Illustration of Portadown in 1641
I did a radio interview recently about this, for a BBC Radio Ulster series called The Long and the Short of It, which is presented by Tim McGarry and Dr David Hume. It will be broadcast tomorrow at 4pm. I opted to skirt around the edges a bit and restrict my comments to the relative safety and tranquility of the events in North Down, as the detail needs to be dealt with by serious historians. However a few of these seek to downplay the event and even mitigate - bluntly, to imply that the Protestants had it coming and shouldn't have been there in the first place. If you want to read the full gruesome details there is no better source in my view than the account by Rev James Seaton Reid (1798-1851) in Chapters 7 and 8 of his seminal History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland which was first published in 1834. Click here to read it free online.
From 23 October 1641 when the massacres began, firstly targetting English settlers but soon Scots as well, estimates as to the death toll vary widely. Reid analyses all of these estimates in his footnotes beginning on page 336. It is clear that he also did his own primary research to verify the claims. Boastful perpetrators claimed 154,000 Protestants killed, a Protestant writer claimed 200,000 in the first month alone. Reid concludes that those who estimated 37,000 - 40,000 deaths are more reliable sources, and that the 'lowest probable computation' would be 12,000 deaths, 'an awful sacrifice of human life'. The statistics tell a very clear story - the victims were tenant farmer families, civilians, not trained or armed soldiers. It is hardly a surprise that the Scottish Parliament despatched an army in spring 1642.
It is a largely untold and unknown story. A very senior civil servant from Dublin collared me back in 2006 at a corporate event, objecting to my having referred to the 1641 massacres in an article I had written.
It is part of our history and it should be known. Today's threatened slaughter of all of the remaining Christians in Mosul, Iraq, makes this story particularly timely.