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The History of Ulster
The Progress of the Plantation


Lord Carew appointed Special Commissioner for Ulster - His Report on the Plantation - The Duties of the New-comers - Their Experiences - The Fate of the Natives - The Position of the Swordsmen - Chichester ships them off to Sweden - The Pressure of the Press-gang - Death of Tirconnell and of Tyrone - The Might-have-beens of History.

King James was by nature a very suspicious person. He trusted no one, and one of his favourite devices for his own protection was (on the principle offset a thief to catch a thief") to supplement the work of a commissioner who believed himself to be in supreme command by that of another who, as specially commissioned, was to overlook and report upon the work of the first. Not satisfied with Chichester's guidance in the settlement of Ulster, nor pleased with the progress made, which, if slow, was sure and steady, the King now (1611) sent over Lord Carew, formerly Sir George Carew, President of Munster (a position from which he had retired) to report on matters generally, but chiefly on the question of how to make Ireland self-supporting. He was also specially instructed to discover how His Majesty may without breach of justice make use of the notorious omissions and forfeitures made by the undertakers of Munster, for supply of some such portion of land as may be necessary for transplanting the natives of Ulster. This was with the view of making further provision for the native Irish. Carew in his diary gives us a graphic account of this journey undertaken by command of the King. Accompanied by the Lord Deputy, Sir Thomas Ridgeway (afterwards Earl of Londonderry), Sir Richard Wingfield, and Sir Oliver Lambert, he started from Dublin on his mission on the 30th of July. The difficulties and dangers of the undertaking were greatly increased by a countryside flooded by three weeks' constant rainfall which swept away old landmarks, and made travelling perilous as well as irksome. Few of the rivers were fordable, and in crossing one Carew himself nearly lost his life.

The special commissioner found that the work, like all work done on a very large scale, and for which there had scarcely been a precedent (unless the work attempted, but not accomplished, in Munster could be deemed such), was being done imperfectly. Many were still on the land from which, in theory, they were supposed to have removed months before. There still lingered in the air rumours of Tyrone's possible return, and, as time passed without any reappearance of the Earl, vague whisperings announced the advent of 10,000 men from Spain, "armed with the Pope's indulgences and excommunications".

Carew found that, as of yore, the English settlers who had been long on the land joined hands with the Irish, and both alike resented the intrusion of the new-comers. The strange and unaccountable sentiment which, even in the days of the Norman invasion, led to the proud knight sinking his noble patronymic, and in exchanging it for a barbarous equivalent to become more Irish than the Irish themselves had led to the older settlers acknowledging a common bond with their Irish neighbours, and adopting the same attitude of resentment towards, if not actual hostility to, the intruders who disturbed their peace. "For this cause," and the cause of religion, said Carew, "in odium tertni the slaughters and rivers of blood shed between them is forgotten and the intrusions made by themselves or their ancestors on either part for title of land is remitted."

The new settlers on their side had had much to contend with, apart from the uphill work of eking out a livelihood. Their experiences were not unlike those of a pale-face who elects to live among red-Indians. An undertaker had not alone to till a neglected land, but he had to build under the strange conditions of those who, we are told, rebuilt Jerusalem, with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other, for at any moment he might be called upon to contend with the cruel wood-kerne, the devouring wolf, and other suspicious Irish". Even Sir Toby Caulfeild, he who was deputed to cross-examine Lady Tyrone in private on her husband's attitude towards the Government, was no better off than his fellow-settlers, but had, himself, to secure his cattle at night, driving them in at nightfall but notwithstanding this precaution, do he and his what they can, the wolf and the wood-kerne, within caliver shot of his fort, had often times a share".

One such early settler under the plantation scheme was of opinion that active measures should be taken by those in possession against the common enemy, and by concerted effort he held that much might be done to exterminate the offenders against law and order. He proposed that one day a week should be devoted to an organized hunt made by the inhabitants of, say, Coleraine, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Lifford, and Omagh, who, joining their forces, should also concentrate their efforts to discover the hiding-places of two-footed as well as quadrupedal foes, and no doubt it will be a pleasant hunt and much prey will fall to the followers. The wolf by such means might be exterminated, and "those good fellows in trowzes", the creaghts, be persuaded that the wiser course was to turn a deaf ear to revolutionary counsels, and no longer harbour the plundering wood-kerne.

Such were the conditions under which the new-comers lived. The natives were, however, in a worse plight. Numerically they preponderated, but in pride of possession they were sadly inferior. Chichester, whatever his faults may have been, was not lacking in consideration for the natives when the plantation scheme was first promulgated. His experience as Governor of Carrickfergus made him well acquainted with the conditions of life and sentiment in Ulster, and he urged that the land should be parcelled out first to the Irish, who should get all they required, and, their wants and wishes being satisfied, the residue should be planted. Had his scheme been carried out, widespread disaffection and misery might have been avoided. As it was, the condition of the Irish of all social conditions was deplorable. They were not alone made, in modern parlance, to take a back seat, and thereby treated with great indignity, which to the susceptible Irish is almost worse than death, but they were deprived of their very means of subsistence, the land, which they had the sorrow to see transferred to strangers who had come in to lord it over them. It is not to be wondered at that gentleman and kerne alike bitterly resented the new order of things and never ceased to cherish blind wild hopes of being able to grasp this sorry scheme of things, shatter it to bits, and then remould it nearer to the heart's desire.

But if the condition of those who were willing and able to work for their living was bad, that of the professional soldier, who disdained to work and whose business it was to fight, was worse still. Now that Tyrone's wars were over, and Ulster in a state of comparative peace, the son of Mars found his occupation gone. Disdaining to work, the swordsman, no longer able to earn his livelihood or carve out his fortune with his trusty blade, became a rapparee, a menace to all who wished to live an honest and sober life.

Chichester set his wits to work to solve the problem of how these pests were to be got rid of, and finally decided to ship them to Sweden, there to take part in the Swedish wars. In this way the Lord Deputy claimed that he had cleared the country of at least 6000 disaffected Irish soldiers.

The situation was not of Chichester's making, for he had urged upon the Government the importance of giving the better sort of natives due consideration in the allotment of land for there were, he pointed out, numbers of swordsmen in Ulster, sons and brothers of chiefs, men who had fought in the late wars, whom it would be highly dangerous to provoke. Some of these, he said, had fought on the English side, and had been promised special treatment. But the Deputy urged their claims in vain, and in the final settlement, as we have seen, the natives got only a miserable share out of all proportion to what they expected, and out of all proportion to what, in Chichester's view, they should have received.

The swordsmen were naturally drawn from all sorts and conditions of men some Irish, with a sprinkling of English and here and there a mercenary Scot, who saw no future for himself and was glad to fight in any cause and under any flag. No doubt they formed a motley crew, like Falstaffs ragged regiment. In any case they were food for powder, and, the majority being first-class fighting-men, were either induced by fair promises to go on board the transports, or, if they declined to go, had their fate decided for them at the hands of the press-gang. It was the latter method of persuasion which led to trouble on more than one occasion, and serious after-effects were felt. For instance, three ships, carrying 800 men in all, left Lough Foyle in the autumn of 1609, bound for Sweden. One of them was scarcely under sail on the open sea than the Irish mutinied, at the instance, it is said, of Hugh Boy O'Neill They smashed the compasses, ran the ship aground, and would have done more damage if regular troops had not been within call. The disturbance was quickly quelled chiefly through the leading mutineers being sent for "exemplary punishment", and the vessel was got off, Hugh Boy O'Neill escaping, to be no more heard of.

But the good ship had not yet come to the end of her misfortunes, this time at the will of the elements, losing all her rigging in a storm, and, after being nearly broken up off the coast of Man, she was with great difficulty towed into a friendly Scottish port. Being now utterly unseaworthy, her passengers were transferred to another vessel and all sail set for Sweden but, as the captain wrote from Newcastle complaining of the want of discipline on board, it is problematical if the majority of the men ever reached their destination, for to speak generally they were all but an unprofitable burden of the earth, cruel, wild, malefactors. Some of them indeed did fight in the wars of Sweden, some went to swell the ranks when our army swore terribly in Flanders, and others went with a blind desire to join Tyrone on the Continent. Mr. Bagwell says: "There seems little doubt that the rank and file were for the most part pressed". But even with this great exodus of swordsmen there were plenty left in the country, for Sir Robert Jacobs, the Solicitor-General, said there were 2000 idle men who had no means but to feed upon the gentlemen of the country ... he was accounted the bravest man that comes attended with most of those followers.

The settlement of Ulster was for long delayed on account of rumours of Tyrone's return but gradually these rumours died away. Tirconnell died in 1608, within twelve months after his leaving Ireland, and was buried in San Pietro in Montorio. The report of his death, which was rather sudden was not accepted, and thousands believed the announcement, made by a Franciscan friar, that Tirconnell was shortly to return to Ireland with 18,000 men sent by the King of Spain and that a prophecy had been discovered in a holy book in Rome that English rule in Ireland was to last but two years more. "I know not", said Chichester, on the flight of the Earls, "what aid or supportation the fugitives shall receive from the Spaniard or the Archduke, but the kind entertainment they have received compared with the multitude of pensions given to base and discontented men of this nation makes them there and their associates and well wishers here to give out largely, and all wise and good subjects to conceive the worst. I am many ways assured that Tyrone and Tirconnell will return if they live, albeit they should have no other assistance nor supportation than a quantity of money, arms, and munition, with which they will be sufficiently enabled to kindle such a fire here (where so many hearts and actors effect and attend alteration) as will take up much time with expense of men and treasure to quench it."

Tyrone, who was given by Pope Paul V an allowance of 100 crowns a month, and a palace in which to reside, and was also the recipient of 500 crowns sent him annually by the King of Spain, became blind in his later days. With the exception of a short visit he paid to Naples, he never stirred outside the papal dominions. He died on the 20th of July, 1616, and was buried near Tirconnell, on the summit of the Janiculam Hill.

So passed away one who was described by Sir John Davies as "the most notorious and dangerous traitor that was in Ireland", but also one whom the impartial student of Irish history must acknowledge as the most formidable adversary in the field which the English ever encountered in Ireland.

It is impossible to estimate what the extent of Tyrone's power would have been had he been supported instead of being betrayed by his countrymen. His was the ancient error, the error made by Shane O'Neill, the error which sprang from the tribal system of land tenure, the error of not conciliating his fellow-countrymen, instead of domineering over them. No man can be ahead of his time, and Hugh O'Neill cannot be blamed for not being ahead of his. He was in advance of Shane O'Neill to the extent of being in alliance with O'Donnell, instead of prolonging a hostility which had lasted for centuries. Had this powerful alliance been extended so as to embrace the O'Doghertys, O'Cahans, and other chiefs of Ulster, the whole history of the relationship of Ireland to England would have been altered. In like manner, had O'Dogherty's request to be brought into personal touch with Henry, Prince of Wales, been granted, much good would have accrued to Ireland. All historians agree in praising with no doubtful voice the virtues of the elder son of King James the First. And not historians alone, but a poet like George Chapman, who, whatever his errors may have been, was neither a liar nor a sycophant. That a Prince of such noble bearing and many and great virtues should have had his interest in Ireland aroused by his gentleman of the bed-chamber, the youthful Irish knight, Sir Cahir O'Dogherty, is a fact which would certainly so have changed the face of the things, that O'Dogherty, who had been noted for his ultra loyalty, until goaded into rebellion by the fact that his request was ignored, would assuredly have remained till his death, as his father was before him, one of the most loyal subjects in Ulster.

These are the might-have-beens of history, and surely such conjectures are as harmless as they are interesting. They simply prove in the words of the great Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, so admirably rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald, himself an Irishman, that what "the Moving Finger" writes is irrevocable, alike for nations as for individuals.


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