The organized colonization of Ulster by settlers from England and Scotland began in 1609 by King James I. Half a million acres of the best land in Ulster were confiscated to settle colonists who had to be English-speaking and Protestant. After 32 years of land theft by anti-Catholic settlers, the Irish rose on September 23, 1641 to seek terms to end the oppression. The rising took England by surprise and to incite support against the Irish, a story of a great massacre of 600,000 innocent Protestant settlers was propagated. Recent research has suggested that the number is more in the region of 4,000 killed, though thousands were expelled from their homes as the Irish reclaimed their land. Some claim the number could be as high as 12,000 since many of those expelled died of cold or disease in the depths of winter just like the Irish who had been expelled by them earlier.
Early targets of hostility were English administrators but violence escalated after a failed rebel assault on Lisnagarvey in November. Several hundred rebels were captured, after which they were simply executed by the settlers without even a hearing. After that, the settlers themselves became targets. Accounts of Papist atrocities were exaggerated for propaganda purposes to raise support in England to suppress the native uprising.
English author John Milton started the ball rolling by declaring, The rebellion and horrid massacre of English Protestants in Ireland, to the amount of 154,000 in the province of Ulster only, by their own computation; which, added to the other three, makes up the total sum of that slaughter, in all likelihood, four times as great. Dr John McDonnell, physician and British administrator in Ireland, later refuted that exaggeration in his book The Ulster Civil War of 1641, published in 1879. He wrote, Those who had made themselves really acquainted with the history of the time believed that the myths of an organized, sweeping and wholesale massacre of the protestant men, women and children of Ulster had been relegated to the limbo of exploded falsehoods.
A collection of accounts by victims was assembled between 1642 and 1655 and is now housed in Trinity College, Dublin. That collection is available for review, but the problem with examining that collection is that the accounts were taken from the English settlers who had been evicted. Many subsequent reviews of this material show that they were exaggerated, biased or total lies.
The most upright English historian of the period, the Rev. Ferdinando Warner, wrote, There is no credit to be given to any thing that was said by these people; which had not evidence to confirm it; the reason why so many idle silly tales were registered, of what this body heard another body say, was to swell the collection to two-and-thirty thick volumes, in folio, closely written, it is easier to conjecture, than it is to commend. According to Warner, The number of people killed, upon positive evidence, collected in two years after the insurrection broke out, adding them all together, amounts only to 2,109; on the reports of other Protestants, 1,619 more; and on the report of some of the rebels themselves, a further number of 300; the whole making 4,028. Besides these murders, there is, in the same collection, evidence, on the report of others, of 8,000 killed by bad usage (cold and sickness). I think in my conscience there is no pretense for laying a greater number to the charge. English historian Thomas Carte wrote in his General History of England, published in 1747, Other uncertain, mistaken, false, and contradictory accounts had been given of the Irish Rebellion, by writers influenced by selfish views and party animosities. That was buttressed by historian Thomas Leland, senior fellow of Trinity College, whose History of Ireland was published in 1773. Leland wrote that the English were indefatigable in endeavoring to load the Irish with the guilt of new conspiracies and even manifest forgeries were received as solid proof.
These paragraphs, written by enlightened Protestant historians, after investigation of the subject, should be adequate to bury the exaggerated one-sided accounts in the collection of so-called witness accounts. As Matthew Carey, American publisher and patriot, wrote in the 1800s, Never, since the world was formed, did forgery, fraud and perjury prevail to such an extent, as in the evidence taken to establish the Irish massacre, as it was termed. This object was to incriminate the Catholics, sacrifice them on gibbets, and confiscate their property. Isn’t it about time the truth was known?
Considering that even the lower figure of 4,000 is greater than the number of people killed in the recent Troubles and that it happened when the Protestant population of Ulster was only 100,000 and in a much shorter time frame, we can see that a biased version of Irish history is still being presented to the Irish people. As many members of the AOH know, the Rising of 1641 was led by Rory O’More, nephew of Rory Og O’More, who began the chain of secret societies of opposition that led to the organization we serve today. It was that rising that created the Confederation of Kilkenny – the first real nationalist society — and the rest of that story will be in the History of the AOH being prepared for the President’s Teatimonial Dinner Journal!