Tuesday, March 17, 2020

1641 depositions relating to Athy

The Rising of 1641 started in Ulster on 22nd October. It was prompted by concerns regarding freedom of religion for Catholics and property rights stemming from the growing anti-Catholic drive of the English parliament. The Rising saw attacks by Catholics on Protestants and reprisals by Protestants on Catholics resulting in widespread sectarian massacres. The native Irish people of Islandmagee of County Antrim were massacred following the mass murder of Ulster plantation settlers before the insurgences turned south and captured Dundalk on 31st October. In early December the old English Catholic gentry of the Pale fearing a backlash against all Catholics joined their co-religionists in rebellion which quickly spread throughout Ireland. Accounts of the 1641 Rising which drew on depositions collected from Protestant survivors of the war fed into the theory that the Rising was a premeditated plot engineered by Catholic interests to exterminate the non-Catholic population. The 1641 depositions were taken by Commissioners appointed by the Lord Justices of Ireland in December 1641 to record the testimony of those ‘robbed and despoiled’ during the Rising and a later commission recorded the number of persons ‘murdered by the rebels’. The accounts collected by the Commissioners prompted the passing of the Adventurers Act by the English parliament in February 1642 which sought to finance the cost of supressing the 1641 Rising by subscriptions paid by English adventurers in return for land taken from the rebels. This was followed by the Cromwellian Land Settlement Act of 1652 which was passed to meet the cost of Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland by authorising the confiscation of Irish lands for distribution amongst adventurers and soldiers. Three commissioners came to Athy in April 1642 to take depositions from victims of the 1641 Rising. Due to a combination of unsuitable conditions and the high proportion of deponents who had not prepared a written statement of their losses beforehand, the commissioners recordkeeping was less than impressive. One of the first persons to be examined in Athy was Hugh Conway who gave an account of the killing of John Taylor about one mile from Athy in what he described as a field close to a windmill. Margaret Rawson of Inch gave an account of three score rebels breaking into her house and taking household goods, cattle and corn. Mary Cox of Athy had a similar story, her losses amounting to £250 resulting from the theft of corn, three horses and various household goods. Richard Hyatt, a merchant of Athy, had his house broken up by about 60 rebels, including one man unnamed who was later hanged. James Pearse, a cooper from Athy, claimed that he had to flee for safety with many of his protestant neighbours to the castle of Athy which was then in the possession of John Murphy, ‘a zealous and honest protestant’. He recounted how before Easter 1642 the rebels flocked to the town of Athy and how he and his protestants neighbours set on fire their own houses located near the castle. The castle was besieged several times by the soldiers of Colonel Fitzgerald of Ballyshannon who had earlier taken possession of Sir Robert Meredith’s house in Cloney. It was perhaps the earlier mentioned John Murphy who gave evidence before the Commissioners on 21st May 1642, describing himself as a merchant and ‘an Irish protestant all my life’. He swore the following to be rebels, John Harris (butcher of Athy), Gerald Fitzgerald of Brownstown, Thomas Jacob, Carlow, George Walker’s son of Athy, Edward Nugent of Kilkea, Roger Kelly of Athy ‘who was lately executed’, Edward Moore (broguemaker) of Athy and Nicholas Mulhall (merchant) of Athy. Ann Tope, widow of the late Gerald Tope of Athy, swore that she was deprived of several properties including lands attached to the Abbey of Athy on which there were approximately 40 years lease still to run. Like so many others examined by the commissioners she was unable to say who had caused her losses. Other Athy residents recorded as making Dispositions included William Beck (butcher), Robert Pickles (servant), Edward Hickman (merchant) and John Wade (spurrier). The latter alleged that three different companies of rebels robbed and murdered the people of the town of Athy. He mentioned the killing of Richard Barter and Thomas the thatcher, whose body was mutilated after he was hanged, but reserved his deepest anger for Patrick Doran of Athy who with his daughter Ann Doran stole Wade’s chest of linen, some pewter and a salted hog and brought them to Doran’s own house. The 1641 Depositions taken from largely Protestant eyewitnesses to events following the outbreak of rebellion in Ulster in 1641 gave in many cases detailed accounts of tragic happenings throughout Ireland. Some of the Depositions however were fanciful and were used by Sir John Temple whose ‘History of the Irish rebellion’ gave lurid and exaggerated accounts of massacres by both Catholic rebels and Protestant settlers. His book encouraged mutual distrust amongst Irish people of different religions which took many many years to disappear.

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