Was the Plantation of Ulster a good idea?

In 1603 King James I became the first British monarch to rule over Scotland, England and Ireland. James, a Protestant, wanted to unite his three kingdoms and strengthen his rule in Ireland where he faced opposition and rebellion from the Catholic, Irish speaking population.

It was decided that from 1609 onward, people from England and Scotland would be encouraged to move to the northern part of Ireland to make it friendlier towards James.

This was known as the Plantation of Ulster and the English-speaking Protestants who took part were called 'planters'.

Mercers company map
An English gentleman tries to sell the unique attractions of Movanagher Bawn in Ulster to potential settlers.

Paying for the Plantation

However the Plantation of Ulster was going to cost a lot of money that the British Crown could not afford. To help with the cost, wealthy landowners and companies from the City of London were asked to provide some of the cash for this scheme.

In exchange for their financial help, these companies and landowners were offered huge areas of land that had been taken from the local Irish population.

The Mercers’ Company, a rich London merchant company, received up to 21600 acres of land. From their headquarters at Movanagher Bawn they controlled a lot of the newly created County Londonderry.

A coin from the time of plantation

Click on the image below, then on any of the four labels, to find out more about the Planter settlement of Movanagher Bawn.

Activity

The planters have had a lot of influence on the structure and make-up of many towns and villages across Northern Ireland. Find out where the nearest planter settlement to you was and research what life was like there in the 17th Century. What new things did they bring with them – methods of farming, types of houses, customs?

Write a diary entry as if you were a local, or one of the people in a planter settlement.

Perhaps you have just arrived from Sussex or some other part of England – how was it different, what was the weather like, did you want to stay or pack up and go straight back home? Maybe you had travelled from Scotland seeking a better life for yourself and your family. Did you come into contact with any of the locals? How difficult was it to communicate with them?

If you take on the role of one of the locals, you may have been chased off the land but allowed back by a planter. What did you make of these people who had arrived from across the sea, who perhaps dressed differently and spoke a completely different language? How did you get along with each other? How did their arrival make you feel?

A map of Coleraine
Plantation era river illustration