As proficient as Good Queen Bess' minions were at devastating the natives, their efforts paled in comparison to those of a commoner who came along a century later -- Oliver Cromwell, a name that will live in infamy as long as one Irishman draws breath anywhere on the face of the earth. While he was certainly not the first man of power to attempt the extermination of a race, hit try at genocide ranks with the very best. It Was, for instance, much more noteworthy than that of Walter Devereaux, Earl of Essex, who sought to please Elizabeth I by destroying thousands of Irishmen.
Of course, there are those who insist the Irish brought it on themselves by their repeated refusals to accept the lot accorded them by the English. Rebellion, armed and otherwise, was an ever-present reality in all corners of the Irish countryside. In 1649 Cromwell was placed in charge of a large army, one well-equipped and trained, and dispatched to Ireland to subdue, for all time, its obstinate people.
After landing at Dublin, Cromwell turned northward and fell upon the coastal city of Drogheda. He smashed its defenses and laid it waste. Then he got down to the grisly business at hand, the implementation of his plan of conquest -- take one stronghold at a time and then kill every man, woman and child who survived the onslaught. With 8,000 foot soldiers, 4,000 horse soldiers and the latest weaponry at his disposal, his goal seemed achievable.
The messacre of Drogheda, was staged in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell--Left
on his white charger. Seaking to avenge English deaths in Ulster,
Cromwell slaughtered 3,500 people.
Alas, even Cromwell tired of the slaughter. It wasn't that he had objections to it, it was just that it was so time-consuming that it reduced his overall efficiency. He came to realize that at his present rate of conquest and extermination, he would reach old age before completing the task at hand. He devised a method of speeding things up that, while more subtle, was nevertheless as brutal. It has been known for centuries in the civilized world as slavery.
He divined that Irish women, girls and even young boys could be gotten rid of quickly and profitably by packing them on ships headed for the Crown's colonies in the West Indies, where the planters and soldiers were already tiring of a steady diet of dark-skinned women. In all, over 30,000 women and children of Ireland were dispatched to Jamaita and other Caribbean ports of call, while an additional 4,000 were sent to the ripening colony in Virginia.
As for the men, their fate was little better. Nearly an equal number of them, especially those from the routed armies of the mightier Irish chieftains, brought a fetching price from the continent, where royalty knew the value of good fighting men. The armies of Poland, Spain and France were soon set rattlina by the presence of tall, fair-skinned Irishmen, whose valor was assured.
But when even these methods could not rid Ireland of the Irish, Cromwell was driven to rage and finally despair. It was at this time that he issued his famous cry, "Go to hell or Connaught." Thus, the remaining Irish were to be herded on a reservation and .....
kept there at all costs, the better to prevent them from havina any influence on the new settlers the Crown was bringing over daily from Scotland and other sections of Britain.
It was no garden spot that Cromwell picked for the Irish to spend their future existence. Connaught, a desolate, wind-swept corner of northwestern Ireland, was described by one historian of the time as "a province with not enough wood to hand a man, water enough to drown him or earth enough to bury him." As Nelson Callahan suggests in his accompanying piece, a case might be made for hell.
Some of the more stubborn Irish refused to be transplanted and took to the woods and mountains in other provinces, living lives that have been described as "of wild brigandage." Whatever price the Crown put on their heads, they survived, attended to spiritually by their privet hedge guidance counselors and, no doubt, by a host of magical fairies, the very same wee people who were wont to play tricks on those bent on harming the Irish. They did a terrible thing to Cromwell's soldiers in Connaught, for instance. Within 40 years of their arrival in that province, not one of their children could speak a word of English.
Cromwell was by no means the last of Ireland's tormentors. There were so many who followed him that it would take a tome just to list their names. What must be remembered is that from the time of Henry VIII to Victoria Regina, the tormenting centered on the Irishman's religious beliefs and practices -- his Roman Catholicism.