population of Ireland was nearly one and a half millions, at the end of 1649 it was considerably under one. More than a third, therefore, of the entire population had disappeared bodily.

Nor were the survivors left in peace to bind up their wounds and mourn their slain. In England, once the fighting was over, and the swords sheathed, there was little desire to carry the punishment further; and the vanquished were, for the most part, able to retire in more or less melancholy comfort to their homes. In Ireland the reverse was the case. There the struggle had been complicated by a bitterness unknown elsewhere, and had aroused a keen and determined thirst for vengeance, one which the cessation of hostilities only seemed to stimulate into greater vehemence.

The effect, especially amongst the Puritans, of the Ulster massacres, far from dying out, had grown fiercer and bitterer with every year. Now that the struggle was over, that Ireland lay like an inert thing in the hands of her victors, her punishment, it was resolved, should begin. Had that punishment fallen only on the heads of those who could be proved to have had any complicity in that deed of blood there would not have been a word to say. Sir Phelim O'Neill was dragged from the obscurity to which ever since the coming of Owen Roe he had been consigned, tried in Dublin, and hanged--with little regret even from his own side. Lord Mayo, who had taken a prominent part in the rising, and was held responsible for a horrible massacre perpetrated at Shrule Bridge, near Tuam, was shot in Connaught. Lord Muskerry was tried, and honourably acquitted. Other trials took place, chiefly by court-martial, and though some of these appear to have been unduly pressed, on the whole, considering the state of feelings that had been awakened, it may be allowed that so far stern justice had not outstepped her province.

It was very different with what was to follow. An enormous scheme of eviction had been planned by Cromwell which was to include all the native and nearly all the Anglo-Irish inhabitants of Ireland, with the exception of the humblest tillers of the soil, who were reserved as serfs or servants. This was a scheme of nothing less than the transportation of all the existing Catholic landowners of Ireland, who, at a certain date, were ordered to quit their homes, and depart in a body into Connaught, there to inhabit a narrow desolate tract, between the Shannon and the sea, destitute, for the most part, of houses or any accommodation for their reception; where they were to be debarred from entering any walled town, and where a cordon of soldiers was to be stationed to prevent their return. May 1, 1654, was the date fixed for this national exodus, and all who after that date were found east of the appointed line were to suffer the penalty of death.

The dismay awakened when the magnitude of this scheme burst upon the unhappy country may easily be conceived. Delicate ladies, high-born men and women, little children, the old, the sick, the suffering--all were included in this common disaster; all were to share alike in this vast and universal sentence of banishment. Resistance, too, was hopeless. Everything that could be done in the way of resistance had already been done, and the result was visible. The Irish Parliament had ceased to exist. A certain number of its Protestant members had been transferred by Cromwell to the English one,--thus anticipating the Union that was to come a century and a half later. The whole government of the country was at present centred in a board of commissioners, who sat in Dublin, and whose direct interest it was to hasten the exodus as much as possible.

For the new owners, who were to supplant those about to be ejected, were ready and waiting to step into their places. The Cromwellian soldiers who had served in the war had all received promises of grants of land, and their pay, now several years due, was also to be paid to them in the same coin. The intention was, that they were to be marched down regiment by regiment, and company by company, to ground already chosen for them by lot, then and there disbanded, and put into possession. A vast Protestant military colony was thus to be established over the whole of the eastern provinces. In addition to these an immense number of English speculators had advanced money upon Irish lands, and were now eagerly waiting to receive their equivalent.

As the day drew nearer, there arose all over Ireland a wild plea for time, for a little breathing time before being driven into exile. The first summons had gone out in the autumn, and had been proclaimed by beat of drum and blast of

trumpet all over the country, and as the 1st of May began to approach the plea grew more and more urgent. So evident was the need for delay that some, even among the Parliamentarians, were moved to pity, and urged that a little more time might be granted. The command to "root out the heathen" was felt to be imperative, but even the heathen might be allowed a little time to collect his goods, and to provide some sort of a roof to shelter him in this new and forlorn home to which he was being sent.

It happened, too, that some of the first batches of exiles were ordered into North Clare, to a district known as the Burren, whose peculiarity is that what little soil is to be found there has collected into rifts below the surface, or accumulated into pockets of earth at the feet of the hills, leaving the rest of the surface sheer rock, the very streams, whose edges would otherwise be green, being mostly carried underground. The general appearance of the region has been vividly described by one of the commissioners engaged in carrying out this very act of transplantation, who, writing back to Dublin for further instructions, informs his superiors that the region in question did not possess "water enough to drown a man, trees enough to hang a man, or earth enough to bury a man." It may be conceived what an effect such a region, so described, must have had upon men fresh from the fertile and flourishing pasture-lands of Meath and Kildare. Many turned resolutely back, preferring rather to die than to attempt life under such new and hopeless conditions, and stern examples had to be made before the unwilling emigrants were at last fairly got underweigh.

Yet even such exile as this was better than the lot of some. The wives and families of the Irish officers and soldiers who had been allowed to go into foreign service, had, of necessity, been left behind, and a considerable number of these, the Government now proceeded to ship in batches to the West Indies to be sold as slaves. Several thousand women, ladies and others, were thus seized and sold by dealers, often without any individual warrant, and it was not until after the accidental seizure of some of the wives of the Cromwellian soldiers that the traffic was put under regulations. Cromwell's greatness needs no defence, but the slaughter of the garrisons of Drogheda and Wexford, reckoned amongst the worst blemishes upon that greatness, pales beside such an act as this; one which would show murkily even upon the blackened record of an Alva or a Pizarro.

Slowly the long trains of exiles began now to pour out in all directions. Herds of cattle, horses laden with furniture, with food, with all the everyday necessities of such a multitude accompanied them. All across that wide limestone plain, which covers the centre of Ireland, innumerable family groups were to be seen slowly streaming west. There were few roads, and those few very bad. Hardly a wheeled conveyance of any sort existed in the country. Those who were too weak to walk or to ride had to be carried on men's backs or in horse litters. The confusion, the misery, the cold, the wretchedness may be conceived, and always behind, urging them on, rebuking the loiterers, came the armed escort sent to drive them into exile--Puritan seraphs, with drawn swords, set to see that none returned whence they came!

Nor was there even any marked satisfaction amongst those who inherited the lands and houses thus left vacant. Many of the private soldiers who had received bonds or debentures for their share of the land, had parted with them long since, either to their own officers or to the trafficers in such bonds, who had sprang up by hundreds, and who obtained them from the needy soldiers often for a mere trifle. Sharp-sighted speculators like Dr. Petty, by whom the well-known Survey of Ireland was made, acquired immense tracts of land at little or no outlay. Of those soldiers, too, who did receive grants of land many left after a while. Others, despite all regulations to the contrary, married Irish wives, and their children in the next generation were found to have not only become Roman Catholics, but to be actually unable to speak a word of English. Many, too, of the dispossessed proprietors, the younger ones especially, continued to hang about, and either harassed the new owners and stole their goods, or made friends with them, and managed after a while to slip back upon some excuse into their old homes. No sternness of the Puritan leaven availed to hinder the new settlers from being absorbed into the country, as other and earlier settlers had been absorbed before them; marrying its daughters, adopting its ways, and becoming themselves in time Irishmen. The bitter memory of that vast and wholesale act of eviction has remained, but the good which it was hoped would spring from it faded away almost within a generation.

* * *

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top