Tales from Irish History - Alice Birkhead

The Colonization of Ulster

On the flight of the Earls, all their land was seized by the Crown because they were held disloyal to King. James. In fact, more land than they had ever ruled fell into the hands of English government. Six counties were seized by order of the king—Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Cavan, Fermanagh, and Armagh. These were to be "planted" with new owners, as though Ireland were a half-known country with savage inhabitants. Antrim and Down were already occupied by the Scots from the Western Highlands, who had often been tempted to cross the sea for the sake of plunder. The chief of these Scots, Sir Randall-Macdonnell, was created Earl of Antrim.

James did not mean to repeat the mistakes that the English had made in planting other parts of Ireland. He saw that the grants made to the "undertakers" of Munster had been far too large, and that the plan of allowing English and Irish to live together in friendly fashion would never do in Ulster, since it had made the "plantation" of Leix and Offaly a failure.

James intended to send to Ireland a party of strong men, able to rule the natives and stamp out the Catholic religion. They must all be firm Protestants and firm believers that English ways were best. They ought to be sufficient protection for themselves against the natives because they were united on all important points. They would only receive small grants of land so that there could be no excuse for hiring the assistance of the Irish. As a further help to the "undertakers," James resolved to ship off the Irish gentry who had only been trained for the noble occupation of fighting. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was glad to have some of them for soldiers; the rest were moved from Ulster to different parts of Ireland.

There was no lack of men eager to take advantage of this new opening in life. Shrewd Scots and practical Englishmen saw that fortunes might be made for their descendants, if they took advantage of James's offer. Few of the settlers had any desire to fight or plunder. They took across the sea tools and farm-implements instead of swords. Among them were farmers, merchants and weavers, who hoped that they could carry on their occupation in a new country with greater success than in the old. Land was sold at a ridiculously cheap rate—it had cost nothing to the king, who disposed of it right royally,

The buyers had to fulfil certain conditions when they took their land. A man, who received a grant of any size, was obliged to build a castle or mansion-house on his estate within four years and he had also to introduce skilled workmen, farmers, and labourers as tenants. James hoped that this industrious population would prove peaceful; he was most unwilling to breed a crowd of idle adventurers in Ulster. Trouble had been caused too often by the Irish notion that fighting was the finest way of earning a livelihood.

In practice, it was impossible to carry out one of these condition's. The settlers found that they needed more help on their farms than they had brought with them, and quietly employed hands that were sentenced to idleness by the king. Many of the Irish thus remained in the part of Ireland, where they had been brought up.

The settlers in Ulster were zealous and active men. They soon overcame the idea of the natives that it was a degradation to soil the hands with anything but blood, while there was a chance of warfare. They built towns and settlements, and made their settlements hum with the sound of spinning-wheels, worked by the hands of women. A trade in live cattle was established with the English port of Bristol, wool was exchanged in the south of Europe for wine grown in the vineyards. Traders from half the ports of Europe came to Cork to buy salt fish, salt butter, and salt meat. The native Irish had already forgotten their busy times of trade. They looked with wonder at the brisk transactions of their masters—a kind of listlessness had come upon them, only to be dispelled by a very stirring conflict.

The Corporation of London and the twelve city guilds agreed to take up the whole country of Coleraine, and to hold the forts of Derry (hence Londonderry), Culmore, and Coleraine. King James encouraged this enterprise by creating a new order of baronets, for he was lavish in bestowing titles. They bore on their coat the Bloody Hand of Ulster, which had been shown hitherto on the shield of an O'Neill. James always gave in the hope of return, and each of the men receiving titles had to pay for the three years' service of a soldier in Ulster. Men who had held military appointments in the late wars were rewarded by special grants of land, and all that class who were known as "servitors" because they held some place in the service of the king.

Under a new order the population of Ulster increased rapidly, and strangers seemed to grasp the natural wealth of Ireland better than the Irish. Soon districts of Ulster showed the smiling pastures of former days, before soldiers had ridden through the land, intent on spoil. The undertakers were proud of the results of their labours, but the displaced Irish had little reason to be pleased with the success of King James's plantation. They left their land reluctantly, hinting at their sense of injustice by slow movements as they took a few belongings to the leaner districts, where the struggle with the soil was hard. The gentry found shelter of some kind, though life had no joy for them henceforward. The mass of the people looked wildly to discover a place where they might lodge in safety. They knew too well the barren soil of Munster and Connacht, and took the miserable tracts of land with bursting hearts. Some died of sheer despair, and others crept back to Ulster and begged for the meanest labour under the masters of their old homes. The promise to make provision for all the men of Ulster had been broken, and that faithlessness was fiercely cherished till the hour of vengeance came in 1641.