February 4, 2005

Seminar: Irish Studies, 535

Meeting Date: February 4, 2005

Chair: Mary McGlynn

Speaker: Prof. Vincent P. Carey
    Professor of History, SUNY Plattsburgh

Title of Talk: "'Barbarous Cruelties and Bloody Massacres': The Outbreak of the 1641 Rebellion in Ireland and the Question of Identities."

Rapporteur: Cóilín Parsons

Attendees: Frank Naughton (Kean University); Alice Naughton; Rita Loughlin (American Irish Teachers Association); Peter Leahy (CUNY Graduate Center); Bob St-Cyr; Diane Menagh (Fairfield University); Séamus Blake (WFUV/Fordham University); Gertrude Hamilton (Marymount College of Fordham University); Thomas Ihde (Lehman College, CUNY); Joseph Lennon (Manhattan College); Karl Bottigheimer (SUNY Stony Brook); Sue Bottigheimer (SUNY Stony Brook); Martin J. Burke (Lehman College and The Graduate Center, CUNY); Anna Brady (ex. Queens College, CUNY); John Francis Mulligan; Clare Carroll (Queens College, CUNY); Bill McGimpsey.

"'Barbarous Cruelties and Bloody Massacres': The Outbreak of the 1641 Rebellion in Ireland and the Question of Identities."
A copy of the paper that Prof. Carey gave has been deposited with University Seminars.  The following is a synopsis of the paper.  Prof. Carey also showed a number of slides of woodcuts.

Prof. Carey began with an apology, noting that he is not an historian of the seventeenth century, but that he was attracted to the 1641 rebellion because of his interest in the literature of atrocity in Ireland.  The paper concentrates on Sir John Temple's enormously influential book, The Irish Rebellion, and explores the work of the representation of atrocity in the book in a comparative framework.  Temple's book--first published in London in 1646, and reprinted nine times before 1812--was the most popular of an explosion of printed works on the 1641 rebellion, which had more to do with Stuart politics than with real events in Ireland.
    The paper moved to a description of the events of the night of the 22nd of November, 1641, when an informer, Owen Mac Connell revealed the plot to take Dublin, apparently motivated by fear for his Protestant wife and children living in Ulster.  In Thomas Cranford's account of this night, Mac Connell is figured as having prevented a St. Bartholemew's Day massacre in Ireland, thus Cranford interprets the plot as genocidal, and part of a papist conspiracy.  This view became enshrined in Temple's influential account, which gives us a valuable insight into contemporary mentalités and identity politics.
    Temple's text is almost overwhelmed by the documents he provided to prove the existence of a nationwide Catholic plot, and he was at pains to prove the truth of his assertions that the conspiracy was "hammered out at the Roman forge."  His emphasis on the continental nature of the plot was reflective of an historical reality--increasing numbers of Irish Catholic gentry and clerics were receiving their education in colleges and seminaries on the continent.  The opportunity for the Catholic rebellion was offered by the troubles in Scotland, but for Temple the Scottish situation was quite different from the Irish--the Scots were British, Protestant and neighbours, whereas the Irish were "beyond the Pale" entirely.  The definition of Britishness is never quite clear in the book, but what is clear is that it does not include the Irish.
    According to Temple's account, Gaelic rebels were not the leaders of the plot, and the Old English were induced to join only because of the increasing political crisis in Britain and Ireland, which threatened their futures.  The real leaders were the Jesuits, priests and friars, "the viperous fraternity," who incited the gentry and the subordinate classes to act in the name of the Catholic cause.  Thus, Temple rejects the political goals laid out by the insurgents in their "Remonstrance"--religious toleration and the return of lost lands and power--and insists that the rebels sought nothing less than the restoration of a dominant Catholicism and the extermination of the "British."
    Temple's description of the outrages committed by the rebels included what were by now all the tropes of atrocity, with many recalling Las Casas or the 'Black Legend.'  The images of rebels bashing babies' heads against rocks, boiling babies in cauldrons, and throwing babies to the dogs, along with many other of the atrocity images, would have been familiar to readers of Protestant propaganda, and particularly of Las Casas.  The Irish atrocities were never described as random or senseless, and those who suffered from them were cast as religious martyrs.  For a British audience raised on Foxe's Book of Martyrs, what was taking place in Ireland was just another episode in a familiar history.  Temple's book provided a martyrology, a foundation myth, for the Irish Protestants that explained their role in the titanic struggle between good and evil.  The Irish, for Temple, were not nor ever could be loyal to the monarch or the state--they were by manners, custom, and religion inherently uncivil and disloyal.  Only by the removal of the Irish and the planting of their lands could apocalyptic struggle be won.

Q. Temple refuses to draw the analogy with Scotland, saying that they should be credited for their rebellion, and I am wondering how accurate his reading is of Scotland.
A. Temple comes from a Puritan perspective, which colours his view of the situation.  The Scottish situation was definitely not okay for Royalists.
Q. Have you looked at what the Gaelic sources have to say about this issue?
A. I haven’t done anything yet with the Gaelic sources, but there is some folklore on the rebellion, which Gillian Smith has worked on.  Ken Nicholls is apparently also working on those sources.
Q. Does Temple's work reflect intellectual perceptions of the rebellion, or is it a source of influence on those perceptions?
A. He is a constant sourcebook, and is reprinted every time the state is threatened.  His book is a storehouse of images, and is therefore very useful for describing rebellion.  There are some more extensive histories, such as Thomas Cranford's, as well as many pamphlets, but, in fairness to Temple, he is very precise.  Irish historians have accepted that many of the incidents he describes did take place.  He blends the depositions with a Protestant history and martyrdom, with all its apocalyptic imagery.
Q. He overwhelmingly uses the term "British" for the settlers.  Is he unusual in this, or do others also use this term?
A. Nicholas Canny has argued that the term "British" was put into circulation at this time, and it was used in other places to refer to people of the island of Britain.  The Anglo-Irish, however, never referred to themselves as "British."  Temple, of course, does not coin the phrase--from Camden onwards it has been in general use.  What I find interesting is the clarity of term at time, and then its unclearness.  If the Old English cannot be "British," why would we use that term?
Q. It struck me that you actually have 2 subjects: the first is the literature of atrocity, which relates to atrocities in fairytales, and indeed in Ovid's Metamorphoses; the second is the identity question, which you can approach by looking at the intersections of atrocity literature and identity.  Identity becomes interesting when it is bounced off atrocity literature.
A. Yes, I am most interested in the atrocity stories.  I have found very similar ideas and images in accounts of the German Peasants' War.
Q. The Germans spend much time on the atrocities of the Bible.
A. Clare Carroll has traced atrocity literature back to Eusebius.  Where this is problematic is when we try to figure out what is a literary trope, and what is an atrocity.
Q. Yes, but I think that humans have proven their imaginativeness in atrocities.  On another note, in popular literature there is a shift from the term "English" to "British" in the early eighteenth century.
A. I think the question is this: if we find literary tropes does that negate them?  This is a problem area for me.
Q. It seems to me that you have to examine Temple as a propagandist, and to recognise that propaganda cannot be taken for fact.  You seem to have taken British politics out, leaving out Royalist interpretations--that the rebels were plotters on behalf of the King.  The atrocities were separate from the Dublin plot, and the plots have an element of the Jacquerie.
A. Many of the Gaelic elite did not see themselves as Royalists, though some did.  But I do have a problem with the term "British."  You can see comparisons in other colonial sites.  “British” is not a value-free term, and I don’t think that their Royalism necessitates the use of the term “British.”
Q. The argument over the term “British” may not be an interesting argument.
A. Yes, it is propaganda, but it is very influential--when the army was going into Drogheda it was fired up by propaganda.  Large numbers of Puritans took this literature as legitimation of their actions.
Q. October 1641 saw the events you describe in the pub, but didn't the action begin in February of that year with the Burke atrocities in Mayo?
A. I am not familiar with that incident.
Q. Were the Irish understood as presented as continentally influenced, or a pre-modern people?
A. Their actions were described in the stereotypical ways of the sixteenth century--they were "savage" or "cannibalistic"--but that is joined by the Black Legend, and the masses are seen as dupes of the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation.  Their deviousness is being used as part of an international conspiracy.  The texts for the most part have a difficulty in this regard with the Old English in Ireland, who are Catholic.  Anyone from Ireland can never really be fully trusted or integrated--in the extensive atrocities in the English Civil War captives from Ireland were executed on the spot by both sides.
Q. It would be a good idea to define propaganda, because the term is ambiguous.  Is this a case of the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?  On a different note, how did the Scots in Ireland fit into the picture?
A. The book was thought of at the time as history, but we see it now as mostly propaganda.  The Scots in Ulster held off from the war, and the Gaelic Irish mostly held off from attacking them, but I don’t think I can answer that part of your question sufficiently.