Drogheda Independent

| 1.4°C Dublin

To 'Hell or Barbados'

IN May of this year, a Catholic priest from the island of Barbados is coming to Drogheda with a contingent of people from the aforementioned island and who are of Irish extraction.

The priest's name is one Reverend Father Harcourt Blackett, parish priest of St Patrick's Church in Bridgetown, Barbados, and his reason for coming to the Boyneside is to commemorate the huge number of men, women and children who were transported to that island after the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland in 1649.

After Cromwell had gained entry to the town in September of 1649, he ordered that no quarter be given to any man in arms and he also ordered that a number of men be detained for transportation to Barbados. In a letter to John Bradshaw, president of the Council of State, and dated September 17th 1649, Cromwell, referring to the men in arms, stated that: 'I do not think that thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives, those that did are in safe custody for Barbados.'

In another letter addressed to parliament and which was also written on the same day, Cromwell stated that: 'The soldiers in the other tower were all spared and shipped likewise for the Barbados.'

The island of Barbados was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1536, however, it was the early years of the 17th Century before the English colonised it and by 1627 there was a small number of Irish slave labour on the island growing tobacco which was shipped back to England. The land wasn't great for tobacco growing and from 1641 onwards the 'planters' began growing sugar cane, while the commodity of tobacco became more profitable for the English in Virginia.

The Cromwellian wars ended in Ireland in 1652 and, at this time, there were some 30,000 Irish soldiers being held in lock-ups all over the country.

Around 20,000 of these were eventually recruited by agents to join the armies of Spain, France, Austria and Poland, while the remainder were also shipped out to the colonies of Barbados, Montserrat and to the north American colony of Virginia.

The wholesale clearance of the land then began in Ireland: 'To Hell or To Connaught', where thousands of people were transplanted across the River Shannon. Many of the working class, field labourers, ploughmen, herdsmen, etc, were kept back, with the English parliament believing that by doing this they would have cheap labour in the planted counties and that if the Irish peasants were working amongst the new English planters and without the Catholic clergy, they would inevitably become Protestants.

The native Gaelic nobility and the old English Catholic settlers were also transplanted across the Shannon and, without servants or workmen, it was also believed that they too would eventually succumb to being nothing more than working class themselves.

However, many of the nobility and gentry took to the hills with their servants and became known as Tories, from the Irish word Tòruidhe, a pursuer, or someone who pursues; in this case, their land back. Anyway, between 1652 and 1657 some 50,000 Irish people were transported to the Americas and many of these were destined for Barbados.

How many of these were from Drogheda? Not many records survive to inform us of this but the people were certainly rounded up countrywide in the worst case of ethnic cleansing this country has ever seen.

Today, there are about 400 individuals living in the north east corner of Barbados known as the 'Red Legs', due to their ancestors having arrived there as slaves in the mid 17th century; many were wearing kilts and so their legs were horribly burned due to the sun, the stalks of working in the sugar cane fields and by being constantly whipped.

These people don't mix with anyone else on the island, have a very low literacy rate and many suffer from mental problems. They are tall, fair and blond haired, freckled skin and blue eyes and with names such as Lynch, O'Donaghue, etc. The forthcoming visit of Father Blackett should prove very interesting indeed.