Borlase: The History Of The Irish Rebellion

Pdf Borlase, Edmund, The History of the Irish Rebellion, Oli Nelson, 1743
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The History Of The Irish Rebellion was written by Edmund Borlase in 1743 just over a century after the bloody Catholic rebellion of 1641 which was a contributing factor to the English Civil War and the conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell. The rebellion was a key episode that led to the Protestant domination of Ireland until the 19th century.

In the late 12th century Norman conquerors arrived in Ireland and subdued much of the country. However by the 14th century the native Gaelic Irish were resurgent and English rule was limited to an area around Dublin known as the Pale. Norman lords intermarried with the Gaelic Irish and adopted their language and customs further diluting the power of the English monarchy over Ireland .

In the early 16th century Henry VIII of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church beginning the English Reformation in Ireland . Most of the Gaelic Irish and ‘Old English’ descendents of the Norman conquerors refused to renounced their Catholicism. The Tudor royal dynasty sought to subdue Irish rebellion and plant Ireland with Protestant settlers. The Earls of Tyrconnell and Tyrone were defeated at Kinsale in 1603 opening the way for the Ulster Plantation in 1609 by James I also known as James VI of England and Scotland. He encouraged Scottish lowland Protestants settlers to take over the lands of displaced Gaelic Irish Catholics.

Bankrupted by the cost of wars in Europe and rebellion in Scotland , Charles I who succeeded his father in 1625 found the English Parliament unwilling to raises taxes to pay for military expenditure. Radical Protestants resented the established Anglican Church and feared Charles I, who was married to a Catholic French Queen, would try to reverse the Reformation in England .

Hard pressed Gaelic Irish Catholics sensing an opportunity launched an abortive coup in 1641. Hugh g MacMahon and Conor Maguire were to seize Dublin Castle , while Phelim O’Neill and Rory O’Moore were to take Derry and other northern towns. The plot aimed to overthrow Protestant rule in Ireland and force both the King and Parliament to restore their religious freedom and their traditional lands. Instead of mounting an open attack on their targets the rebels contrived to take them by surprise. However the conspirators were double crossed by Owen O' Connolly who betrayed their plans to the authorities.

Direct result of the failed coup and was complex multi-sided war in Ireland between Anglican Royalists loyal to Charles I, Covenanters loyal to Scottish rebels, Parliamentarians and an uneasy alliance between the Catholic Gaelic Irish and Old English Norman nobility. The 1641 rebellion was characterized by bloody massacres of thousands of Protestant civilians which contributed to English Protestant paranoia that Charles I was in alliance with the Catholics. It did not help that Charles I had made peace with Catholic Spain and France and extricated himself from the ongoing religious wars in Germany to save money.

To make matters worse Scottish forces conquered much of Northern England and the King had to pay them tribute to avoid the burning and pillage of cities and towns. Civil war eventually broke out between Charles I and his Royalist allies and Parliamentarians eventually led by an ambitious and ruthless cavalry officer named Oliver Cromwell. By 1649 Charles had been defeated and executed for treason and Cromwell had become de facto dictator with the title of Lord Protector.

By 1649, a Gaelic and Old English Catholic Confederacy based on Kilkenny controlled two thirds of Ireland . Covenanters, Parliamentarians and Royalists held out inside besieged walled towns and in Ulster . However the Catholics and the Royalists joined an uneasy alliance to oppose Cromwell who invaded Ireland in 1649 fresh from victory in England . By 1653 Cromwell had subdued all organised opposition to Parliament throughout Britain and Ireland after bloody fighting and famine had depopulated whole regions.

Catholic lands and titles were seized and given as payment to Cromwell’s supporters and soldiers. Until the19th century their descendents would dominate Ireland and became known as the Protestant Ascendancy. The Gaelic Irish and many of the Old English Catholics were reduced to the status of illiterate tenants and landless peasants due to draconian Penal Laws discriminating against them politically, religiously and economically.

After Oliver Cromwell’s death he was succeeded by his son Richard as Lord Protector in 1658. However the British monarchy was restored in 1660 under Charles II, who had taken refuge in France , after a military coup and the agreement of Parliament. His Catholic brother James II succeeded him in 1685 but a Protestant rebellion ousted him. Renewed war culminated in the defeat of Catholic forces at the Boyne in 1690 by James II's nephew and son in law, the Protestant King William III of Orange . Catholic dynasties who had sought to reverse their losses in the Cromwellian invasion half a century before were once again heavily defeated.

By 1743 when Borlase wrote his account of events a century before, British rule in Ireland was virtually unchallenged. The 1798 United Irishman rebellion inspired by the French Revolution ended in failure and led to the Act of Union 1800 that united the kingdoms of Ireland and Britain . Landowning Anglo-Irish Protestant dynasties would dominate Ireland until Catholic Emancipation in 1829, resurgent Irish nationalism in the later half of the 19th century and finally the Irish Revolution 1916-1923 unravelled their hereditary supremacy. The massacres of Protestant settlers in the rebellion of 1641 continue to be commemorated in the 21st century by Protestant loyalists in Northern Ireland who seek to retain union with Britain and fiercely oppose political unification with the Republic of Ireland .

Edmund Borlase (1620-1682) was an Irish historian who was educated at Trinity College Dublin. Borlase had a Protestant upbringing and his book was criticised for being too harsh on Irish Catholics. Despite his political bias, the book remains an reasonably faithful and accurate description of the 1641 rebellion in Ireland .


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