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Plantation of Ulster

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The Plantation of Ulster was a planned process of colonisation which took place in the northern Irish province of Ulster during the early 17th century in the reign of James I of England. English and Scottish Protestants were settled on land that had been confiscated from Catholic Irish landowners in the six counties of Donegal, Coleraine1, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh and Cavan, following the Flight of the Earls in 1607. It was the biggest and most successful of the Plantations of Ireland. Ulster was planted in this way to prevent further rebellion, having proved itself over the preceding century to be the most resistant of Ireland's provinces to English invasion.



Planning the Plantation

Prior to its conquest in the Nine Years War of the 1590s, Ulster was the most Gaelic part of Ireland and the only province that was completely outside English control. The war, of 1594-1603, ended with the surrender of the O’Neill and O’Donnell lords to the English crown, but was also a hugely costly and humiliating episode for the English government in Ireland. Moreover, in the short term it had been a failure, since the surrender terms given to the rebels were very generous, re-granting them their former lands under English law. However, when Hugh O'Neill and the other rebel Earls left Ireland in 1607 (the so called Flight of the Earls) to seek Spanish help for a new rebellion, the Lord Deputy, Arthur Chichester, seized the opportunity to colonise the province and declared the lands of O’Neill, O’Donnell and their followers forfeit. Initially, Chichester planned a fairly modest plantation, including large grants to native Irish lords who had sided with the English during the war -for example Niall Garve O'Donnell. However, this plan was interrupted by the rebellion of Cahir O’Doherty of Donegal in 1608, a former ally of the English, who felt that he had not been fairly rewarded for his role in the war. The rebellion was swiftly put down and O’Doherty hanged but it gave Chichester the justification for expropriating all native landowners in the province.

An earlier attempt at plantation on the east coast of Ulster by Sir Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, in the 1570s had failed (See Plantations of Ireland). But the situation following the Nine Years War was far more propitious, and much of the legal groundwork for the plantation was laid by Sir John Davies, then attorney general of Ireland.

James VI of Scotland had become King of England in 1603, uniting the those two crowns –also of course gaining possession of the Kingdom of Ireland – an English possession. The Plantation of Ulster was sold to him as a joint "British", i.e. English and Scottish, venture to pacify and civilise Ulster. So at least half of the settlers would be Scots. Six counties were involved in the official plantation – Donegal, Coleraine, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh and Cavan.

The plan for the plantation was determined by two factors, one was the wish to make sure the settlement could not be destroyed by rebellion as the first Munster Plantation had been. This meant that, rather than settling the Planters in isolated pockets of land confiscated from convicted rebels, all of the land would be confiscated and then redistributed to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons. What was more, the new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants and had to import them from England and Scotland. The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was supposed to be relocated to live near garrisons and Protestant churches. Moreover, the Planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman. They would also have to build defences against a possible rebellion or invasion. The settlement was to be completed within three years. In this way, it was hoped that a defensible new community composed entirely of loyal British subjects would be created.

The second major influence on the Plantation was the negotiation between various interest groups on the British side. The principal landowners were to be Undertakers, wealthy men from England and Scotland who undertook to import tenants from their own estates. They were granted around 3000 acres (12 km²) each, on condition that they settle a minimum of 48 adult males (including at least 20 families) who had to be English-speaking and Protestant. However, veterans of the Nine Years War (known as Servitors) and led by Arthur Chichester, successfully lobbied that they should be rewarded with land grants of their own. Since these former officers did not have enough private capital to fund the colonisation, their involvement was subsidised by the twelve great guilds and livery companies from the City of London were coerced into investing in the project. The City of London guilds were also granted land on west bank of the River Foyle to build their own city (Londonderry near the older Derry) and lands in the county. The final major recipient of lands was the Protestant Church of Ireland, which was granted all the churches and lands previously owned by the Roman Catholic church. It was intended that clerics from England and the Pale would convert the native population to Protestantism.


The Plantation in Operation

The plantation was a mixed success. At the around the time the Plantation of Ulster was planned, the Virginia Plantation at Jamestown in 1607 started. The London guilds planning to fund the Plantation of Ulster, switched and backed the London Virginia Company instead. Many British protestant settlers went to Virginia or New England in the New World rather than Ulster. By the 1630s, there were 20,000 adult male British settlers in Ulster, which meant that the total settler population could have been as high as 80,000. They formed local majorities of the population in the Finn and Foyle valleys (around modern Derry and east Donegal) in north Armagh and east Tyrone. Moreover, there had also been substantial settlement on officially unplanted lands in south Antrim and north Down, sponsored by Scottish landowner, James Hamilton. What was more, the settler population grew rapidly as just under half of the planters were women – a very high ratio compared to contemporary Spanish settlement in Latin America or English settlement in Virginia and New England.

However, aspects of the original plan proved to be unrealistic. Because of political uncertainty in Ireland, and the risk of attack by the dispossessed Irish, the undertakers had difficulty attracting settlers (especially from England). This meant that they were forced to keep Irish tenants, destroying the original plan of segregation between settlers and natives. The Irish population, as a result, was neither removed nor Anglicised. In practise, the settlers did not stay on bad land, but clustered around towns and the best land. This meant that many British landowners had to take Irish tenants, contrary to the terms of the plantation. In 1609, Chichester had deported 1300 former Irish soldiers from Ulster to serve in the Swedish Army, but the province remained plagued with Irish bandits known as "wood-kerne" who attacked vulnerable settlers. The attempted conversion of the Irish to Protestantism also had little effect, if only because the clerics imported were all English speakers, whereas the native population were usually monoglot Irish Gaelic speakers.


The Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Ulster Plantation

In the 1640s, the Ulster Plantation was thrown into turmoil by civil wars that raged in Ireland, England and Scotland (See Wars of the Three Kingdoms). The wars saw Irish rebellion against the planters, twelve years of bloody war and ultimately the re-conquest of the province by the English parliamentary New Model Army, that confirmed English and Protestant dominance in the province.

After 1630, Scottish migration to Ireland waned for a decade. In the 1630s many Scots went home after King Charles I of England forced the Prayer Book of the Church of England on the Church of Ireland, thus compelling the Presbyterian Scots to change their form of worship. In 1638, an oath was imposed on the Scots in Ulster, 'The Black Oath', binding them on no account to take up arms against the King. This occurred against the background of the Bishops Wars in Scotland - a Presbyterian uprising against King Charles I. The King subsequently had an army, largely composed of Irish Catholics, raised and sent to Ulster in preparation to invade Scotland. This prompted the English and Scottish Parliaments to threaten to invade Ireland and subdue the Catholics there. This in turn caused Gaelic Irish gentry in Ulster - led by Phelim O'Neill and Rory O'More - to plan a rebellion aimed at taking over the administration in Ireland to pre-empt an anti-Catholic invasion.

On October 23rd 1641, the native Gaelic Irish Catholics broke out in armed rebellion -the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The natives mobilised in the rebellion turned on the Planter population, massacring about 4000 settlers and expelling about 12,000 more. The initial leader of the rebellion, Phelim O'Neill, had actually been a beneficiary of the Plantation land grants, but most of his supporter's families had been dispossessed and were undoubtedly motivated by the recovery of their ancestral lands. Many Planter survivors rushed to the seaports and went back to Scotland or England. This massacre and the reprisals which followed, permanently soured the relationship between Planter and native communities.

In the summer of 1642, ten thousand Scottish Covenanter soldiers, including some Highlanders, arrived to quell the Irish rebellion. In revenge for the massacres of Protestants, the Scots committed many atrocities against the Catholic population. However, the rebellion was not put down due to the outbreak of civil war in England and Scotland - the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Scottish army fought in Ireland until 1650 in the Irish Confederate Wars, and were based in Carrickfergus. Many stayed on in Ireland afterwards, with the permission of the Cromwellian authorities. In the north west of Ulster, the Planters around Derry and east Donegal organised the Lagan Army in self defence. The Protestant forces fought an inconclusive war with the Ulster Catholics, led by Owen Roe O'Neill. All sides committed atrocities against civilians in this war, causing an accentuation of the population displacement begun by the Plantation. As well as fighting the Irish Catholics, the settlers fought each other in 1648-49, over the issues of the English Civil War, when the Scottish Presbyterians army sided with the King and the Lagan Army sided with the English Parliament. The New Model Army, along with some of the Ulster Protestants under Charles Coote, defeated both the Scottish forces in Ulster and the Irish Catholics in 1649-50.

As a result, the English Parliamentarains or Cromwellians (after Oliver Cromwell) were generally hostile to Scottish Presbyterians after they re-conquered Ireland from the Catholic Confederates in 1649-53. The main beneficiaries of the postwar Cromwellian Plantation in Ulster were English Protestants like Sir Charles Coote who had taken the Parliament's side over the King or the Scottish Covenanters in the Civil Wars. The Wars eliminated the last major Catholic landowners in Ulster.


The Ulster Plantation and the Scottish Border Problem

Most of the Scottish planters came from south west Scotland, but many also came from the unstable regions along the border with England, and it was thought by moving Borderers (see Border Reivers) to Ireland (particularly to County Fermanagh), that it would both solve the Border problem and tie down Ulster. This was of particular concern to James VI of Scotland when he became King of England, since he knew Scottish instability could jeopardise his chances of ruling both kingdoms effectively. Scotland had its own parliament in the 17th century, and was substantially independent, even setting its own colony up in Darién.

Another wave of Scottish immigration to Ireland took pace in the 1690s, when tens of thousands of Scots fled a famine in the borders region of Scotland to come to Ulster. It was at this point that Scottish Presbyterians became the majority community in the province. These planters are often referred to as Ulster-Scots.

Despite the fact that Scottish Presbyterians strongly supported the Williamites in the Williamite war in Ireland in the 1690s, they were excluded from power in the postwar settlement by the Anglican Protestant Ascendancy.

Because of this the descendants of the Presbyterian planters played a major part in the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Not all of the Scottish planters were Lowlanders, however, and there is also evidence of Scots from the south west Highlands settling in Ulster. Many of these would have been Gaelic speakers like the Irish, continuing a centuries-old exchange.



Even four hundred years later, the Plantation of Ulster remains a controversial topic in Ireland, as it relates directly to The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The present day partition of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is largely as a result of the settlement patterns of the Plantations of the 17th century. The descendants of the British Protestant settlers largely favoured a continued link with Britain, whereas the descendants of the native Irish Catholics wanted Irish independence. By 1922, Unionists were in the majority in four of the nine counties of Ulster, broadly matching the Ulster Plantation. Consequently, following the Anglo-Irish settlement of 1921, these four counties – and two others in which they formed a sizeable minority – remained in the United Kingdom to form Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is the only part of Ireland that is still part of the United Kingdom.

Irish nationalists, most of whom are Catholic, identify with the native Irish who were displaced in the Plantation; Unionists, most of whom are Protestant, identify with the planters. People with Gaelic Irish surnames are still usually Catholic, and those with Scots Gaelic or English surnames usually Protestant. Intermarriage has occurred across the sectarian divide: many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland are actually descended from the Planters (for example, Gerry Adams, John Hume), and many Protestants from native Irish families (for example, Terence O'Neill, Ronnie Flanagan), as evidenced by their surnames - although of course the surname only denotes one paternal ancestor.





Note 1: As part of the Plantation plan, the County of Coleraine ceased to exist. With parts of Donegal, Tyrone and County Antrim, it became County Londonderry to recognise the City of London that funded it. For further details, see County of Coleraine.


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