In the early 1600s, some 40 towns throughout Ireland received charters of incorporation, around half of which were located in Ulster. The conferral of these charters marked the beginning of formal municipal government in these towns. The granting of so many charters almost simultaneously was unprecedented in Ireland’s history, and was in part a product of the Ulster Plantation. This period of critical importance in Irish urbanisation was to alter the island’s social and geographical landscape forever.

Virtually all of the sites chosen had been important places, both in the ecclesiastical and Gaelic worlds, and the legacy of the incorporated towns and their charters remains with us to this day. Though now shorn of their corporate status, these towns, to a greater or lesser extent, still exist, with most of them continuing to provide a focus for local government, the administration of justice and commercial activity.

Charter Towns exhibition banner 1 reduced

In 2013 the Ulster Historical Foundation was commissioned by the Ministerial Advisory Group – Ulster-Scots Academy / Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure to carry out research into the granting of the Ulster charters and to produce an exhibition, which was launched in October 2013 in the City Hall in Belfast (one of the towns to receive a charter in 1613). Accompanying the exhibition, a booklet and folding map/heritage trail were produced and freely distributed.

All of the products created as part of the project were beautifully illustrated with a range of photographs and reproductions of contemporary maps drawn from many archives, including the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the British Library, Trinity College Dublin, and The National Archives (UK). The Foundation’s Research Director, Dr William Roulston, undertook the historical research alongside two noted historians of the early seventeenth century, Dr Brendan Scott and Dr Philip Robinson, while Mark Thompson and Jill Morrison carried out the design work.