Infanticide, genocide and abuse in Londonderry: Protestant tales of the terror of 1641

LONDONDERRY couple Edward and Margaret Moore were stripped, robbed and had their eight month old baby’s brains dashed out in front of them when 20 Irish rebels claiming to be members of the notorious O’Reilly clan ambushed them in County Cavan as they journeyed from Londonderry to Dublin during the bloody 1641 rebellion.

Mrs Anne Smyth, her 17-year-old daughter-in-law Susana Wright, her 18-year-old servant Anne Walton and another servant called Bridget, were all stripped and abused by rebels led by Lawrence Garnon during an armed raid of their County Londonderry home on October 23, 1641, the day the rebellion broke out.

In Ballykelly Peter Gates was robbed of corn and cattle and lost a whopping £400 - the equivalent of around £35k in today’s money - when marauding Irish from Dungiven came down from the hills wreaking havoc and killing many Protestants.

And ten years after the atrocities themselves a drunken Irish rebel called William Bowe stuck his head through the mud wall of a house on the outskirts of Londonderry and boasted to William Erwine how he had killed his brother Robert, another man called Thomas Tomson and a number of women and children and how he had put them in a hole “whilst a kerne on Barnesmore.”

These gruesome tales are contained in the testimonies of Londonderry Protestants attacked by native Irish rebels during the chaotic 1641 rebellion 370 years ago.

Some read like post-Elizabethan versions of the massacres in Rwanda and the Balkans in terms of the callous abuses suffered by the victims.

And although the historiography is divided as to how many died the death toll of the innocents ran well into the thousands.

This year marks the 370th anniversary of the infamous revolt of the propertied Irish Catholic gentry against the English administration in Dublin Castle - which ultimately degenerated into ethnic violence between the native Irish and newly-arrived English and Scottish settlers.

This was largely centred in Ulster around the leadership of Phelim O’Neill who was concerned that Thomas Wentworth, the 1st Earl of Strafford, was planning a new plantation drive on behalf of Charles 1.

After the Nine Years War the unexpected flight of leading Irish lords to the continent (1607) and the revolt of Sir Cahir O’Doherty (1608) enabled the state to confiscate vast tracts of Ulster.

But it wasn’t as successful as had been hoped and furthermore had enraged many of the dispossessed Irish who had lost land and were eager for a chance for a counter-Plantation.

So when in 1641 the Irish Catholic elite - fearful of an anti-Catholic alliance of Scottish Covenanters and the English Long Parliament - decided to seize Dublin Castle and rule Ireland as loyal noblemen, supportive of Charles I but insisting on Catholic rights - the dispossessed native Irish of Ulster seized that chance.

The Irish gentry quickly lost control of the peasantry it raised and this soon had catastrophic consequences for the English and Scottish settlers across Ulster - not least in Londonderry.

The Sentinel has examined some of the 1641 depositions - witness testimonies mainly by Protestants - concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion.

The testimonies document the loss of goods, military activity, and the alleged crimes committed by the Irish insurgents, including assault, stripping, imprisonment and murder.

Some of the depositions - including that of Mr and Mrs Moore - are reminiscent of the Srebrenicas and Kigalis of recent times and whilst the jury is still out on the number of casualties it is clear thousands of Protestants were massacred during the course of a few tumultuous months.

There is certainly no doubt that there was a mismatch between the aims of the leaders and the expectations of many of their followers: the ethos of the rebellion was suffused with resentments of past injustices and a determination to exact retribution.

Edward and Margaret Moore - on top of their horrendous treatment - also had four pounds, 17 shillings and six pence taken from them. This was equivalent to over £160 in today’s money - whilst a small amount of flour intended as food for their two children was also seized.

The callous rebels then stripped their surviving five year old child of its clothes and they were forced to travel for four days from Cavan to Drogheda without any food.

Starving and miserable they struggled along eating only “herbes gathered in the fieldes” and a twopenny loaf given to them by some troops along the way.

The Moores eventually made it to safety and were among dozens of Protestants from County Londonderry who retold their horrifying experiences of the 1641 rebellion and its associated massacres to the authorities in subsequent years.

On April 9, 1644, Edward Moore told the authorities “they were English dwelling at Londonderry that they tooke theire way by Inniskillin hoping to meete a brother of his the deponents Edward Moore whom they found to have been killed.”

They were trying to get to Dublin from where they would travel onwards to friends in England but were brutally accosted by the rebels in Cavan.

“Thereupon the said Irish laid hold on him the deponent Edward Moore stripping him out of all his clothes and shirt leaving him quite naked: and after stripped starke naked her the deponent Margaret Moore in doing whereof they said the Irish did cast off from her back a child of three quarters old and thereby broke the skull thereof the braines appearing, so as it the next day died which child and one other about five years old stripped out of their clothes by a woman that was in that company,” their testimony reads.

The rebels even tore up a makeshift passport carried by the Moores that had been supplied by Captain Henry Vaughan of Londonderry and when Mr Moore asked who they were they merely told him to report “they were the Realyes who had so used them.”

This was a reference to the O’Reillys of Cavan who in 1601 the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Baron Chichester, had described as the head of a “hardy and warlike people.”

“The chief of them are the O’Realyes, of which surname there are several septs, most of them cross and opposite one to another,” Baron Chichester had reported forty years before the Moore family’s tragedy.

The Moores weren’t the only Protestants to suffer severe mistreatment during this upheaval.

Mrs Anne Smyth, Susana Wright, Anne Walton and a servant girl referred as Bridget, were all stripped and abused by rebels in South Londonderry.

On September 15, 1642, Mrs Smyth described their ordeal to the authorities saying 40 rebels led by ‘Cormacke o Hagan,’ ‘Owen o Hagan,’ and ‘William Tath’ - entered Moneymore by force of arms, seized the keys of the castle and raided it of arms and ammunition before raiding local houses for food, provisions and money.

She said her husband - described as a gentleman of the city of Dublin - was away when Lawrence Garnon and a group of rebels entered her home and proceeded to abuse and rob the inhabitants.

According to her testimony: “To coulour his rebellious and felonious intention then saying vnto this Examynat that hee had a cumission to serch the said house for said hee itt is suspected there is money and the said Garnon having stripped this examynat to the smock, tooke from her the keyes of the chests and trunckes that were in the said house which hee Ransaked and did then take and carrye awaye with him twoe silver spones a topp of a silver salt twoe silver Beakers, twoe silver Bowles one smale trunck certen Lynnesn: and other things to the value of twentye poundes and vpwards part of what the former Rebellious persons had lefte behind there.”

The Smyths effectively lost the equivalent of over £1,700 in today’s money as well as suffering a terrible and humiliating ordeal.

As it happened Garnon retired to the Drapers’ castle in Moneymore which the rebels had seized but was subsequently arrested in Londonderry having been spotted walking on the Derry Walls - presumably on some sort of reconnaissance mission for the native Irish.

He was seized on suspicion of “being a rebellious spye being taken walkeing on the Cittye wales there, and enquireing of the Armes and strength of the said Cittye.”

Five or six weeks after being stripped and robbed by Garnon, Mrs Smyth interviewed him in the confines of the Londonderry Gaol.

She asked him “wherefore he dealt soe cruelly with her att Moneymore” but Garnon merely replied that he had been following orders he would not have dared disobey.

Mrs Smyth then travelled from Londonderry to Dublin on a ship with a maid servant and four of her children whilst Garnon escaped from the gaol.

According to her testimony Mrs Smyth “knoweth not what became of the said Lawrence Garnon nor how he escaped thence.”

“But she saith that Sir John Vaughan and the Bishop of Derry whoe were then present and divers others there knew how the said Garnon hadd robbed stripped and abused this deponent and the rest,” it adds.

On June 6, 1643, Peter Gates, with interests in Ballykelly, Balteagh and a place referred to as both “Dromgawny” and “Drumgawny” described how a group of ‘o Canes,’ ‘McManus’s,’ ‘o Mullens,’ and ‘McGilleduffs,’ under the leadership of ‘Manus McRichard o Cane’ came down from ‘Ballinasse’ which was described as a parish in Dungiven to “deprive, rob or otherwise despoil.”

In November 1641 the group of around 500 or 600 rebels “did alsoe perpetrate and Comitt divers other outrages and cruelties and Killd many protestants his neighbors by name one Thomas Bunting John Gardner Vaughan Morgan and divers others.”

According to Mr Gates Manus McRichard O’Cane had been trusted by Sir John Vaughan with ammunition and arms to keep the Castle of Dungiven in good

order but had betrayed this trust to turn rebel and become “the most bloudie and cruell villain of all the rest.”

Another treacherous native was James Farrell “a papist of Ballykelly” who after promising protection and favour to his English neighbours deviously sold them out.

Mr Gates described how “with the assistance of divers his bloudy confederats” Farrell assaulted and set upon the English “and most barbarously slew and murthered them.”

Mr and Mrs Christopher Weekes, Mr and Mrs Gabriell Smith and their two children, Sidrach Loftus and his two children, John Carter and John Jameson were amongst those killed.

Intriguingly the Mayor of Londonderry Henry Finch - long after the massacres had taken place - conducted an enquiry into a number of murders when William Erwine came forward in 1653 to give an account of an encounter with a rebel called William Bowe.

One Sunday afternoon in early April 1653 Mr Erwine said he was in a house in the suburbs of Londonderry with a man called John Gilpattricke.

They were disturbed by a knock on the door by a drunken William Boye who was refused entry by the woman of the house.

Upon being refused entry Boye threatened to force the door open and sticking his head through a window told the occupants he would break it down.

The householders yielded and let the rebel in and it was then that he stuck his head through a “wattle wale” and spotted Mr Erwine and events took a sinister turn.

According to Mr Erwine’s testimony Bowe said: “I knowe you well enough to which he made answere I doe not you, what way came you to know me, to which the said Boye answered he knewe the examinant ever synce he Killed this deponent’s brother Robert Erwine; this examinant askinge him what he did with the other man names Thomas Tomson that was with him and the women and children, what should I doe with them I kild the Boddowe and the rest and put them in a hole; demandinge of him wher it was when he did this he answeered the deponant; that he was a kerne upon Barnesmore 7 years together.”

The Mayor asked Mr Erwine if Bowe was drunk. He replied that he was or pretended to be because he was so unruly.

The householders tried to throw him out and Mr Erwine eventually threatened him with a knife telling Bowe he would “bleed” him until a guard came and removed him.

Incredibly the rebellion that caused all this hardship in Londonderry and right across Ulster was supported by some of the Old English of the Pale.

It seems another example in history of so-called respectable leaders raising a force that they are unable to control.

Ultimately it was the limited and loyal aims of the rebels that made it possible for the Old English of the Pale counties, some of whom had been involved in the early stages of the conspiracy, to join with the northern army in December 1641 when the hostility of the Dublin government left them defenceless.

Their lead was followed in the other provinces and the outbreak of civil war in England, followed by the alliance between the English parliament and the Scots, served to vindicate the original claim to have acted in the king’s interest.

The leadership of the Confederates never sought the dispossession of the planters and forbade the re-possession of property.

However, what they sought and what they got - particularly in this corner of the island - were two different things.