was a major cause of discontent. Roman Catholics had enjoyed a certain
degree of religious freedom under King James I and Charles I. But
they feared that the Puritans under Cromwell, who were coming to
power in England, would persecute them. In 1641 with memories of
their ruthless suppression by Lord Mountjoy, Sir
Arthur Chichester and others, little more than a generation
past, the Irish rebelled, and for 10 years war raged throughout
The Irish Catholics fought for
independence. The Old English joined them, but all through the war
they declared that they were loyal to the king and were fighting
only for religious freedom. The Protestants were also divided into
two groups: those who supported the king and those who supported
In 1642, the leaders of the rebellion formed
the Confederation of Kilkenny and appointed Owen
Roe ONeill and Thomas Preston as generals. ONeill won a great
victory at Benburb, in County Tyrone on
5th June 1646, ONeill and Preston didn't work well as a team. Three
years later on 6th November 1649 ONeill died at Cloughoughter Castle
in Lough Oughter, County Cavan while on his way to join a Royalist
army assembled by the Earl of Ormond.
Cromwell landed in
Dublin in August 1649 with an army of twenty thousand, he sacked
Wexford and marched north against Drogheda, took the town, and massacred
its people. His ruthlessness struck fear into Irish hearts, and
many of the southern and eastern towns surrendered without a struggle.
When Cromwell returned to England in 1650, the war was almost over,
but the Irish army did not surrender for another two years. After
the war, Ireland was in a wretched condition. Its population was
halved. Most of its leaders were either dead or living in exile,
and about 30,000 of its armed men had left to join the armies of
France or Spain.
The English government then undertook what
it hoped would be the final settlement of Ireland. Irish landowners
were ordered to move west of the River Shannon to the province of
Connacht before May 1, 1652, on pain of death. (Giving rise to the
phrase to 'Hell or Connaught.' attributed to Cromwell.) The provinces
of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster were divided among Cromwellian
soldiers and adventurers (Englishmen who had subscribed money to
pay for Cromwell's campaign in Ireland). Only the Irish landowners
were transplanted. The poor people were allowed to remain as tenants,
tradespeople, and labourers.
The Cromwellian settlement was not a complete
success. Many of the settlers sold their farms and returned home.
Others married into Irish families, and their descendants lost their
English characteristics. But the settlement did succeed in creating
a new landlord class. Before 1641, Roman Catholics owned about three-fifths
of the land. By the 1680's, they owned one-fifth.