Plantation People

One of the most momentous events in Irish history, the ‘Flight of the Earls’, took place in September 1607, when Hugh O'Neill and Rory O'Donnell, respectively the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, sailed from Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal for the Continent with around 100 of their followers. Fearing their return to Ireland with Spanish military support, and seeing an opportunity to transform Ulster, the Crown confiscated the lands of O’Neill and O’Donnell, and those of other Irish lordships.

The process of designing what turned out to be a complex and systematic plantation plan, and the necessary preliminaries to its implementation, took over two years and it was not until 1610 that the new ownership arrangements could be brought into being. The scheme eventually adopted affected six Ulster counties – Armagh, Cavan, Coleraine (renamed Londonderry in 1613), Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone, collectively known as the ‘escheated’ or planted counties.

Under the scheme for the Plantation in Ulster, blocks of land were parcelled out to several categories of grantee. English and Scottish undertakers, so named because they agreed to undertake the planting of their estates with settlers, received the largest allocation of land in the overall plantation scheme. Servitors – those who had served the Crown in Ireland in a civil or military capacity – ‘deserving’ Gaelic Irish, and institutions such as Trinity College Dublin, and the Protestant Church were also beneficiaries of the scheme.

Image: Distribution of lands in the Ulster Plantation

Plantation lands distribution map

The Progress of the Plantation

The initial progress made by the undertakers and servitors varied considerably and in some areas very little if anything was achieved in the early stages of the Plantation. Many of the undertakers found that the task they were taking on was simply beyond them. In November 1610 the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester, made the following observation: ‘The Scottish come with greater port and better accompanied and attended, but it may be with less money in their purses’.

Some undertakers granted lands in less favourable areas found it virtually impossible to induce tenants from Britain to settle on their lands. In east Tyrone Bernard Lindsay’s proportion lay ‘towards the mountains and is extremely rough and scarcely habitable’. When Scottish settlers arrived there ‘at the first site of the barrenness thereof [they] made their instant retreat’. A few of the undertakers never visited their estates at all, while others took possession in person, but sold out soon afterwards.

Because so many of the original grantees lacked either the desire to stay or the financial resources to fulfil their plantation obligations, the years after the inauguration of the Plantation scheme witnessed numerous changes to the pattern of landownership.

Termon Magrath Castle reduced

In fact within ten years of the inauguration of the scheme only 29 of the 51 estates allocated to English undertakers remained in the hands of the original grantees. Similarly, more than half of the Scottish estates – 33 out of 59 – had passed out of the ownership of the original grantees within the same period.

In their place came men with the energy and determination, not to mention the resources, to make the Plantation a success. One of the main consequences of the ready market in Plantation land was that it allowed several individuals to build up estates considerably greater than that originally permitted under the rules of the Plantation. One who did so spectacularly was Sir William Stewart who, from relatively unremarkable beginnings, was able to build up a vast estate spread over three baronies in counties Donegal and Tyrone.

Estate Management

If a grantee of Plantation land was going to benefit financially from his undertaking he would have to manage his estate effectively to derive an income from it. He was not free to chose how to do this as he pleased but was expected to follow specific guidelines.

The conditions of the plantation laid down a specific landholding structure designed to prevent landlords from managing their estates as they pleased and to provide proper security to their tenants in the form of written leases. It also represented an attempt to fashion a social structure and social relationships in the planted counties.

For each thousand acres the undertaker was to reserve for himself a demesne of 300 acres. The remaining 700 acres were to be divided up in the following manner: two fee-farmers or freeholders with 120 acres each; three leaseholders for three lives or twenty-one years with 100 acres each; and at least four families of husbandmen, artificers or cottagers on the final 160 acres. Tenants were to be issued with written deeds that gave them security of tenure.

Derrywoon castle reduced

Relatively few of the undertakers fulfilled these conditions precisely. Some did not have enough British tenants to lease farms to, while others did not make out proper written leases to their tenants creating uncertainty among them.

The behaviour of some landlords almost seemed designed to drive tenants away. Pynnar was told by some of the tenants on the Castlehaven estate in Omagh barony that unless they were prepared to pay treble the rent they would not have their leases recognised. On the other hand, there were landlords or their representatives who were highly respected by the tenants.

Sir William Cole received high praise from the commissioners of inquiry in 1622 for the progress on his estate in Magheraboy, Co. Fermanagh: ...

he hath let his land at easy rents and for long terms, which is the cause it is so well planted, we having seen none like it...and we wish that others who are deficient would take example by him.

Towns and Villages

The settlement pattern envisaged by the devisers of the plantation scheme was essentially one of an English model of rural settlement. The settlers were to live in towns and villages, fields were to be enclosed and English agricultural practices were to be used. They were not to live scattered across the countryside. Their houses were to be built close to the fortification constructed by the undertaker.

In this period towns were viewed as centres of civilisation, hence the importance attached to them in the Plantation. Towns were also seen as places of strength in the countryside as well as entities through which the Protestantism could be promoted.

For the most part, however, the reality was very different. Around two-thirds of Plantation estates lacked a nucleated settlement. Furthermore, many of the settlements that were denoted ‘town’ or ‘village’ in the Plantation surveys were unimpressive clusters of six to twelve houses.

Several reasons can be suggested for the absence of nucleated settlements from most of the Plantation estates. In part it was a reflection of the limited resources of the undertakers to develop an urban centre on their proportions. The development of a town was a major investment on the part of the landowner and beyond the means of most.

Strabane barony

Urbanisation was most successful in County Londonderry where the London companies were active in developing towns on their estates. Most of the towns established by the London companies in the early seventeenth century are still important settlements today, including Ballykelly, Bellaghy, Dungiven, Macosquin, Magherafelt, Moneymore and Muff (now called Eglinton).

At the apex of the hierarchy of settlement, at least in terms of status and legal privileges, though not necessarily in size, was the corporate town. In November 1610 the town of Cavan was incorporated, while between 27 November 1612 and 29 April 1613 thirteen further places in the six planted counties received charters of incorporation:

They were: Dungannon, Strabane, Augher (Co. Tyrone); Limavady, Coleraine, Londonderry (Co. Londonderry); Belturbet (Co. Cavan); Armagh, Charlemont (Co. Armagh); Enniskillen (Co. Fermanagh); Ballyshannon, Donegal, Lifford (Co. Donegal).

With the exception of Cavan and Strabane, all of these places were essentially English-founded settlements. Others were to follow and corporate towns were also established in the other three counties in Ulster in the early 1600s.