A court was established for the punishment of “rebels and malignants;” the former consisting of persons who refused to surrender their houses and lands, and the latter being those who would not act contrary to their conscientious convictions in religious matters. These courts were called “Cromwell’s Slaughter-houses.” Donnellan, who had acted as solicitor to the regicides, at the trial of Charles I., held the first court at Kilkenny, October 4, 1652. Lord Louther held a court in Dublin, in February, 1653, for the special purpose of trying “all massacres and murders committed since the 1st day of October, 1641.” The inquiries, however, were solely confined to the accused Catholics; and the result proved the falsehood of all the idle tales which had been circulated of their having intended a great massacre of Protestants, for convictions could only be obtained against 200 persons, and even these were supported by forged and corrupt evidence. Sir Phelim O’Neill was the only person convicted in Ulster, and he was offered his life again and again, and even on the very steps of the scaffold, if he would consent to criminate Charles I.
As the majority of the nation had now been disposed of, either by banishment, transportation, or hanging, the Government had time to turn their attention to other affairs. The desolation of the country was such, that the smoke of a fire, or the sign of a habitation, was considered a rare phenomenon. In consequence of this depopulation, wild beasts had multiplied on the lands, and three “beasts” were especially noted for destruction. In the Parliament held at Westminster in 1657, Major Morgan, member for the county Wicklow, enumerated these beasts thus: “We have three beasts to destroy that lay burdens upon us. The first is the wolf, on whom we lay L5 a head if a dog, and L10 if a bitch. The second beast is a priest, on whose head we lay L10; if he be eminent, more. The third beast is a Tory, on whose head, if he be a public Tory, we lay L20; and forty shillings on a private Tory."
Wolves had increased so rapidly, that the officers who left Ireland for Spain, in 1652, were forbidden to take their dogs with them, and were thus deprived of the pleasure and the pride (for Irish dogs were famous) of this consolation in their exile. Public hunts were ordered, and every effort made to keep down beasts of prey. But the whole blame was thrown on the second beast. It was declared solemnly that if there had been no priests there would have been no wolves. The syllogism ran somewhat in this fashion:—
The Popish priests are the cause of every misery in Ireland;
The wolves are a misery:
Therefore the priests are to blame for the existence of the wolves.