Marking the 400th Anniversary of the Ulster Plantation, TCD Conference, ‘Plantation and Reaction: The 1641 Rebellion’ Re-assesses its Disputed Histories

Posted on: 24 October 2009

Public Lecture ‘1641 Massacres’  opens Conference in which Professor Aidan Clarke questions if there was a premeditated massacre of Protestant settlers and 4,000 killed in cold blood.

Marking the 400th anniversary of the Ulster Plantation, international experts gathered at a two-day conference hosted by Trinity College Dublin that opened on Friday, October, 23rd  last in Dublin Castle to re-assess the plantation and its disputed histories and heritage. The Trinity conference titled ‘Plantation and Reaction: The 1641 Rebellion’ was a third in a series of conferences this year organised by TCD in conjunction with Goldsmiths’ College, London and the University of Ulster to mark the 400th anniversary, focused on the 1641 Rebellion by the Catholic Irish, and brought together experts on plantation, colonisation and rebellion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A public lecture by TCD’s Professor Aidan Clarke on the ‘1641 Massacres’ opened the conference. The ‘1641 Massacres’ were the subject of a bad-tempered, centuries-long debate that came to an inconclusive end about one hundred years ago.  The debate centred around two separate but often confused questions: did the 1641 Rebellion begin with a premeditated massacre of Protestant settlers?  and how many Protestant settlers were killed in cold blood in the early years of the rebellion?  Dr Clarke addressed both questions, arguing the case for two propositions.  First, that the present prevailing assumption that there was no premeditated massacre is confirmed by contemporary evidence.   Secondly, that there is no evidential basis whatever for the recently evolved consensus that ‘about 4,000’ settlers were killed in cold blood.   Dr Clarke concluded by suggesting some guidelines for the conduct of the renewed debate that is likely to follow upon the publication of the thousands of witness statements preserved in Trinity College, known as the ‘1641 Depositions’.  These Depositions are the witness statements of mainly Protestant settlers to the events that occurred in the aftermath of the rebellion.

Back Row: Mr John Tierney, Dr Micheál Ó Siochrú, Professor John Morrill, Professor Tom Bartlett, Dr Edda Frankot, Dr Annaleigh Margey.

Front Row: Dr John Hegarty, Professor Aidan Clarke, Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Dr Elaine Murphy.

Collected by government-appointed commissioners, the witness testimony constitutes the chief evidence for the sharply contested allegation that the rebellion began with a general massacre of Protestant settlers. As a result, this material has been central to the most protracted and bitter of Irish historical controversies. In Ireland, both North and South, that controversy has never been satisfactorily resolved and successive generations have invented and re-invented the past in response to contemporary developments. Propagandists, politicians and historians have all exploited the Depositions at different times.

The manuscript collection of the 3,400 depositions are currently being digitised as part of the research project, in a cross-institutional research project between TCD, Aberdeen University and Cambridge University and will be published next year.

In addition to the public lecture, other participants at the weekend conference included Nicholas Canny, Willie Smyth, Peter Wilson, Judith Pollmann, Andy Wood, Karen Kupperman, Igor Pérez Tostedo, David Edwards and Ronald G. Asch.

Commenting on the significance of the conference, co-organiser of the event and lead academic of the 1641 Depositions Project, TCD’s  Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smith’s Chair of Modern History said:  “Professor Clarke is a world authority on the 1641 Depositions. This combined with the fact that the rebellion broke out on the night of the October 22nd  1641, with a failed attempt to take Dublin Castle, makes this event and the location both timely and significant”.

“The conference brings together for the first time leading academics of the early modern period who situated the 1641 Irish rebellion in its local, national, European and Atlantic contexts, together with experts on massacre, atrocity and ethnic cleansing”.

This conference was organised by the 1641 Depositions Project, which is a collaborative initiative by academics from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Cambridge and IBM (LanguageWare).


Extracts from the 1641 Depositions:
Portadown, Armagh
Deposition of William Clarke
‘William Clarke … Tanner, a British Protestant sworn and examined deposed that … he was by the rebels imprisoned for nine days with at least one hundred men, women and children. During this time, many of his fellow prisoners were tortured by the rebels who strangled them among many other cruelties. After his imprisonment, Clarke with about 100 other men women and children were driven like hogs about six miles to a river called the Bann in which space of six miles these Christians were barbarously abused by the rebels. They forced them and pricked them with swords and pikes in their sides. They murdered three on the way to the river, namely William Fullerton, minister of Levileglish, and one Master Abree and Richard Gladwish. They drove the rest down to the river and then forced them to go up on to the bridge. This was then cut down and the rebels then stripped the said prisoners naked and with their pikes and swords and other weapons thrust them down headlong into the river and there they immediately perished and those who tried to save their lives by swimming to the shore the rebels shot them. ‘

Belturbet, Cavan
Deposition of Ambrose Bedell
The deponent [Ambrose Bedell] was credibly told by some of the rebels that the river of Belturbet (where the rebels had drowned several protestants) was formerly replenished with much fish, which after the drowning of those protestants went away, so that none could be seen in the river within half a mile of the drowning place, where plenty were caught before. The rebels said this was the judgment of God, because of the drowning of those people.

Silvermines, Tipperary

Deposition of William Timmes
being all armed some with pistols others with skeins hatchets swords & other weapons, came all together on a Sabbath day, about Candlemas 1641, suddenly & Rebelliously into the refining house of the said mines of Knockanaderrick. And then & there in severall rooms of the same, and in places near the same did assault and set upon the said English persons, and stripping some of them naked they then and there with their said weapons did most miserably and mortally slash, cut, knock in the heads & wound them that they then and there died, There being then and there such a great loud and dangerous storm of thunder, lightening, rain, wind and tempestuous weather That those in the 2nd, 3rd or other rooms of the house could not (as was credibly reported hear the cries or noise of the slain people in the first next or any other room but where themselves were: & yet the same tempest (the vehemence whereof was such as the like was not before observed) could not nor did soe deter but animate those bloody murderers to desist or forbear until they had then and there butchered and absolutely putt to death these protestants