Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Forgotten Irish

     Have you ever learned something so disturbing that you almost wished you could unlearn it?  That is how I feel today.  The book I ordered, To Hell or Barbados-The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland, arrived Monday and I finished it last night. While it is a well researched and written book, it also recounts some of the most appalling stories I've seen in a long time.

     The book opens in the mid-1600's with the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and a more heartless man than Oliver Cromwell never drew breath.  After the brutal murders of countless Irish, his troops subdued the country--then things got even worse.  He expelled the owners of estates and many others, thousands of people in all, from their homes so the land could be given to English settlers.  The lower classes were  allowed to remain  since they were of use as laborers to the new settlers.  The uprooted Irish were forced on long marches to the west of Ireland to the worst land in the country.  That many died on these marches is common knowledge. 

     What Cromwell did next is not so well known.  He "generously" allowed some of the captured Irish soldiers to go abroad and join foreign armies not at war with England rather than face execution.  But there was a catch, they were not allowed to take their dependents along.

Poor white plantation workers in the Caribbean

     What to do with all these abandoned women and children with no visible means of support?  Cromwell's fiendish solution was to sell them into slavery, along with anyone else who displeased him.  Tens of thousands of Irish persons were rounded up like cattle by, "people catchers", thrown in cages, branded and shipped to the Caribbean or to America; there to toil on the plantations of English planters.  These unfortunate souls were subjected to every humiliation imaginable, forced labor, whippings and the females to "stud farms" whose purpose I'm sure I don't need to explain.

     Even more horrifying, they are still there.  All these centuries later the direct descendants of those Irish slaves still exist on the island.  They are referred to jeeringly as, "Redlegs", a nickname earned when they arrived 400 years ago and the tropic sun burned their fair Irish skin red.  They never integrated with the rest of the population, mostly of African stock and descendants of slaves themselves, who look down on the Redlegs. Generations of inbreeding have left them afflicted with hemophilia, diabetes and in some cases mental problems.  It makes me sick at heart that about 400 of these fellow Irish men, women and children remain victims even today, though now of poverty, ignorance and early death.

     Sean O'Callaghan, the author of the book says the "Redlegs" are a reclusive, unfriendly  group, distrustful of strangers, but who could blame them?  They remind me of a quote of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” 

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