By: Celtic Bard Jeff
The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation (plantation) of Ulster – a province of Ireland – by people from Great Britain during the reign of King James I. Most of the settlers (or planters) came from southern Scotland and northern England; their culture differed from that of the native Irish. Small privately funded plantations by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while the official plantation began in 1609. Most of the colonised land had been confiscated from the native Gaelic chiefs, several of whom had fled Ireland for mainland Europe in 1607 following the Nine Years' War against English rule. The official plantation comprised an estimated half a million acres (2,000 km2) of arable land in counties Armagh, Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Tyrconnell, and Londonderry. Land in counties Antrim, Down, and Monaghan was privately colonised with the king's support.
Among those involved in planning and overseeing the plantation were King James, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Arthur Chichester, and the Attorney-General for Ireland, John Davies. They saw the plantation as a means of controlling, anglicising, and "civilising" Ulster. The province was almost wholly Gaelic, Catholic, and rural and had been the region most resistant to English control. The plantation was also meant to sever Gaelic Ulster's links with the Gaelic Highlands of Scotland. The colonists (or "British tenants”) were required to be English-speaking, Protestant, and loyal to the king. Some of the undertakers and settlers, however, were Catholic. The Scottish settlers were mostly Presbyterian Lowlanders and then mostly Anglicans. Although some "loyal" natives were granted land, the native Irish reaction to the plantation was generally hostile, and native writers bewailed what they saw as the decline of Gaelic society and the influx of foreigners.
The Plantation of Ulster was the biggest of the Plantations of Ireland. It led to the founding of many of Ulster's towns and created a lasting Ulster Protestant community in the province with ties to Britain. It also resulted in many of the native Irish nobility losing their land and led to centuries of ethnic and sectarian animosity, which at times spilled into conflict, notably in the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and more recently, the Troubles.
Before the plantation, Ulster had been the most Gaelic province of Ireland, as it was the least anglicized and the most independent of English control. The region was almost wholly rural and had few towns or villages. Throughout the 16th century, Ulster was viewed by the English as being “underpopulated” and undeveloped. The economy of Gaelic Ulster was overwhelmingly based on agriculture, especially cattle-raising. Many of the Gaelic Irish practiced "creaghting" or "booleying", a kind of transhumance of whereby some of them moved with their cattle to upland pastures during the summer months and lived in temporary dwellings during that time. This often led outsiders to mistakenly believe that the Gaelic Irish were nomadic.
Michael Perceval-Maxwell estimates that by 1600 (before the worst atrocities of the Nine Years' War) Ulster's total adult population was only 25,000 to 40,000 people. Others estimate that Ulster's population in the year 1600 was about 200,000. The wars fought among Gaelic clans and between the Gaelic and English undoubtedly contributed to depopulation.
The Tudor conquest of Ireland began in the 1540s during the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547) and concluded in the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) sixty years later, breaking the power of the semi-independent Irish chieftains. As part of the conquest, plantations (colonial settlements) were established in Queen's County and King's County (Laois and Offaly) in the 1550s as well as Munster in the 1580s, although these were not very successful.
In the 1570s, Elizabeth I authorized a privately funded plantation of eastern Ulster, led by Thomas Smith and Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. This was a failure and sparked violent conflict with the local Irish lord, in which Lord Deputy Essex killed many of the lord of Clandeboye kin.
In the Nine Years' War of 1594–1603, an alliance of northern Gaelic chieftains—led by Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone, Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, and Hugh Maguire of Fermanagh—resisted the imposition of English government in Ulster and sought to affirm their own control. Following an extremely costly series of campaigns by the English the war ended in 1603 with the Treaty of Mell font. The terms of surrender granted to what remained of O'Neills rebels were considered generous at the time.
After the Treaty of Mell font, the northern chieftains attempted to consolidate their positions, whilst some within the English administration attempted to undermine them. In 1607, O'Neill and his primary allies left Ireland to seek Spanish help for a new rebellion to restore their privileges, in what became known as the Flight of the Earls. King James issued a proclamation declaring their action to be treason, paving the way for the forfeiture of their lands and titles.
Since 1606, there had been substantial lowland Scots settlement on disinhabited land in north Down, led by Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton. In 1607 Sir Randall MacDonnell settled 300 Presbyterian Scots families on his land in Antrim.
From 1609 onwards, British Protestant immigrants arrived in Ulster through direct importation by Undertakers to their estates and also by a spread to unpopulated areas, through ports such as Derry and Carrick Fergus. In addition there was much internal movement of settlers who did not like the original land allotted to them. Some planters settled on uninhabited and unexploited land, often building up their farms and homes on overgrown terrain that has been variously described as "wilderness" and "virgin" ground.
By 1622, a survey found there were 6,402 British adult males on Plantation lands, of whom 3,100 were English and 3,700 Scottish – indicating a total adult planter population of around 12,000. However another 4,000 Scottish adult males had settled in unplanted Antrim and Down, giving a total settler population of about 19,000.
Despite the fact that the Plantation had decreed that the Irish population be displaced, this did not generally happen in practice. Firstly, some 300 native landowners who had taken the English side in the Nine Years' War were rewarded with land grants. Secondly, the majority of the Gaelic Irish remained in their native areas but were now only allowed worse land than before the plantation. They usually lived close to and even in the same townlands as the settlers and the land they had farmed previously. The main reason for this was that Undertakers could not import enough English or Scottish tenants to fill their agricultural workforce and had to fall back on Irish tenants. However, in a few heavily populated lowland areas (such as parts of north Armagh) it is likely that some population displacement occurred.
However, the Plantation remained threatened by the attacks of bandits, known as "wood-kern", who were often Irish soldiers or dispossessed landowners. In 1609, Chichester had 1,300 former Gaelic soldiers deported from Ulster to serve in the Swedish Army. As a result, military garrisons were established across Ulster and many of the Plantation towns, notably Derry, were fortified. The settlers were also required to maintain arms and attend an annual military 'muster'. There had been very few towns in Ulster before the Plantation. Most modern towns in the province can date their origins back to this period. Plantation towns generally have a single broad main street ending in a square in a design often known as a "diamond", which can be seen in communities like The Diamond, Donegal.
Source: Wikipedia Image: The counties of Ulster (modern boundaries) that were colonised during the plantations. This map is a simplified one, as the amount of land actually colonised did not cover the entire shaded area.