Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Plantation of Ulster
By Boyd Gray

One of the most important turning points in Irish history was the Flight of the Earls.  On 14th September 1607, Hugh O’Neil, the Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnell, along with a small party of their family and followers, boarded a small ship at Rathmullen and sailed for Spain.  The reason for the earls’ flight is hard to determine.  There is some suggestion that O’Neill believed the new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester was attempting to usurp him.  But King James had reassured O’Neill in 1606 that his fears were unfounded. 

There are also suggestions that in fact James was on the verge of arresting the earls for treason but no proof of this has ever been found.  Some historians argue that O’Donnell and his kinsman, Maguire, were intent upon joining the Spanish forces in their war in the Netherlands.  Whatever their intention at the time, they never returned and this left the way clear for King James I to seize their land and inaugurate the most ambitious plantation ever undertaken in Ireland.  Hundreds of thousands of lowland Scottish planters arrived over the next hundred years and changed the character of Ulster forever.

The land confiscated by the Crown after the Flight of the Earls was allocated to specially chosen undertakers from the lowlands of Scotland and the border areas of northern England.  The most important region designated for plantation was The Laggan Valley, prime farmland running south from the Foyle and Swilly estuaries.  It was divided into two parts: Lifford and Portlough and was awarded to the Cunningham and Stewart families from Ayrshire.  They brought tenants with them and leased them farms at low rent.  Only a few of the native Irish received any land and many moved west to the Barony of Kilmacrenan. 

The village of Manorcunningham, originally named the Manor of Fort Cunningham, takes its name from its first proprietor James Cunningham.  One of the most important duties of an undertaker was to build villages and erect a bawn or castle where the planters could take shelter with their families in times of attack.  By law all men were armed.  At these villages, fairs and market days were established by the local undertaker so that surplus production could be sold.  This pattern of land use is still evident today.

Sir Richard Hansard, an English soldier who served in Ireland in various locations during the Nine Years War (1594-1603), became governor of Lifford castle during the latter stages of this conflict and subsequently served the crown loyally during the rebellions of the Earl of Tyrone in 1607 and of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty in 1608.  As a reward for his services Sir Richard was granted Lifford and the surrounding lands by James I and given permission to found a corporate town at Lifford with weekly markets and bi annual fairs.  This helped to provide a stable nucleus for the ensuing Plantation of Ulster which Sir Richard supported until his death in 1619.

One of the most remarkable church monuments in west Ulster is undoubtedly the 17th century monument to Sir Richard Hansard in Clonleigh Church of Ireland church in Lifford.  It consists of two sculpted figures, representing Sir Richard and his wife Dame Anne, kneeling on either side of a prayer lectern.  Sir Richard is wearing his military armour, while his wife is wearing a long dress and a veil.  Both show signs of having once been painted in vivid colours and may be viewed on those days when the church is open. 

The Irish rose in rebellion in 1641 under Sir Phelim O'Neill as a long-term result of the "Plantation" policy.  Key strongholds were captured, Protestant settlers were evicted from their lands, farms were burnt, cattle stolen.  Thousands of settlers were killed in the uprising and many fled to England.  Commissions were sent to Sir William and Sir Robert Stewart from the Laggan Valley in Donegal 'to raise two regiments, consisting of officers who were worthy and gallant gentlemen, and two troops of horses'.  Surrounded on all sides by rebels, the Lagganeers fought off all attacks and ventured far outside their own territory to relieve castles as far away as Coleraine.

Sir Phelim O'Neill decided to take advantage of the absence of the Laggan Army.  He attacked Raphoe castle but the Lagganeers heard of the impending invasion and set off in pursuit of the rebels, inflicting a defeat on them near Castlederg.  In 1642, Sir Phelim, reinforced by the MacDonnells of Antrim, tried once more to invade the Laggan.  He gathered a huge army and marched towards Raphoe.  The two armies met at Glenmaquin on 16th June 1642, and again the Lagganeers were victorious.  The Irish lost many men at the Battle Burn, including Donnell Gorm MacDonnell, an Antrim chieftain.  This important victory ensured the safety of the Laggan Valley during the rest of the rebellion.

I am sure you must be aware that, as part of the Peace and Reconciliation process in Ireland, the governments of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom have provided funding for many cross community and cultural events. We here at the East Donegal Ulster Scots, with the support of the Ulster Scots Agency in Belfast, have been awarded funding for a wide ranging programme in 2007. As part of this programme, we are in the process of organising what we have chosen to call the Francis Makemie Summer School for the weekend of 27th to 29th April 2007 in Letterkenny in County Donegal. We aim to raise the profile of the Ulster Scots in West Ulster where it has largely been ignored for decades now.

You can see more details about the summer school as it is updated at our website:

Return to our Historic Articles Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus