Rebuilding the past: The transformation of early modern Irish History


Micheál Ó Siochrú
The Seventeenth Century Taylor and Francis Journals
Published online: 16 May 2018:

Rebuilding the past: The transformation of early modern Irish History

The study of early modern Irish history is undergoing major transformation.
For almost a century since the destruction of the Public Records Office of
Ireland in 1922, scholars have bemoaned the lack of source material for the
period 1500 to 1800, which has severely limited the breadth and depth of
historical research. A new project, however, is uncovering significant amounts
of hitherto unidentified material and entire archives are being rebuilt, using
mainly nineteenth-century transcriptions. Technological advances assist the
process of exploiting these newly rediscovered manuscripts but a fundamental
rethink is also required by historians of Ireland on how best to capture the
myriad of experiences of all the peoples of the island, particularly the Catholic
majority. These exciting developments mark a true turning point in Irish
historical research. We have an opportunity to break through the barriers of
rigid periodisation and to explore the deep continuities evident in the history of
early modern Ireland.

1. The historiography of early modern Ireland

The historiography of Early Modern Ireland has often been marked by strict
periodisation, with key dates such as 1534, 1603, 1660 and 1691, effectively
acting as barriers to the study of continuities in the Irish historical experience.
The limitations of this fragmented approach became abundantly clear to me
when I began to reflect on the year 1660 as a significant turning point in Irish
history. 1 1. This article is based on a paper I gave to the Restoration
Conference at the University of Bangor in July 2017 on the year 1660 as a
possible turning point in Irish History. View all notes I do not consider myself a
Restoration historian, as most of my research to date has focused on the wars
of the mid-seventeenth century in Britain and Ireland. But more recent projects

relating to the Cromwellian land settlement, such as the Down Survey Maps
project and the current Books of Survey and Distribution project, have drawn
me somewhat belatedly into the Restoration period, as disputes over land
titles continued well beyond 1660. On surveying the secondary literature I was
surprised by the relative paucity of recent publications on Ireland between
1660 and 1685, although a number of important monographs have appeared
in the last 10 years, authored by a new generation of young scholars, such as
Danielle McCormack, John Gibney and John Cunningham, on topics such as
the Popish Plot, the transplantations to Connacht and the English of Ireland. 2 2.
Danielle McCormack,The Stuart Restoration and the English in
Ireland(Woodbridge, Boydell, 2016); John Gibney,Ireland and the Popish
Plot(London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); John Cunningham,Conquest and
Land in Ireland: The transplantation to Connacht, 1649-1680 (Woodbridge,
Boydell, 2011).View all notes Toby Barnard remains the acknowledged expert
on the Protestant experience in Restoration Ireland and beyond but the
Catholic majority is still shamefully neglected. 3 3. Barnard’s relevant
publications are far too numerous to list butA new anatomy of Ireland: The
Irish Protestants, 1649-1770 (Yale, New Haven, 2003) is perhaps the best
introduction to his work.View all notes Moreover, works on the big political,
military, social and economic developments of the 1660s and 1670s are thin
on the ground, despite a significant renaissance in the study of Early Modern
Ireland more generally and the seventeenth century more particularly.