Why are the Depositions important?
The depositions relating to Ulster, where the rebellion first began, are of particular importance and form a key element of our historical heritage. During the early decades of the seventeenth century English and Scottish protestant planters (who increasingly identified themselves as ‘British’) colonised the province, often dispossessing the Irish-speaking native catholic population. The depositions vividly document these colonial and ‘civilizing’ processes, which included the spread of Protestantism and the introduction of lowland agricultural and commercial practices to a primarily pastoral area, together with the native responses to them.
The 1641 Depositions constitute the chief evidence for the sharply contested allegation that the 1641 rebellion began with a general massacre of protestant settlers and as a result they have been central to the most protracted and bitter of Irish historical controversies. Propagandists, politicians and historians have all exploited the depositions at different times, and the controversy surrounding them has never been satisfactorily resolved. In fact, the 1641 ‘massacres’, like King William’s victory at the Boyne (1690), and the battle of the Somme (1916), have played a key role in creating and sustaining a collective Protestant/British identity in the province of Ulster.