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on 11 September 2014
Coming to England in the 1950's as a schoolboy all I knew about Cromwell was what my mother told me; “Cromwell did bad things in Ireland”. Growing up in England this was supported by the way Cromwell or more accurately the Parliamentarians were portrayed in popular English culture. On television, books and more importantly in comics like the Wizard, Rover and Eagle the parliamentarians and by implication Cromwell were the bad guys who lost every time. While I enjoyed these tales as much is anybody I was acutely aware from school history lessons that the parliamentarians had actually won. Also with my Irish fascination the graves of famous people I asked my history teacher where Cromwell was buried he admitted he didn't know. It was years later a Communist and therefore a Cromwell sympathiser shocked me by telling me they had dug his body up and hanged him two years after he was dead.

One could say Cromwell was luckier than several of his fellow signatories of the King's death warrant. Any who had not died or fled abroad were tried as regicides and were probably the last people in Britain to suffer the medieval death of traitors. Slow hanging cut down while still alive, castrated and disemboweled before being beheaded and chopped into quarters with the parts exhibited around the country. Compare this to the Catholic Babington Conspirators condemned for plotting to put Mary Queen of Scots of the English throne in 1586. After 7 had suffered the full penalty, depending on whom you read either the public or the Queen were so revolted the remaining 7 were allowed to hang until they were dead. In other words are Stuarts did things that the Elizabethans considered barbarous 80 years earlier

Regarding the siege of Drogheda it is interesting to compare the endless controversy about this with the actions of Cromwell’s friend and former Commander at another siege this time in England. Thomas, Lord Fairfax was sold to us at school and in the media as one of the Parliamentary good guys. He refused to have any part in trying the King and his wife actually heckled the judges at the King's trial although she wore a mask while doing so.

The siege of Colchester lasted 2 months and Fairfax refused to allow the civilians out so they were reduced to starvation and to be fair this was normal. When garrison commander refused an exchange of prisoners, depending on whether they were married or not and their home county, he had 1 in 10 or 1 in 15 of his prisoners shot. After a Royalist raid on his lines he allowed their wounded and prisoners to be maimed and killed claiming they had used poison bullets. When the garrison put a group of women out of the town he had them stripped naked and driven back to bang on the town gates. When the town eventually surrendered the commanders were executed by firing squad with the exception of one who was an Italian. To add insult to injury the town was fined the enormous sum £16,000 for the privilege of not being plundered even though they were Parliamentary supporters occupied against their will! When Robinson Cruose's author Daniel Defoe visited 30 years later he noted that the town and still not recovered from the siege and many damaged buildings were still derelict.

It is possible not as many were killed as at Drogheda, but Fairfax was quite as ruthless. However as a “good guy” he gets none of the vilification that went to Cromwell. Maybe the people of Colchester need to learn about presentation from Ireland?

There is another reason for Cromwells vilification in England it is the success of his army in the English Civil War and in particular the men who commanded it.

His army had defeated the ruling class’s warrior caste lead by men promoted solely on ability. Regiments would be commanded by former tradesmen which was unthinkable in the Royalist army. In Victor Hugo’s “Three Musketeers” the French Queen effectively remarks to her Cousin(?) the Queen of England that the Royal Army seems to be having a hard time beating a bunch of peasants.

I can fully understand Professional historians hatred of Reilly he is the intellectual equivalent of Cromwell's officers. A low class outsider who has looked at something with a fresh eye, seen things they never thought of and made them look silly. It never occurred to them to look at the Drogheda's Town records and see that all the leading citizens who lived there in 1649 were still living and working there 3-4 years after they were massacred. How can they do anything but hate such an upstart?
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on 24 July 2015
For hundreds of years the myths about Cromwell manufactured in royalist circles in the Restoration period have been unchallenged. The royalists depicted him as a savage monster about whom any bad story was given credence. It accepted as established fact that Cromwell massacred the entire civilian populations of Drogheda and Wexford. In Catholic circles in Ireland it was believed that he was attacking and murdering Catholics.

The author, who is from Drogheda, was rather astonished to find that in the civic records of Drogheda dating from 1649 there was no record of the massacre.. The Minute Book of the Corporation of Drogheda from 1649 shows life in the town proceeding as normal. There was no contemporary evidence of a massacre of civilians. The royalist defenders under the earl of Ormonde were of course killed in the assault as was normal. The rapid defeat of the royalist garrison is to be attributed to the rather inept dispositions by the military governor, Sir Arthur Aston who was caught on the wrong side of the bridge over the Boyne and which was not destroyed by the defenders. The battle was short and the royalist garrison quickly disposed or. Aston was one of the few Catholic officers in the royalist army.

Reilly gives a detailed account of all Cromwell's campaign in Ireland which did not last long, for he was recalled to deal with the much more dangerous Scottish army. He had no responsibility at all for anything that happened after his departure in particular for the supposed policy of 'To Hell or to Connaught' another royalist myth.

The author then goes on to try to show the origins of the myth of the massacres of which there were no contemporary eyewitnesses and traces it in detail to royalist circles in the Restoration period.This book is to be recommended to all as a corrective to a very biassed and distorted account of an episode in Irish history. The author himself denounces the unbalanced history lessons to which Catholic children in Ireland are still subjected. Amen to that.

The only criticism I have of the book is that the author does not turn his scepticism to those on the Catholic side of the conflict. In particular he admires Owen Roe O'Neill (Eoghan Ruadh O'Neill). (Why do so many Irish writers assume that the whole world can read and pronounce the Gaelic language?). O'Neill was a scoundrel who kept his army supplied by plunder, and who would make a bargain with the devil to get ammunition. He was only interested in how his own family could profit from the disturbances. But that is another story.

His uncritical account of the Catholic side grates from time to time, but that is the only criticism I have of this excellent book
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on 3 June 2017
Absolutely brilliant book that does so much to dispel the myth and nonsense surrounding Cromwell's campaign in Ireland.
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on 18 June 2009
It's a bit harsh to give this only four stars. Generally most things about this book are excellent. The sources are laid out fairly clearly - a bibliography, mostly 20th century and some nineteenth, and 'Miscellaneous Publications' including such things as a BBC programme, one edition of a newspaper, and a lecture. Each chapter has endnotes, and their references match up with the bibliography, at least usually.

However there are some niggles:

[1] Not many original documents are mentioned, and the presumption is they've been printed accurately. But one can never be sure. To be fair many have probably vanished or decayed or would be difficult to get hold of in the original.

[2] Reilly often enough says such-and-such a person never visited Ireland, or some similar definite statement; how can he be so sure? No doubt he's likely to be right, but ...

[3] He doesn't state the official Irish view of Cromwell. We're not all Irish, and some of us haven't been exposed to the Irish education system. Reilly does lay out clearly the object of Cromwell's military expedition, viz to control Ireland, and take lands from Royalists. But it's left rather unclear. Admittedly a revisionist book doesn't have to deal with every aspect of a topic, but the reason Cromwell's of interest in Ireland is exactly because of what he was supposed to have done. (As an example - take 'plantations'. They couldn't have been for spices, sugar cane, tobacco; were they trees? Or what?) Under the rules of the age, was it accepted that a supporter of a losing side should lose possessions?

[4] He doesn't give details of real or supposed massacres of Protestants before Cromwell got there. (Or subsequent events such as the 'Black and Tans').

[5] He seems to take Cromwell as a great commander as an established fact. But it certainly appears at first sight as though the main advantage he had was simply lots of cannon of various types. Cromwell just battered away at town walls (and these medieval towns were small - 400 yards was a typical narrowest width). The Drogheda commander seems to have not realised what he was up against.

Some of the reviews here lay stress on one or two documents - and it's often a suspicious sign when conclusions hang on the words of just one or two witnesses, or supposed witnesses. Connoisseurs of this kind of thing will recognise parallels with other atrocity stories, though on a much tinier scale, and parallels with later historians repeating parrot-style. Reilly maintains that much of the force of the 19th century Irish 'rebel' movement was based on fake atrocity stories. The whole idea of Ireland as 'the most distressful country that ever yet was seen' needs a bit of realistic debunking.

I'm sure Tom Reilly started something in 1999, though I wouldn't dare guess how long it will be before he becomes mainstream.
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on 18 February 2010
It is true that this book is in some respects slightly flawed. Reilly's style is a bit quirky, some may even describe it as amateurish. BUT he has had the courage to open a debate that the "professional" historians - both English and Irish - have shied away from for 350 years. Sadly when you rock the boat you are vilified for it. Which is why "professional" academics seldom do it. They have too much too lose.

I do not intend to dissect the book - too many reviewers have already done that above. Some should be ashamed of the comments they have made. They say more about the reviewers' bigotry than Reilly's scholarship. Instead I urge you, if you have an interest in: the English Civil; Cromwell; or Irish history; to read this book with an open mind. I found Reilly's scholarship
compelling and a breath of fresh air in a debate that has been stifled for far too long.
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on 26 January 2017
I'm not Irish, I just have an interest in the English civil war. For this reason I'd like think I'm somewhat objective and open minded, which is more than I can say about this book. His efforts to suggest that Cromwell assault on Drogheda didn't result in any civilian deaths is at most times desperate. We have western soldiers massacering civilians in the 21st century, yet as Cromwell was such an 'Honourable' man it couldn't possibly have happened 350 years ago when warfare was far mor brutal, ridiculous! Why would Cromwell be any different to any other military dictator in history? because he was God fearing? Give me a break
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on 11 January 2002
While I sympathise with the earlier reviewer's comments on the unpolished character of Reilly's written style and the often clumsy structure of his arguments this is a challenging book, worthy of the attention of anyone who brings an open mind to the study of Irish history. Those who simply want to have their prejudices confirmed will doubtless hate the book: how dare anyone - especially an Irishman from Drogheda - challenge Irish nationalism's most cherished myth!
The previous reviewer is right that Reilly does not satisfactorily explain away Cromwell's own reference to civilian casualties at Drogheda but the fact that civilians may have died in the heat of action (today we would call it collateral damage) does not make a massacre. Reilly does, in my opinion, convincingly demolish the reliability the testimony of Woods, the only eyewitness to describe deliberate atrocities committed against civilians during the battle, by showing that he had good reasons to wish to present Cromwell in a bad light. If Wood's evidence is discounted then there is no real evidence of a massacre of civilians: all other sources, including those that the earlier reviewer mentions, are second hand and, like Woods, have an interest in presenting Cromwell in a bad light. The consequences for Ireland of the Cromwellian conquest were quite bad enough without making the man into something he was not. I would hope that Reilly's book might help encourage a less self-serving approach to Irish history if it was more widely read.
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VINE VOICEon 19 January 2013
Whilst it would be unfair to say that this work is badly written, neither is it well written. Worse still, there are no illustrations apart from three maps, one of Drogheda on page 48, one of Wexford on page 168 and one of Clonmell on page 232.

Then, when it comes to reading the book, why didn't the author provide a plan of the battle/siege area after the fashion of most other works that describe battles? Then he could have listed all the pros and cons for and against Cromwell. Since I lived in Ireland for fifteen years and still visit friends of a varying number of persuasions there, I have first hand experience of how Cromwell is still capable of raising strong feelings among Irish people. Despite this, I also sense an increasing willingness, especially among younger people, to way up the pros and cons and see the good and bad on both sides.

Bearing all this in mind, we can be grateful to a native of Drogheda, Tom Reilly, for seeking to set the record straight. One of the good things about this book is that it certainly causes the reader to think deeply about the historical period in question. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does the truth lie somewhere between the two opposing assessments? One important fact it evidences very well indeed is that it's too simplistic to see the conflict as one between Catholics and Protestants. There were Royalist Protestants belonging to what was then the established Church of England and Ireland who fought against Cromwell as did, many Irish Catholics known as 'Old English' because they were descended from the first English settlers following on from the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland beginning in 1169. Most of these early settlers 'went native' with their descendants developing into Irish speakers, Irish being the lingua franca of the land beyond the pale surrounding the Dublin area.

What is often forgotten is that the vandalism in English parish churches blamed on the Reformation did not, in actual fact, occur then, but nearly 100 years later during the time of the Civil War. William Dowsing, 1596-1668, a Puritan born in Laxfield in Suffolk, was responsible for the desecration of a large number of Churches in his native county during 1642/43. The Puritans hated the Anglicans just as much as they hated the Roman Catholics, which is probably why Cromwell's soldiers had no compunction about bombarding Saint Peter's Church in Drogheda.

I've never quite understood why Cromwell is held in such high regard by so many people including parliamentarians. Hopefully some learned persons will be able to enlighten me on this matter. My problem is that, since he eventually dissolved parliament and ruled England for several years without reference to it, why is he regarded as such a champion of parliamentary government? Not only that, he is also on record as having put down the Levellers who wanted to bring in universal suffrage, although, in keeping with the times, for men only. My reading of history is that Cromwell ended up very close to being a dictator who had succeeded in getting rid of Parliament, which is something Charles I had failed to do.

The churches in Drogheda bombarded by Cromwell's gunners were Church of Ireland buildings (Protestant) and many of the defenders were Protestants. The Puritanism believed in by Cromwell regarded Episcopalians as little better than Papists. Bearing all this in mind, I still think that Tom Reilly has a good deal of truth on his side when he seeks to rehabilitate Cromwell in Ireland. The Irish education system's hatred of Cromwell is so extreme as to invite disbelief. This is why I believe we should be grateful to Tom Reilly for seeking to present a more balanced and realistic picture of Cromwell as he actually was and how he behaved in Ireland, and I say this as one who is anything but an admirer of the man. It's just a shame that this work has not been better compiled and presented. Happily, we can nevertheless be grateful to Tom Reilly from Drogheda for being courageous and forthright and I give him five stars for his good Irish self, but just three stars for his book: one star removed for lack of maps and illustrations and one removed for lack of focus.
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on 16 June 2006
Over the years I've received some startlingly acerbic reactions to the mere mention of Oliver Cromwell and Ireland and it has long been a personal aim of mine to discover if it was ever justified.

This is where I have found enormous value in a book written by an undaunted author such as Reilly. He has effectively had to go against the official history and the educational establishment in Ireland that essentially maintains the view that Cromwell was a murderous contemptible bastard. A man who willingly ordered the butchering of thousands of innocent men, women and children in the towns of Drogheda and Wexford in his campaign to subjugate the rebellious Irish.

Context is laid out: Cromwell was eliminating the last vestiges of Royalist power in Ireland, which threatened the Commonwealth. Royalist military garrisons in Ireland were put to the sword as was Cromwell's right and an accepted custom at the time. It is not dismissive of the consequences of Cromwell's actions in Ireland, or the freedom to practice the Catholic faith and the dispossessing of Catholics' land. The author effectively dismisses the claim that Cromwell actually went out and intentionally killed the civilian population of Ireland at both Drogheda and Wexford. He has essentially done what no other writer has done on the topic; properly examined the veracity of the sources. He has shown that on the whole they are unreliable;un-contemporaneous, not from eyewitnesses themselves, biased by religious hatred or simply an attempt to blacken the name of the regicide Cromwell following the Restoration. He also shows that the numbers do not add up as to the claim that entire town populations were killed. In fact, Reilly actually shows that Cromwell took care to protect the Irish population throughout his campaign. Despite his intolerant antipathy towards the Catholic Church as well as an uncomfortable (to modern eyes at least) justification of the massacres as divine retribution for the 1641 massacres of Protestants in Ireland he did not go out to 'teach Ireland a lesson'.

This is not to say that Cromwell's was an invasion and subjugation of the Irish - to any patriot a foreigner who occupies his land and imposes his will, religion and settlers upon you will always be a figure of hatred. And Reilly shows that Cromwell did not always have it his own way in Ireland and suffered one of the worst military defeats of his career at Clonmel.

I feel this book has effectively shown that the sinister reputation of Cromwell - that he was another English devil terrorising Ireland is plainly undeserved and not backed up with concrete evidence. How much of this will be swallowed by Irishmen who have long been brought up on these so-called evil deeds? On the basis of a scathing review of this book written by a Jason McElligott and other reviews here on Amazon - not much. It cannot be allowed that Cromwell's actions are mitigated or the historical record reviewed!

Credit to Reilly though, he thanks McElligott in his foreword for alerting him to to the necessity of providing proof of his findings and that surely is the chief strength of this book.

As someone of proud Irish parentage from the Drogheda area, but born and raised in England, I really hope that this book will make a step towards ridding Irish history of some crude nationalistic propaganda on this subject. And as a consequence perhaps one day I will have a discussion about Ireland and England down the pub that doesn't end in ranting about Cromwell.
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on 11 August 2013
It's entirely readable although there are more typos and errors than one would normally anticipate. The argument advanced on its pages is reasonably thought out but lack the rigour of a real professional historian. He appears to ignore or down-play evidence that goes against his hypothesis. Like if Cromwell was so reasonable in his Irish campaigns, how come, reputedly, between 30% and 40% of the Irish population were dead at the end of it compared to the reputed 6% or 7% here in the UK. Cromwell's own army medical officer estimated that a third of the Irish population were wiped out.
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