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The History of Ulster
The Plantation of Ulster


English Projects for Ulster - The Confiscation of Six Counties - The Old Tribal System - The Royal Commission - The Conditions of Land Transfer - The Old State of Thing's - Irish Reluctance to accept New Conditions - The Scheme of Plantation - A Great Injustice done by Legal Quibble - How the Undertakers carried out their Covenant - Some of the Undertakers - The MacDonalds and the Montgomery's.

The flight of the Earls and the rebellion of O'Dogherty removed the main obstacles to the sweeping changes in Ulster which James desired to make. The Celtic land tenure, the Brehon laws, the language, customs, and traditions of the defeated race were doomed to gradual yet certain extinction. The institutions of England were to be transplanted into the sister island, irrespective of the question how far, if at all, they were suitable to the Irish. Hence- forth the King's garrisons were to occupy every stronghold; the King's writ was to run in the remotest districts; the King's judges were to hold assizes in every new-made county.

To this end it was proposed that six counties of Ulster were to be confiscated to the Crown. Tyrone, Derry (then called Coleraine), Donegal, Fermanagh, Armagh, and Cavan were to be parcelled out amongst those who should under- take to lay out capital in improving them, provided the undertakers were not Irish, and were Protestants. Antrim and Down were not included in the plantation. Monaghan had been forfeited by the MacMahons in 1591, and grants made of it, so it also was not included in this plantation.

Much was expected as the result of this new system. "When this plantation", wrote Sir John Davies, "hath taken root, and been fixed and settled but a few years . . . it will secure the peace of Ireland, assure it to the Crown of England for ever, and finally make it a civil, and a rich, a mighty, and a flourishing kingdom.'*

In Ulster the tribal system of land tenure had been recognized longer than in the other provinces. Ulster, it must be remembered, was the last to submit, and hence in many ways was, from an English point of view, years, if not centuries, behind her sister provinces.

The method of ploughing alone will demonstrate how backward Ulster was in other ways. This was done by attaching short ploughs to the tails of the horses that drew them.

The lands of the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell having been, as we have seen, confiscated, and the King having decided that the natives had no more claim to them "than wild beasts or cattle could claim", the Crown was thus freed from all claims, legal or equitable, the tenants at will should be thankful for any provision, however small, and the work of the plantation might be carried out without let or hindrance.

A Commission was appointed early in 1608 to determine and define what lands belonged to the Church and what to the chiefs; and the ultimate distribution of these lands, to whom they should be given or sold, and on what conditions. To the lands of the Earls there were added, after O'Dogherty's abortive rebellion, all Innishowen which was handed over to Chichester and the lands of O'Cahan; thus the whole country from the Bann to Ballyshannon was at the King's disposal.

The Commissioners included the Bishop of Deny and Sir John Davies, and a committee was appointed in London consisting of Sir James Ley, Davies, Docwra, Sir Anthony St. Ledger, Sir James Fullerton, and Sir Oliver St. John, who were all supposed to be well acquainted with the condition of things in Ulster.

Briefly, those conditions were as follows. The chiefs received their lands from the Crown, and in their turn let out large tracts, to tenants, for grazing purposes only. The chiefs held their lands by English tenure, but the tenants held theirs by Irish tenure, that is, if they could be said to hold them at all, for their grazing lands were not defined. They had simply the right to graze a certain number of cattle on the common lands of the septs. They possessed no other property than cattle, and solely in accordance with the number of head of cattle they possessed were their rents assessed. The cattle wandered about, those in charge of them living in huts and sheds until the grass was eaten down, when they removed to another district. These nomad herdsmen were known as creaghts.

The divisions of land were known as a ballyboe and a baltybetagh, the former consisting of between 60 to 120 acres, while the latter was about 1000. The desire of the English was to transform the wandering herdsmen into stationary farmers and tillers of the soil. To this the Irish objected. Even the chiefs held that to sow wheat or build houses was to bring ruin on the race. Rents, it may be remarked, were paid partly in oats, oatmeal, butter, hogs, and mutton, very little being paid in cash.

When it was proposed to the native Irish that they should change their nomadic life for one more settled, they 44 answered that it is hard for them to alter their course of living by herds of cattle and creaghting; and as to building castles or strong bawns it is for them impossible. None of them (the Neales and such principal names excepted) affect above a ballybetoe, and most of them will be content with two or three balliboes; and for the others . . . whole counties will not content the meanest of them, albeit they have but now their mantle and a sword."

It was now proposed, under the plantation scheme, that the land was to be divided amongst undertakers, English or Scotch. "Servitors", i.e. those who had served the Government in Ireland in either a civil or military capacity, were to get preference. Sir Geoffrey Fenton, who knew Ireland, pointed out "that many well-deserving servitors may be recompensed in the distribution, a matter to be taken to heart, for that it reaches somewhat to His Majesty's conscience and honour to see these poor servitors relieved, whom time and the wars have spent even unto their later years, and now, by this commodity, may be stayed and comforted with- out charge to His Majesty". All must be Protestants, and, under severe penalties, were forbidden to employ Irish under any conditions, save in the most menial occupations. Grants of land might be made to the Irish who were known to be loyal, but such lands must be in the plains, so that they could be kept under observation. The servitors were permitted to give leases to the Irish, whom they might keep in order by their reputation and by the possession of; strong houses. But the amount of land assigned for this purpose was inadequate, and the Irish tenants, who for the most part were not given to regular agriculture, soon found themselves poor and without much hope of bettering their condition.

From this, it will be seen that the natives were placed in a position bordering on starvation. The Irish chieftains, their lords and landlords, were displaced by undertakers and servitors who needed them not, either as tenants or even as slaves (for servants would be a misleading term). This was the great injustice upon which the plantation of Ulster was founded. The land was taken from the people. The English Government had for years cried out against the evil treatment to which the poor earth-workers were subjected by their tribe lords; had represented the local communities to be governed without reference to the wants and conditions of the poor; had held out the fixity of tenure, and freedom from arbitrary exactions, as the great benefit which the tillers of the soil were to receive when the lands were to be made shire land and subject to English law.

But although these districts had five years before been made shire land, although the judges had gone on circuit there and found freeholders enough to sit on juries, to serve upon the very juries by which the Earls had been condemned, the Government, when it suited its purpose, could insist that English law had extended to those districts as far as was necessary for the attainder and confiscation of the estates of the lords, but not so far as to secure the poor and weak in the possession of their holdings or enjoyment of their rights; or, if it did at all apply to those of base condition, its only effect was to reduce their customary rights to the delusive estate known to English law as a tenancy at will. This was the great wrong which, for more than one generation, rankled in the hearts of the Ulster Irish, which made them regard the Scottish and English settlers as robbers, maintained in the possession of their plunder by the strong hand of an overbearing foreign Government. In the remembrance of this wrong, cherished for more than thirty years, the children of those who, by a legal quibble, had been thrust out of their patrimony seized the first opportunity to regain their old estate.

The King granted estates to all, to be held by them and their heirs. The undertakers of 2000 acres held of him in capital, those of 1500, by knight's service, as of the Castle of Dublin; and those of 1000 in common socage. The first were, in four years, obliged to build a castle and a bawn; the second, in two years, a strong stone and brick house and bawn; and the last a bawn; timber for that purpose, as well as for their tenants' houses, being assigned to them out of the King's woods.

The first were obliged to plant on their lands, within three years, forty -eight able men, eighteen years old or upwards, born in England, or the inland parts of Scotland, to be reduced to twenty families; to keep a demesne of 600 acres on their hands; to have four fee farmers on 120 acres each; six leaseholders on 100 acres each; and on the rest, eight families of husbandmen, artificers, and cottagers. The others were under the like obligations proportionally; and they were all, within five years, to reside in person on some of the premises, and to have stores of arms in their houses.

In this manner, and under these regulations, were the escheated lands in Ulster disposed of to 104 English and Scottish undertakers, 56 servitors, and 286 natives, all of whom gave bond to the Government for performance of the covenants; for the better assurance whereof the King required a regular account to be sent him regarding the state of the progress of each undertaker in the plantation.

The most important peculiarity of this plantation was the grants made to the Great London Livery Companies, by which large and influential bodies in the capital and seat of Government acquired an immediate interest in Ireland. The Londoners, having more capital and better support than the other undertakers, went to work the quickest, and delighted Davies by their alacrity so much that he said he was reminded of "Dido's colony building of Carthage"; a little later he wrote, "by the end of summer the wilderness of Ulster will have a more civil form". Barnaby Rich declared Ulster to be now as safe as Cheapside; adding: "The rebels shall never more stand out hereafter, as they have in times past". With regard to the settlement in Coleraine, it is interesting to note that the whole county, the name of which was changed from Coleraine to Londonderry, was granted to the City of London in socage, the Corporation binding themselves to lay out 20,000, and within two years to build 200 houses in Derry and 100 in Coleraine.

So much for theory. How the undertakers and others carried out their covenants is interesting. Sir Josiah Bodley's general inspection in 1615 was considered by the King to be disappointing even the Londoners were defaulters and James, who took a very keen interest in Ulster, indulged in maledictions, threatening all and sundry with divers con- sequences if the work was not proceeded with on the lines laid down. Nicholas Pynnar's survey, made three years later, proves that his opinion was not favourable. The old system of ploughing by tying light ploughs to the tails of the horses that drew them was continued; many of the English tenants do not yet plough upon the lands, neither use husbandry". Pynnar gives other instances of the lack of progress made: "Tirlagh O'Neale hath 4000 acres in Tyrone. Upon this he hath made a piece of a bawn which is five feet high and hath been so a long time. He hath made no estates to his tenants, and all of them do plough after the Irish manner." Another delinquent "hath made no estates to any of his tenants, and they do all plough by the tail ".

As to the personnel of those who came in to possess the land, it is but natural to find that the Scottish element pre- dominated under a Stuart monarchy; and some instances of how fortune favoured the Scots may not be uninteresting, in addition to the fact that the Scottish element predominates in Ulster to-day. The MacDonalds of the Isles, for instance, exterminated, or nearly exterminated, the Irish in the north- eastern portion of Ulster, and, though attacked and defeated repeatedly by Irish and English, held their ground in spite of all their assailants. As descendants of Scottish adventurers, they had a claim upon the new royal house, and James I was willing to grant their chief even larger demesnes in Antrim than they had ever possessed or aspired to. Sir Randall MacSorley MacDonald, of Dunluce, had, just before the termination of the war, joined Sir Arthur Chichester against Tyrone, and made a full and voluntary submission to the Lord Deputy. His tardy loyalty was highly rewarded.

By letters patent MacDonald was granted the districts known as the Route and the Glynnes, together with the Island of Rathlin, and some smaller territories, in all the northern two-thirds of the county of Antrim, at the nominal rent of 120 fat beeves and the service of 20 horse and 160 footmen. He was created, on the 25th of May, 1618, Lord Dunluce (a title derived from the castle out of which the unfortunate MacQuillans had been driven by his ancestors), and subsequently Earl of Antrim. The mutability of all things earthly could scarcely be better exemplified than by the spectacle of the sword of state being borne before the Lord Deputy by The MacSorley ("son of Sorley Boy"), whose family and clan had been treated for nearly a century, by Essex and Shane O'Neill alike, as so many vermin to be destroyed without mercy.

An equally interesting instance is that supplied by the Montgomery settlement. The sees of Derry, Raphoe, and Clogher becoming vacant, James nominated George Montgomery (whose books, as we have seen, were burnt by Phelim Reagh MacDevitt). Montgomery was of the family of Braidstaire, in Ayrshire, an offshoot of the House of Eglinton, and, finding his way to the English Court, he made himself useful both to Cecil and the King of the Scots. When Queen Elizabeth died, George, who had received the living of Chedzoy, in Somerset, and the deanery of Norwich, had the pleasure of welcoming to London his elder brother, Hugh, the laird of Braidstaire, who naturally came south with his sovereign. "They enjoyed one the other's most loving companies, and meditating of bettering and advancing their peculiar stations. Foreseeing that Ireland must be the stage to act upon, it being unsettled, and many forfeited lands thereon altogether wasted, they concluded to push for fortunes in that kingdom; and so settling a correspondence between them, the said George resided much at Court, and the laird returned to his lady and their children at Braidstaire. . . ."The full story told in the Montgomery MSS. proves that the laird acquired an estate and a peerage in Down at the expense of Con O'Neill, who was despoiled and driven out of his family house at Castlerea, dying in poverty in 1620 at Holywood. He was buried in the little church of Ballymaghan, which in its turn utterly perished, nothing remaining of it save an inscribed tombstone, "which was set in the wall of an adjoining office house", and is now deposited in the British Museum. On George, the King bestowed three Irish bishoprics, and, as we have seen, Montgomery and his wife had some very unpleasant experiences in Ulster. Judging from the Bishop's life, Chichester appears to have been not far wrong when he said that Bishop Montgomery affected worldly cares too much, and thought too little of reforming his clergy.

"Take it from me", said the wisest man of his day, "that the bane of a plantation is when the undertakers or planters make such haste to a little mechanical present profit, as disturbeth the whole frame and nobleness of the work for times to come."

Of such was the plantation of Ulster.


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