The reader can now estimate the value of the evidence for the “Massacre” of 1641. The Reverend Ferdinando Warner, a Protestant clergyman, pronounces this damaging sentence:
“It is easy enough to demonstrate the falsehood of the relation of every Protestant historian of this rebellion.”
It would be hard, indeed, upon us Protestants, if we were compelled to support and maintain those raw-head-and-bloody-bones histories; but fortunately there is no such compulsion upon us. Mr. Warner was not one of the “gentle-men adventurers:” he expected no lands, nor money, out of the “Massacre:” he wrote his history with the single desire to report the truth; and although he had a horror of the “rebellion,” and of Popery and priests, we see that he felt himself free to denounce that gory falsehood. It is true that his researches did lead him to conclude that there were murders of Protestants within the three or four months, to the number of two thousand and upward; but this estimate is liable to be more than questioned. In fact, all writers on the subject, including even Temple and Fronde, agree that the slaughter of Protestant colonists did not enter into the plan of the insurrection at all, the sole object being to drive away the intruders and resume possession of the lands so lately confiscated. Sir John Temple himself says –
“It was resolved not to kill any, but where of necessity they should be forced thereunto by opposition.”
And Warner says: –
“Their first intention went no farther than to strip the English and the Protestants of their power and possessions; and, unless forced to it by opposition, not to shed any blood.”
“Resistance,” (says Leland,) “produced some bloodshed; and, in some instances, private revenge, religions hatred, and the suspicion of some valuable concealment, enraged the triumphant rebels to insolence, cruelty, and murder. So far, however, was the original scheme of the conspiracy at first pursued, that few fell by the sword, except in open war and assault. ”
A volume was published by another Protestant clergyman, and a contemporary of the event; which Froude notices in this cavalier style: –
“At that time there was a Protestant parson in Ireland who called himself a minister of the word of God. He gives his account of the whole transaction in a letter to the people of England, begging of them to help, their fellow-Protestants of Ireland. Here are his words:
“‘It was the intention of the Irish to massacre all the English. On Saturday they were to disarm them, on Sunday to seize all their cattle and goods, and on Monday they were to cut all the English throats. The former they executed; the third – that is the massacre – they failed in.'”
It would surely be a curious circumstance, that they “failed in” the massacre, if massacre had been their intention, seeing that the Ulster Protestants were entirely at their mercy. But this Historian cannot endure Protestants, like Mr. Warner and this other “parson,” who cast a doubt over the grand fact. A pretty “Protestant” indeed! who tries to make the “turning-point in history” turn the wrong way! A horrible cool-blooded massacre there was, – there must have been, or else our Protestant interest is surrendered; so the Historian still stands upon his thirty-eight thousand mangled corpses. Yet he tries to uphold the story by some other evidence than that of the Adventurers who had money in it.
He craves an admission from some Papist. So he gives us, in a note, a passage from Richard Beling’s Vindicioe Catholicorum Hibernioe. Beling was a Catholic; and the fraudulent Historian tells us that he “half confirms, in shame, Sir Phelim O’Neill’s barbarities.” Froude gives the passage in Beling’s Latin; and it states that O’Neill, for the sake of revenge (or retaliation) did raise tumults and enact tragic scenes in some parts of Ulster, which are the less to be commended – if the stories are true – on the part of a man who is a Catholic. If the stories are true, we would all say that, and without “half-confirming” the truth of them. If Sir Phelim, or his people, did really slaughter defenceless people, with their women and infants, unless it were in retaliation for the like outrages committed by the other side, every one would admit that such conduct cannot be commended, if, as Beling says, “si vera referuntur.” In short, the Historian of the turning-point fails entirely to produce evidence of any massacre at all, except the evidence of men notoriously living by the said massacre.
But there was retaliation, in the course of the war. Certainly, when the sword is once drawn, retaliation in kind, for outrage committed contrary to the laws of war is not only a right but a duty. It would have been cruelty on the part of Sir Phelim and the other Irish leaders, – cruelty towards their own people, – if they had failed in such a case to repay slaughter with slaughter. Even this was done with great moderation, and to a trifling extent: nor is there to be found, I think, in history, another example of an insurrection, by an oppressed and despoiled people, commenced and carried on so bloodlessly for at least two months. Here, then, it becomes of vital interest to the truth of history to ascertain which side began the murdering calling for retaliation. And this carries us at once to Island-Magee.
Irish writers, as well as the constant tradition of the country, have represented the slaughter of the peaceful, unarmed people of Island-Magee, by the Scotch garrison of Carrickfergus, as the first unprovoked act of butchery. Island-Magee is a peninsula, six miles long, by one and a half in breadth, attached to the coast of Antrim, and running northward parallel to that coast, from the entrance to Carrickfergus Bay. It is a very fertile district and has always been thickly peopled. In November, 1641, it held not only its own permanent inhabitants, but also some hundreds more who had betaken themselves to that remote place, to live for a while with their kindred, and avoid the troubles of the time.
The peninsula rises gradually from west to east, and its eastern side sinks down perpendicularly to the sea in a wall of cliff four hundred feet high. On one fatal night, when the people were all in their beds, a force of Munroe’s soldiers, from the garrison of Carrickfergus, issued forth in silence, and traversed the whole peninsula, gathering the people as they went, and goading them forward, unarmed men and half-naked women, with children in their arms or at their knees; and so drove them to the brink of the steep, where a pebble dislodged from the edge will fall into deep water; and then, Hurrah for the Protestant Interest! One volley and one bayonet charge, and the shrieking multitude was forced over. They were all dead before they reached the water. Ferguson, himself an Antrim Protestant, tells the tale in some verses, describing the escape of a man and woman to Scotland in an open boat, upon that same night:
The midnight moon is wading deep;
The land sends off the gale;
The boat beneath the sheltering steep
Hangs oil a seaward sail:
And leaning o’er the weather-rail,
The lovers, hand in hand, Take their last look of Innisfail: –
“Farewell, doomed Ireland!”
“And art thou doomed to discord still?
And shall thy sons ne’er cease
To search and struggle for thine ill?
Ne’er share thy good in peace?
Already do thy mountains feel
Avenging Heaven’s ire?
Hark – hark! – this is no thunder peal!
That was no lightning fire!”
It was no fire from heaven he saw,
For, far, from hill and dell,
O’er Gobbin’s brow the mountain flaw
Bears musquet-shot and yell,
And shouts of brutal glee, that tell
A foul and fearful tale,
While, over blast and breaker, swell
Thin shrieks and woman’s wail.
Now fill they far the upper sky,
Now down ‘mid air they go,
Tho frantic scream, the piteous cry,
Tho groan of rage and woe;
And wilder in their agony
And shriller still they grow –
Now cease they, choking suddenly; –
The waves boom on below.
This is the massacre of Island-Magee, and the first real butchery of the war, as the Irish have always steadily insisted. Whether it befell in November, 1641, or in the ensuing January; whether three thousand people were there murdered, as Irish authorities allege, or only “thirty families,” as Dr. Leland declares, or thirty persons, as Mr. Froude tells us, upon his own authority; on all these points there is a controversy, and, no doubt, will continue to be. Froude, following Leland and, places the incident in January, that it may appear to be an act of retaliation for other outrages which, he says, the Irish had been guilty of on their side. Now, Dr. Leland is no authority at all, because he was not yet born a hundred years after. But our Historian quite complacently cites the authority of a Dr. Reid, author of a History of the Irish Presbyterians, who cannot allow that his Scotch clients that night tumbled over the cliff more than “thirty persons,” counting only the heads of Leland’s thirty families. “Every detail of that business,” says Froude, “has been preserved, and can be traced to the minutest fibre of it:” and in a note, “The particulars are given exactly by Dr. Reid.”
Now, I know this decent clergyman, a country minister dwelling in the village of Rathmelton, Donegal county, – if he still lives. If he were to narrate to me a fact which he saw with his own eyes, I should believe him: but who will accept him as authority for what happened about a hundred and fifty years before he was born? If he said he had dreamed it, or that “the spirits” told him, I should suspect his reverence of being crazy; if he cited anything from the folios of the swearers, I should more than suspect his good faith. And is it not too audacious in Froude to pretend to stop the mouth of all authority and all tradition, with his Doctor of Donegal?
There is no compiler of Irish history more perfectly trustworthy than Dr. John Curry: and he has devoted a considerable space to an investigation of the affair of Island-Magee. I cannot hope to improve upon his remarks, nor effectively to condense them. He says: –
“The report that his Majesty’s Protestant subjects first fell upon, and murdered the Roman Catholics, got credit and reputation, and was openly and frequently asserted,” says Jones, Bishop of Meath, in a letter to Dr. Borlase, in 1679. And Sir Audley Mervin, Speaker of the House of Commons, in a public speech to the Duke of Ormonde, in 1662, confesses, ‘that several pamphlets then swarmed to fasten the rise of this rebellion upon the Protestants; and that they drew the first blood.’ And, indeed, whatever cruelties may be charged upon the Irish in the prosecution of this Avar, ‘their first intention, we see,’ says another Protestant voucher, ‘went no further than to strip the English and the Protestants of their power and possessions, and, unless forced to it by opposition, not to shed any blood.’ Even Temple confesses the same; for mentioning what mischiefs were done in the beginning of this insurrection, ‘certainly,’ says he, ‘that which these rebels mainly intended, at first, and most busily employed themselves about, was the driving away the Englishmen’s cattle, and possessing themselves of their goods.’
In a MS. journal of an officer in the King’s service, quoted by Mr. Carte, wherein there is a minute and daily account of everything that happened in the North of Ireland, during the first weeks of the insurrection, there is not even an insinuation of any cruelties committed by the insurgents on the English or Protestants; although it is computed by the journalist, ‘that the Protestants of that Province had killed near a thousand of the rebels in the first week or two of the rebellion.’ And on the 16th of November, 1641, ‘Mr. Robert Walbank came from the North, and informed the Irish House of Commons, that two hundred of the people of Coleraine, fought with one thousand of the rebels, slew six of them, and not one of themselves hurt. That in another battle, sixty of the rebels were slain, and only two of the others hurt, none slain.’ Nor do we find, in this account, the least mention of cruelties then committed by the Irish; but much of the success and victory of his Majesty’s Protestants subjects, as often as they encountered them.
It is worthy of particular notice, that a Commission of the Lords Justices, Parsons and Borlase, dated so late as December 23d, 1641, was sent down to several gentlemen in Ulster (where it is agreed on all hands that these cruelties and outrages were chiefly committed), in virtue of which Commission Temple and Borlase confess, ‘several examinations were afterwards taken of murders committed by the rebels, and the perpetrators of many of these murders were discovered.’ Yet the Commission itself, though it authorizes these gentlemen ‘to call upon all those who had then suffered in the rebellion, and all the witnesses of these sufferings, to give in examinations of the nature of them, and of every minute circumstance relating to them, expressly and particularly specifying every other crime usual in insurrections, and, then committed, in this, viz., plunder, robbery, and even traitorous words, actions, and speeches: yet I say there is not a syllable mentioned of any murders, then committed, in this Commission, nor any express power given by it to make inquiry into them. From whence it seems necessarily to follow, either that few or no such cruelties had been committed by the insurgents before the 23d of December, 1641, or that these Lords Justices deemed murders and massacres less worthy of their notice, of being strictly inquired after, than even traitorous words and speeches.
That a great number of unoffending Irish were massacred in Island-Magee, by Scottish Puritans, about the beginning of this insurrection, is not denied by any adverse writer that I have met with. An apology, however, is made for it by them all, which even if it were grounded on fact, as I shall presently show it is not, would be a very bad one, and seems at least to imply a confession of the charge. These writers pretend that this massacre was perpetrated on those harmless people in revenge of some cruelties before committed by the rebels on the Scots in other parts of Ulster. * * * *
A late learned and ingenious author of an history of Ireland (Leland) has shifted off this shocking incident from November, 1641, (in which month it has been generally placed), to January following, many weeks after horrible cruelties (as he tells us) had been committed by the insurgents on the Scots in the North. ‘The Scottish soldiers,’ says he, ‘who had reinforced the garrison of Carrickfergus, were possessed of an habitual hatred of Popery, and inflamed to an implacable detestation of the Irish, by multiplied accounts of their cruelties. In one fatal night they issued from Carrickfergus into an adjacent district called Island-Magee, where a number of the poorer Irish resided, ‘unoffending and untainted with the rebellion. If we may believe one of the leaders of this party, thirty families were assailed by them in their beds, and massacred with calm and deliberate cruelty. As if,’ proceeds the historian, ‘the incident were not sufficiently hideous, Popish writers have represented it with shocking aggravation.'”
An angry man was Sir Phelim O’Neill when he heard of the drowning at Island-Magee; but his duty to his own people called for stern retaliation; and that some acts of this nature were done, cannot and need not be denied. Sir Phelim was not naturally disposed to cruelty, and had anxiously sought to keep his men, – wild as they were with their wrongs and sufferings, within the limits prescribed at the beginning. Yet he had to give way to some extent; and it must be true that some Protestants were flung into the Bann river at Portadown, just as Catholics had been flung over the Gobbins cliffs.
I am bound to maintain, after all the examination I have been able to give to the ghastly story, that the Irish insurrection of 1641 was notable amongst insurrections for its mildness and humanity; and that, if the Irish were not the most gentle, patient, and good-natured people in the whole world, their island would long since have been a smoking wilderness of cinders soaked in blood.
Sir William Petty, looking calmly into the whole business, shortly after, says, with his usual coolness, that, at any rate:
“Upon the playing of this game, or match, the English won, and had, amongst other pretenses, a gamester’s right at least to their estates. As for the blood shed in the contest for these lands, God best knows who did occasion it!”
Ah! yes; God knows; and Petty knew; but could not afford to tell; for the title to those confiscated estates was at stake; not legally indeed, but morally, in the estimation of civilized mankind; and the prosperous Doctor, having a gloriously winning hand in that “match or game,” was content to enjoy his good luck, and leave the rest to God. The English did, indeed, win the game, after ten years of painful struggle and carnage; for Ireland did not sink under one blow, as Scotland did, at Dunbar: and this philosophic Doctor was the principal carver at the mighty feast of spoil. The insurrection was followed by a general war throughout the island, a war which the Lords of the Council took care to make general, because then the confiscations Avould be general also.
In the course of the war there were some bright clays for Ireland, and especially the day of Benburb; for the same covenanting rascal, Munroe, who slew the “poor people of Island-Magee, had the ill-luck, six years later, on a bright June day, to look in the face the greatest of all the O’Neills, the magnificent Owen Hoe. It is one of the shining points in our history, gleaming through the general darkness, on whose brightness Irish eyes love to dwell. Therefore, in this large History of Ireland, Mr. Fronde takes care never to mention how, on that bright summer day, General Munroe marched along the northern bank of the Blackwater with a formidable army, making no doubt that he would dislodge and disperse the Irish chiefs and their clansmen. But he knew little of the soldier opposed to him, – an officer trained in the French and Spanish wars; the defender of Arras against a Marshal of France; and an O’Neill of Ulster, full of vindictive loathing against the Covenanting leader who had shed the innocent blood of the clansmen of Tyrowen, at Newry and at Island-Magee.
The whole forenoon of that memorable day was spent in repeated attacks by Munroe’s troops, which were always steadily repulsed. O’Neill kept his men well in hand, and especially restrained his impetuous commander of horse, MacNeney, who burned to launch his riders upon the squadrons of Scottish cavalry. “Wait for the sun,” O’Neill said: “when the sun begins to sink towards the west, then will the Lord have delivered those Covenanting scoundrels into our hands.” Still the assaults continued, with loss and exhaustion on the part of the enemy; until the prudent Irish chief, who observed the sun that day, like an astronomer, saw that its rays were beginning to dart into the faces of the Scots. Now, steady, rapid, advance all along the line! And, now, MacNeney, the spur in your horse’s side, and the bridle upon his mane! In a few moments down went horse and foot, and there was no Covenanting army any more, only a howling rabble rout, flying for their lives.
They had need; for O’Neill, when he did move, “was hot upon the spur;” and Munroe and a party of officers betook themselves to ignominious flight. The General lost his hat and wig; but eastward still he urged his horse, splashing through the marshes of the Montiaghs, by the southern shore of Lough Neagh, across the Baun, about the place where the ghosts were still shrieking; and before morning, Protestant burghers of Lisburn were disturbed by the gallop of horses ready to founder. They looked out of window: it was only General Munroe and staff making their entry; but the frightened shopkeepers almost thought they heard at the town’s end the thundering hoofs of Owen Roe’s riders. Three thousand Scottish and English men fell on that day of Benburb; and the Irish nation felt that they had got a leader able to cope with the Lord General Cromwell.
As this affair of Benburb is creditable to Irish soldiership, therefore, Froude never alludes to it. The miserable “Historian” is always anxiously on the watch, rather to find some pretext for goading our people with a taunt; and it is really wonderful to observe how low down, and how far out of his way, he will go to contrive a cutting and stinging gibe. For example, by way of enforcing his favorite theory, that Irishmen require to be used with severity, and that the more you scourge them the more they love you, he quotes what he calls a Hibernian proverb, in Latin, to the effect that, if you soothe and flatter an Irishman, he will stab you, but if you kick him he will be your affectionate servant. Froude knows perfectly well, that this is a French proverb, which the proud seigneurs applied to their serfs, and that it had no reference to Ireland at all: – “Oignez vilain; il vous poindra: poignez vilain; il vous oindra” But our kind Historian, finding the proverb turned into a Latin hexameter, and perceiving that Hibernicus fits the measure, cannot resist the temptation. The Irish, according to him, made a proverb on themselves, proclaiming their own dastard servility. They say to all mankind in this proverb – Do us the pleasure, good sirs, to kick its, that we may have the gratification of kissing your honors’ boots! True, this is a small matter: so is the omission of all mention of Benburb: so is the taunt about the Irish paring their forests; yet these things show the vicious animus of the creature. If he cannot be always bombarding the Irish with cannon, he, at least, can occupy himself in pricking them with needles.