The Puritan Massacres of Catholics

On October 2, 1649, the English Parliament appointed a national Thanksgiving Day in celebration of the dreadful slaughter—and by unanimous vote placed upon the Parliamentary records—"That the House does approve of the execution done at Drogheda as an act of both justice to them [the butchered ones] and mercy to others who may be warned by it."

BY Seumas MacManus

EXCERPT FROM "The STORY of the IRISH RACE" (Copyright © 1921)

It was in August of ‘40 that Cromwell landed in Dublin, with eight regiments of foot, six of horse, and several troops of dragoon—in all seventeen thousand of the flower of the Puritan army. They were extraordinary men, his Ironsides—Bible-reading, psalm-singing soldiers of God—fearfully daring, fiercely fanatical, papist hating, looking on this land as being assigned to them the chosen people, by their God. And looking on the inhabitants as idol-worshiping Canaanites who cursed of God, and to be extirpated by the sword. They came with minds inflamed by the lurid accounts of the "great Popish Massacre," which for some years now had been, by the Parliamentarians sedulously circulated among the English people. A sample of this literature is the pamphlet published in London in 1647 by a noted Puritan preacher (and writer) Nathaniel Ward: "I beg upon my hands and knee that the expedition against them (the Irish) be undertaken while the hearts and hands of our soldiery are hot; to whome, I will be bold to say, briefly: happy be he that shall reward them as they served us, and cursed be he who shall do the work of the Lord negligently. Cursed be he who holdeth back the sword from blood: yea cursed be he that maketh not the sword stark drunk with Irish blood; who doth not recompense them double for their treachery to the English; but maketh them in heaps on heaps, and their country the dwelling place of dragons—and astonishment for nations. Let not that eye look for pity, nor hand be spared, that pities or spares them; and let him be cursed that curseth them not bitterly."

To keep the men’s venom at the boiling point there were chosen to travel with the troops, and also to sail with the fleet, Puritan preachers of the Word distinguished for their almost demoniacal hatred of the papistical Irish. Stephen Jerome, Hugh Petes, and their like, noted for the violence of their invective against all thing s Irish and Catholic, preached a war of extermination in the most startling and fearful manner—in the pulpit invoking the curse of God upon those who should hold their hands from slaying "while man, woman or child or Belial remains alive." Peters exhorted his hearers to do as did the conquerors of Jericho, "kill all that were, young men and old, children, and maidens."

The great leader of the grim Ironsides, himself, was destined to leave behind him in Ireland for all time a name synonymous with ruthless butchery.

The first rate taste of the qualities of this agent of God the Just, and first Friend of the Irish was given to the people at Drogheda. When he took this city he gave it and its inhabitants to his men for a three days’ and three nights’ unending orgy of slaughter. Only thirty men out of a garrison of three thousand escaped the sword; and it is impossible to compute what other thousands of non-combatants, men, women, and children, were butchered. They were slain in the streets, in the lanes, in the yards, in the gardens, in the cellars, on their own hearthstone. They were slain in the altar steps, in the market-place—till the city’s gutters ran with red rivulets of blood. In the vaults underneath the church a great number of the finest women of the city sought refuge. But hardly one, if one, even of these, was left to tell the awful tale of unspeakable outrage and murder. Arthur Wood, the Historian of Oxford, gives us a narrative compiled from the account of his brother who was an officer in Cromwell’s army, and who had been through the siege and sack of Drogheda—which throws interesting sidelight upon the British methods, and the quaint point of view of the most cultured of them. "Each of the assailants would take up a child and use it as a buckler of defense to keep him from being shot or brained. After they had killed all in the church they went into the vaults underneath, where all the choicest of women had hid themselves. One of these, a most handsome virgin arrayed in costly a dn gorgeous apparel, knelt down to Wood, with tears and prayers begging for her life; and being stricken with a profound pity, he did take her under his arm for protection, and went with her out of the church with intention to put her over the works, to shift for herself, but a soldier, perceiving his intention, ran the sword through her, whereupon Mr. Wood, seeing her gasping, took away her money, jewels, etc., and flung her down over the works."

In his despatch to the Speaker of the House of Commons, after Drogheda, Cromwell says: "It has pleased God to bless our endeavour at Drogheda. . . . the enemy were about 3,000 strong in the town. I believe we put to the sword the whole number. . . .This hath been a marvelous great mercy. . . . I wish that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone, to whom indeed the praise of this mercy belongs." And again, "In this very place (St. Peter’s Church), a thousand of them were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety. . . .And now give me leave to say how this work was wrought. It was set upon some of our hearts that a great thing should be done, not by power or might, but by the spirit of God. And is it not so, clearly?"

On October 2, 1649, the English Parliament appointed a national Thanksgiving Day in celebration of the dreadful slaughter—and by unanimous vote placed upon the Parliamentary records—"That the House does approve of the execution done at Drogheda as an act of both justice to them [the butchered ones] and mercy to others who may be warned by it."

After Drogheda, Cromwell, in quick succession reduced the other northern strongholds, then turned and swept southward to Wexford—where he again exhibited to the people the face of the King and Friend. Two thousand were butchered here. He thought it a simple act of justice to "the Saint," his soldiers, to indulge them in the little joy of slaughtering the Canaanites. He writes: "I thought it not right or good to restrain off the soldiers from their right of pillage, or from doing execution on the enemy."

Lingard, in his History of England says: "Wexford was abandoned to the mercy of the assailants. The tragedy recently enacted at Drogheda was renewed. No distinction was made between the defenseless inhabitants and the armed soldiers, nor could the shrieks and prayers of three hundred females who had gathered round the great Cross in the market-place, preserve them from the swords of these ruthless barbarians."

Nicholas French, Bishop of Wexford who escaped from the city, and after terrible suffering and privation, escaped from the country, records: "On that fatal day, October 11th 1649, I lost everything I had. Wexford, my native town, then abounding in merchandise, ships, and wealth, was taken at the sword’s point by Cromwell, and sacked by and infuriated soldiery. Before God’s altar fell sacred victims, holy priests of the Lord. Of those who were seized outside the church some were scourged, some thrown into chains and imprisoned , while others were hanged or put to death by cruel tortures. The blood of the nobles of our citizens was shed so that it inundated the streets. There was hardly a house that was not defiled with carnage and filled with wailing."

At Cashel, where two thousand were slain, Cromwell’s general, Broughill, took the Bishop of Ross, cut off his hands and feet, and then hanged him. A Dominican friar had his fingers and toes cut off before he was slain. And at Clonmel, a Franciscan was first drawn on the rack and then had his hands and feet burned off, after which he was hung. The parish priest of Arklow was tied to a wild horse’s tail and dragged to Gorey, where he was hanged.

The attitude adopted by the exterminators towards those whom they were exterminating is illumined to us when we know that the most wildly grotesque stories told of the latter, were greedily accepted by the former. In Nash’s edition of the Hudibras, it was gravely stated that when seven hundred Irish had been put to the sword by Inchiquin, "Among them were found, when stripped divers that had tails nearly a quarter of a yard long. Forty soldiers, eye-witnesses, testified the same on their oaths." A Protestant minister with the troops in Munster wrote home to London that when they had stormed a certain castle, many of the slain defenders were found to have tails several inches long!