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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - Making good: New perspectives on the English in early modern Ireland


Cromwell came over, and like a lightning passed through the land.

Bishop Nicholas French's dramatic, though retrospective, summary of the violent rupturing of Irish history which occurred in the middle years of the seventeenth century is so striking, so synoptic of the fundamental changes wrought during that epoch, that it has proved irresistible to writers seeking an appropriate expression to indicate a decisive terminal point signalling the end of one era and the beginning of another. Both as terminus ad quem and terminus a quo the years immediately surrounding Cromwell's campaign in Ireland have served historians remarkably well. They mark the final and well-nigh indisputable eclipse of the two great social and cultural groups whose complex interactions had determined the fundamental patterns of Irish history over the previous five centuries. As an internal political force in the land, the Gaelic Irish were now utterly destroyed, the few pockets of survival in Ulster, the midlands and in Munster which had been the loci of their final resistance now suppressed and their lands given over to English occupiers. The ‘Old English’ – as the descendants of the Anglo-Norman colonial community had for some time chosen to identify themselves – had likewise been brought low. The common fate of disempowerment, dispossession and dislocation which they were now to share with the native Irish served as an appropriate nemesis to the ambivalent and disingenuous relationship which they had deliberately maintained with their Gaelic neighbours over the previous centuries.