Protestant Social & Economic Activities in County Carlow

Contributed by Elaine Callinan

An exploration of the background and livelihoods of those who deposed in 1641 produces a wealth of information, not initially expected.  Taken collectively the depositions fashion towns and villages, and society emerges by scanning the wide range of occupations carried out by people in the 1600s.  Slowly but surely seventeenth-century Ireland begins to spring to life.   Data in these depositions gives insight into the Protestant social and economic activities in Ireland before they were disturbed by the 1641 rebellion.
There are 95 depositions taken from or referring to the County of Carlow.  A surface examination of occupations in Carlow produces a large number of Gentlemen, husbandmen and Yeomen.  There are Merchants, Clergymen, a Blacksmith, Innkeeper and Tanner to name a few.  Deponents also gave evidence of lost lands and goods with many mentions of stolen cattle, sheep and other farm animals and implements, giving proof of a rural economy.  For example, John Peerson (MS 812, fols. 024r-024v) who is described as a British Protestant in the County of Carlow lists the items that were taken from him on 6th November 1641.  They include: a yearling calf, a saw and two sythes, 16 horse shoes and nails, iron, steel, trees and fuel for fire, money and – he was being very specific – a pail of butter.  Edward Lyons (MS 812, fols. 020r-020v), on the estate belonging to Sir John Temple’s mother, claimed that he had been robbed of sheep, cows and other goods, and he names the Bagenals of Dunleckny, the Byrnes and Nolans as his attackers.  Identification of the rebels allows further research to ascertain their backgrounds, thus providing perhaps some of the causes of the 1641 rebellion.

In Carlow the main rebels, or soldiers following these rebels, named by the deponents were all substantial landowners.  For example, Walter Bagenal possessed 631 acres, and members of the Wall family possessed 1,879 acres. The Wall family, especially Edward of Ballinakill, were heavily implicated in the wars on the side of the Irish Confederation.  (Source: William Nolan, ‘County Carlow 1641-1660: Geography, Landownership and society’,  in Carlow History & Society, ed by Dr. Thomas McGrath (Dublin, 2008), p.368 & Conleth Manning, ‘Transcripts from the Civil Survey of Counties Carlow & Kilkenny’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol 132, (2002), pp. 57-76,, accessed 09 November 2010 07:10PM). 

Some of the accounts are harrowing, providing a graphic insight into the horrors suffered by Protestant families at the hands of Irish rebels.  Edward Briscoe (MS 812, fols. 083r-083v) is a good example.  Briscoe, a farmer from Carlow, also lists goods stolen from him and he names those who committed the crime: Murtough Cavanagh and soldiers under the command of Captain Bagenal.  He is referring here to Walter Bagenal, who is named or referred to often by many of the deponents in this county.  Briscoe’s account is tragic in that his nine children were stripped and cast out with him and his wife.  They managed to escape to Carlow Castle – this seemed to be place of refuge for many Protestants – where they endured ‘great want and misery’.  Seven of his children died.  At Christmas 1641 the castle was besieged by the rebels, leaving those inside bereft of food and water.  A maid was killed when she attempted to fetch water.  Others were likewise slain, and when the rebels heard that relief English forces were imminent they burned Carlow town and fled.  Those who besieged the castle were followers of Edmund Wall, Captain Bagenal, Captain Fox and Captain Cavills – all of whom Briscoe refers to as ‘papists’.

Carlow was a strategic location, located on the River Barrow, just outside the Pale between Dublin and Kilkenny.  The depositions tell us that a substantial English settlement had been established in this county by 1641. Mentions of Hacketstown, Leighlinbridge and Castledermot (strictly speaking located in Co. Kildare) occur often.  These 95 depositions, if studied in far greater detail than has been allowed for this brief account, could no doubt rebuild the town of Carlow in 1641.

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Students Teaching Students: The 1641 Depositions

Contributed by Courtney Hill

The Massacre at Portadown, an 18th Century Pamphlet

In our War and Society class, Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer has provided an atmosphere of lecture, open discussion and continuous learning. As an alternative expression for learning in the classroom, Ohlmeyer placed us (the students) into groups to present on different topics during two class sessions within the term. The concentration this past week for the course was “Outbreak of Rebellion and the Massacres” with a focus on different locations throughout Ireland and the 1641 Rebellion in the group exercises.
The group exercises were divided into three locations, which include Co. Armagh’s Portadown, Co. Antrim’s Islandmagee, and Co. Cavan’s Kilmore. We were all encouraged to provide engaging presentations on the topic to connect the audience. Group A presented Portadown, County Armagh through a PowerPoint presentation and an overall charisma. They aimed their focus on William Clarke’s deposition of the events because it was the only first-hand account given on this specific massacre. Clarke’s circumstances were unusual in that he was underwent the atrocities committed yet escaped death by chance. Although he had negotiated a payment of 15 pounds to save his life, it was all forgotten once the money was received. After much torture, he escaped at the Bond River where he witnessed 100 men, women, and children being forced, naked into the waters where they perished. A common attribute to the Portadown Massacre was the assertion of apparitions post-massacre. There were claims of hearing sounds of cries and vengeance as well as visions by two women, Catherine Cooke and Elizabeth Price. These witnesses claimed visions of blood on the water and a female figure floating above the water with her hands clasped. Both instances were set at the place of the Bond River, where the massacre took place. Lastly, the group analyzed the short and long-term impact of the events covered as well as questioning the reliability of sources provided.


Group B, who gave their presentation through a news report format, covered Islandmagee, Co. Antrim; it was called Trinity History News program. Their presentation consisted of fictional interviews with two TCD professors who were experts on this related topic and two deponents who testified in 1653. The news program tells the audience of the rebellion in Islandmagee, including Scottish rebels who attacked the Protestants. The recorded number dead varied from 30 to 500 bodies. A testimony from the deponent, Mary Wilson, revealed a personal account of witnessing Scottish soldiers who killed four Irishmen. Elizabeth O Gormelly was the second deponent revealed; she witnessed two Irishmen being brutally murdered by a man on the rebels’ side. Using sources other than the depositions, the professors offer possible reasons for the Islandmagee massacres and a connection to outside conflicts (e.g. McDonald and Campbell clans originating in Scotland). Their use of a News programs offered an alternative means of presenting information in the classroom.

Henry Jones

The final group presentation focused on the events that occurred in Kilmore, Co. Cavan. Group C used PowerPoint to share their topic by providing a vast amount of information with visual aides. They organized their presentation by revealing the background, events that occurred, key players, and Co. Cavan in the present day. Their presentation began with the fact that Henry Jones, later the commissioner of the depositions, was the Dean of Kilmore. A common theme behind the massacres of this region was revenge killings for land. An example given was in Lisnagarvey, December 1641, where 700 insurgents were killed in battle. This event, as well as others not mentioned, could be seen as cause behind Henry Jones’ great desire to gather depositions and bring justice to these events. Bishop William Bedell and Arthur Culme played major roles in Kilmore during the massacres. The presentation ends with reflection on life in Cavan today for its small Protestant community and growing Catholic community.

These group exercises in class offered enjoyment in learning from the depositions and an alternative means of doing so. Any positive that can come out of such tragic recordings of events is useful in the classroom to encourage greater education.

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22 October 2010: Launch of the 1641 Depositions Online

The 9th Lewis Glucksman Memorial Symposium and the Launch of the 1641 Depositions Online by President Mary MacAleese and Dr. Ian Paisley, Lord Bannside.

Contributed by Paul Loughlin

1641 Depositions Launch, 22 October 2010

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer delivered the first lecture ‘The 1641 Depositions Project’ largely as an introduction for those who had neither visited the 1641 exhibition in the Long Room nor the Depositions online.  She said that until now very few people had read the Depositions and recounted the earlier attempt by Professor Robert Dudley Edwards to get the Irish Manuscripts Commission to publish them in 1935.  She read a letter from an Irish Government official dated 16th October 1935 discouraging such a move because it might be “disturbing”.  Later on the onset of the Troubles in the late ‘sixties meant that publication would have been inappropriate.
As to the veracity of the Depositions (raised later in the question and answer session): these were sworn testimonies given at a time when people believed in God.
Professor Ohlmeyer described what the Depositions are, how they work online and how they can be searched.  She outlined the funding, the work of the 50-strong Depositions team, the cutting edge digital technology involved, the associated outreach projects and the new phases embarked upon.  These include ‘Language and Linguistic Evidence in the 1641 Depositions’, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project.  In addition there will be four workshops on atrocity.

My Lai 1968 Massacre

The lecture was punctuated by references to the personal tragedies contained in the Depositions and concluded with an iconic image from the 1968 My Lai massacre of Vietnamese villagers by a unit of the U.S Army and the reminder that this is what atrocity looks like.
Professor John Morrill (University of Cambridge) followed with a challenging lecture asking ‘Did the English over-react to the massacres of 1641?’ He promised surprises and delivered on that promise. He stressed the critical importance of distinguishing between the first hand “eye witness” accounts and the hearsay accounts, noting that there were very few depositions where the deponent had actually witnessed killings or violence.  Roman Catholic clergy, where they are mentioned in the first hand accounts, emerge as trying to contain the violence.  Most of the violence, murder and massacre features in the hearsay evidence. The Commission had convened in Dublin as refugees were arriving there and details of the depositions were quickly leaked to the English press as it was then and published with lurid detail.  While the Commissioners had scrupulously differentiated between the first hand and the hearsay, the pamphleteers had no such scruples. Professor Morrill linked political and commercial issues in England with the orchestration of propaganda through pamphlets and digests of the worst of the violence. He showed how some published accounts “lifted” earlier horror pictures from the Thirty Years War and even contained entirely fictitious incidents including one featuring rape, torture and murder. He showed an illustration purporting to be of rebels outside Dublin but which was actually a scene representing the sack of the protestant city of Magdeburg ten years earlier. This media frenzy was being choreographed by a Parliament intent on rushing through acts for the settlement of Ireland and the raising of investment from Adventurers.
While Oliver Cromwell is popularly seen in Ireland as the author of the island’s greatest calamity bar the Famine, Professor Morrill said that Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law and Deputy in Ireland when Cromwell was recalled to England, was the real architect of the Irish Settlement. He described Cromwell’s policy as minimalist compared with Ireton’s.  The latter favoured a far greater uprooting of the Irish population coupled with mass executions and transportation to Barbados.
Professor Morill concluded by stating that the task of purging false memory begins today.
Professor Ben Kiernan (Yale University) concluded with ‘A world away? Ethno-religious violence in early-modern Southeast Asia’.  In this he argued that, while ethnic and religious differences may be the strongest catalysts for violence, atrocity and genocide, there are three lesser but notable features:
• Irredentism
• Agrarianism
• Fetishism with antiquity
Professor Kiernan is the author of ‘Blood and Soil; a World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur’ (Yale University Press 2007). In his address he concentrated on genocidal campaigns in Siam, Java, Viet Nam and Cambodia; however, he also cited the Japanese ambition and efforts to exterminate the entire population of Korea, as well as campaigns against the indigenous population of the New World by English settlers.  He pointed out that much documentary evidence survives of these mass slaughters.
Professor Kiernan has also studied the evidence provided by survivors of the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia.
Following the Glucksman lecture the day concluded with the formal opening of the 1641

Depositions Online in the Old Library Long Room with addresses by President Mary MacAleese and Dr. Ian Paisley, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, DUP Leader and now Lord Bannside.

President McAleese and Lord Bannside

On the very anniversary of the 1641 outbreak 369 years ago the symbolism was not lost on the 250 attendees as the Catholic Irish President from the Ardoyne and the militant Protestant pastor and political leader from Ballymena joined in opening to the world 8,000 witness statements in the atrocity. President MacAleese said “everything is to be gained by interrogating the past calmly and coherently, in order to understand each other’s passions more comprehensively … to help us transcend those baleful forces of history so that we can make a new history of good neighbourliness.”
Lord Bannside referred to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech at the time of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement when he said “the hand of history” was upon us.  Dr. Paisley said “in this room is the real hand of history ….. today the hand of history beckons …. It reaches out beyond the page.  Let us grasp that hand and hold it fast and introduce it to the children who will be the men and women of tomorrow.”

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Ireland in Turmoil Exhibition Review

Contributed by Sophie Cooper.

Ireland in Turmoil Exhibition Poster

As I passed through the throngs of tourists admiring the Book of Kells on Wednesday afternoon, I considered what I already knew about the 1641 Depositions. I knew that they were a collection of witness statements taken after the Catholic uprising in Ireland in 1641 and years following, but the wealth of resources relating to the uprising was unknown to me so I looked forward to the exhibition. The 1641 Depositions exhibition, housed in the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, opens officially on Friday 22nd October but it is already open to the public. The Long Room has the effect of shrouding the visitor with a sense of historical purpose and wonder. I admit that might just be the new Trinity history student in me talking but the numbers of non-English speaking visitors looking excitedly at the collections of material relating to the exhibition would hint at the atmosphere’s influence on those that cannot even fully understand the exhibits written in English. I realised that they did not speak English when I asked them what they thought of the exhibit and they looked at me blankly. Either they had a cunning plan to avoid me, or, more realistically, they spoke a language which was not English. This was backed up, to some extent, by the fact that they walked off speaking, no doubt about the brilliance of the exhibition, another language which due to my linguistic ineptitude I could not identify for you.

Depending on the direction that you decide to explore the exhibition, the first thing you come to is a timeline dating from 1603 until 1691. This provides the visitor with an idea of the context within which the rising occurred, and later in which the depositions were collated. The information is presented on huge posters which contain a mixture of text and illustrations, all on a bright background and all very clear so it was possible to read the information over the heads of the numerous school children which happened to be visiting just as I was. The posters recount information on the depositions, life in Ireland, and a few contemporary European examples which places what was occurring in Ireland within a continental environment. The exhibition also presents a number of contemporary materials, including etchings of the murder and torture supposedly carried out throughout Ireland, although these drawings and prints were often based on the atrocities occurring all around Europe at the time. Books, paintings and pamphlets, with short descriptions, are also on view to help illustrate the reactions to the depositions throughout Europe.

The main point of the exhibition seems be to direct visitors to the depositions website so that they can do their own research and find the stories and characters which are most relevant, or interesting, to them. There are screens with images of the website by the way of introduction. My only real change that I would make to the exhibition would have to been to make one of these screens interactive, the reason against this would probably be that the Long Room is not huge and so a crowd of people using this tool would clog up the exhibition floor. I do believe that it would have been fun and appeal to younger visitors.

The website is promoted widely, so people can browse the depositions in the privacy of their homes. I believe that the digitization of the depositions is a great thing and the more people who look at them, the better. The exhibition provides a great starting for those interested in learning more.

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The 9th Lewis Glucksman Memorial Symposium: The 1641 Depositions, War and Atrocity

The Trinity Long Room Hub presents: The 9th Lewis Glucksman Memorial Symposium

The 1641 Depositions, War and Atrocity

An image from James Cranford's The Teares of Ireland (London, 1642)


Professor Jane Ohlmeyer (Trinity College Dublin) ‘The 1641 Depositions Project’

Professor John Morrill (University of Cambridge) ‘Did the English over-react to the massacres of 1641?’

Professor Ben Kiernan (Yale University) ‘A world away? Ethno-religious violence in early-modern Southeast Asia’

When and Where

Friday, 22 October, 3.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.

The Synge Theatre, The Arts Building, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2.

Admission Free, All Welcome

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Ireland in Turmoil: The Depositions of 1641

A new exhibition about the 1641 Depositions runs in the Long Room in Trinity College Dublin from 7 October 2010 to 3 April 2011.

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The 1641 Depositions Blog


Henry Jones

Welcome to the 1641 Depositions Project Blog.

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