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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: November, 2010|
Like A Virgin!
|Witnesses To Mass Murder In The Icy Bann is the headline to an Irish Times article advertising the opening of a Trinity College exhibition of documents written by Protestants who suffered a setback in the English/Scottish ethnic cleansing of Ulster in 1641.
If the word "murder" is to be used about events in a conflict of civilisations over three and a half centuries ago, then so must some other words that are not pleasant.
There was a time—we recall it well: it was not very long ago—when superior people deplored the fact that there were bigots with long memories who carried on about things that happened in the 17th century as if those events had something to do with us. As we understood their position, it was that there was a time in the past beyond which moral standards and moral judgments did not apply That view seemed sensible to us and we were happy to go along with it. But, if the superior people now want to publish sensationalist headlines about "murder" in the mid-16th century, and relate that "murder" to politics in the present day, then we must also discuss ethnic cleansing, colonial displacement, cultural genocide, and perhaps even actual genocide.
The subject is a Pandora's Box, best left unopened. But the superior people have opened it—their columnist John Waters has assured us that they are the superior people. So be it!
A correspondent to the Irish Times (22 Oct.) wrote:
"It is hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of the publication of the 1641 Depositions in Trinity College Library, hidden from view (in the best Trinity manner) for well over three centuries. They provide detailed accounts of the massacre of Protestant settlers at the outbreak of the 1641 rebellion, and future study of them will surely alter our perception of the nature of religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.
So Professor Morgan of the Chaucer Hub is shocked by the revelation from the opening of hidden documents of alleged massacre in Ulster.
Hidden documents! There have been long stretches of time when published histories of Ireland seemed to deal with little but the allegations in these "hidden" documents.
Do the superior people have an amnesia switch that enables them to forget about the Trinity Depositions so that they can experience the excitement of encountering them and being penetrated by them again? Like A Virgin!
The ethnic cleansing of Ulster accomplished under James Ist was followed by the establishment of a functional system of government under Charles 1st. An Irish Parliament representing the main social bodies in the country, including Catholic and Protestant, settler and Gael, met during the 1630s when the English did not meet as it had shown itself subversive of government. The Stuart monarchy was acceptable to the Irish on traditional grounds, despite what it had done to them. However, it was not acceptable to an English faction, and when the English Parliament was called in 1640-41, it went into rebellion. The King's Minister in Ireland was called to London and killed by the rebellious Parliament. His crime was that he had governed Ireland as a Kingdom of the Three Crowns, instead of as an English adjunct.
The governing of Ireland was disrupted by political instability in England, not for the first time or the last. The Henry the Eighthist-Elizabethan state religion was thrown off by a wild, anarchic kind of Protestantism, lacking the coherence of the evolved forms that developed on the Continent.
If we are to talk emotionally about murder with relation to 1641, it should be about the murder of the King's Irish Minister by the unstable, fanatical religious fundamentalists who had usurped the power of state by means of Parliament, broken the stable Government in Ireland, and threatened mayhem in Ireland against Catholics and those loyal to the Crown.
The dispossession of the Irish in Ulster by the Crown, and the displacement of the natives by colonists—selected on sectarian grounds to minimise the danger of fellow-feeling arising between the new possessors and the dispossessed—had happened a generation before the governing system based on the Plantation was undermined by the English Parliament. It had happened well within living memory. The State—the regime—on whose authority it was done, was undermined. The dispossessed acted to resume possession. They set about uprooting the Plantation.
As far as one can tell at this distance, the regime of the Crown in the Irish Parliament was functional. When the regime was overthrown, the consequences were much like the consequences of the overthrow of the functional Baathist regime by USUK, with Irish assistance.
Is there an eternal morality that applies to these things, and that is applicable, regardless of circumstances and elapsed time?
We are told that the overthrow of the Iraqi regime was virtuous because it brought down a "tyrant", and did not lose its virtue because of what it led to, even though the consequences were foreseeable. We gave the people of Iraq their freedom and that was a meritorious act, regardless of what they did when freed from the regime.
But there was a social stratum in Iraq that felt free under the tyranny, and because of the tyranny, under which there was a degree of order, a kind of citizenship, and reliable infrastructure of public amenities that enabled them to live like us. And the Irish had reason to know that, having had a considerable degree of intercourse with the Tyranny.
The Iraqi middle class was destroyed by the freedom we helped to bring the country—either by being broken internally by the Reign of Terror that freedom brought, or managing to get out and find countries where their skills were valued.
Tariq Aziz, the representative Christian Prime Minister in the Tyranny, has just been sentenced to death by the Shia Government for religious persecution. Shia freedom was certainly curbed by the Tyranny, and large numbers of Shias were drawn into administering the system of the Tyranny. If we are to take it that religious persecution is a crime meriting death—and as supporters of the liberation of Iraq how can we do otherwise?—then a lot of re-writing of Irish history needs to be done. The English tried for hundreds of years to civilise us by religious persecution.
And let us recall that, when the persecuting regime in Iraq was overthrown, the persecuted were urged to seek out the persecutors and kill them.
We supported the overthrow of the regime in our little way, and Minister Mansergh, adviser to Taoiseachs, explained why it was the right thing to do. And, to the best of our knowledge, we still think it was a good thing to wreck the Tyranny (the State), but carry on as if that act was separable from its consequences. We are in denial about the mayhem we helped to bring about seven years ago. And yet we seem to be on the verge of pleading guilty for the revolt of the survivors of the Ulster Plantation against the Plantation over a third of a millennium ago, when the authority responsible for the Plantation was being overthrown.
About fifteen years after 1641, the English Rebellion, having conquered Ireland in the usual way, was conducting persecutions in Ireland of people who had not remained true to their allegiance in 1641 after the structure of that allegiance had been broken by the English Parliament, and had done killings not authorised by the lawful authority—the lawful authority being the one overthrown by those English rebels.
And we are now being persuaded to have second thoughts about Cromwell,and perhaps apologise for having called him a bad man. And the reasons we are given for re-considering are the merest quibbles.
What Cromwell should be judged by is not his military behaviour in Drogheda, or whether the religious freedom he announced was genuine—even though it criminalised the Mass. He was a bad man because he was a mere rebel—an incompetent revolutionary perhaps, but therefore a mere rebel.
Rebellion is becoming popular in southern Ireland. The Mercier Press—one of the few Irish book publishers left—has approvingly reduced the Constitutional Revolution enacted in 1918-21 to a mere Rebellion. Rebellion may be a good thing in some circumstances—e.g. when life is made intolerable by a state and there is no practical possibility of improving it, and one becomes a Whiteboy or an Intefadist—but there is no excuse for it when a rebel acquires state power but remains a rebel.
Cromwell gained immense power and dictatorial authority but didn't know what to do with it. He was a religious fanatic whose fanaticism ran out and left him in the doldrums. God stopped telling him what to do, so he didn't know what to do. He died and left a shambles behind him. His disciples were lost sheep. The King that Cromwell failed to capture and kill was brought home to restore the Monarchy—and he killed a raft of rebels while the country gave a sigh of relief.
Why should we bother our heads about this troublemaker—this bungling rebel? Clarendon—who left the incompetent Parliament to serve the King, and who returned to office with the King, said he was a "great bad man". Maybe so. Not many rebels achieve supreme power in a state. But, of those who did so, we know of none who just did not know what to do with it.
If, as the Irish Times says, the Ulster dispossessed who tried to get their property back, when the authority of the State was undermined, were murderers, then Cromwell was a murderer. He did not have lawful authority. It was acknowledged by all in 1660 that lawful authority remained with the Crown. There was no English Republican Government In Exile. It was the Republicans, whose Republic had collapsed in their own heads, who brought back the King and made submission to him. And it was as an element in Monarchial Government that the English Parliament gained a role in the conduct of the state that was not disruptive of the state.