Oliver Cromwell

(25/04/1599 - 03/09/1658)

Oliver Cromwell, a figure draped in infamy and revulsion in Ireland. A number of landmarks in the Crumlin and Walkinstown area were named after him – Cromwellsfort Road, Cromwellsfort House (previously Cherryfield House), Cromwell’s Castle, Oliver’s Corner and Oliver’s Elbow. The name Cromwellsfort suggests the presence of a fort in Cromwell’s time. Oliver’s Corner is located on old OSI maps near the junction of Cromwellsfort and Bigger Roads. Cromwell’s Castle was the local name for the ruins of an old stone castle (now demolished) that existed in the 1920s at the rear of the Salesian’s house near St. Teresa’s Road. Oliver’s Elbow was the name given to the sharp bend in the road that was located outside St. Mary’s Church, which was removed when Bunting Road was built. Despite numerous places bearing Cromwell’s name, there is scant evidence to suggest that Cromwell ever set foot in the area.

In August 1649, Cromwell and his army of nine thousand foot soldiers and four thousand cavalry landed at Ringsend at the mouth of Dublin’s River Liffey to begin a campaign of ruthless suppression which is remembered with revulsion in Ireland to this day. However, if Cromwell himself did not pass by Crumlin, it is likely that his officers and men did, as the district of Crumlin, like other districts in Ireland, was confiscated and lands parcelled out to his soldiers. During this time, the Barnwalls were deprived of their lands around Drimnagh, Terenure, Kimmage and Ballyfermot. Drimnagh Castle was sold to a Philip Fernley, a Lieutenant Colonel in Cromwell’s army. The Terenure lands were leased to a Major Elliott. As Cromwell’s officers and men probably erected forts and stabled their horses in various buildings in the Crumlin area, we can understand how the local farming community of that time would have assumed that Cromwell himself was there among them.

So why did Cromwell come to Ireland? Cromwell was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England, in 1599 into a wealthy and influential family and died in England in 1658. Following completion of his education at Cambridge University, he became a minor East Anglian landowner. Until 1640 he played only a small role in local administration and no significant role in national politics. It was the English civil wars of the 1640s which lifted Cromwell from obscurity to power.

Ireland in the 17th Century was in turmoil. The Plantation of Ulster had commenced in 1609 after the Flight of the Earls. In autumn 1641 Ulster’s dispossessed Catholics rose in rebellion, and as many as 3,000 Protestants were killed and as many again fled to England. When the First English Civil War, involving conflict between those loyal to the King (“Royalists”) and those who supported the English Parliament, began in August 1642, Cromwell joined the Parliamentarian army. He quickly demonstrated his military abilities and in 1645 was appointed commander of the New Model Army cavalry, playing a key role in defeating the Royalists in the English Civil Wars. He was a leading advocate of the execution of Charles I in January 1649. After the King’s execution, a republic was declared, known as the Commonwealth of England. The Royalists regrouped in Ireland, forming an alliance with Irish Catholics who supported the Royalist side.

An army loyal to the Parliament controlled the Dublin area, but more than 80 per cent of Ireland was in the hands of those hostile to the English Revolution. Cromwell’s expeditionary force was intended to reverse this situation by incorporating Ireland into the English Commonwealth, placing it firmly under direct rule from metropolitan England. It was also to expropriate enough land to both pay the costs of the conquest and reward English speculators and demobbed soldiers.

Cromwell was in Ireland from 15 August 1649 to 26 May 1650. In that short time he accomplished a more complete control of Ireland than had been achieved under any English monarch previously; and it led on to one of the most ruthless processes of ethnic cleansing in western European history. In the next five years perhaps three-quarters of the land held by predominantly Catholic Irish people was confiscated and redistributed to Protestant Englishmen. At a stroke, the proportion of the land of Ireland held by the former fell from three-fifths to one sixth.

Cromwell spent his time securing control of the east of Ireland, from Drogheda to Cork. At the heart of Cromwell’s conquest was his storming of Drogheda and Wexford. They represent a grim toll. In Drogheda more than 3,000 were killed; in Wexford not less than 2,000.  There is a tendency to blame Cromwell for all the horrors in Ireland in the 1650s. There were certainly atrocities after his departure.  He failed to rise above the bigotry of his age in respect of the Irish people and Catholics generally. Whether he broke the typical rules of war of the time and whether he was more brutal than others in Irish history is a matter of debate.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Soldier who has Cromwellsfort, Oliver's Corner and Oliver's elbow named after him despite lack of evidence that his army camped in area.