Chapter 17: Rise and Progress of the Protestant Religion in Ireland; with an Account of the Barbarous Massacre of 1641 (4/9)

In order that this detested scheme might the more infallibly succeed, the most distinguished artifices were practiced by the papists; and their behavior in their visits to the Protestants, at this time, was with more seeming kindness than they had hitherto shown, which was done the more completely to effect the inhuman and treacherous designs then meditating against them.

The execution of this savage conspiracy was delayed until the approach of winter, that sending troops from England might be attended with greater difficulty. Cardinal Richelieu, the French minister, had promised the conspirators a considerable supply of men and money; and many Irish officers had given the strongest assurances that they would heartily concur with their Catholic brethren, as soon as the insurrection took place.

The day preceding that appointed for carrying this horrid design into execution was now arrived, when, happily, for the metropolis of the kingdom, the conspiracy was discovered by one Owen O’Connelly, an Irishman, for which most signal service the English Parliament voted him 500 pounds and a pension of 200 pounds during his life.

So very seasonably was this plot discovered, even but a few hours before the city and castle of Dublin were to have been surprised, that the lords-justice had but just time to put themselves, and the city, in a proper posture of defense. Lord M’Guire, who was the principal leader here, with his accomplices, was seized the same evening in the city; and in their lodgings were found swords, hatchets, pole-axes, hammers, and such other instruments of death as had been prepared for the destruction and extirpation of the Protestants in that part of the kingdom.

Thus was the metropolic happily preserved; but the bloody part of the intended tragedy was past prevention. The conspirators were in arms all over the kingdom early in the morning of the day appointed, and every Protestant who fell in their way was immediately murdered. No age, no sex, no condition, was spared. The wife weeping for her butchered husband, and embracing her helpless children, was pierced with them, and perished by the same stroke. The old, the young, the vigorous, and the infirm, underwent the same fate, and were blended in one common ruin. In vain did flight save from the first assault, destruction was everywhere let loose, and met the hunted victims at every turn. In vain was recourse had to relations, to companions, to friends; all connections were dissolved; and death was dealt by that hand from which protection was implored and expected. Without provocation, without opposition, the astonished English, living in profound peace, and, as they thought, full security, were massacred by their nearest neighbors, with whom they had long maintained a continued intercourse of kindness and good offices. Nay, even death was the slightest punishment inflicted by these monsters in human form; all the tortures which wanton cruelty could invent, all the lingering pains of body, the anguish of mind, the agonies of despair, could not satiate revenge excited without injury, and cruelly derived from no just cause whatever. Depraved nature, even perverted religion, though encouraged by the utmost license, cannot reach to a greater pitch of ferocity than appeared in these merciless barbarians. Even the weaker sex themselves, naturally tender to their own sufferings, and compassionate to those of others, have emulated their robust companions in the practice of every cruelty. The very children, taught by example and encouraged by the exhortation of their parents, dealt their feeble blows on the dead carcasses of the defenseless children of the English.

Nor was the avarice of the Irish sufficient to produce the least restraint on their cruelty. Such was their frenzy, that the cattle they had seized, and by repine had made their own, were, because they bore the name of English, wantonly slaughtered, or, when covered with wounds, turned loose into the woods, there to perish by slow and lingering torments.

The commodious habitations of the planters were laid in ashes, or leveled with the ground. And where the wretched owners had shut themselves up in the houses, and were preparing for defense, they perished in the flames together with their wives and children.

Such is the general description of this unparalleled massacre; but it now remains, from the nature of our work, that we proceed to particulars.

The bigoted and merciless papists had no sooner begun to imbue their hands in blood than they repeated the horrid tragedy day after day, and the Protestants in all parts of the kingdom fell victims to their fury by deaths of the most unheard-of cruelty.

The ignorant Irish were more strongly instigated to execute the infernal business by the Jesuits, priests, and friars, who, when the day for the execution of the plot was agreed on, recommended in their prayers, diligence in the great design, which they said would greatly tend to the prosperity of the kingdom, and to the advancement of the Catholic cause. They everywhere declared to the common people, that the Protestants were heretics, and ought not to be suffered to live any longer among them; adding that it was no more sin to kill an Englishman than to kill a dog; and that the relieving or protecting them was a crime of the most unpardonable nature.

Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, Chapter 17

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