Thomas De Laune (d.1685), the Cork Baptist and his Irishness

Thomas De Laune (d.1685), was native to Cork, Ireland. His background was Roman Catholic, but in the early 1650s he was converted through the instrumentality of Major Edward Riggs, a wealthy Cromwellian soldier who had settled on a large estate about seven miles from the town of Cork in 1651, and who was a key figure in the founding of the Cork Baptist Church (where I was for about eight days earlier this month). Riggs provided for De Laune’s education till the Cork man was sixteen or so. De Laune eventually moved to London, probably in the 1660s, where he became linked  with the leadership of the London Particular Baptist community. In July 1675, for instance, De Laune co-authored a book with Hanserd Knollys and William Kiffin and three others that defended believer’s baptism. Six years later De Laune and Benjamin Keach co-authored the monumental Tropologia, in which the authors seek to give the interpreter of the Bible a kind of Bible handbook in which he or she can find the explanation of the various tropes, metaphors, and similes in the Scriptures.

Reading through a work attributed to De Laune, namely, A Plea for the Non-Conformists (London, 1684) just now, I came across an interesting, albeit disturbing, statement. The author—indentified simply as “Philalethes” on the title page—is drawing his case for nonconformity to a close and he says that he hopes that he will be heard for he is appealing to “our own Country-men, Neighbours, Fellow-Citizens, Acquaintance, Relations, Gentlemen, Scholars, with men professing the same Protestant Religion with our selves.” He is not speaking, he emphasizes, to “brutish Irish Massacring-Cut-Throats, worse than Canibals [sic] (to whom all Reason, Right and Truth is unacceptable)” (p.78). The author is clearly De Laune, as can be seen by his Two Letters to Dr. Benjamin Calamy (London, 1683), and, in fact, A Plea for the Non-Conformists got De Laune committed to the infamous Newgate prison, where he perished in 1685, a genuine martyr for Dissent.

But what is shocking is that an Irishman could say such things about his fellow Irish! It could be that De Laune has one group of Irishmen in mind, but, at first glance the statement seems to reveal the racism that existed among the English regarding the Irish—and sadly, how an Irishman—who would have been betrayed by his accent like the ancient Galileans—could adopt English attitudes. Oh to move beyond such stereotyping, and see that at the door of the Church such perspectives must be shed wholly and utterly!