It was in August of 40 that Cromwell landed in Dublin. 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 rare taste of the qualities of
this agent of God the Just, and first Friend of the Irish was given to the people at
Drogheda. Only thirty men out of a garrison of three thousand escaped the sword. After
Drogheda, Cromwell in quick succession reduced the other northern strongholds, then turned
and swept southward to Wexford - two thousand were butchered here. Cromwell reduced the
garrisons of Arklow, Inniscorthy and Ross on the way to Wexford. After Wexford he tried to
reduce Waterford, but failing in his first attempt, and not having time to waste besieging
it, passed onward - and found the cities of Cork an easy prey. He rested at Youghal,
getting fresh supplies and money from England. In January he took the field again, reduced
Fethard, Cashel and eventually got Kilkenny by negotiation. Against his new and powerful
cannon, the ancient and crumbling defences of the Irish cities were of little avail. The
conqueror then - in the end of May - sailed from Youghal for England after having in eight
months, subdued almost of Ireland, destroyed the effective Irish forces, and left the
country prostate at the feet of the Parliament. He left in command his general, Ireton,
who on his death soon after, was to be succeeded by Cromwells son, Henry. It took his
successors another two years to finish up the remnant of work that he had left unfinished.
Waterford, Limerick and Galway still held out. Scattered bands of fighters here and there,
and an army of the North, under Heber MacMahon, kept Ulster resistance still alive. The
few towns - Waterford, Limerick, Galway - and the scattered fighting forces were gradually
conquered or capitulated. Till on the 12th May 52, Articles of Kilkenny signed by
the Parliamentary Commissioners on the one hand and the Earl of West Meath on the other -
yet fiercely denounced by the Leinster clergy - practically terminated the longest, the
most appallingly dreadful and inhumane, and the most exhausting, war, with which
unfortunate Ireland was ever visited.
The Cromwellian Settlement
But Irelands sufferings, great and terrible as they had been, were yet
far from ended. "Ireland , in the language of Scripture, lay void as a wilderness.
Five-sixths of her people had perished. Women and children were found daily perishing in
ditches, starved. The bodies of many wandering orphans, whose fathers had been killed or
exiled, and whose mothers had died of famine, were preyed upon by wolves. In the years
1652 and 1653 the plague, following the desolating wars had swept away whole counties, so
that one might travel twenty or thirty miles and not see a living creature". In
September 1653, was issued by parliament the order for the great transplanting. Under
penalty of death, no Irish man, woman or child was to be found east of the River Shannon,
after the 1st May 1654. Sir William Petty, in his Political Anatomy of Ireland, estimated
that the wars had reduced the population.
The Later Penal Laws
When fire and sword had signally failed to suppress the Irish race new
means to that end must be found. So the fertile mind of the conqueror invented the Penal
Laws. The object of the Penal Laws was threefold ;
1) To deprive the Catholics of all civil life
2) To reduce them to a condition of most extreme and brutal ignorance
3) To dissociate them from the soil
The Penal Laws enacted or re-enacted in the new era succeeding the siege of Limerick, when under the pledged faith and honour of the English crown, the Irish Catholics were to be "protected in the free and unfettered exercise of their religion", provided amongst other things that :
The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion,
He was forbidden to receive education.
He was forbidden to enter a profession.
He was forbidden to hold public office.
He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
He was forbidden to purchase land.
He was forbidden to lease land.
He was forbidden to vote.
He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
He could not be guardian to a child.
He could not attend catholic worship.
He could not himself educate his child.
The law soon came to recognise an Irishman in Ireland only for the purpose of repressing him.
The Volunteer movement in the 1780s first began to take the edge off Protestant prejudice. In the year 1793, an Act was passed relieving the Catholics of many of their disabilities - in theory at least. Another thirty-six years were to elapse before the next step was taken, under compulsion from the OConnell agitation, and the Act known as Catholic Emancipation made law.