O’Neill and a hundred northern chieftains with a thousand followers went into exile on the Continent rather than serve the English monarchy.
With the chief rebels out of the way, Ireland began to change hands. The first Stuart, James I, expanding the empire, reached out also toward North America, where a fort appeared at Jamestown. He applied the same technique to Ulster and implanted Scottish-Presbyterian settlers in their wooden forts and little towns. As the Protestant colony grew, Gaelic-speaking Catholics were pushed back toward the Shannon, as the Indians of America were pushed back toward the Alleghenies. English law with its ideas of property, its judges and sheriffs and tax collectors, spread over Ireland, replacing the brehons and chiefs and clan-owned kingdoms.
The conquered isle was now caught up in the flaming religious and civil wars of England. In 1641 the Ulster Irish rose, scattering thousands of colonists. Five years later, under Owen Roe O’Neill, an army composed of both native Irish and Catholic descendants of Normans and others won a memorable victory along the banks of the Blackwater River. But the dream of Irish independence was shattered when Oliver Cromwell and Parliament’s forces defeated Charles I in England and beheaded him. Before long, Cromwell himself landed in Ireland, intent on suppression and revenge, on ending the Irish question forever.
HERE IS no greater villain in Irish folk history than Oliver Cromwell. He smashed Catholic Ireland, its institutions and its people. Massacres at Drogheda and Wexford were followed by the exodus of 30,000 Irish to the Continent. Cromwell’s iron boots marched the length and breadth of the land, leaving pillars of black smoke over church and monastery. Within 50 years Catholic Ireland was largely owned by English Protestants, and the system of wealthy, often absent, English landlords and a massive, poor peasant class of Irish that was to bear such bitter fruit was well established.
There was to be another hurrah. In 1660 the Cromwellian government collapsed and Charles II was called from exile. But Irish hopes for restoration of the land were tempered by the knowledge that it was a Protestant army that recalled the king, and the settlement, when it came, proved galling—the loyal Catholics ended with a fifth of the land. As Jonathan Swift said, the C romwellians “gained by their rebellion what the Catholics lost by their loyalty.”
The climax of the English struggle for kingship came now, and it came in Ireland. Charles was succeeded by James II, a Catholic king; when James had a son and a Catholic dynasty seemed inevitable, a group of English noblemen summoned the Protestant William of Orange from Europe. James fled to France, and in 1689 he landed in Ireland at the head of a French army, thinking Ireland and its loyal Catholics to be a stepping-stone back to the throne.
In due course, William arrived in Ireland and the Cogadh an Dd RI, the “war of the two kings,” commenced. Much of Europe participated. When James and “King Billy” finally faced one another across the narrow Boyne River, James had 25,000 French and Irish troops and William 36,000 English, Dutch, Danes, Germans, and Huguenots.Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »