Page last updated at 06:23 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 07:23 UK

Cromwell as 'daddy of democracy'?

By Freya McClements
BBC News

Billy Leonard (left) and Samuel Cole
Sinn Féin councillor Billy Leonard (left) with the DUP's Samuel Cole

An evil tyrant or the father of democracy?

That's the debate splitting opinion in Coleraine, after a row broke out between local councillors over the legacy of Oliver Cromwell.

During the meeting of the Council's Policy and Resources Committee on Tuesday, the DUP's Samuel Cole said Cromwell was a defender of democracy.

But Sinn Féin councillor Billy Leonard said Cromwell's record in Ireland made him "no father of democracy".

The English leader is notorious in Ireland for massacring thousands of people after the siege of Drogheda in 1649.

"He was a very controversial figure and I would agree with that, but there are many modern historians who would laud him as a hero of liberty," said Mr Cole.

"Everyone sees him as a daddy of democracy in these islands.

"He was appointed lord protector of England and he is the father of the democracy that we now enjoy," said Mr Cole.

"Given the new dispensation of peace and reconciliation, I don't want to dig up the past as regards Cromwell's activity in Ireland," he said.

His colleague on Coleraine Borough Council, Sinn Féin's Mr Leonard, disagreed.

We all know what Cromwell was in Ireland and he was no father of democracy
Billy Leonard, Sinn Féin

"I think it is absolutely a pathetic reference," he said.

"We don't even have to mention the murder and mayhem, we just have to mention the land settlement, where he just took over 14 counties of Ireland.

"We all know what Cromwell was in Ireland and he was no father of democracy, let's be frank about that."

Historian Dr Eamon Phoenix agreed Cromwell was a controversial figure: "The essential irony is that he was a republican who established the first English republic.

"He was also a very strong Protestant, a Puritan, and wanted to reinforce the tide of the Reformation.

"He arrived in Ireland in 1649 and as nationalist legend has it, passed like lightning over the land.

"He laid siege to Drogheda, and when the garrison refused to surrender, under the rules of medieval warfare it was possible to annihilate a garrison that refused to surrender, and about 3,000 garrison and 1,000 civilians were killed, which sent a tremor of fear through nationalist Ireland," he said.

Mr Phoenix said Cromwell's final settlement in Ireland was very harsh.

"Historians say had Cromwell been more moderate, and gone for a settlement which allowed Catholics to remain on their land and practice their religion, the war would have ended and the relationship between the two islands might have been different.

"But instead, he inflicted the Cromwellian land settlement, which meant Catholic landowners were transplanted from the three provinces with the best land to the west of Ireland where the land was more barren - 'to hell or to Connacht'," said Mr Phoenix.

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