The Ulster Plantation

From A.D. 1608 to 1620.[1]

Some of the Irish Chiefs having adhered to the famous Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, in the war against Queen Elizabeth, six entire counties in Ulster—namely, 1. Armagh, 2. Tyrone, 3. Coleraine, 4. Donegal, 5. Fermanagh, 6. Cavan, all containing about 3,798,000 statute acres, were confiscated. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, in the reign of King James the First, these territories were transferred to some English, but mostly Scottish, settlers, denominated “Undertakers,”[2] and “Planters;” hence the project was called the Plantation of Ulster.

It should be observed, however, that four baronies of those five escheated counties were reserved for the “Londoners’ Plantation,” namely, Loughinsholin, which had previously belonged to the county Tyrone; whilst the other three baronies constituted the old county of Coleraine, or the ancient and celebrated Irish territory of Oireacht-Ui-Cathain (or “The Clan of the O’Cahans”).

These several fragments, with a small portion of the county of Donegal, including the island on which the city of Derry stands, and a small portion of the county of Antrim adjoining Coleraine, were united to form the present county of Londonderry; and were handed over to the following named twelve London Companies for plantation:

1. Mercers.

2. Grocers (in part).

3. Drapers.

4. Fishmongers.

5. Goldsmiths.

6. Skinners.

7. Clothworkers.

8. Merchant Tailors.

9. Haberdashers.

10. Salters.

11. Ironmongers.

12. Vintners.

“The broadlands,” writes Hill (at p. 60 of his Plantation of Ulster), “thus quietly abandoned to the planters by the flight of the northern Earls (of Tyrone and Tyrconnell) were soon to receive vast additions. These additions included Cavan—the ‘country’ of the O’Reillys; Fermanagh—the ‘country’ of the Maguires; Coleraine—the ‘country’ of the O’Cahans; the barony of Inishowen, which had belonged to Sir Cahir O’Dogherty; the estates of Sir Niall Garve O’Donnell, stretching from Lifford westward along the two banks of the Finn, and including the beautiful Lough Esk; the territory of Clogher, which belonged to Sir Cormac O’Neill, brother to the Earl of Tyrone; and last, though not least in fertility or picturesque beauty, the ‘country’ of Orior, reaching from Armagh to the vicinity of Dundalk, and owned by the gallant old Sir Oghie O’Hanlon.”

In a letter to the Earl of Salisbury, on the 5th of August, 1608, Sir John Davys writes:

“The dispositions whereof (the six counties above mentioned) by plantation of colonies is a matter of great consideration, wherein it is not easy to lay down a good and sure project. There have been sundry plantations in this kingdom (of Ireland), whereof the first plantation of the English Pale (in the reign of Henry II.) was the best; and the last plantation of the Undertakers in Munster was the worst.[3] The plantation in Ulster, on the sea coast, by Sir John Courcy, the Lacyes, and the Bourkes (De Burgos); the plantation in Connaught, by the Bourkes and Geraldines (the Fitzgeralds); in Thomond, by Sir Thomas de Clare; in Munster, by the Geraldines, Butlers, Barrys, Roches, and other English families, are in part rooted[4] out by the Irish; and such as remain are much degenerated; which will happen to this plantation within a few years if the number of civil persons to be planted do not exceed the number of the natives, who will quickly overgrow them, as weeds overgrow the good corn.”

The King had become very much engrossed in the business from the moment he heard of the actual “flight of the earls,” and before the end of the month in which that event occurred, he demanded that information should be furnished without delay, “respecting the lands to be divided; what countries are most meet to be inhabited; what Irish fit to be trusted;[5] what English meet for that plantation in Ireland; what offers are, or will be, made there; and what is to be done for the conviction of the fugitives, because there is no possession or estate to be given before their attainder.”


[1] Plantation: From The Plantation of Ulster, by the Rev. George Hill (Belfast: McCaw, Stevenson and Orr, 1877). To that great work the reader is referred for “Ulster before the Plantation,” “The Project of the Plantation,” “Doubts and Delays,” “The Commissioners of Plantation,” “Results and Arrangements,” “The Londoners’ Plantation,” “Pynnar’s Survey,” etc.

[2] Undertakers: Hill also gives the nationality of each of those Undertakers, and the names of the townlands or parts of townlands which constituted his grant or estate in Ireland, under the Plantation.

[3] Worst: “This attempt at colonizing a portion of Munster,” says Hill, “was the latest that had been undertaken prior to the time of the plantation in Ulster (temp. James I.). The object of the movement in Munster was to place English settlers on the extensive lands left comparatively desolate during the war with the great Earl of Desmond. By the Articles of (A.D.) 1596, between Queen Elizabeth and the Undertakers of escheated lands in Munster, the latter received quantities varying from 6,000 to 24,000 acres, each. One part of the county of Limerick, with portions of Cork, Tipperary, and Waterford, were thus set out to Christopher Hatton, Edward Fitton, and Rowland Stanley, Knights, from Cheshire and Lancashire; the remaining part of the county of Cork, and parts of the county of Waterford adjoining, were let to Walter Raleigh, John Stowell, and John Clifton, Knights, from Devonshire and Somersetshire. Sir William Courtney, Edward Hutton, and Henry Outred, esquires, were undertakers for the remaining lands in the county of Limerick. The county of Kerry was also included in that plantation, and several other undertakers, in addition to those above named, obtained grants of the Munster lands. The lands conveyed in these grants were generally too extensive to be properly managed; and, therefore, this whole plantation was swept away in years after its commencement. The Irish, when they assailed it, did not adopt any slow or halting process in rooting it out; during the one year above named they burned everything, even the deserted houses— permitting the new settlers, however, to decamp with their lives.”

[4] Rooted out: Writing of these ruined English colonies in Ireland, Davys, in p. 150 of his Historical Tracts, closes up an account of their disasters in the following words:—“Thus, in that space of time which was between the 10th year of Edward II., by the concurrence of the mischiefs before recited, all the old English colonies in Munster, Connaught, and Ulster, and more than a third part of Leinster became degenerate, and fell away from the Crown of England; so as only the four shires of the English Pale remained under the obedience of the law; and yet the borders of the marches thereof were grown unruly, and out of order too, being subject to black rents and tributes of the Irish; which was a greater defection than when ten or twelve tribes departed and fell away from the kings of Judah.”

[5] Fit to be trusted: “Human justice,” says the Irish Fireside, “may pause and wonder why it was that the Irish race was not made the instrument of Divine vengeance on the wicked house of Stuart, to save the culprit from his justly merited doom. Or why it was that on James II., who, though by no means innocent, yet, with all his faults, was certainly the least guilty of his family, why on him fell the penalties of his predecessors … What more just than that the Scotchmen and Englishmen, so cruelly planted on the lands of the Ulster Irish by James Stuart the First, should by their descendants, expel James Stuart the Second, not only out of Ireland, but from Scotland, and from the very throne of England itself?”

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