Oliver Cromwell used it as his excuse to rape and pillage Ireland, but the 1641 ‘massacre’ of Protestants by Catholics during the Irish rebellion likely never happened.

New research by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland claims to have unveiled the real truth about Protestant settlers during the 1641 Irish rebellion -- contrary to previously held beliefs, the settlers, numbering in the thousands, were not massacred by the Irish during the rebellion.

The research is based on 8,000 witness statements, known as the 1641 Depositions, that were digitized by Trinity College in Dublin last year. These depositions prompted the notorious Oliver Cromwell to subsequently take revenge on Ireland and commence a brutal military campaign there, but Aberdeen researchers say that the depositions were based on “hearsay” as opposed to hard facts.

The researchers questioned the use of “the depositions as evidence, pinpointing hearsay as a basis for testimony and demonstrating that many of the most atrocious incidents were reported second or even third-hand more often than in the first person.”

The depositions alleged that women and children were massacred by the Irish during the 1641 rebellion, but the digitization of the depositions, researchers say, reveals new truths.

"One of the iconic narratives that comes up in hearsay evidence is reports of atrocities against pregnant women who were said to have been ripped open, had their babies pulled out and beaten against rocks," said Dr Mark Sweetnam, a scholar who has studied the texts.

"That image is drawing on biblical prophecy ... and contemporary accounts of European massacres.

"It's very striking that it crops up regularly in hearsay accounts but I never came across an example of it in eyewitness evidence.

"While these depositions were being taken, they were being leaked and published in London with the clear intention that they would elicit the sympathy of English Protestants."

The rebellion of October 1641, was an attempt to drive Protestant settlers off Catholic land. It had massive impact on Ireland through the centuries.

Software from IBM adapted 19,000 pages of depositions, and showed that words like “believeth” and “thinketh” were used far more than more definitive declarations like “saw” and “witnessed.”

“We have been able to show that there are significant differences between the use of words and phrases meaning ‘heard’ as opposed to ‘saw’ when it comes the worst atrocities reported within the depositions, such as an act of cannibalism and many of the more infamous events,” said forensic linguist Dr. Nicci MacLeod.