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The History of Ulster
Attempted Plantation


Cost of the War with O'Neill - Sidney's stern Rule - Turlough Lynnagh submits - Parliament at Dublin - Ulster made Shire-land - Peace in Ulster - The Plantation Spirit starts - Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, appointed President of Ulster - He petitions Elizabeth for Lands in Clanaboy, and sails for Carrickfergus.

The death of Shane O'Neill was followed by a short period of quietude, in which sweeping changes were made and the cost of the war with Shane ascertained. The figures must certainly have given the Queen, who was noted for her thrift, great uneasiness. From the Vth and Vlth of Philip and Mary to the XVIth of Elizabeth, the expenditure of the Irish Government amounted to 490,779, 7s. 6 3/4d., of which 120,000 represented the Irish receipts, and 370,779, 7s. 6 3/4d., at the yearly average of 23,179, was transmitted from England. It is not strange that her ministers dreaded to approach the Queen on the subject of money for Ireland. She grudged every shilling which was expended in the government of the country, and was constantly requiring schemes from her deputies for the making of the Irish Government self-supporting.

The condition of the country was indeed serious. The state of Ulster was bad, but, as Sir Henry Sidney discovered on a visitation to the south and west, which he had now leisure to make, that of Munster and Connaught was appalling, many districts being so wasted by the war that they "had but one-twentieth part of their former population". The Earl of Desmond he found to be "a man both devoid of judgment to govern and will to be ruled". In the territory of Ormonde he noted a "want of justice, judgment, and stoutness to execute", and Clanrickard "was so overruled by a putative wife as ofttimes when he best intendeth she forceth him to do the worst". The strength and wisdom of Sidney is seen in his denouncement of the "cowardly policy" that would rule the nation by sowing divisions among the people, or, as he himself expressed it, "by keeping them in continual dissension, for fear lest through their quiet might follow I wot not what"; and, he added, "so far hath that policy, or rather lack of policy, in keeping dissension among them, prevailed, as now, albeit all that are alive would become honest and live in quiet, yet are not left alive, in these two provinces, the twentieth person necessary to inhabit the same!"

It is not our province to follow Sir Henry into either Munster or Connaught, but his report is interesting as showing the general state of the 'country. Suffice it to say that he dealt so severely with the offenders that even Elizabeth became alarmed at the number of military executions which marked his progress; and, as she did not share his sentiments as expressed in his jubilant remark: "Down they go at every corner! and down, God willing, they shall go!" he sought permission to explain his conduct in person, and proceeded to England" for that purpose in October, 1567, taking with him the Earl of Desmond and his brother John, and being also accompanied by Hugh O'Neill, Baron of Dungannon, the O'Conor Sligo, and other Irish chieftains, the country being left in the charge of Lords Justices.

Sidney returned to Ireland in September, 1568, having been appointed Lord Deputy. He landed at Carrickfergus, where he received the submission of Turlogh Lynnagh, who, having assumed the title of O'Neill, was deemed to be guilty of an act of rebellion, and thus created the necessity for his re-submission to the Deputy.

A Parliament was summoned to meet in Dublin on the 17th of January, 1569, with the idea of formulating a scheme to fill the empty treasury by imposing a new duty on wines. Four days were spent in clamorous altercation; the discontented members "declaring with great violence" against receiving any Bill, or proceeding to any business, it being alleged that, with the view of packing the Commons, members had been returned by towns which were not incorporated, and that many sheriffs and mayors had returned themselves. So unsatisfactory did the executive find this Parliament, that for fourteen years another was not summoned.

On the 2Oth January, 1570, a concord and peace was made between the Queen and Turlogh Lynnagh, and the whole of Ulster was now made shire lands, and divided, in addition to the two old counties of Down and Antrim, into the counties of Armagh, Tyrone, Coleraine, Donegal, Fermanagh, Cavan, and Monaghan. The county of Coleraine comprised the greater part of the present county of Londonderry, which, however, comprised part of the earlier county of Tyrone, and the liberties of the present city of Londonderry, which under the earlier arrangement were in the county of Donegal.

During these years, while Munster and Connaught were agitated by discord and rebellion, the state of Ulster was one of almost unbroken calm. Save for some obscure quarrel between the MacSweeneys of Tirconnell, no battle is recorded for nearly six years. The Government, evidently gratified by the death of Shane O'Neill, an event brought about by the battle-axes of the O'Donnells and the daggers of the MacDonalds, left the Ulster chieftains unmolested while the Deputy was visiting south and west. But nevertheless a strict watch was kept on their movements, and precautions were taken to prevent any joint action on their part against England.

Turlogh Lynnagh in particular was regarded with no favourable eye, and was held in great aversion by FitzWilliam, one of the Lords Justices, who wearied the English Council with his complaints regarding Turlogh's conduct, his treachery, insincerity, and pride, his friendship for the Scots, and his marriage with a Scotswoman. In 1569 he was reported to have engaged 1000 Scots, and of working "in the old manner of his lewd predecessors"; and it was added that the country was swarming with "Spanish flies and vermin". Irritated by a repetition of these baseless charges, Turlogh, who had been thanked by the Queen for his services against Shane, and been promised a title which he did not receive, broke out in revolt in 1569 and demanded all the rights his ancestors had ever enjoyed. He protested against any harm being done to Sorley Boy, and even evinced some intention of joining the southern insurgents; but an injury he received from the accidental explosion of a gun obliged him to remain inactive, and on his recovery he found himself deserted by many of his adherents, and therefore deemed it prudent to submit and sue for pardon. Owing to the emptiness of the treasury, it was now determined to give a trial to Sussex's plan of governing the provinces by presidents, and a commencement was made in Connaught by the appointment of Sir Edward Fitton, a Judge of the Queen's Bench in Dublin, to the office of President, with a commission to execute martial law. This, however, ended disastrously and Fitton was recalled. The celebrated Sir John Perrot was appointed a little later to Munster, the Pale being reserved by the Deputy for himself. With this scheme there was also started a system of military colonization, by means of which it was hoped to reduce the expenses of governing the country. Accordingly in this spirit of plantation a portion of Shane O'Neill's territory which was held to have escheated was granted, for the founding of a Protestant colony, to one Thomas Chaterton, he and his heirs being granted a portion of the county of Armagh; and in the same year (1570) a grant of the district of Ardes and Clanaboy, in County Down, was made for the same purpose to the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Smith, the Queen's Secretary of State. These plantations proved failures, the colonists being murdered by a sept of the O'Neills.

That the project of planting Ulster from England was present to the mind of Elizabeth even in the war of Shane O'Neill, is evident from the hints thrown out by her to the effect that the insurrection was all the better for the loyalists, as it would leave plenty of lands for them. She was prepared to grant to those who could deal with them "divers parts and parcels of Her Highness's earldom of Ulster that laywaste, or else were inhabited with a wicked, barbarous, and uncivil people; some Scottish, and some wild Irish, and such as lately had been rebellious to her". The Scots who had settled in Clanaboy under their chief, Sorley Boy MacDonald, were for a while countenanced by the English Government as useful allies in removing or crushing the native inhabitants, who, in order to be "humanized", were to be first despoiled of their ancestral lands ; but that territory was now thrown open to a more favoured class of adventurers.

Walter Devereux, Lord Hereford, was one of the few peers who, in the Norfolk conspiracy, had been true throughout to the Queen. He had been employed by Elizabeth to take charge of the Queen of Scots, and had in other ways ingratiated himself with her. He was rewarded for his services in 1572 by the earldom of Essex. He was young, enthusiastic, and of a generous disposition, and he now sought to further please the Queen by devoting himself to securing for her some portion of Ireland, and desired "to employ himself in the service of her Majesty for the benefit of his country". Accordingly, having secured the cooperation of Lord Hunsdon, Sir Arthur Champernowne, Sir Thomas Wilford, Sir Arthur Bourchier, Sir Peter Carew, and others who had volunteered to take shares in the enterprise, and either accompany him to Ireland or send their sons, Essex petitioned the Queen to grant him a moiety of the seigniories of "that part of Ulster called Clanaboy", which was represented by a line drawn from Belfast to the foot of Lough Neagh, and by the River Bann from Lough Neagh to the sea, provided he could expel the "rebels" there, any rights on the part of the native septs being wholly overlooked.

Essex, amongst other requirements, asked for permission "to build castles and forts", "to plant towns and incorporate them by charters", "power to make laws necessary for his government", "power to levy war upon the Irish", "to assemble forces", "to spoil, besiege, raze, or destroy the towns and castles of Irish outlaws", "to annoy them by fire and sword, or any manner of death", "to take to his use the goods and chattels of traitors, pirates, and felons, with all shipwrecks that should happen within his grant"; and, strangest request of all, "power to make slaves and to chain to ships and galleys all or any such of the Irishry or Scots Irish as should be condemned of treason, for the better furtherance of his enterprise". Sir William Fitz William, the Lord Justice, complained of the excessive power about to be conferred on Essex as incompatible with and subversive of his own authority, and it was accordingly arranged that the Earl should receive his commission from the Lord Deputy, to make it appear that he acted under him, and thus avoid that "foundation of Irish disturbances", an independent jurisdiction.

The petition being now in order, it was granted; the Queen making a grant to Essex of half the county of Antrim and the barony of Farney in Monaghan. She advanced a sum of 10,000, for the fitting out of the expedition, upon a mortgage of the Earl's English estates, and gave him the title of President of Ulster. An army of 1200 men was placed at his disposal, one-half to be provided and maintained at the Queen's expense, and the other half at that of the Earl; every horseman who volunteered in the expedition was to receive 400 acres of land at 2d. per acre, and every foot soldier 200 acres at a like rate; and Essex was to be commander-in-chief for seven years. So equipped, and everything being now ready, the young Earl of Essex and his companions set sail in the autumn of 1573, their destination being Carrickfergus.

Before he sailed, Essex had an interview with the Queen, which he himself described in a letter to Burleigh: "Upon the taking of my leave, she told me that she had two special things to advise me on: the one was, that I should have consideration of the Irish there, which she thought had become her disobedient subjects rather because she had not defended them from the force of the Scots than for any other cause. Her Majesty's opinion was, that upon my coming they would yield themselves good subjects, and therefore wished them to be well used. To this I answered, that I determined to deal with them as I found best for her service when I came there, and for the present I could not say what is best to be done; but Her Majesty should be sure that I should not imbrue my hands with more blood than the necessity of the case requireth. The other special matter was, that I would not seek too hastely to bring the people who have been trained up in another religion from that in which they have been brought up in. To this I answered that, for the present, I thought it best to learn them to know their allegiance to Her Majesty, and to yield her their due obedience, and after they had learned that they would be easily brought to be of good religion."

The voyagers little knew the land to which they were going in such high hope. True, Sir Peter Carew and one or two more of the company had some little experience of Ireland, but it was terra incognita to the vast majority. Its mountain fastnesses and shaggy woods were peopled by a half-savage race, eternally at war with each other, and prepared to part with their lands only with their blood. No pathways or roads had been cut through the wild woods, where wolves still roamed at will, no attempt having been made to exterminate them. As Froude says: "The three southern provinces had been explored with tolerable care; but Ulster was a desert, heard of only as a battle-ground where the O'Donnells, the O'Neills, and the Red Shanks had murdered each other from time immemorial".

Such was the land which a light-hearted company of English youths had come prepared to apportion to heir followers at " 2d. per acre"! Their coming was prepared for; the Scots made an alliance with the O'Neills and Sir Brian MacPhelim, and a storm having dispersed the approaching fleet, the delay caused thereby gave time to the Scots and Irish to welcome the invaders with a bonfire consisting of the flaming towns of Down, Newry, and Knockfergus, so that on landing they should be without shelter or any comfort.


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