The history of early modern Ireland reads like a shabby parody of Christ’s miracle of the loaves and fishes, as recounted for us in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In that episode, you will recall, nobody came away empty-handed and the provident disciples gathered ample leftovers into their baskets. For Queen Elizabeth I, the Stuarts and Oliver Cromwell, Irish estates were their loaves and fishes, always with plenty more to be given away. The five thousand needing to be fed, in this case, were freeloading Englishmen without the ready money or social clout necessary for a successful career in their own country, hence glad to be rewarded, after massacring teagues and bogtrotters, with a parcel or two of Kerry, Cork and Roscommon and maybe a barony or even an earldom to go with it.
One of these was Thomas Blood of Sarney, County Meath, the son of a prosperous iron-master. The family, originally from Derbyshire, was enriched through an Irish land grant from King Charles I, whose cause the mettlesome Thomas espoused during the Civil War. Crossing to England, he quickly gained a reputation as ‘a very stout, bold fellow in the royal service’, enhanced by the courage he