EVEN by the standards of the 17th Century, Oliver Cromwell's massacres at Drogheda and Wexford were "war crimes", according to new research.
Cromwell sought to vindicate his nine-month campaign of racial and sectarian murder in 1649 by using the massacre of protestants in Ireland eight years before to justify his pogrom.
What happened to protestants in Ireland in 1641 was well documented at the time.
Contemporary witness statements were taken which became known as "The 1641 depositions" and are regarded as one of the most important historical sources on what happened in Ireland in the 17th Century.
Running to 31 volumes of manuscript, the depositions are sworn statements from around 3,500 protestant refugees who fled to Dublin in some cases to Cork following the 1641 rebellion. They were used by Cromwell as a justification for his Irish campaign.
Now the 1641 Depositions Project will transcribe and digitise the depositions, which are currently held in the Library of Trinity College.
The originals are hard to read and in poor condition. They will be made available in a fully searchable form for the first time, using the expertise of Enneclann Ltd, the historical research consultancy based on the Trinity Campus.
"Even right up to the present day at Orange marches in the north, a lot of the banners still have images of 1641 -- in particular the notorious massacre of protestants at Portadown bridge in Armagh, where planters were taken from their homes and forced into the River Bann to drown. The massacre of protestants helped shape protestant identitiy in Ireland, the sense of being under seige, of being the victims of catholic aggression," according to historian Micheal O Siochru, author of 'God's Executioner' a new study of Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland.
Dr O Siochru is also a consultant on a major new RTE two-part drama documentary 'Cromwell in Ireland', which airs on Tuesdays September 9 and 16, starring Owen Roe as Cromwell. The lavish production features lengthy dramatisations and computer-generated sequences to recreate the massacres at Wexford and Drogheda.
"Even by the standards of the time [Cormwell's] behaviour was beyond the pale. There was a very definite etiquette of warfare that certain things were allowed and certain things were not allowed. When it came to dealing with the catholic Irish, Cromwell moved beyond that in his conduct of warfare. As commander-in-chief, he as to take ultimate respons- ibility," Dr O Siochru said.