Bloody history of the 1641 rebellion is published online

  • Published
Woodcut of massacre
Image caption,
Up to 12,000 settlers are thought to have died in the uprising

The bloody history of the Catholic uprising of 1641 has been brought back to life on the internet.

Testimonies from thousands of eye-witnesses to one of the most significant events in Irish history have been transcribed and made available for free online.

The three-year project, led by researchers at the Universities of University of Cambridge and The University of Aberdeen and Trinity College Dublin, involved transcribing all 19,000 pages of the original depositions, many of which are almost illegible.

The uprising of Irish Catholics in October 1641 followed decades of tension with English Protestant settlers and many thousands of men, women and children lost their lives.

The Protestant death toll was most recently put at between 4,000 and 12,000, mainly in Ulster.

However, there have been allegations that accounts of the killings were exaggerated for propaganda purposes.

One of the most famous of the depositions is that of Eleanor Price, a widow and mother of six from County Armagh, who was captured by insurgents who drowned five of her children, along with other settlers, in the River Bann at Portadown Bridge.

The account tells how the rebels "then and there instantly and most barbarously drowned the most of them: And those that could swim and come to the shore they either knocked them in the hands and so after drowned them, or else shot them to death in the water."

Professor John Morrill, from the University of Cambridge, one of the project's principal investigators and chair of the management committee, said: "The events of 1641 transformed Irish history and, as a result, can be justly said to have transformed British and world history as well."

Traditionally, historians have viewed the rebellion as the natural consequence of the plantation which began about 1610.

However, in recent years researchers have begun to view the situation as more complex and nuanced.

The rise of puritanism in England, the success of a revolt in Scotland and the rise of parliamentarians threatening to eclipse the power of the King have all been put forward as factors which led to the uprising.


The rebellion proved short-lived, but it heralded ten years of bloody turmoil that ended in Oliver Cromwell's brutal conquest of Ireland which began in 1649.

In the aftermath of the violence half of all land owned by Irish Catholics was confiscated and given to Protestants from Britain.

To punish those who had taken part in the uprising, 5,000 sworn statements by witnesses to the massacre were written down to determine whose land should be confiscated.

Trinity College Dublin took possession of the archive in 1741.

Although the information in the depositions is of invaluable importance to historians, economists, linguists and other researchers, the poor condition of the documents and the volume of material they contain meant that they have never been fully studied.

Now, thanks to the digitization project, scholars and interested amateurs all over the world can investigate this event which holds such significance for Irish, British and European history.

However, as the inconsistent spelling, poor grammar and chaotic punctuation of the original records has been preserved, the documents are not recommended for bedtime reading.

The project, which began in 2007 and ended in September 2010 was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Arts & Humanities Research Council in the UK and the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

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