TCD Historian’s New Book and Documentary Series on Oliver Cromwell in Ireland

Posted on: 08 September 2008

On the 350th anniversary of his death, Oliver Cromwell continues to bestride the stage of Irish history like a colossus. TCD lecturer in history,  Dr Micheál Ó Siochrú, has just published a new book on the figure and this transformative period of Irish history entitled – God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland.   A two-part  television documentary, Cromwell in Ireland,  based on the book and co-scripted by Dr Ó Siochrú   will also  be broadcast on RTÉ 1 tonight at 10.15pm (September  9th) and   September 16th next.

Cromwell spent only nine months of his eventful life in Ireland, yet he stands accused there of war crimes, religious persecution and ethnic cleansing. The massacre of thousands of soldiers and civilians by the New Model Army at both Drogheda and Wexford in 1649 must rank among the greatest atrocities in Anglo-Irish history: a tale that makes decidedly uncomfortable reading for those keen to focus on Cromwell’s undoubted military and political achievements elsewhere.

In a century of unrelenting, bloody warfare and religious persecution throughout Europe, Cromwell was, in many ways, a product of his times. As commander-in-chief of the army in Ireland, however, the responsibilities for the excesses of the military must be laid firmly at his door, while the harsh nature of the post-war settlement also bears his personal imprint. Cromwell was no monster, but he did commit monstrous acts. A warrior of Christ, somewhat like the crusaders of medieval Europe, he acted as God’s executioner, convinced throughout the horrors of the legitimacy of his cause, and striving to build a better world for the chosen few. He remains, therefore, a remarkably modern figure, somebody to be closely studied and understood, rather than simply revered or reviled.

Dr Micheál Ó Siochrú lectures in history at  TCD’s School of Histories and Humanities and has written extensively on seventeenth-century Ireland. His publications include Confederate Ireland 1642-1649: A constitutional and political analysis (Dublin, 1999) and Kingdoms in crisis: Ireland in the 1640s (Dublin, 2001). God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland has been published by Faber & Faber and is available in all bookshops.