The Irish " Killing Time " - 1641

It would take several large forests to write about all the events which allegedly occurred and to represent every point of view. The following is just a snapshot of how events affected the Presbyterian settlers.

In Ireland the persecution of the Presbyterians had sown the seeds for rebellion by the native Irish under Sir Phelim O`Neill who sought to rid themselves of British rule and recover forfeited lands. It is thought possible that the Irish took a leaf out of the Scottish Covenanters book, who in 1639-40 resorted to armed resistance, albeit minimal, in the Bishops Wars, and had wrung concessions from Charles I.

O`Neill is, however, quoted as declaring

"He would never leave off the work he had begun till Mass should be sung or said in every church in Ireland, and that a Protestant should not live in Ireland, be he of what nation he would."

At a meeting at the Abbey of Multifarnham in Westmeath about a fortnight before the rebellion commenced, some of the clergy present recommended that a general massacre was the the safest and most effectual  method of putting down the Protestant ascendancy. In the ensuing rebellion  the priests featured large and commonly anointed the rebels before they went about their murderous activities. A parting encouragement was an assurance that if they chanced to be killed they would escape Purgatory and go immediately to Heaven. They told the people that 

 "the Protestants were worse than dogs, they were devils, and served the devil, and the killing of them was a meritorious act."

The initial outbreak on 23 October 1641 aimed to seize Dublin Castle but this failed through the courage and vigilance of a Presbyterian Elder, Captain Owen O`Connolly, who passed information to Dublin Castle in good time. Elsewhere, however, the insurgents ransacked towns and massacred its inhabitants. with Protestants of any faith a primary target. This then was the " Killing Time " in Ireland and the cause for Scottish troops to be deployed to protect the Protestant settlers.

Some of the major towns such as Enniskillen, Londonderry, Coleraine, Carrickfergus, Lisburn and Belfast received timely warning and were able to prepare for and repulse attack . But other small towns and the countryside in general were ravaged. Protestant homes, farms, churches, minister`s houses were torched and the occupants stripped naked and left cowering in the hedgerows in what was one of the severest winters in memory. It was said that the river Blackwater in Co Tyrone turned red with the blood of the murdered populace.

Some historians allege that the 1641 Rebellion was not as bad as some might paint it. However, there are thirty two volumes of sworn depositions in the library of Trinity College, Dublin that give a horrific description of events. These tell of children having their brains dashed out against a brick wall; or being thrown into pots of boiling water. Of people having their eyes gouged out, hands and ears cut off; of being buried alive; of women stripped naked and cut up with knives; and even strips of flesh cut from a victims who were roasted alive.

At Loughgall some 300 men women and children were stripped of their clothing and locked in the church. They were then selectively assaulted and brutalised, raped , butchered, broiled over hot gridirons and hung drawn and quartered. At Portadown it is reported that 196 persons were hurled into the river and drowned in one day ; and that about 1000 in all suffered in this way.

Ministers of the church were particularly dealt with extreme cruelty, hung, dismembered, and pieces of their bodies thrust into their mouths in mockery. One was hanged at his church door and another forced to swim in Lough Neagh until he drowned. Thomas Murray, minister of Killyleagh was actually crucified with the bodies of two English gentlemen suspended either side of him in mockery of the Crucifixion. The gruesome business did not stop there. The minister`s two sons were hacked into pieces in front of him and his wife grossly abused and had half her tongue cut out. She survived and made an appearance before Parliament where she was awarded compensation (though it is thought it was never paid).

In the fields and hedgerows multitudes suffered privation, cold and disease. Bodies lay where they were and the smell of death pervaded everything. A plague broke out and it is said that 6000 died in Coleraine while Belfast, Carrickfergus and Lisburn also suffered badly.

Into the fray came Major General Munro and 10,000 Scottish troops, who arrived in Carrickfergus in February 1642. The Scottish soldiers were able to restore order in some parts of the province but were unable to totally defeat the Irish insurgents. Importantly the soldiers were accompanied by their own chaplains who were to play a prominent part in the Presbyterian rebirth in Ireland. These chaplains organised a Session in each regiment and when there were four they created the first regular Presbytery on 10 June 1642.The ministers were Hugh Cunningham who settled at Ray, Co Donegal; Thomas Peebles at Dundonald and Holywood; John Baird at Dervock; John Aird and John Scott who later returned to Scotland. Support from Scotland soon helped the re establishment of Presbyterian congregations but more tribulations were to follow.

An interesting event involving the Covenanters occurred in May 1644.The English Parliament appointed General Munro commander in chief of all the English and Scottish forces in Ireland on 27 April 1644 . Sir James Montgomery, knowing of this, called his officers together on 12 May with a view to arranging the hand over of command to Munro who was, at the time, in Carrickfergus. Scouts sent out were captured and , under orders from Munro, deliberately misreported no sign of movement towards Belfast and the guard was relaxed. But Munro had speedily marched through the night and caught Belfast by surprise, much to the amazement of the British Colonels. Munro`s excuse was that he did not feel safe in the town without his own troops, and besides there were those, meaning Colonel Chichester and his regiment, who had declined to accept the Solemn League and Covenant. 

In the course of this seizure of Belfast a troop of soldiers of Col Arthur Chichester`s regiment had been stood down at Stranmillis, on the

outskirts of Belfast. Munro had ordered that they march with drums beating and colours flying to the Market Place and there they were required to ceremonially shred their colours as an indication of obedience to the Scottish army and the Covenant. The duplicity seems to have been unnecessary as the British Colonels placed themselves under his command forthwith but is indicative of the mistrust that existed between the so called allies.



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