Page last updated at 07:10 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

1641 massacre accounts examined

Woodcutting of massacre
Up to 12,000 Protestants are thought to have been killed in the massacres

A group of academics has been tasked to reinvestigate a centuries-old massacre of Protestants in Ireland.

University language experts have been given a grant of £334,000 to pore over thousands of witness accounts of massacres following the 1641 rebellion.

The Protestant death toll was most recently put at between 4,000 and 12,000, mainly in Ulster.

However, there have been allegations that accounts of the killings were exaggerated for propaganda purposes.

Four thousand depositions corresponding to about 20,000 pages which have been locked away in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) since 1741, have been transcribed into digital format over the past two years.

The research team will use IBM technology, known as "dirty text" analysis software, to examine and cross-reference names, places, words and phrases.

This will give us an insight into who allegedly did what to who, and then it will allow us to investigate the reliability of the evidence
Dr Barbara Fennell

Dr Barbara Fennell, senior language and linguistics lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, who will lead the project, said they expect to prove within a year whether witness statements were genuine or overstated by commissioners working for Oliver Cromwell.

"It is important to remember that these depositions are mediated by the commissioner who wrote them down so there is inevitably manipulation of the descriptions," she said.

"That's what we are investigating, and given that it was such a sensitive time, and given what Cromwell did later in exaggerating it all, I think we have a really interesting tool here to see if there has been that kind of manipulation."

Dr Fennell said the next stage of the project would allow them to profile persons alleged to have carried out certain atrocities and map where they were supposed to have happened.

The academics will then 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.

"This will give us an insight into who allegedly did what to who, and then it will allow us to investigate the reliability of the evidence," Dr Fennell said.

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