Conquering the Idols: English Iconoclasm in Ireland, 1649-1660

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The English Parliament’s conquest of Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century left memories of violence that persist even in modern Ireland. This article considers one important but neglected dimension to the English campaign and subsequent rule: the attack on Irish Catholic devotional objects, including statues, images, vestments. The damage to the physical fabric of Irish Catholicism coincided with the wider effort to suppress all its public rituals and structures, and must be considered as a key element to the parliament’s campaign to punish, reform and convert the Irish. Reconsidering both older and recently published sources allows for significant new insights and contextual questions surrounding parliamentarian iconoclasm, its Irish manifestations, and indeed early modern iconoclasm more widely. In particular, it is argued here that this is not and cannot be an Irish story alone: while previous accounts have emphasized Ireland’s tragedy in these years, there are wider English and British contexts that must be brought to bear. Irish iconoclasm can be placed into a chronology of English violence since the late 1630s, and points to a wider British preoccupation with popish plots and idolatry, in which the Irish were central characters. The iconoclasm unleashed in Cromwellian Ireland underlines the braided nature of conflict across the mid-seventeenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 Jan 2022


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