Massacre or myth? Academics explore 4,000 accounts of 1641 killings of Protestants in IrelandBy Shawn Pogatchnik, AP
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Experts explore 1641 Irish slayings of Protestants
DUBLIN — One of the most divisive and hotly disputed events in Irish history — the 1641 killings of thousands of Protestant settlers by Catholic natives — is to be examined in forensic detail for the first time, researchers said Tuesday.
The scale of the bloodshed left communal scars for centuries. Protestants cited it as their basis for fearing and oppressing the natives, while Catholics insisted the historical record was grossly exaggerated to justify subsequent British repression in Ireland.
Now, scholars from Aberdeen University in Scotland and Trinity College Dublin will analyze and seek patterns in 20,000 pages of statements from 4,000 witnesses.
The 1642-1655 documents, stored in Trinity’s historical archives since the 1740s, have been converted over the past two years into digital form. Researchers now plan to dissect the language used and references to assailants, with the goal of separating truth from fiction and facts from artistic license.
The lead researcher, Aberdeen language and linguistics expert Barbara Farrell, said the scale of the 1641 slaughter was cited as justification for when the English army of Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland in the 1650s and killed natives without mercy.
English parliamentary documents of the time claimed more than 200,000 Protestants had been killed but Farrell said the most reliable estimate today is that at least 4,000 died.
Farrell said the research would determine whether survivor accounts written down by Cromwell’s fact-finders were accurate, exaggerated or outright lies. She expressed confidence in finding evidence of the “manipulation” of some figures and events.
The 1641 rebellion presaged the English Civil War and the rise of Cromwell. Catholics broadly loyal to the Catholic-sympathetic king of England, Charles I, seized power in Ireland — unleashing a wave of sectarian violence on Scottish and English settlers who had displaced natives in the previous half-century.
Protestants in modern-day Northern Ireland continue to cite the legacy of the 1641 massacre as a foundation for their resistance to Irish Catholic rule. Modern parade banners of the Orange Order, the major Protestant brotherhood, depict the 1641 violence as the attempted genocide of Ireland’s Protestants.