A Narrow Sea - Episode 24
‘Make speed, get thee to Ulster’
Written by Dr Jonathan Bardon
By the end of July 1609 sixty-five Scots had applied to the Scottish Council to become ‘undertakers’ in the Plantation of Ulster.
They sought to colonise 120,000 acres in total. Since Scots and English were to be treated equally, it soon became clear in London that too many Scots had applied for too much land. King James then took charge himself, personally selecting the grantees. Revised plantation articles, issued in August 1609, assigned specific ‘precincts’ or baronies either to Scots or English planters.
This revision was in part due to the fact that the King had persuaded the London Companies to become undertakers. They were to be assigned the entire county of Coleraine. In order to make Derry available to the Londoners, this county was augmented by the barony of Loughinsholin (which was detached from Co.Tyrone), nine townlands from County Antrim, and a slice of Tyrconnell. Tyrconnell was renamed County Donegal and the enlarged county of Coleraine given to the Londoners was now named Londonderry.
In the remaining five counties of the plantation, the Scots were apportioned nine precincts, two each in Donegal, Cavan, Fermanagh and Tyrone, and one in County Armagh.
Each precinct was to have a chief undertaker - and the King chose the chief undertakers for the nine Scottish precincts with particular care. He had to be sure that the men he picked had the resources required, heeding Lord Deputy Sir Arthur Chichester’s advice that men of ‘rank and quality’ should be picked. Some were the cream of Scotland’s aristocracy and the first to be chosen were the King’s cousins, Esmé Stewart, Lord Aubigny, and his brother Ludovic Stewart, the Duke of Lennox. Lennox had served King James as ambassador to France and had been involved in the abortive attempt to plant the Isle of Lewis in 1598 - Aubigny had helped to negotiate the union of the crowns of Scotland and England. In addition James Hamilton, Earl of Abercorn, it was observed, was ‘induced’ by the King to become a chief undertaker ‘for a countenance and strength to the rest’.
Once the chief undertakers had been appointed, the business of selecting the fifty ordinary ones could begin. Far more applied for estates than were available. Lord Balfour, one of the chief undertakers, commented that in making his selection he had to reject ‘divers famous and ansuerable gentilmen’.
Men of substantial property, with experience in estate management, were preferred. All merchants, including wealthy ones from Edinburgh and Glasgow, were rejected.
Most of those selected were related to the chief undertakers; apart from the noblemen selected, eleven were knights; and, no doubt as a result of the King’s intervention, ten were servants of the Crown. The great majority were from the Lowlands and the south-west: no fewer than eleven from Ayrshire; eight from Haddington, south of Edinburgh; six from Wigton - and Renfrew, Lanark, Stirling, Dumbarton, Edinburgh and Linlithgow were well represented.
The unruly Borders, and the Highlands and Isles, provided no undertakers – Sir Arthur Chichester had warned that if Islanders or Highlanders were chosen the result would be ‘more trouble and less profit’ than if the Irish were left in possession!
Undertakers next embarked on the task of persuading relatives, friends, neighbours and farmers and craftsmen to become tenants on their new estates. Printing presses churned out pamphlets to encourage British Protestants to join the enterprise. An English undertaker, Thomas Blenerhasset, argued that goodly Ulster for want of people [is]unmanured, her pleasant fields and riche groundes, they remain…desolate’:
Depopulated Ulster…presents her-selfe (as it were) in a ragged sad sabled robe, ragged (indeed) there remayneth nothing but ruynes and desolation, with very little showe of any humanitie: of herself she aboundeth with many the best blessings of God…make speede, get thee to Ulster, serve God be sober…
Art thou rich, possessed with much revenue? make speede without racking of rents or other offencive meanes; thou shalt doe God and thy Prince excellent service…use there thy talent, it will be quickly a million.
And make speed to get to Ulster the Scots did - but farming equipment and cattle still had to be assembled, transport arranged and patents entitling them to their estates had to be made out. All this made it well-nigh impossible to meet the King’s deadline of getting to Ireland by the 24th of June 1610.
Parties of Scots could be found making their way to the ports. One group, led by Lord Balfour of Burley and Bernard Lindsay, a groom of the bedchamber, reached Ayr in early August. There the burgesses of the town entertained them with ‘sweetmeats, confeittis and sugar’. Meanwhile the Lord Deputy – Sir Arthur Chichester - had travelled up from Dublin to meet the undertakers as they arrived at their new precincts. Burley joined Chichester in his new precinct of Knockninny in Fermanagh on the 13th of August.
Chichester wrote that the Scots arrived ‘with greater port and better accompanied and attended’ than the English, ‘but’, he added, ‘it may be with less money in their purses’.