The Cromwellian Period

During the 1650s the remaining Gaelic landownership in Ulster was almost wiped out. Large swathes of land were confiscated from the Irish gentry as a punishment for their rebellion and granted to British settlers. For a time Scottish landowners in Ulster were also in a difficult situation with the threat of confiscation also hanging over them for their support of the royalist cause. Eventually, however, their possessions were secured on payment of heavy fines. Cromwell died in 1658 and in 1660 the monarchy was restored. The new king, Charles II, was faced with the difficulty of having to find land for those Catholics who had remained loyal to the Crown during the previous twenty years. Several Scottish Catholics – the Marquess of Antrim and the Hamiltons in Strabane barony, County Tyrone, were restored to the estates they had held prior to 1641. Apart from this there were relatively few changes to the land settlement laid down by Cromwell.

Migration to the north of Ireland in the 1650s was encouraged by low rents in the aftermath of a decade of warfare. In the 1670s migration was encouraged by the Covenanter disturbances in Scotland. These fresh migrations were having a noticeable impact on local demographics. About 1670 Oliver Plunkett, Catholic archbishop of Armagh, noted that the city of Armagh had a population of approximately 3,000 persons, ‘almost all Scottish or English, with very few Irish’.

HIP Cover 1 Thumbnail

This contrasted with the towns and villages in County Armagh which, according to Plunkett, were mainly inhabited with Catholic leaseholders and peasants. In the town of Dungannon Plunkett believed that of 1,000 families barely twenty were not English or Scottish. A description of County Donegal from April 1683 noted that it was ‘plentifully planted with Protestant inhabitants, especially with great numbers out of Scotland’.

By the second half of the seventeenth century the Presbyterian Church had emerged as a distinct denomination and there were clear lines of demarcation between it and the Church of Ireland. On the whole Scottish settlers were Presbyterian, while English settlers were Anglican, although there were numerous exceptions to this rule. In County Antrim Presbyterians formed an absolute majority. In 1673 Plunkett commented that in the dioceses of Connor and Down (comprising almost all of County Antrim and north and east County Down, the Presbyterians – ‘whose belief is an aborted form of Protestantism’ – were more numerous than Catholics and Anglicans put together. On another occasion he wrote that ‘one could travel twenty-five miles in my area without finding half a dozen Catholic of Protestant families, but all Presbyterians’. In 1683 Richard Dobbs noted that all the inhabitants of Island Magee in County Antrim, were Scottish Presbyterians.