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."
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
Q. Have you looked at what the Gaelic sources have to say about this
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'
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
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
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
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.