October 23: Ulster and the Killing Times (1641)

Massacre in Ulster
by Rev. David T. Myers

Some of our readers may be acquainted with the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France when Romanism decided to rid their nation of the Huguenots, or French Calvinists in the land. Well, did you know that a similar massacre occurred in Ulster, or Northern Ireland in the mid seventeen hundreds?

The atrocities were so horrible during this massacre that some historians try to downplay the whole scene. It was to them purely a nationalistic issue in that the Irish wished to reclaim their ancient lands from the Scotchmen who had occupied them. Yet Sir Phelim O’Neill, one of the leaders of this movement, stated that he would never leave off the work he had begun until Mass should be sung and said in every church in Ireland, and that a Protestant should not live in Ireland, be he of what nation he would. Certain elements of the Roman Catholic clergy recommended that a general massacre was the safest and most effectual method of putting down the Protestant ascendancy. Immediate entrance into heaven, without stopping in purgatory, was promised to the assailants. And so on this day, October 23, 1641, the initial outbreak of this cruel rebellion took place. It would not end fully until eleven years had passed.

This author does not wish to describe in detail the atrocities which transpired upon Protestant men, women, and children. After all, these posts are devotionals. Yet certainly the events of those days rival and even surpass the terrible times of the early church under persecution, as described in Hebrews 11:32-40. Thousands of Irish Presbyterians, along with their pastors, were slaughtered by their Roman Catholic neighbors.

The mass killings were stopped by the arrival of Major General Munro and ten thousand Scottish troops, who arrived in February of 1642. Partial order was restored, even though it was the beginnings of a decade of war in the land.

Words to Live By:
Incidents like this are hard to understand for God’s people, whether then or now. What purpose did God have in allowing His people to be removed from France or Ulster? It is a question which no one but God can fully answer. This is why theologians have spoken of “hard or dark providences” on earth. Moses answers under the Holy Spirit a biblical answer in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

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