Oliver Cromwell led a Parliamentary invasion of Ireland in 1649. The parliament had disposed of Charles I and abolished the monarchy, and it now wished to turn its attentions upon the Irish Confederate Catholics. Cromwell’s hostility was religious as well as political, he was passionately opposed to the Roman Catholic Church which he perceived as denying the primacy of the Bible in favour of papal and clerical authority and he blamed them for persecution of Protestants in Europe and indeed of Ulster planters in 1641. He was only nine months in Ireland but his campaign was very effective, before his arrival Parliament only possessed outposts at Dublin and Derry, at his departure they controlled most of the eastern and northern parts of the country.
Cromwell’s brutality on the royal garrison and the townspeople of Drogheda as well as the defenders of Wexford became permanently engraved in the folk memory of the Irish. As did the terms of surrender, men in arms were granted freedom to emigrate to the Continent and more than 30,000 accepted this offer. The poor classes were issued with a general pardon, it was the wealth of the country that the government of England was interested in. Any Catholic landowners who had been involved in the rebellion lost all their estates and property rights, those who hadn’t were only allowed retain a proportion of their lands but it was not to be same land.
Ireland was divided into two parts, firstly Connaught and Clare to which all those who had established their innocence were to be sent and secondly was the rest of Ireland in which confiscated lands were used to pay off the government’s creditors – the men who had lent money or supplies and the officers and soldiers who had served without adequate pay. It was not so much a plantation as a complete transference of wealth, power and resources from Catholics to Protestants, the Cromwellian settlement completely transformed the character of the landowning aristocracy of Ireland.