An Irish Village

Monday, February 24, 2014

The 1641 Rebellion and its legacy

The book Gaelic Ireland (c.600-c.1700): 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 The essay below (which will not be published in the new title) gives a flavour of what readers may expect.


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. [1] Raymond Gillespie has identified Wicklow as one of the first counties outside Ulster where the ‘Ulster rising found an imitator within weeks’. [2] While the rising in County Wicklow would hardly have happened without its ‘almost accidental’ Ulster precursor, [3] 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. [4]  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’. [5] William Mandefield witnessed the incident and deposed that a certain John Murfy was the ringleader of the rebels responsible for the hanging. [6] 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 later. [7] 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. [8] 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. [9] 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. [10] Her 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 century.

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 Connought’. [11] Comparable entries exist for the adjacent parishes of Davidstowne and Uske (Usk). [12] The survey also provides indices of Irish Papist and English Protestant proprietors for each barony. [13] 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, [14] 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’. [15] 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: [16]
If they call you ‘Papists’
Accept it gladly for a title
Patience, for the High King’s sake
            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. [17] 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. [18] 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. [19]
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 Ross’. [20] 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’. [21] 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 Baltinglass abbey. [22] 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. [23]  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. [24]  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 1641 deposition. [25] 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. [26] 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. [27] Another rebel defeat drove sedition underground, [28] 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. [29] 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 folk memory. [30]

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 [31] – due in part at least to the divisive legacy of 1641 in west Wicklow.


Manuscript Sources

Russell Library, N.U.I. Maynooth

Shearman Papers, vol. xvii

The National Archive, Kew

Customs and Excise Papers, Cust 1/26

Trinity College Dublin Manuscripts Library

Depositions of 1641, County Dublin, Ms 809

Depositions of 1641, County Wicklow, Ms 811

Published Sources

Abbot, C. M. and Abbot, N. B., Voyage of the Othello, taking 117 passengers from Liverpool to Australia in 1833 returning by Indonesia, journal kept by Surgeon Thomas Mitchell and a story of an emigrant family (York, 1988).

Beckett, J. C., The making of modern Ireland 1603-1923 (5th ed., London, 1973).

Bottigheimer, Karl S., English money and Irish land: the ‘Adventurers’ in the Cromwellian settlement of Ireland (Oxford, 1971).

Chavasse, Claude, The story of Baltinglass (Kilkenny 1970).

Cope, Joseph, ‘The experience of survival during the 1641 Irish rebellion’, Historical Journal, 46 (2003), pp 295-316. 

Corish, Patrick J., The Catholic community in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Dublin, 1981).

Dineen, Patrick S. and O’Donoghue, Tadhg (eds), Dánta Aodhagain Ui Rathaille: The poems of Egan O’Rahilly, iii (London 1909).

Fitzgerald, Lord Walter, ‘Dunlavin, Tornant and Tober, county Wicklow’, Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, vii, 4 (1903), pp 217-33.

Foster, R. F., Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London, 1988).

____   The Irish story: telling tales and making it up in Ireland (London, 2002). 

Gillespie, Raymond, Seventeenth-century Ireland (Dublin, 2006). 

Kiernan, Eamon (ed), A guide to St. Doulagh’s church (nd).

Lynch, John, The life of St. Patrick from Walter Harris’s translation of Sir James Ware’s works together with the Confessio Sancti Patricii and the Epistola ad Christianos tyranny Corotici subditos Sti. Patricii (London c.1870).

Mac Erlean, John C. (ed.), Duanaire Daibhid O Bruadair: The poems of David O Bruadair, ii (London, 1913).

Ó Tuama, Sean and Kinsella, Thomas (eds), An duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the dispossessed (Mountrath, 1981).

Tallon, Geraldine (ed), Court of Claims: Submissions and Evidence 1663 (Dublin, 2006).

The Civil Survey A.D. 1654-1659 (with introductory notes and appendices by Robert C. Simington), [viii, County of Kildare] (Dublin, 1952).

The parliamentary debates published under the superintendence of T. C. Hansard, new series, 2 (London, 1820-29).

Electronic Sources

‘Wars and conflict – the plantation of Ulster’,, visited on 12 April 2012.

‘The most complete history of Dublin on the web – Parish of Tallaght’,, visited on 4 July 2001.

‘St. Doulagh’s Church’, visited on 5 July 2002. 

[1] R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London, 1988), p. 87.
[2] Raymond Gillespie, Seventeenth-century Ireland (Dublin, 2006), p. 147.
[3] Raymond Gillespie contends that ‘the initial outbreak of rebellion was really almost an accident’ on (visited on 12/4/2012)
[4] J.C. Beckett, The making of modern Ireland 1603-1923 (London, 1966), p. 85.
[5] Deposition of Shane O’Hurily (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, f. 244)
[6] Deposition of William Mandefield (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, f. 243)
[7] Deposition of Nicholas Buckley (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, ff 241-241v)
[8] Depositions of John Murphy and Morgan McDonnell (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, ff 238-238v and 240)
[9] Deposition of Nicholas Buckley (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, f. 242)   
[10] The very fact that her case is featured in the depositions is indicative that she was Protestant. She was hanged because ‘she did use to go to Harristowne and other English Garrisons and the said Rebels were afraid that she would discover their actions and betray the said Rebels to the English’. Deposition of Shane O’Hurily (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, f. 244v)
[11] The Civil Survey A.D. 1654-1656 (with introductory notes and appendices by Robert C. Simington), viii, County of Kildare (Dublin, 1952) p. 78.
[12] The Civil Survey A.D. 1654-1656, County of Kildare, pp 97-9.
[13] The Civil Survey A.D. 1654-1656, County of Kildare. The relevant indices for the areas directly bordering Dunlavin parish are on pp 80 and 100. 
[14] See, for example, the cases of Philip MacMulmore O'Reilly and George Creichton documented in Joseph Cope, ‘The experience of survival during the 1641 Irish rebellion’, The Historical Journal, 46, (2003), pp 295-316. 
[15] See, for example, Depositions of Nicholas Buckley and William Mandefield (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Wicklow, Ms 811, ff 241-241v and 243)
[16] Sean Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella (eds), An dúanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the dispossessed (Mountrath, 1981), p. 107.
[17] Raymond Gillespie, Seventeenth-century Ireland (Dublin, 2006), p. 278.
[18] Gillespie, Seventeenth-century Ireland, p. 230.
[19] John C. Mac Erlean (ed), Dúanaire Dáibhid Ó Brúadair: The poems of David Ó Brúadair, ii (London, 1913), p. 21.
[20] Patrick S. Dineen and Tadhg O’Donoghue (eds), Dánta Aodhagáin Ui Rathaille: The poems of Egán Ó Rahilly, iii (London 1909), pp 31-3. Also Ó Tuama and Kinsella (eds), Poems of the dispossessed (Mountrath, 1981), pp 161-3.
[21] Patrick J. Corish, The Catholic community in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Dublin, 1981) pp 70-1. Dineen and O’Donoghue (eds), The poems of Egan O’Rahilly, iii, pp 115-7.
[22] Claude Chavasse, The story of Baltinglass (Kilkenny, 1970), pp 24-33 passim.
[23] Lord Walter Fitzgerald, ‘Dunlavin, Tornant and Tober, County Wicklow’, Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, vii, 4 (1903), p. 219.
[24] Geraldine Tallon (ed), Court of Claims: Submissions and Evidence 1663 (Dublin, 2006), pp 156, 157.
[25] Bulkeley’s deposition was taken in Dublin, but his evidence pertained to the Dunlavin area. ‘At Dunlavin, the destruction of [Bulkeley’s] house at Milltown (only built in 1640), and of a garden and orchard newly surrounded with quickset hedges was lamentable to behold’. Deposition of William Miles on behalf of Archdeacon William Bulkeley (TCD, 1641 Depositions, County Dublin, Ms 809, f. 254). See also, visited on 4 July 2001.
[26] Karl S. Bottigheimer, English money and Irish land: The ‘Adventurers’ in the Cromwellian settlement of Ireland (Oxford, 1971), p. 215.
[27] John Lynch, The life of St. Patrick from Walter Harris’s translation of Sir James Ware’s works together with the Confessio Sancti Patricii and the Epistola ad Christianos tyranny Corotici subditos Sti. Patricii (London, c.1870), cited in Eamon Kiernan (ed), A guide to St. Doulagh’s church, (nd), p. 18. See also (visited on 5/7/2002). 
[28] A tantalising reference to Jacobitism in Dunlavin survives. On 25 March 1734 the inhabitants of Talbotstown barony presented a memorial complaining that the collection of the Talbotstown excise office had always been held at Dunlavin, but ‘two years ago it was moved to Castledermot in county Kildare to the great inconvenience of the memorialists, many of whom were 17 [Irish] miles from Castledermot’. Memorial of the inhabitants of Talbotstown to Richard Evelyn, the collector, to hold the excise office at Dunlavin as formerly, 25 Mar 1734 (National Archives, Kew, Cust 1, 26, f. 1) In his reply to this memorial Evelyn explained that he ‘removed the office from Dunlavin to Castledermot because the woman of the house’s son where the office was held drank the pretender’s health and there was not another convenient house there’. Richard Evelyn to memorialists, 3 Apl 1734 (National Archives, Kew, Cust 1, 26, f. 11).
[29] Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, ff 127v-31)
[30] The references to the 1641 rebellion, an event that happened almost two centuries before this trial, are revealing. The author observed similar reactions by some people, involving popular perception rather than historical fact, during the bicentennial commemoration of the 1798 massacre in Dunlavin in 1998. In 1822 Charles Grant pointed out that there were ‘vivid recollections of past history’ among the Irish people, and it was ‘astonishing indeed to observe the force and intensity of those mental associations’. The parliamentary debates published under the superintendence of T. C. Hansard, new series, 2, vi, (London, 1820-29), 2 Apl 1822, col. 1504. R. F. Foster suggests ‘In Ireland, the idea of self-validation through received [historical] memory has grown apace’. R. F. Foster, The Irish story: telling tales and making it up in Ireland (London, 2002), p. 29.
[31] There were numerous violent incidents in Dunlavin, with agrarian unrest taking many forms. The situation was sufficiently disturbing to persuade one Protestant Dunlavin couple, James and Martha Fenton, to emigrate to Australia on board the Othello due to the ‘bloody tithe riots of 1832’.The Fentons migrated with their children, because they ‘feared a recurrence of the 1798 rebellion which would still haunt their minds as an atrocious conflict’.  C. M. and N. B. Abbot, Voyage of the Othello, taking 117 passengers from Liverpool to Australia in 1833 returning by Indonesia, journal kept by Surgeon Thomas Mitchell and a story of an emigrant family (York, 1988), pp 80-3.