Statue of Cromwell: Should It Go?

The heightened emotions associated with statues and their links to the slave trade or racism has resulted in the pulling down of Edward Colston’s effigy in Bristol. Our Own Identity deviates from the publishing of one article per month to add a special piece about the statue of Cromwell.

In Shelter and Shadows here I wrote: The English Civil War was followed by the staunchly Protestant Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, which represented the most devastating wave of onslaught of all against native society.

Cromwell arrived at Dublin in August 1649 in his position as lord lieutenant and commander of the army of the English Commonwealth. According to Berresford Ellis, he bore a typical English racial contempt for the Irish.[1] He had several aims in his undertaking, amongst which a high priority was to suppress the remnants of the Confederation of Kilkenny. He was also determined to exact revenge for the 1641 Rebellion and associated atrocities, and began with the defeat of Drogheda followed by a massacre of its civilian population.

The subjugation of Ireland by Cromwell was more thorough than any previous English conquest. Methods included open warfare; the burning of crops; slaughter of cattle herds; annihilation of the fishing industry and the destruction of Irish shipping. Retaliations from the Irish side, whose strategy changed from direct confrontation to guerrilla tactics, brought further havoc to agriculture. When the military campaign finally exhausted large-scale Gaelic and Old English resistance, the administrative suppression began.

Those responsible for the 1641 Rebellion were to be brought to trial and executed, deported to the West Indies or sent to a reservation in Connaught. Further confiscation of Irish property followed. An ambitious reconstruction of the entire pattern of ownership was to take place in which fifty per cent of the land of Ireland was earmarked to change hands. The beginning of the largest social upheaval of Irish history followed Cromwell’s conquest of the 1650s and involved the demise of all Catholic entities that had participated in the rebellion. Under Cromwell, Catholic land-ownership decreased from about two thirds to about nine per cent of the country.

Infuriating legacy of a lost history

My ancestors did not escape. On my father’s Gaelic side, the colonisation of County Wexford by Britain, including that of Cromwell, effectively eliminated the details of our history. They belonged to the indigenous tribes of the area and were probably a bardic family which the British classified in derogatory terms as “rogues and vagabonds”.[2]

Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh gunned down outside Trinity College in 1916

Because some of those on my mother’s side were unable to prove constant good affection to the Cromwellian Parliament, they lost their property in County Waterford and were banished to a reservation in the West of Ireland.

Perhaps the greatest long-lasting damage—certainly the most infuriating for me—is the destruction of our history. Should I now demand that Britain, in compensation, remove the statue of Cromwell that graces the lawns in front of the houses of parliament in London? What good would that do?

A far better gesture from Britain would be to allow researchers like me free access to all records that pertain to my family’s stolen history. For example, why should I have to pay £40 plus VAT to the Imperial War Museum for a copy of an image of the Anzac troops outside Trinity College in Dublin in 1916 who were responsible for the gunning down of my granduncle, Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh during the Easter Rising?

Raymond M. Keogh

References and images

[1] Berresford Ellis, P. 2000. Hell or Connaught. The Blackstaff Press. Belfast.

[2] Golden, M. 2016-2017. The MacEochaidh Poetic Family and their Patrons 1400 to circa 1700. Journal of County Kildare Archaeological Society; p. 51.

Cromwell Wikimedia Commons here

Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh – archives of the Keoghs of Ranelagh