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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Plans and implementation

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Image of a 1610 book encouraging Englishmen to settle in Ireland

A 1610 book encouraging Englishmen to settle in Ireland ©

Planning for the Ulster Plantation got underway shortly after The Flight of the Earls in September 1607. As the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell were expected to seek to return to their lands, bringing foreign military assistance, time was of the essence. The planning and implementation of the Ulster Plantation was carried out as a matter of urgency, though with undue haste as it turned out. The initial 1608 survey of confiscated lands was discovered to be so imperfect that a second survey was required during 1609.

So far as the practical details of the colonisation project were concerned, a tug of war ensued among crown officials seeking to determine its complexion, though for an initial period, Sir Arthur Chichester, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, was characterised as the ‘oracle’ of King James I in the matter. An experienced military commander with a keen eye for logistics, Chichester only intended a fairly limited scale of Protestant settlement. O’Doherty’s rebellion in 1608 convinced James I to opt for a much more radical project supported by Sir John Davies, the Irish Attorney General, and Sir Francis Bacon.

Image of the Vintners' bawn in Bellaghy

The Vintners' bawn in Bellaghy ©

The primary beneficiaries of the enlarged Plantation project, English and Scots settlers, as well as the Protestant Church of Ireland, were to be allocated almost three quarters of the confiscated lands. The British ‘undertakers’ (principal landlords) were assigned the lands at favourable terms. Proportions allocated varied from 2,000, 1,500 to 1,000 acres. Undertakers were expected to settle 24 British males per thousand acres of lands granted. On lands allocated to English and Scottish undertakers, the native Irish population was to be cleared off these estates, the principle of ‘segregation’ underpinning the settlement project. Stipulated building conditions were also scaled according to the size of the proportion granted. Thus undertakers who were granted the largest proportions, 2,000 acres, were expected to build a castle on their lands whereas stone bawns (walled fortifications) were required to be built by undertakers with smaller proportions. Building and settlement had to be completed within three years.

However, the Plantation strategists had grossly overestimated the capacity of the undertakers to fulfil their obligations, not least because of the continuing political uncertainty in Ireland. A survey of the Plantation lands undertaken by Sir George Carew in 1611 discovered that relatively little progress had been made. That the King was contemplating a reconciliation with the exiled Earl of Tyrone during 1613 implied that for a time some consideration was being given to effectively abandoning the Plantation scheme. With time, and particularly after the Earl of Tyrone’s death in 1616, the immediate threat to the Plantation was lifted somewhat. Experience proved that the allocated three years for implementing the Plantation was unrealistic. Subsequent decades resulted in increasing Protestant migration to Ulster, inspired not by political diktat but by social and economic conditions in England and Scotland. By the 1640s, the Protestant population in Ulster had swelled to some 40,000, being sufficiently numerous, as it turned out, to withstand the onslaught by the dispossessed Catholics which occurred in 1641.

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Image of Dr. David Edwards How did the English manage to seize the province of Ulster?.
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Dr. David Edwards, Lecturer in Medieval History, University College Cork
Image of Dr. David Edwards Sir Arthur Chichester was a very effective killer.
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Dr. David Edwards, Lecturer in Medieval History, University College Cork
Image of Dr. John McCavitt Sir Arthur Chichester's plans for the Plantation were minimal.
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Dr. John McCavitt, School Teacher, Abbey Grammar School, Newry
Image of Dr. John McCavitt The O'Doherty rebellion persuaded James I to plant more Protestants.
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Dr. John McCavitt, School Teacher, Abbey Grammar School, Newry
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