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Rebellion of 1641, Term given to the protracted conflict which began in 1641. The rebellion is most notably associated with three key elements, the massacre of protestants in Ulster in 1641, the surprising ‘union’ of Old English and Gaelic Irish catholics, and the Cromwellian onslaught against the rebels in the latter stages of the conflict. A hotly debated topic, the 1641 rebellion erupted in the first instance in Ulster, when rebel catholic elements surprised protestant settlers. In the ensuing hostilities large numbers of protestant settlers were killed. The number of deaths was soon inflated by contemporary and subsequent Protestant writers as some hundreds of thousands. Modern research calculates the actual number of deaths to be 12,000 out of a total protestant population in Ulster at the time of 40,000, a massacre by any scale. (Listen to audio clips of academic opinion from BBC website) The rebellion soon spread to other areas of Ireland when the Gaelic Irish of Ulster were joined in revolt by their Old English co-religionists. For a time, such was the success of the revolt that the protestant dominance Ireland was in danger of being eradicated, not least when Owen Roe O’Neill led the rebels in Ulster to a famous victory at the battle of Benburb in 1646, when the primary protestant army in Ireland was annihilated. Political and cultural differences between the Gaelic Irish and the Old English are widely considered to have been a primary cause of the failure of the rebels. What began as an event associated with the massacre of Irish protestants was to end with the equally notable massacres wrought by the armies of Oliver Cromwell who landed in Ireland in 1649. The slaughter of the inhabitants of Drogheda and Wexford are as indelibly imprinted on the psyche of Irish catholics as the previous massacres in Ulster are on protestants.

Protestants being massacred in Portadown


Coleraine, 1622. Likened by Sir John Davies to the building of Carthage in Virgil’s Aeneid.


Links webchat with Dr John McCavitt (Feb.2003) 

The Ulster Plantation Centre:

See website the Irish Society, Londonderry:  

BBC Plantation of Ulster website:

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