1641 – Massacre or myth? – The History Show, 28 April – Dr.Eamon Darcy

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‘About Candlemas 1641 a great number of Protestants were, by the means of & instigation of one Jane Hampskin, formerly a protestant, but a mere Irish woman & lately turned to Mass … forced and thrust into a thatched house within the Parish of Kilmore. Then and there (the protestants being almost naked, only covered in part with rags …) the same house was by that bloody virago Jane Hampskin and her barbarous assistants: set on fire in several parts thereof: and the poor imprisoned parties being by armed parties kept there locked in, then and there miserably & barbarously burned to death & and at length the house fell upon them.’

(Deposition of Joanne Constable, Drummade, Co.Armagh)


On 23 October 1641 two forces travelled through the night to seize key fortifications across the north of Ireland and Dublin castle. While the latter attempt, to take over the central administration in Ireland failed, northern rebels led by Sir Phelim O’Neill successfully captured many plantation towns and forts and posed a serious and sustained challenge to colonial authority in Ireland. What happened next is the subject of much controversy. Did a massacre of Protestants in Ireland take place? If so, was it premeditated? Who was to blame? Eamon Darcy’s book, The Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, addresses how the mythology of massacre circulated in Ireland during the 1640s and gained currency in the decades that followed, gradually leading to the political disenfranchisement of Ireland’s Catholic population.

 One of the lasting consequences of the rebellion was the official decision to take evidence from the alleged victims of Catholic massacres, mostly in Ulster. We’ve already heard from the deposition of a woman called Joanne Constable, or Drummade in Co.Armagh. Here is some more of what she told the authorities.


‘The outcries, lamentations & screechings of these poor martyred persons were exceeding loud & pitiful yet did nothing prevail nor mollify the hardened harts of their murderers But they most boldly made brags thereof & took pride and glory in imitating these cries: & in telling the deponent and others how the children gaped when the fire began to burn them & threatened and told her … that before it were Long she & the rest of the Protestants that were left alive should suffer the like deaths: Howbeit for this deponent’s own part, The great god almighty afforded her a way by which she escaped.

And further saith that the Rebells within the County of Armagh: betwixt the time of the beginning of the present Rebellion, and her escape from imprisonment out of the said County of Armagh did act and commit divers other bloody barbarous & devilish murders and cruelties upon the protestants in that County by fire, drowning, hanging, the sword, starving & other fearful deaths And in particular, they drowned at one time at the bridge of Portadown, one hundred & fifty six Protestants … ‘

Dr. Eamon Darcy will be talking about the 1641 rebellion and the depositions housed in Trinity College, Dublin on The History Show on Sunday, 28 April. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms is published by Boydell and Brewer.


Search the depositions at 1641.tcd.ie