We are all aware of the horrors of the African slave trade to America and it is well documented through history lessons and film,however the Irish slave trade is practically overlooked.
I say 'overlooked' as people tend to look towards the famine as of vast historical importance and i believe this is partly to blame for the lack of attention given to the Irish slave trade.
By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters. But there were not enough political prisoners to supply the demand, so every petty infraction carried a sentence of transporting, and slaver gangs combed the country sides to kidnap enough people to fill out their quotas.
Although African Negroes were better suited to work in the semi-tropical climates of the Caribbean, they had to be purchased, while the Irish were free for the catching, so to speak. It is not surprising that Ireland became the biggest source of livestock for the English slave trade.
In the 12 year period during and following the Confederation revolt, from 1641 to 1652, over 550,000 Irish were killed by the English and 300,000 were sold as slaves, as the Irish population of Ireland fell from 1,466,000 to 616,000. Banished soldiers were not allowed to take their wives and children with them, and naturally, the same for those sold as slaves. The result was a growing population of homeless women and children, who being a public nuisance, were likewise rounded up and sold. But the worse was yet to come.
In 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland and attacked Drogheda, slaughtering some 30,000 Irish living in the city. Cromwell reported: “I do not think 30 of their whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did are in safe custody in the Barbados.” A few months later, in 1650, 25,000 Irish were sold to planters in St. Kitt. During the 1650s decade of Cromwell’s Reign of Terror, over 100,000 Irish children, generally from 10 to 14 years old, were taken from Catholic parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In fact, more Irish were sold as slaves to the American colonies and plantations from 1651 to 1660 than the total existing “free” population of the Americas!
But all did not go smoothly with Cromwell’s extermination plan, as Irish slaves revolted in Barbados in 1649. They were hanged, drawn and quartered and their heads were put on pikes, prominently displayed around Bridgetown as a warning to others. Cromwell then fought two quick wars against the Dutch in 1651, and thereafter monopolized the slave trade. Four years later he seized Jamaica from Spain, which then became the center of the English slave trade in the Caribbean.
On 14 August 1652, Cromwell began his Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland, ordering that the Irish were to be transported overseas, starting with 12,000 Irish prisoners sold to Barbados. The infamous “Connaught or Hell” proclamation was issued on 1 May 1654, where all Irish were ordered to be removed from their lands and relocated west of the Shannon or be transported to the West Indies.
Although the Africans and Irish were housed together and were the property of the planter owners, the Africans received much better treatment, food and housing. In the British West Indies the planters routinely tortured white slaves for any infraction. Owners would hang Irish slaves by their hands and set their hands or feet afire as a means of punishment. To end this barbarity, Colonel William Brayne wrote to English authorities in 1656 urging the importation of Negro slaves on the grounds that, "as the planters would have to pay much more for them, they would have an interest in preserving their lives, which was wanting in the case of (Irish)...." many of whom, he charged, were killed by overwork and cruel treatment. African Negroes cost generally about 20 to 50 pounds Sterling, compared to 900 pounds of cotton (about 5 pounds Sterling) for an Irish. They were also more durable in the hot climate, and caused fewer problems. The biggest bonus with the Africans though, was they were NOT Catholic, and any heathen pagan was better than an Irish Papist.
The planters quickly began breeding the comely Irish women, not just because they were attractive, but because it was profitable,,, as well as pleasurable. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, and although an Irish woman may become free, her children were not. Naturally, most Irish mothers remained with their children after earning their freedom. Planters then began to breed Irish women with African men to produce more slaves who had lighter skin and brought a higher price. The practice became so widespread that in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” This legislation was not the result of any moral or racial consideration, but rather because the practice was interfering with the profits of the Royal African Company! It is interesting to note that from 1680 to 1688, the Royal African Company sent 249 shiploads of slaves to the Indies and American Colonies, with a cargo of 60,000 Irish and Africans. More than 14,000 died during passage.
(Bibliography at bottom)
After what went on in Ireland i was horrified to read these comments by Martin McGuiness...
However I was not horrified to see that the BBC completely ignored the slave trade from Ireland as it is what i have come to expect from the British media who like to portrat Britain as a place that fought against slavery.
Mr McGuinness said he found it hard to believe that slavery was ever acceptable and that it was significant to the history of Ireland.
"There were many people who were involved, either as opponents of slavery or as traders with slave colonies," he said.
"We need to face the fact that many Irish people became rich on the proceeds of black slavery."