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Response to Review no. 214

Dr. Peter Gaunt’s very full and fair review needs thanks but little comment from the author. The reviewer makes a number of interesting points, which do deserve to be pursued. As I have always stressed, and as he remarks, the study was never intended to be a complete history of the decade. In particular, the main results of the upheavals – the transfer of land from generally Catholic to new Protestant owners – was deliberately omitted. This subject had already been well covered in older works such as Gardiner’s and Firth’s general (and excellent) accounts, Prendergast’s more polemical treatment and in the recent analysis by Karl Bottigheimer. Also, the thorough investigation of what happened in County Dublin by L.J. Arnold, was already in train. It has since been published as The Restoration Land Settlement in County Dublin, 1660-1688 (Dublin, 1993). Furthermore, a series of articles and an unpublished dissertation, focussed principally on Count Louth, by Harold O’Sullivan have added detail. (They are mentioned in the introductory chapter to the new edition of Cromwellian Ireland.) A more ambitious reconsideration of the process and the results was trailed in an article by Kevin McKenny in J. Ohlmeyer (ed.), Ireland from Independence to Occupation (Cambridge, 1996). However, the promise that Dr. McKenny’s full-scale treatment, expanding on his Maynooth MA thesis of 1989, would be published has yet to be fulfilled.

More tantalising is Dr. Gaunt’s wish that the routine workings of government had been reconstructed. This, of course, is a subject that he has made very much his own. Despite the destruction of the surviving Irish council records in 1922, enough survives in calendar and transcripts, and in the archives of the Council and its committees at Whitehall, to make this feasible. What picture would emerge is difficult to predict: possibly poor and tardy support from London; industry in Dublin, especially from the secretariat servicing the Council there. Questions about administrative innovations and continuities in personnel might be answered, although it has to be stressed that the bureaucracy in Dublin was small and has as yet been little investigated at any time in the seventeenth century.

Dr. Gaunt regrets that there was not a more extended comparison of the personalities and approaches of the two lords deputy. To have done so might have made it a more attractive book, but also a rather different one. Fleetwood’s weaknesses would probably be accentuated. So, too, would Henry Cromwell’s confrontational stance. Maybe the compromise adopted by the Protector, effectively sharing power between the two even after Fleetwood had returned to England in 1655, was more sagacious than I allowed. It was also of a piece with the delicate balancing of civilians and soldiers, which characterised the last stages of Cromwell’s regime in England. However, to concentrate on the personal styles of the lord deputies credits them with a more decisive impact on policy than was always the case. Owing to the urgency with which decisions had to be made in the 1650s, together with the underlying problems of quick communication between Dublin and London, Fleetwood and Henry Cromwell may have been better able than their successors to put a distinctive imprint on policy.

A final regret is the lack of any sustained coverage of land use and agricultural practices and incomes. A little has been done to chart the processes in particular localities – Munster and Ulster – by which ‘normality’ was gradually restored in the later 1650. Total recovery of rentals to pre-1641 yield was hampered: first, by the uncertainties over the fate of the surviving Catholics; and also by the heavy mortality especially in the early 1650s. Related to this is the chapter Dr. Gaunt finds rather speculative. Ideas of improvement were promoted and applied by devotees of the ‘new science’, especially Samuel Hartlib’s friends and correspondents. These efforts stood in a tradition of speculation, both intellectual and financial, which had as its aim the improvement of Ireland and enrichment of at least some of its inhabitants. My own work on the institutions and voluntary groups active in the eighteenth century would insist on the continuities.

Above all, Dr. Gaunt’s careful review reassures that a somewhat reluctant decision to put back into print a study much of which was conceived and constructed more than thirty years ago was justified. I fear the quirkiness of Cromwellian Ireland in not dealing with the Cromwellian settlement, ‘Hamlet without the prince’, will be repeated in my forthcoming study of the structures and characteristics of the Irish Protestant ascendancy, since it concerns itself little with the mechanics of how it came into being. But, again, with so much still to be done to reconstruct the history of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland, it seems unnecessary to duplicate the efforts of others.