Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

1641 depositions exhibition opens

'Propaganda' images from the 1641 rising by Catholic rebels of an alleged massacre of Protestants are on show at the exhibition
President Mary McAleese opened the exhibition at Trinity College Dublin

An exhibition highlighting one of Ireland's bloodiest and traumatic events has been opened by President Mary McAleese and attended by former DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley.

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is showcasing witness testimonies detailing alleged Protestant massacres by Catholic rebels during the 1641 Irish Rebellion.

Academics have spent three years painstakingly transcribing and digitising the so-called depositions to allow them to be uploaded online for free public viewing.

Mrs McAleese said the rebellion has long been the subject of controversy, with widely differing accounts between the two traditions. She said: "Facts and truth have been casualties along the way and the distillation of skewed perceptions over generations have contributed to a situation where both sides were confounding mysteries to one another."

"That is why in these more chastened and reflective times, as we try to understand more deeply and generously the perspectives which have estranged us and as we try to reconcile, to be good neighbours, friends and partners across those sectarian divides, it is such a valuable thing to have access to this unique collection of witness testimonies from some of those who experienced the terror and horror of those tragic times."

Some 50 researchers, librarians and academics from the Dublin university and the universities of Aberdeen and Cambridge have been trawling through 19,000 pages in 31 volumes of linen rag paper for the last three years. There are some 8,000 depositions in which 90,000 people are named.

The bulk of the testimonies are from Protestants and they detail in vivid and harrowing terms the alleged crimes committed by the Irish Catholic insurgents, including torture, assault, stripping, imprisonment and murder, as well as the loss of goods.

The Protestant death toll in the alleged massacre has been put at between 4,000 and 12,000. But academics say the defining period of history was invented and reinvented by successive generations in response to contemporary developments and has never been satisfactorily resolved in Ireland, both North and South.

In the next stage of the project academics will use "forensic linguistics" to test the reliability of the reports, based on the wording, phrases and the veracity of the commissioners who took it down.

Jane Ohlmeyer, TCD's Erasmus Smith Professor of Modern History, said she hopes academics across the globe and other members of the public will use the collection. She said: "Having completed the first phase of the project we now turn to using the depositions as a research and educational resource."

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