The native reaction to the Plantation of Ulster was essentially hostile. However, in the early stages after The Flight of the Earls there is evidence that a restructuring of land ownership in Ulster was welcomed by many. A Royal proclamation issued in September 1607 was designed to ‘assure the inhabitants of Tyrone and Tyrconnell that they will not be disturbed in the peaceable possession of their lands’. Lord Deputy Chichester believed that a window of opportunity had been opened up to reconcile many of the native inhabitants of Ulster to English rule, if an equitable redistribution of land could be implemented, combined with the infusion of a Protestant settler element into Ulster as a guarantee of security.
For some time, Chichester’s views held considerable currency and the prospective Plantation in the early stages envisaged the preponderance of the lands available being allocated to native grantees. The outbreak of O’Doherty’s revolt in 1608 was to change everything, resulting in the native inhabitants of Ulster receiving less than a quarter of the confiscated lands. The so-called native ‘freeholders’ who were being courted by crown officials prior to The Flight of the Earls were to be particularly disappointed. While 200 freeholders had been identified when the settlement of Co.Monaghan was implemented in 1606, a total of only 280 native Irishmen were allocated land grants when the Plantation allocations were announced in 1610 for six entire counties in Ulster. Even the so-called ‘deserving natives’ who were allocated proportions of land were decidedly unhappy with their lot, believing they were entitled to much larger grants.
Not surprisingly the native Irish in Ulster bitterly resented their treatment. An English commander articulated their sense of acute grievance when he remarked of the native Irish population of Ulster that ‘there is not a more discontented people in Christendom’. Lord Deputy Chichester signalled the potential danger arising from such resentment, remarking that the native inhabitants would endeavour ‘at one time or other to find an opportunity to cut their landlords’ throats’. To undermine the potential threat to the Protestant settlers, Chichester resorted to a large-scale transportation strategy, claiming that he eventually shipped some 6000 malcontents to Protestant Sweden, the majority from the province of Ulster. Even this tactic was insufficient to quell discontent.
Apart from the intense disappointment with the land allocations, and the prospect that many of the native Irish were to be cleared off the lands of the English and Scottish undertakers, there were other important ramifications from the Plantation of Ulster for the native Irish. On the one hand Catholic priests were to be banished from Ulster while efforts were made to force the Catholic population to attend Protestant services.
Overall, in the early stages, there was little in the Ulster Plantation that proved attractive to the native population. That the government largely failed to ensure that Catholics were transplanted from the lands of Scottish and English undertakers reduced the sense of displacement that might otherwise have occurred.