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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Lough Kernan

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Myths and Legends
woodcut of protestants fleeing attack
Secrets of Lough Kernan

As the rebellion in Ireland spread, the major towns in Ulster such as Enniskillen, Londonderry, Coleraine, Carrickfergus, and Belfast received crucial warnings and were able to prepare for the attack . But the small towns and the villages in the more rural areas, such as Gilford, were ravaged.

The total number of people killed, and the manner of their death can never be accurately documented. Although accounts of the massacres have been exaggerated: ranging from two or three thousand victims up to hundreds of thousand of deaths, there is no doubt that very many innocent people were murdered. A figure of 12,000 killed out of a protestant population of 40,000 is as close as it is possible to come; the figure includes death attributed to military activities.

The most effective documents available are the work of Sir John Temple, an official in the Irish government, who published an extensive report in 1646, which are held in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.
woodcut depicting the alleged attacks on protestants

Thirty-three volumes of sworn depositions give a horrific description of the rebellion: 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.

Teacher turns investigator

Over two and half centuries after the rebellion, a school teacher from County Down set out to prove that many of the eye witness accounts were hearsay and highly improbable. Thomas Fitzpatrick wrote the book 'The Bloody Bridge and other papers relating to the Insurrection of 1641'. In it, he studies the testimonies of people said to have witnessed these alleged barbaric acts.

Each chapter evaluates an account in a cross-examination style. Here Fitzpatrick pours scorn on the English historian, James Anthony Froude (1818 – 1894), and his descriptions of the official documents, which are held at Trinity, 'Thirty-three volumes of depositions are preserved in the library of Trinity College which tell the tale with perfect distinctness'.

Fitzpatrick retorts:

"So says Froude, with an air of assurance rather pronounced for one who had not himself examined the depositions, and who could at the time he wrote this, know them only from the garbled selections used by writers bitterly hostile to the religion and nationality of those responsible for the Insurrection of 1641"

At the top of many of the pages, terms such as “use of vague terms” “nameless informants” “magnified and multiplied” “the wrong witness” and “deponents not witnesses” add to the feeling of a predetermined outcome with the book.

In the case of Lough Kernan, Fitzpatrick does accept the incident occurred, just ,describing it as "some such crime" adding that he has "very grave doubts as to its magnitude and even more serious doubt as to the the circumstances by which additional horror is given to the atrocity…".

Fitzpatrick also attempts to disprove the credibility of the story by questioning the name of the lough, as it was documented.

"Although printed as Logh-Keran in almost every work that notices the tragedy, the name of the lake – or rather the townland in which it is situated - is Kernan…."

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