Editing history

Jun 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Cross Channel

There was a grave in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin where an American Confederate flag would appear from time to time.  One of the gravediggers said one of those buried in the plot had been a veteran of the 1860s conflict.  It was hard to imagine someone who had lived in the genteel suburbs of 19th Century Co Dublin had taken part in the first modern war.  In his old age, had he remembered the terrible slaughter and suffering of the American Civil War?  Had he ever pondered how technology for killing people could develop so quickly, when people in rural communities continued to live in conditions not much changed in centuries?

The name of Parliament Street in Kilkenny did not prompt a second thought until reading a plaque set into the wall of the Bank of Ireland, the Confederate Parliament had sat in Kilkenny from 1642-1649.  ‘Confederate Parliament’? What was the Confederate Parliament?

Some two hundred and twenty years before the war that was to leave a lasting scar on the United States, a confederacy had been established in this city to resist alien rule.

The Confederation of Kilkenny had been governed by,

. . . eleven bishops, fourteen lords, and 226 commoners. The assembly took upon themselves for the time the government of the country—or of that part of it outside the influence of Ormond—and appointed generals over the army: O’Neill for Ulster and Preston for Leinster. To manage affairs with greater facility they elected from their number a “Supreme council.” And they issued a decree for raising money and for levying men, who were to be drilled by the officers that had come with Preston and O’Neill.

Outside of Dublin and parts of Ulster, the Confederacy had ruled Ireland, for seven years, Kilkenny had been the de facto capital of much of the island.

Nowhere in the history taught in schooldays in England had there ever been mention of an Irish Parliament in the Seventeenth Century.

It was not that the history of the times had never been taught.  The Battle of Langport on 10th July 1645 had seen the destruction of the last Royalist army in the English Civil War.  The battle had been fought across fields a few miles from our village, right in the middle of the time the Confederacy was ruling in Kilkenny.  Forty years later, the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth had been bloodily suppressed at the Battle of Sedgemoor, on the other side of the hill from location of the Battle of Langport, but while Monmouth got a mention, the years of Cromwell in the 1640s and 1650s, and his brutal treatment of people on both sides of the Irish Sea never got a mention.

How many other bits of history were left out of our lessons? How many more plaques and memorials are there testifying to the things we were never told about?

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  1. I had forgotten any details about this that I learned during schooldays in Dublin but had retained a memory of the fact that Klkenny had great historical significance.

    What is included in history lessons depends on who recorded the events and turned them into so called historical facts. Everyone has a point ot view they want to transmit. I’ve always thought that events in history would be quite surprising to some of those involved in them were they to read the accounts. Did you ever read ‘The Daughter of Time’ (1951) by Josephine Tey? About Richard III, it’s quite relevant to your post – an historical detective story.

    At base history really is local. People have a great interest in things that happened in their locality or region and also an interest in the individuals or families involved. My great-great grandfather lived in Cabinteely and made his way to the Crimea to fight in that war. For me, that is of intense interest. It’s not of particular interest to anyone else, however, save perhaps a local historian in Cabinteely who might be interested (not from the flesh and blood angle but from the pure history angle).

  2. British history is very selective!

    Not until I read Noam Chomsky did I discover Churchill approved of bombing native Africans to test the air force after the First World War.

  3. Your blog sparked memories of History in School and the one thing I kept were my History notes. In 1367 there were also the Statutes Of Kilkenny. Prince Lionel son of King Edward 111 and husband of Elizabeth de Burgo daughter of the Irish de Burgos came over to Ireland as Viceroy. He found his wife’s lands had been taken over by relations of de Burgos and had changed the name. He drew up the Statutes and they were passed by a Parliament in Kilkenny which only represented The Pale. The English felt the English in Ireland were becoming ” more Irish than the Irish themselves”. They forbade the Normans from inter marriage with the Irish and were not allowed to adopt Irish ways, be entertained by Irish minstrels etc or dress in Irish fashion. These laws were ignored outside The Pale and later in Tudor times The Earls of Kildare were constantly in trouble for breaking them.
    The Confederation of Kilkenny was called in October 1642. It was called by Bishops and Lords because the Irish wanted some government in the Country. England was at Civil War and was not able to look after Irish affairs. There was no Party unity – the Supreme Council was made up of people from different parties and was a great cause of it’s weakness. Again it was Anglo Irish against Old Irish. The Pope sent over Cardinal Rinuccini but he was only interested in maintaining the Catholic Church. The Earl of Ormond disliked the Cardinal and all he stood for. Believe it or not but in 1649 there was a Battle of Rathmines in which Ormond was defeated and in August of that year Cromwell arrived. Actually Cromwell arrived in Ringsend.
    Now you know where the name for that Italian Restaurant opposite Kilkenny Castle comes from. This is just in a nutshell. No wonder you were never taught that in English Schools. There was a lot of Irish History that we were not taught either.

  4. I once bought a book to re-read the history of the English Civil War – I think I was more confused afterwards! Sometimes, when trying to understand Irish history, I feel like Gladstone in “1066 and All That”, where it says that Gladstone spent lots of time trying to solve the Irish Question and every time he thought he was getting warm the Irish changed the question.

  5. It’s all a bit parochial, somewhatlike the Battle of Aughrim 1987 when two county teams met and beat the lard out of each other. Ohh eyyre…………

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