Some figures on 1641 rebellion

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I am afraid that David Burrows’s letter (February 24) demonstrates the danger of taking myth and outdated historical accounts for fact-a phenomenon that is only too familiar to me as an historian.

There is no factual basis for Mr Burrows’s assertion that 300,000 Protestants were massacred in the 1641 rebellion.

This figure is derived from the work of the contemporary propagandist Sir John Temple; another contemporary, the poet John Milton, came up with a figure of 600,000 .

Both figures are vastly greater than the total British population of Ulster in 1641 or even that of Ireland as a whole.

The pioneer demographer Sir William Petty, writing 30 years after the rebellion, arrived at a much lower figure of 37,000.

Historians now believe that in Ulster about 12,000 at most died in the months after the rebellion, either in massacres or through neglect or ill treatment-about a quarter or a third of the total Scots and English Protestant population in Ulster at the time.

The modern historian Hilary Simms has concluded that between 10 and 25 per cent of the Protestant British population of County Armagh died in 1641.

She has written: “There is no escaping the fact that large numbers of British settlers were murdered and massacred at that time but it was not the planned annihilation of British protestant settlers as depicted by some historians but a series of uncontrolled massacres and murders carried out by local leaders and their men”.

It should be added that for a large part of Ireland’s population, Catholic as well as Protestant, the 1640s and 1650s were decades of great suffering; the island lost around 20 per cent of its pre-1641 population.

Mr Burrows’s assertion that Christianity was established in Ireland by Greek missionaries is no less bizarre than his grossly exaggerated figure for deaths after the 1641 rebellion.

The two earliest known missionaries to Ireland in the fifth century were Palladius (probably a native of Roman Gaul and sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine) and Patrick (certainly from Roman Britain); neither had anything to do with Greece or any other part of the Greek speaking regions of the Roman Empire.

C.D.C. Armstrong, Donegall Rd, Belfast, BT12