Ethnic Cleansing in Ireland:
A Millennium Perspective by William Hughes

"I will not ignore 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo."[1]-British Prime Minister, Tony Blair

The idea that Great Britain has any moral standing to intervene in another nation's civil war because of supposed "ethnic cleansing" is simply preposterous. As a ruthless imperial power, it wrote the book on subjugating other races.[2] Fortunately, in the case of its American colony, it was repelled.[3] But, only after it had suffered military losses at Baltimore's Fort McHenry and New Orleans in 1814.[4] Other British-held territories in China, India, Africa, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America, weren't as lucky.[5] In fact, the 200,000 indigenous peoples of Tasmania were literally wiped out by the British.[6] Slave trading, piracy and opium running, were also part of its notorious practice of empire building.[7]

With respect to Ireland, ethnic cleansing has been the essence of British rule dating from the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169. One of its earliest racist laws, enacted in 1367, was the "Statute of Kilkenny." It prohibited intermarriage between the British and (Gaelic) Irish under penalty of death. To the British, the Irish were subhuman.

If one thinks of Irish history as a play, crafted in London's Whitehall by its bureaucrats, at the direction of powerful wirepullers, where the actors (read individuals, political parties, military, police, etc.) are given certain roles, but the end result is already known by the wirepullers, then the tragic drama of Ireland under British rule can be understood.

Since British outrages against the Irish are so many, space requirements permit me to cite only a few of the more egregious ones.[8]

The Great Terrors

In 1520, when Henry VIII broke with Rome, it added religion to the bias against the Catholic Irish. Under Henry's daughter, the murderous Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the killing fields of Ireland ran red with the blood of innocent victims. It is estimated 1.5 million Irish peasants were starved or "put to the sword" and much of their lands seized by English predators, while she reigned.[9]

By the time the zealot Oliver Cromwell arrived on the scene, the Irish were ripe for more carnage. "It has pleased God to bless our endeavors," he wrote of the mass slaughter in 1649, by his Puritan troops of 3,552 Irish inhabitants of the seaport town of Drogheda, just north of Dublin. He pompously continued, "I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches."[10] This Drogheda massacre is one of the leading examples of the insidious British policy of ethnic cleansing in Ireland. Another is Cromwell's sacking of Wexford and the killing of 2,000 of its citizens.

The infamous "Cromwellian Settlements" followed his conquest of Ireland. Millions of acres of land (41 percent of Antrim, 26 percent of Down, 34 percent of Armagh and 38 percent of Monaghan) were allocated to English Protestant settlers. The landowners of Irish birth were either killed, banished or forced out to Connaught in the west of Ireland, where it was hoped "they would starve to death."[11] A Cromwell biographer labeled this massive confiscation of Irish lands, "by far the most wholesale effort to impose on Ireland the Protestant faith and English ascendancy."[12] The British policy of colonizing Ireland with Protestants still has repercussions which are felt today on the streets of Belfast.

From 1649 to 1652, one-third of the population of Ireland was destroyed. Petty, an English historian says, "660,000 Irish people were killed."[13] Twenty thousand Irish boys and girls also were sold into slavery to the West Indies. The Irish peasant farmers that survived were forced to pay rent to their usurpers. Once prosperous home grown industries were also destroyed because they "competed with British factories."[14]

The memory of the holocausts under Elizabeth I and Cromwell have been forever seared into the psyche of the Irish race. Cromwell's evil idea that Irish Catholics were "barbarous wretches" has, too, unfortunately, passed into the British mindset.[15] Parliament reacted to Cromwell's crime against humanity in Ireland by passing an infamous Resolution that legitimized ethnic cleansing. It stated, "The House doth approve the execution done at Drogheda, as an act both of justice to them and mercy to others who may be warned by it."[16]

After the shaky British monarchy was restored in 1660, under Charles II, the vicious propaganda against Irish Catholics continued unabated. Many of the "vilest pamphlets" hyping the threat of a supposed "Popish Plot" against the Crown were printed in Holland.[17]

When James II, Charles' brother, succeeded him as King of England and Ireland in 1685, the hopes of Irish Catholics rose. His defeat, however, by the forces of William of Orange, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, on July 12, brought renewed disaster. More confiscations of Irish lands followed and the adoption into law of the notorious "Penal Laws" in the late 1690s. Their net effect was to hold that, "The law does not presume any such person to exist as an Irish Roman Catholic."[18]

As time passed, there were periodic, but failed, rebellions in Ireland. In 1845, with nationalist aspirations at their lowest ebb, the moans of the starving were heard. The potato crop was blighted and famine stalked the land.

The Irish Genocide

Author Thomas Gallagher sets the scene for this unspeakable tragedy in his moving testament to the Irish dead, Paddy's Lament: "A famine unprecedented in the history of the world, a chapter in human misery to harrow the human heart was about to start, and even little children could see its quick, sure approach in the nakedly fearful eyes and faces of their parents."[19]

By the mid-19th century, Ireland was a country of eight million, mostly peasants. As a result of years of exploitation, they survived as tenant farmers and were never far from economic disaster. They were forced to exist on a single crop: the potato. A disease turned the potato into a foul slime. When the Irish masses turned to the British government for relief, they received the back of London's hand.

Meanwhile, "Food, from 30 to 50 shiploads per day, was removed at gunpoint (from Ireland) by 12,000 British constables, reinforced by 200,000 British soldiers, warships, excise vessels, and coast guards... Britain seized from Ireland's producers tens of millions of head of livestock, tens of millions of tons of flour, grains, meat, poultry and dairy products-enough to sustain 18-million persons."[20]

Gallagher estimates two million died from the famine. Writer Chris Fogarty, however, places the numbers "murdered at approximately 5.16 million... making it the Irish holocaust."[21] Distinguished legal scholars, like Professors Charles Rice of Notre Dame U. and Francis A. Boyle, U. of Illinois, believe that under International Law, that the British pursued a barbarous policy of mass starvation in Ireland from 1845-50, and that such conduct constituted "genocide."[22]

The Wrong of Partition

An armed uprising occurred in Ireland, on Easter Monday, 1916. It was quickly crushed and its leaders executed by firing squads on the orders of General John "Mad Dog" Maxwell.[23] In the next general election, in 1918, Sinn Fein, the Republican Party, won 75 percent of the seats allocated to Ireland in the London Parliament. In defiance of Great Britain, its representatives set up an independent parliament known as Dail Eireann (Assembly of Ireland). London replied with massive violence, spearheaded by the "Black and Tans," fascist storm troopers.

Two years of war ensued with the Irish Republican Army, (IRA) fighting the British to a stalemate.[24] In 1921, a truce was declared. During negotiations for an Anglo-Irish Treaty, British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, issued an ultimatum to the Irish delegation: Sign a draft treaty or face immediate and "terrible war."[25] The signing led to a bitter civil war and the partition of Ireland, with the six northeastern counties becoming the bogus state of "Northern Ireland."

After the civil war ended, Eamon De Valera became Prime Minister of the "Irish Free State," which consisted of the twenty-six counties in the South. On July 1, 1937, a Constitution was adopted by his government rejecting partition and any oath of allegiance to the British Crown.

Six County Police State

Since the late 60s, British rule in the North of Ireland has been marked by events, like "Bloody Sunday,"[26] the "Dublin-Monaghan Bombings,"[27] and the death of the "Ten Hunger Strikers."[28] It has employed political assassinations, a shoot-to-kill policy, raiding of private homes, plastic bullets, the repressive Diplock Court system, tear gas, surveillance, torture and deportation in order to suppress the Irish.[29]

As resistance by the IRA to the occupation intensified, so did renewed oppression.[30] Actions, like the torching of Catholic churches, and the murders of attorneys Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, have underscored its policy of terror.[31] Although British officials regularly deny any responsibility for Loyalist (read Protestant, Unionist or Orange Order) terrorism, strong evidence suggest the contrary.[32]

Thanks to American activists, Ex-British Army Captain, Fred Holroyd, (MI 6) revealed to a C-Span audience details of Britain's "dirty tricks" in the Six Counties. British tactics included murders, bombings, framing of innocent victims, black propaganda and kidnappings.[33] Holroyd said the Special Air Service (SAS), undercover military personnel that are licensed to kill, are controlled directly by the office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and that the SAS, often referred to as "Margaret Thatcher's Praetorian Guard," ran spies into the 26 Counties.[34]

British wrongdoing didn't stop at the Irish shores. It also unsuccessfully opposed the MacBride Principles, U.S. sourced anti-discrimination legislation, which promoted equal employment opportunities for Catholics in the sectarian dominated Six Counties.[35]


A "Peace Process," in Ireland, was boldly initiated, in 1993, by Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and the Social Democratic Labor Party's John Hume. It eventually evolved into the 1998 "Good Friday Agreement." Unionist prevarications, however, and the reluctance of Blair's Labor government to trump the Orange card, despite having a 179-vote majority in the Parliament, have brought it to the brink of failure. Keep in mind that on December 19,1993, the London Sunday Times reported a secret Anglo-Irish deal to "smash the IRA, if a peace deal is rejected."[36]

Some now wonder, if the "Peace Process" is yet another example of Perfidious Albion's dirty tricks. They ask, "Will British ethnic cleansing return once again to Ireland and with a fury that would shame even Cromwell?" Only the wirepullers at Whitehall know for sure the answer to that troubling question.

If the past 831 years is prologue, we would do well to heed it.

© William Hughes 2002

William Hughes is the author of “Andrew Jackson vs. New World Order” (Authors Choice Press) and “Baltimore Iconoclast” (Writer’s Showcase), which are availabel online. He can be reached at

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Editor's Note-William Hughes is a Baltimore attorney. His book, Creating a New Ireland: A Tribute to the Irish Lobby, is available on

©William Hughes, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, All Rights Reserved, 2000.

This article was published in the Jan./Feb., 2000 issue of the Journal of the Social Justice Review, St. Louis, MO. A shorter version of it was also published in the March, 2000, issue of the Baltimore Sentinel, a monthly newspaper.


[1]. Tony Blair, "Kosovo: Our Responsibilities Do Not End at the Channel," London Sunday Independent, Feb. 14, 1999.

[2]. John Michael, The Way of the Aggressor, (Flanders Hall, 1941). During the Boer War, (1899-1902), the British created the first concentration camps, in which "26,663 women and children died," p. 69. And, in India between 1860 and 1900, it is estimated "thirty million" starved to death under British rule, p. 64.

[3]. A. J. Langguth, Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, (Touchstone, 1988).

[4]. Anthony S. Pitch, The Burning of Washington: The Invasion of 1814, (Naval Institute Press, 1998).

[5]. J. M., The Way of the Aggressor. In New Zealand, of the Maoris natives only "50,000 survived" British extermination, p. 65.

[6]. Ibid, p. 64.

[7]. Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade, (Simon & Schuster, 1997). When John Hawkins, a notorious pirate and slave trader, was knighted by Elizabeth I, he chose as his crest "a manacled negro." And, slave trading was to remain one of "England's foremost sources of income until well into the nineteenth century,"J. M., The Way of the Aggressor, pp. 66-67.

[8]. Seumus MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race, (Devin-Adair Co., 1921).

[9]. J. M., The Way of the Aggressor, p. 20.

[10]. Frederick Harrison, Oliver Cromwell, (Omni Publications, 1888), p. 139.

[11]. J. M., The Way of the Aggressor, p. 20.

[12]. F.H., Cromwell, p. 147.

[13]. J. M., The Way of the Aggressor, p. 21.

[14]. F. H., Cromwell, p. 149.

[15]. William Cobbett, A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, (Tan Books, 1896).

[16]. F. H., Cromwell, p. 149.

[17]. Captain A. H. M. Ramsay, The Nameless War, (1952, Ramsay).

[18]. Robert Kee, The Green Flag, Volume 1: The Most Distressful Country, (Penguin Book, 1972).

[19]. Thomas Gallagher, Paddy's Lament: Ireland 1846-1847, Prelude to Hatred, (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), p. 8.

[20]. Chris Fogarty, "The Mass Graves of Ireland: 1845-1850," Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, 1996, The Irish People, NYC.

[21]. Ibid, Oct. 26, 1996, p. 9.

[22]. Advert, Irish Famine/Genocide Committee, "The Famine Was Genocide," The Irish People, NYC, March 1, 1997, p. 14.

Early in 1992, Gallagher told me, "The Famine isn't taught in the Irish schools. And, I could find nothing on it either at New York's Irish Historical Society."

An excellent educational tool on the Famine is, "The Great Irish Famine Curriculum," authored by the Irish Famine Curriculum Committee, and chaired by James V. Mullin, (January, 1996).

[23]. Peter De Rosa, Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916, (Doubleday, 1991).

[24]. Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA: A History, (Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1993).

[25]. Robert Kee,The Green Flag, Volume 3: Ourselves Alone, (Quartet Books, 1976), p. 155.

[26]. On Jan. 30, 1972, 14 civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, in occupied Derry, during a peaceful civil rights march.

[27]. On May 14, 1974, 33 people were blown to death in explosions in Dublin and Monaghan. Evidence pointed to collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the British Army, and Loyalist paramilitary groups in the terrorist attacks.

Jim Smith, "Hub Recalls Victims of '74 Bombings," Irish Echo, May 18-24, 1994.

[28]. In the spring of 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher permitted ten jailed IRA men to die on hunger strikes over the issue of their status as political prisoners.

[29]. Rona M. Fields, Northern Ireland: Society Under Siege, (Transaction, 1980).

[30]. T. M. C., The IRA, pp. 259-423; and, Joe Doherty, Standing Proud: Writings from Prison and the Story of His Struggle for Freedom, (National Committee for Joe Doherty,1991).

Joe Doherty was incarcerated from 1983 to 1992, in the Metropolitan Correction Center, in NYC. I had the chance to visit and exchange correspondence with him. Doherty, a resourceful and talented individual, was the first and only IRA man, jailed in the U.S., to write an op ed article for a major U.S. newspaper, the Baltimore Evening Sun, March 17, 1989. He was deported to the UK, in 1992, and finally released from prison on Nov. 6, 1998, under the terms of the "Peace Process" (See Christy Ward's excellent account of the Doherty's saga in The Irish People, Nov. 14, 1998).

Martin Quigley and Peter Eamon McGuire were two other IRA members imprisoned in the U.S. for a period of time during the 90s. I also visited with them; Quigley at FCI Allenwood, PA., and McGuire at FCI Cumberland, MD. I found them to be sincere, genuine, highly intelligent individuals, and driven by the finest of patriotic impulses. They were both returned to the Republic of Ireland to finish their prison sentences and have since been released from custody.

Richard Clark Johnson is an American citizen and a highly-respected radar engineer. He was jailed for ten years, in 1989, on dubious evidence, for supposed weapons running charges connected to the IRA. No weapons were ever found. Like many, I believe Johnson was railroaded by our government to please Margaret Thatcher (See Robert P. Connolly, "Free Speech Failed Last IRA Prisoner in U.S.," Boston Herald, Sept. 5, 1999). I visited with Johnson, too, at FCI Allenwood. He was released from federal custody on Oct. 17, 1999.

[31]. Patrick Finucane, a 38 year-old Belfast solicitor, was shot to death in his home, on Feb. 12, 1989. The Ulster Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility. Rosemary Nelson, a prominent civil rights lawyer, age 40, was murdered on May 15, 1999, in Lurgan, in the Six Counties, by a car bomb. She had previously received death threats allegedly from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

On June 15, 1999, I attended a meeting at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. One of the purposes of the session was to demand an inquiry totally independent of the RUC into the murder of Nelson. Some of the other activists present were: Professor Gerry Coleman, Kathleen Kelly, Gavan Kennedy, Professor Jack Worrell, Richard Harvey, Esq. and James Fitzpatrick, Esq., I pointed out to the Embassy officials that New Jersey attorney Edmund E. Lynch had written numerous letters, in 1997 and 1998, to Northern Ireland Office (NIO) officers about the repeated death threats to Nelson. On Feb. 12, 1999, Lynch even met personally with RUC head, Ronnie Flanagan, for over two hours, and again raised the issue of death threats against Nelson. The Embassy officials vigorously defended the conduct of the RUC, but promised to look into "our concerns."

[32]. John Stalker, The Stalker Affair: The Shocking True Story of Six Deaths and A Notorious Cover-Up, (Viking, 1988); Sean McPhilemy, The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, (Robert Rinehart, 1998); Ed., To Serve Without Favor: Policing, Human Rights, and Accountability in Northern Ireland, (Human Rights Watch, 1997); and, David Leigh, The Wilson Plot: How the Spycatchers and Their American Allies Tried to Overthrow the British Government, (Pantheon Books, 1988).

[33]. Liz Curtis, Ireland: The Propaganda War, (Pluto Press, 1984).

[34]. A C-Span program, originating from the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 1993, carried Holroyd's press conference. I participated in it as a reporter representing WBAI's Radio Free Eireann in NYC.

[35]. Father Sean McManus, The MacBride Principles: Genesis and History and The Story to Date, (Irish National Caucus,1993). The MacBride Principles became a federal law in 1998.

[36]. Andrew Grice and Michael Prescott, "Secret Anglo-Irish Pact to Smash IRA," London Sunday Times, Dec. 19, 1993.

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