Yale Bulletin and Calendar

September 1, 2000Volume 29, Number 1

This illustration from the library's exhibition brochure depicts the 1641 slaughter of Ulter Protestants by Catholic royalists.

Beinecke Library exhibit documents the struggle for the religious and political control of Ireland

In 1641, some 3,000 Ulster Protestants were slaughtered by Catholic royalists fighting over the political control of Ireland.

Retribution for the act followed eight years later, when British general Oliver Cromwell and his forces stormed Drogheda, Wexford and Waterford and killed thousands of Irish Catholic civilians.

The massacres are among the many bitter and bloody clashes between Protestants and Catholics over Irish rule in the past 500 years.

The historic political and religious conflicts between the English and Irish, or Protestants and Catholics, are documented in "Ascendancy: Irish Religion and Politics, 1500-1800," a new exhibit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The exhibit features paintings, letters, manuscripts and other documents related to Irish politics and religion. Among the oldest items on display is Edmund Spenser's 1597 prose volume "A viewe of the present estate of Ireland," which was among the most authoritative summaries of knowledge about Ireland in the late 16th century.

Later documents include an anonymous 1601 manuscript calling for harsher state measures against Catholics; a manuscript copy of a 1626 petition of the Irish bishops against Popery; letters by Cromwell written only a few days after landing his forces in Ireland and before he stormed Drogheda; a 1661 copy of a manuscript in which Baron Thomas Arundell and others petition the House of Lords asking for "relief" for Catholics; and a 1679 intelligence document describing relations between Irish Catholics and the English forces.

Also on display are a 1746 letter that offers a portrait of Dublin in the mid-18th century; a 1789 letter in which the writer, William Burton, muses about the origins of national sentiment in the American colonies and speculates that "neglect" is the root cause of discontent in Ireland; and a 1797 letter to Edmund Burke describing the precarious state of Ireland one year before the French invaded the island.

The majority of manuscripts in the exhibit are drawn from the Beinecke Library's James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection and represent just "a small sample of the thousands of fascinating and important Irish and Irish-related writings" contained in the collection, according to Liam D. Murphy, the exhibition curator. Two items in the exhibit were borrowed from the Yale Center for British Art: a 1657 portrait of William III of the House of Orange and a 1785 scenic painting by William Ashford titled "Mount Kennedy, County Wicklow, the House of Mrs. Hull." Also on view is a 1750 map of Ireland from the Sterling Memorial Library.

"Ascendancy: Irish Religion & Politics" will be on view through Oct. 14. Exhibition hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturdays (beginning Sept. 9), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free. The library, located at 121 Wall St., will be closed on Labor Day. For general information, call (203) 432-2977 or visit the library's website at www.library.yale.edu/beinecke/.


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