For a nation that likes to pretend it knows its history well and cares about it just as much, it can be lax about the details and all too quick to rely on broad brushstrokes.
a bit like reading the blurb of a book but never bothering to open it.
Highlighting nefarious characters who got us over the complexities of the issues themselves has always been our lazy way of understanding our complicated past.
We have a go-to list for this type of analysis. It relies on a litany of the usual suspects. Dermot MacMurrough for starters, of course. what was he thinking
Then there is Henry VIII, his daughter, the virgin queen, William of Orange, Charles Trevelyan, Carson, Lloyd George, Churchill. The list extends and shortens depending on the weather conditions. Or our mood.
But a villain strides through the centuries like a colossus. Oliver Cromwell’s name was not spoken as often in Ireland as it was spat out over generations. Not a historical figure to study, but an ogre to despise.
If Irish history focuses on a single person, we decided long ago that Cromwell was that man. Also for understandable reasons if one follows the general trend of Irish historical scholarship.
There’s also a bigger screen, which we rarely question. Cromwell’s campaign here was an element of the long and bloody European Wars of Religion of the time. Protestants were slaughtered with equal ferocity across the continent.
But now the sand is beginning to shift in historical research. New evidence seeks to challenge our granitic dislike for the man who has come to define English treason. Historians have unearthed obscure pamphlets from the 17th century showing that Cromwell, despite his gory reputation, was willing to grant Irish Catholics freedom to practice their religion in private.
The popular narrative has long insisted that Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 simply to commit genocide and transfer lands and wealth to new settlers.
John Morrell, Professor of Irish History at Cambridge, argues that Cromwell’s “principal reason for coming to Ireland was to deal with the Royalist problem”.
Many Stuart loyalists had fled to Ireland to regroup after Cromwell executed Charles I and formed new alliances.
Prof. Morrell claims “these are the people he treats the hardest”.
Although Cromwell later killed dozens of priests and exiled hundreds more, he did so mainly because he was convinced that many had instigated the rebellion of 1641, in which terrible atrocities were inflicted on Protestants.
This controversial research will be published in a three-volume book, The letters, writings and speeches of Oliver Cromwellnext month.
It is a mistake to imagine history as a dead thing frozen in aspic. Our understanding of it is constantly changing. Even the man we hate most deserves a cautious reappraisal. Provided we have the courage to do so.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/even-oliver-cromwell-a-figure-we-love-to-hate-deserves-a-fair-hearing-41898850.html Even Oliver Cromwell – a character we tend to hate – deserves a fair hearing