During the whole time of the Civil War, Ireland had been in a state of confusion and rebellion such as would be hard to describe or understand. Englishmen and Irishmen, Protestants and Catholics, Royalists and Parliamentarians, all fought in a pell-mell of hatred. Yet now, most of them forgot their quarrels and joined against the murderers of the King.
Cromwell was full of wrath and hatred against the Irish. His anger made him cruel, and to understand, if not to excuse, this cruelty we must look back a little into the history of Ireland.
Although since the days of Henry II., the kings of England had called themselves Lords of Ireland too, it had often been little more than an empty title. The Irish were wild and rebellious, and except in the counties of Dublin, Meath, Kildare, and Louth, where Englishmen had settled, English rule was scarcely felt in Ireland. This part of Ireland was called the English Pale. Although many English lived there it was only as lords and masters. They never mixed with the Irish people.
Indeed they took care to dress differently and even cut their hair and shaved their faces in another fashion from the Irish, so that no one might mistake the one for the other.
The Irish hated these English tyrants, and there were often rebellions. In the days of the great Queen Elizabeth a rebellion under Hugh O'Neil, Earl of Tyrone, broke out. This rebellion lasted for several years, but at last, just before the great Queen died, O'Neil gave himself up. When King James came to the throne he forgave O'Neil and gave him back his title and lands. But a little later O'Neil was accused of treason and suddenly fled from the country with his friend and relation Rory O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, and about a hundred others. King James seized the land of these fugitives. In this way six counties of the province of Ulster—Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, and Armagh—came to the crown.
In these six counties there are about two million acres of land. But a million and a half was bog, mountain, and forest. Upon the other half million acres King James decided to settle English and Scottish Protestants. Already in Antrim and Down there were many Scottish folk who for hundreds of years had been quietly coming over from the barren highlands to make their homes among the green pastures of Ireland. So when the King's new settlers came nearly all the north of Catholic Ireland became Protestant. This is called the Plantation of Ulster. And it is from these old planters that many of the people of Ulster claim to be descended to-day.
In order to raise money to help the "planting of Ulster" James created a new title, that of baronet. This title, instead of being given to a man as a reward for some great service or brave deed, as titles usually were, might be bought. Any one who cared to pay £1095 could become a baronet.
As the first baronets were made at the planting of Ulster, all bear upon their coat of arms a bloody hand, which is the badge of Ulster. Of course people laughed at these upstart lords, but the new colonists were men accustomed to work and eager to work. They were men who already by brains and diligence had made money and position for themselves. They were not grand lords who only wished to win land that others might till it for them like the fine gentlemen of the English Pale. They were merchants, farmers, and traders. Among them there were weavers, mechanics, and labourers, so very quickly Ulster grew in wealth and prosperity.
The Irish looked upon these new comers with hatred. They were strangers who robbed them of the land of their fathers. They were also Protestants. The English of the Pale had at least been Catholics. In those far-off days people who could not think alike about worshipping God hated and dreaded each other, and each side, when it grew strong, tortured and persecuted the other. So the days of the Planting of Ulster were not altogether bright.
But when Strafford, the friend of King Charles, came to rule Ireland, matters grew worse. The Irish saw that he meant to take still more of their land and give it to the English and Scots, and they hated him. Strafford ruled like a tyrant. Yet he kept order and peace. Trade grew and the land prospered. But he built upon a volcano. The order was the order of force, the peace the peace of despair, and when at length Strafford was recalled and beheaded, Ireland was seething with hatred and wrath.
In the winter of 1641 this hatred broke into terrible rebellion. The Irish, under chiefs who had lost their lands by the Planting of Ulster, rose against the English and Scots settlers. Among the lonely farms and the little agricultural and industrial towns of Ulster, so newly sprung to life, there was terrible slaughter.
Men, women and children, alike, were slain, or cast adrift in the wintry weather, to die miserably of cold and hunger. Many dreadful deeds were done, for the Irish, who had suffered so much, had no pity. It was the memory of this terrible massacre which filled Cromwell's heart with bitterness and made him hard and cruel towards the Irish. For this he now determined to punish them and at the same time put down the rebellion.
So with his army he set out for Ireland. He was made Commander-in-Chief and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and began his journey in great state. He drove in a fine coach drawn by six grey horses, and a bodyguard of gentlemen marched beside him. As he passed through the streets the people cheered and trumpets blew till it seemed as if Charing Cross shook to its foundations.