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Sunday, April 25, 1999 Published at 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK


Catholics boycott Cromwell event

Cromwell is still a controversial figure 400 years after his birth

Catholics snubbed celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Oliver Cromwell on Sunday.

A church service and 17th Century street market were held at Cromwell's birthplace in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

BBC News 24 examines the contradictory life of Oliver Cromwell
But the local Catholic Church did not take part because of the hatred many Catholics still feel towards Cromwell.

The man who became Lord Protector of England and Wales following the execution of King Charles I was involved in two massacres of Irish Catholics, at Drogheda and Wexford.

In September 1649, Cromwell's 12,000-strong forces stormed Drogheda, north of Dublin.

[ image: A silver-gilt medal struck to celebrate Cromwell's appointment as Lord Protector]
A silver-gilt medal struck to celebrate Cromwell's appointment as Lord Protector
The troops massacred almost everyone in the garrison and the town, and Cromwell was quoted as saying: "It is the righteous judgement of God on these barbarous wretches."

A month later Wexford suffered the same fate and both incidents, justified by the British as militarily necessary to subdue the population, still figure strongly in Irish republican history.

Many also hold Cromwell solely responsible for the execution of Charles I in January 1649, although there were 59 signatories on the death warrant.

Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector in 1653. After his death from malaria in 1658, his funeral cost about £60,000. The average wage at the time was one shilling a day.

Father Nicholas Kearney, whose parish is based at St Michael the Archangel in Huntingdon, said parishioners did not think it was appropriate to commemorate Cromwell.

'Powerful legacy'

He said: "It's very difficult. Many people remember Cromwell for what he did in England and have no idea of his role in Ireland and why Irish Catholics feel so bitter about him.

"But we did not feel it would be appropriate for us to celebrate the life of this man."

The public records office at Huntingdon holds records of Cromwell's birth. The Cromwell Museum across the road is based in the building where Cromwell went to school.

John Goldsmith, of Cambridgeshire Museums, said: "The legacy he's left us is a very powerful one.

"What Cromwell did was to curtail the power of the monarchy, and in so doing he laid a foundation for parliamentary democracy which put this country in very good stead in the 18th and 19th centuries. He also united the kingdom as well."

Huntingdon was to traffic while the street market and birthday celebrations took place.

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