The book Gaelic
politics, culture and landscapes. Studies for the ‘Irish Chiefs’ Prize contains a number of essays on disparate themes. The essay below (which will not be published in the new title) gives a flavour of what readers may expect.
THE 1641 REBELLION: SECTARIAN CLEAVAGE AND LONGUE DURÉE
FRACTURE? A REGIONAL CASE STUDY FROM WEST WICKLOW.
Four decades after defeat at the
Battle of Kinsale, the resentment of the vanquished native Irish clans boiled
over when they supported the Roman Catholic Old English in the 1641 Rebellion.
Raymond Gillespie has identified Wicklow as one of the first counties outside
Ulster where the ‘Ulster rising found an imitator within weeks’.
While the rising in County Wicklow would hardly have happened without its
‘almost accidental’ Ulster precursor,
at local level the violence was no mere imitator of events elsewhere. Rebels
from Wicklow clans were eager to attack Wicklow settlers to settle scores and
unleash their resentment on the newcomers. By mid-November the O’Byrnes were in
revolt and were creating terror within a few miles of Dublin.
The 1641 depositions for
County Wicklow suggest that west Wicklow was engulfed in violence throughout
the 1640s. Robbery and the destruction of property were commonplace. It is
evident from the depositions that the rebels raided and plundered throughout
west Wicklow with impunity during the rebellion. However, the depositions also
reveal deeper underlying issues dividing settler and native in the region, and
violence as a manifestation of deep-seated religious and socio-economic
grievances. The best-documented example relates to the hanging of a Protestant
woman named Jane Fflood (Flood) in Hollywood during the spring of 1642.
Jane, the wife of Philip Flood of
Naas, was in Hollywood when rebels under the command of Anthony and Dónal Oge
McDonnell attacked the village. Some of the ‘said robbers took away the said
Jane Flood and carried her out of the town to a wood about two miles away… and
[she] was hanged by the said rebels’.
William Mandefield witnessed the incident and deposed that a certain John Murfy
was the ringleader of the rebels responsible for the hanging.
According to Nicholas Buckley, Morgan Donnell of Holliwood, accompanied Murfy,
also of Holliwood, and they hanged Jane Flood. Her body was disrespectfully
left uninterred, but Buckley stated that a lady named Sarah, whose surname he
did not know, brought a winding sheet and helped to bury Jane Flood three days
Both Murfy and Morgan McDonnell (the Morgan Donnell referred to by Buckley)
gave evidence before the commission of enquiry in March 1653. McDonnell denied
knowing either Jane Flood or her husband Philip, while Murphy admitted knowing
them, but denied complicity in the murder, stating however that he heard that
the Irish rebels had hanged her.
McDonnell’s deposition was given through an interpreter. At least one other
deposition regarding the case was also given thus, suggesting that Irish was
the language of the native clans of west Wicklow at this time. The verdict on
Murphy and McDonnell was not recorded in the depositions, but it is likely that
they were found guilty. Murphy’s father Phelim, also a rebel, was certainly
dead by October 1653.
The summary execution of Jane Flood points to the existence of sharp ethnic
animosities in the region. Jane Flood, a Protestant, was in the wrong place at
the wrong time.
execution by the rebels may have been a strategic military consideration, but
the rebels only perceived it to be so because of her Protestantism. In this
context, the episode also becomes a sectarian manifestation, and attests to an
undercurrent of sectarianism in west Wicklow during the mid-seventeenth
The Civil Survey of the 1650s
throws additional light on sectarian violence during the 1641 rebellion, and
the resulting reduction of the native Irish, Catholic population in the region.
County Wicklow was not included in the Civil Survey, but the entries pertaining
to villages and parishes in County Kildare close to the Wicklow border
demonstrate sectarian upheaval in the region. In the parish of Kilcullen, it
was not possible to establish to whom ‘the tythes of ye aforesaid Parrish of
Kilcullen had belonged in the year 1640… by reason that most of the ancient
inhabitants of the said half-barrony are either dead or transplanted into
Comparable entries exist for the adjacent parishes of Davidstowne and Uske
The survey also provides indices of Irish Papist and English Protestant proprietors
for each barony.
These reveal sectarianism operating more subtly. Throughout Ireland,
Protestants were replacing Catholics as landowners, evident in County Kildare
in the emergence of such Protestant proprietors as Sir William Dixon of
Calverstown and Sir William Parsons in Halverstown. They replaced older
Catholic proprietors such as Peter Sarsfield of Tully, whose lands were
confiscated. The Civil Survey leaves no room for doubt regarding the
separateness and the sharply contrasting fortunes of old Catholic Irish clans
and new Protestant settlers.
Early seventeenth-century social relationships that
crossed ethnic and religious lines occasionally occurred, but the protagonists of the 1640s and
early 1650s perceived themselves as polarised along lines of ethnicity and
religion. The 1641 depositions refer unequivocally and unapologetically to
‘Irish rebells’ and, more respectfully, to ‘English forces’. The Civil Survey of the early 1650s
divided landowners into ‘Irish Papists’ and ‘English Protestants’. This sense
of a society divided along ethnic and religious lines present in contemporary
English documents was also reflected in contemporary Irish literature.
While none of this refers specifically refers to Wicklow, the sentiment
expressed in the poetry of the diminishing band of seventeenth-century Gaelic
poets was as likely to reflect realities in Wicklow as elsewhere. Many of these
poems treat of a real separateness between native and settler, an ethnic and
religious gulf that existed within Irish society. This was even more evident in
the poems of the post-1641 rebellion and Act of Settlement period. In the
moving poem Exodus to Connacht, Fear Dorcha Ó Mealláin (c.1650)
ponders on the new religious reality:
If they call you ‘Papists’
Accept it gladly for a title
Patience, for the High
Deo Gratias, good the name
Ó Mealláin’s verse
highlighted the present without looking back to a happier past. Indeed, from
the 1660s to the 1680s, almost no Gaelic poet looked to the past, as if the
generation who lived through the upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s preferred to
forget the events of those decades.
One exception was Dáibhi Ó Brúadair (c.1625-1698), perhaps the greatest
Irish poet of the period, who railed against the post-rebellion settlers and
accused them of being social upstarts, without the expected attributes of
gentry. In the poem
The chaos which I see, dated 3 April 1674, the poet scorns the
recently-arrived planters and the changes in Irish society.
Every ostentatious upstart
swollen high with pompous pride
Who hath placed his whole
delight in cattle herds and white-fleeced sheep
Though he far would be from
deigning e’en to cast a glance at me
In the village we salute
him, doffed my hat must quickly be.
Later poets such as Egán Ó
Rahilly (1670-1728) used language that left no doubt as to the gulf between
native and settler, between ‘us and ‘them’. In Valentine Browne, Ó
Rahilly was distressed because the ‘alien devils’ had entered the ‘land of
Conn’ and he bewails the fact that the ‘foreign raven’ nested in the ‘wood of
In his last poem ‘I will not cry for help’, Ó Rahilly wrote ‘In the grave… I’ll
join those princes under whom were my ancestors before the death of Christ’.
The real allegiance of Gaelic Ireland (and this was as probable in the west
Wicklow region as in other places) remained with its vanquished leaders, rather
than with the new settlers, who were perceived as an alien, imposed, Protestant
gentry, the confiscators of Irish and Old English Catholic land.
Confiscation of Catholic
land was not a new phenomenon. In west Wicklow it began with the dissolution of
Baltinglass Abbey on 15 December 1537, when Abbot John Galbally surrendered the
abbey with all its ornaments (including church plate), jewels, chattels and
debts to the King’s commissioners. Sir Thomas Eustace was made tenant of the
abbey, granted these lands and became Viscount Baltinglass. Following the
failed Baltinglass revolt, the Statute of Baltinglass of 1585 outlawed this
branch of the Eustace family. The Harringtons (who eventually settled in one of
the abbey’s old granges, Grangecon) succeeded them as the tenants of
Changes in the ownership of church lands were also effected in these granges
and thus areas such as Grangecon, Irongrange and Grangebeg became the property
of Protestant proprietors. Following the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603, or in the
case of Wicklow following the defeat of Feagh Mac Hugh and Phelim Mac Feagh
O’Byrne’s rebellions, more Catholic land found its way into Protestant
ownership. However, this had been Gaelic Irish land, while in the 1650s the
confiscated lands principally belonged to Old English families such as the
Sarsfields, who were among the great losers in the Cromwellian settlement.
Peter Sarsfield was outlawed
for his participation in the 1641 rebellion and his lands were forfeited. He died in 1654. Peter Sarsfield’s
heirs protested his innocence and, following the Restoration, lodged a claim in
the Court of Claims established by the Act of Settlement of 1662. On Wednesday
17 June 1663 their case was heard. Peter’s son Patricke, his wife Anne and
their son William claimed a large amount of land, chiefly in Counties Kildare
and Dublin. However, George Stockdale, a Dublin gentleman, swore that he had
seen Peter Sarsfield ‘with Rory O’Moore and divers others at a meeting for
collecting monies to pay the Irish army’. Peter Sarsfield of Tully was indicted
and outlawed and the claim made by his heirs was not upheld.
No mention of land at Dunlavin
was made in the claim of Patricke Sarsfield however, because the Bulkeley
family had purchased the Sarsfield’s Dunlavin lands just before the 1641
rebellion. This explains the absence of these lands from Sarsfield’s claim of
1663 and the reference to a house at Dunlavin in Archdeacon William Bulkeley’s
Either way, by the early 1660s, the Sarsfield family links to their Dunlavin
lands were positively over. County Wicklow had 35 per cent of its land
confiscated in the Cromwellian settlement.
In common with much of the county, the Dunlavin area entered the 1660s firmly
in Protestant possession.
Ultimately the rebels of 1641
failed in their efforts, but the rebellion changed all, and the legacy of
division would linger long after the rebellion had ended in west Wicklow.
Seething resentment boiled over causing fracture in the 1690s, when the
Williamite Sir Richard Bulkeley, the Second Baronet Dunlavin, was prominent at
the Battle of the Boyne.
Another rebel defeat drove sedition underground,
but a century or so later, Dunlavin was the scene of the execution of over
forty suspected United Irishmen on the opening day of the 1798 Rebellion.
As late as 1832, during the trial of men arrested for their part in a
disturbance on Kelsha Hill near Donard during the Tithe War, one of the defendants exclaimed in court:
‘We’ll fight the battle of ’41 over again and then we’ll live in a free
country’. In his summation, Judge Torrens commented ‘I trust that the wretch who
made use of these expressions was not aware of the import of that which they
were calculated to convey’.
While it is possible that the accused man
was merely venting his frustration, both his invocation of 1641 and the judge’s
reaction to his utterance suggest that the events of the rebellion, or at least
its perceived and imagined events, were indelibly imprinted in west Wicklow
Much has been written about the
folk memories associated with the 1641 Rebellion. In Ulster, the event has
become anathema to Protestants, who point to sectarian massacres of their
predecessors by bloodthirsty Catholics. There is much debate regarding the
numbers killed, but that is not a topic for this essay. In west Wicklow, the
execution of Jane Flood provides evidence of a sectarian divide (as do other
sources), and later events in the Dunlavin region suggest that this phenomenon
remained in the collective religious psyche of the area, even surfacing two
centuries later during the Tithe War, which was also bitter in the region
– due in part at least to the divisive legacy of 1641 in west Wicklow.
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Trinity College Dublin Manuscripts Library
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Dublin, Ms 809
Depositions of 1641, County
Wicklow, Ms 811
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