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3 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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1641 rebellion
- Dr. Raymond Gillespie

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I think it’s very difficult to try and draw simple analogies and to explain the rebellion in 1641 as, in some way, a reaction to the Plantation. There are some very obvious reasons why that shouldn’t be. I mean, for example, there are 30 years between the Plantation and the rebellion where very little happens; there are very little in the way of plotting; the sort of buildings which are being put up in the Plantation are not buildings for defence; the evidence that we have as to how people were armed suggests that, by the 1630s, they were a good deal more slipshod about keeping guns and swords and so on than they had been 20 years Earlier.

I think the important thing about 1641 is it was not inevitable; that it was the result of a particular set or combination, if you like, of factors which took place in the summer of 1640 running through into the summer of 1641 and finally exploding into rebellion in the winter. Those factors are partly economic, they are partly to do with bad harvests, they are to do with an army which was supposed to go to Scotland being quartered in Ulster, they are partly religious, to do with the Presbyterian persecutions of the 1630s, they are also to do with events in England - rumours are flying around Ulster that Catholics are to be hanged, that their land is to be confiscated, that John Pimm in London is going to clamp-down hard on Catholics. There is no truth to these rumours but the important thing is that these rumours are flying around and destabilising the situation.

And this is all creating political tensions as well. And we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of fear, the importance of rumour that are floating around Ulster in the summer of 1641 and, partly as a result of this, and modelling themselves on what the Scots had done three years Earlier in the first Bishops Wars, the Ulster Irish decide not, I think, to have a long drawn-out war as ultimately happens, but to have a short, sharp campaign which will put them into a position of power, where they will negotiate a peace just as the Scots had done. As one of them said later, ‘The Scots have taught us our ABC, the Scots taught us how we would do this’.

Of course it all went very wrong - partly because Sir Phelim O’Neill was not a military commander; he had no military experience; the background of the, the conditions under which rebellion happened; really, the tensions were incredible, the rumours were flying around and no-one really knew what was happening. And it’s in that very unstable situation that all sorts of things go wrong - gratuitous violence, chains of command break down, old scores are settled. And we know from some of the evidence that indeed Scots were robbing Scots, under pretext that it was part of the rebellion.

So the rebellion is not a simple inevitable reaction to the Ulster Plantation: indeed, the evidence that we see from the demands of the Irish in the Early weeks of the rebellion, make no mention of the Plantation; they only arise much later, into 1642 and 1643 when they actually demand the Plantation be unwound. But the initial outbreak of rebellion was really almost an accident.
 

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