Plantations in 16th and 17th century Ireland were the confiscation of land by the British crown and the colonisation of this land with settlers from England and Scotland.
The Plantations were established throughout the country by the confiscation of lands occupied by Gaelic clans and Hiberno-Norman dynasties, but principally in the provinces of Munster and Ulster. The lands were then granted by Crown authority to colonists ("planters") from Britain. This process began during the reign of Henry VIII and continued under Mary I and Elizabeth I. It was accelerated under James I, Charles I and Cromwell.
The early plantations in the 16th century tended to be based on small "exemplary" colonies. The later plantations were based on mass confiscations of land from Irish landowners and the subsequent importation of large numbers of settlers from England, Scotland and Wales.
The final official plantations took place under the English Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate during the 1650s, when thousands of Parliamentarian soldiers were settled in Ireland. Outside of the plantations, significant migration into Ireland continued well into the 18th century, from both Britain and continental Europe.
The plantations changed the demography of Ireland by creating large communities with a British and Protestant identity. These communities replaced the older Catholic elite who shared a common Irish identity and set of political attitudes. The physical and economic nature of Irish society was also changed, as new concepts of ownership, trade and credit were introduced. These changes led to the creation of a British Protestant ruling class, which secured the authority of Crown government in Ireland during the 17th century.
Early Plantations (1556-1576):
The early Plantations of Ireland occurred during the Tudor conquest of Ireland. The Crown government at Dublin intended to pacify and Anglicise the country under English rule and incorporate the native ruling classes into the English aristocracy. Ireland was to become a peaceful and reliable possession, without risk of rebellion or foreign invasion. The Plantations were to play a major part in this policy.
To this end, two forms of plantation were adopted in the first half of the 16th century. The first was the "exemplary plantation", in which small colonies of English would provide model farming communities that the Irish could emulate. One such colony was planted in the late 1560s, at Kerrycurrihy near Cork city, on land leased from the Earl of Desmond.
The second form set the trend for future English policy in Ireland. It was punitive in nature, as it provided for the plantation of English settlers on lands confiscated following the suppression of rebellion. The first such scheme was the Plantation of King's County (now Offaly) and Queen's County (now Laois) in 1556, naming them after the new Catholic monarchs Philip and Mary respectively. The O'Moore and O'Connor clans, which occupied the area, had traditionally raided the English-ruled Pale around Dublin. The Lord Deputy of Ireland, the Earl of Sussex, ordered that they be dispossessed and replaced with an English settlement. However, the plantation was not a great success. The O'Moores and O'Connors retreated to the hills and bogs and fought a local war against the settlement for much of the following 40 years. In 1578, the English finally subdued the displaced O'Moore clan by massacring most of their fine (or ruling families) at Mullaghmast in Laois, having invited them there for peace talks. Rory Óg Ó Moore, the leader of rebellion in the area, was also hunted down and killed later that year. The ongoing violence meant that the authorities had difficulty in attracting people to settle in their new plantation and settlement ended up clustered around a series of military fortifications.
Another failed plantation occurred in eastern Ulster in the 1570s. The east of the province (occupied by the MacDonnells and Clandeboye O'Neills) was intended to be colonised with English planters, to put a barrier between the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland and to stop the flow of Scottish mercenaries into Ireland. The conquest of east Ulster was contracted out to the Earl of Essex and Sir Thomas Smith. The O'Neill chieftain, Turlough Luineach O'Neill, fearing an English bridgehead in Ulster, helped his O'Neill kinsmen of Clandeboye. The MacDonnells in Antrim, led by Sorley Boy MacDonnell were also able to call on reinforcements from their kinsmen in the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland.
The plantation eventually degenerated into a series of atrocities against the local civilian population before finally being abandoned. Brian MacPhelim O'Neill of Clandeboye, his wife and 200 clansmen were murdered at a feast organised by Essex in 1574. In 1575, Francis Drake (later victor over the Spanish Armada, then in the pay of the Earl of Essex) participated in a naval expedition that culminated in the massacre of 500 MacDonnell clans-people in a surprise raid on Rathlin Island, though according to Harry Kelsey: 'Drake's own role in the massacre is unclear'.
The following year, Elizabeth I, disturbed by the killing of civilians, called a halt.
Munster Plantation (1586 onwards):
The Munster Plantation of the 1580s was the first mass plantation in Ireland . It was instituted as punishment for the Desmond Rebellions, when the Geraldine Earl of Desmond had rebelled against English interference in Munster. The Desmond dynasty was annihilated in the aftermath of the Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-83) and their estates were confiscated. This gave the English authorities the opportunity to settle the province with colonists from England and Wales, who, it was hoped, would be a bulwark against further rebellions. In 1584, the Surveyor General of Ireland, Sir Valentine Browne and a commission surveyed Munster, to allocate confiscated lands to English Undertakers (wealthy colonists who "undertook" to import tenants from England to work their new lands). The Undertakers were also supposed to build new towns and provide for the defence of planted districts from attack.
As well as the former Geraldine estates (spread through the modern counties Limerick, Cork, Kerry and Tipperary) the survey took in the lands belonging to other families and clans that had supported the rebellions in south-west Cork and Kerry. However, the settlement here was rather piecemeal because the ruling clan - the MacCarthy Mór line - argued that the rebel landowners were their subordinates and therefore the land really belonged to them. Lands were therefore granted to some Undertakers and then taken away again when native lords like the MacCarthys appealed the dispossession of their dependants.
Other sectors of the plantation were equally chaotic. John Popham imported 70 tenants from Somerset, only to find that the land had already been settled by another undertaker, and he was obliged to return them home. Nevertheless, 500,000 acres (2,000 km²) were planted with English colonists. It was hoped that the settlement would attract in the region of 15,000 colonists, but a report from 1589 showed that the undertakers had imported only in the region of 700 English tenants between them. It has been suggested that each tenant was the head of a household, and that he therefore represents 4-5 other people. This would put the English population in Munster at nearer to three or four thousand persons, but it was still substantially below the projected figure.
The Munster Plantation was supposed to produce compact defensible settlements, but in fact, the English settlers were spread in pockets across the province, wherever land had been confiscated. Initially the Undertakers were given detachments of English soldiers to protect them, but these were abolished in the 1590s. As a result, when the Nine Years War - an Irish rebellion against English rule - came to Munster in 1598, most of the settlers were chased off their lands without a fight. They took refuge in the province's walled towns or fled back to England. However when the rebellion was put down in 1601-03, the Plantation was re-constituted by the Governor of Munster, George Carew.
Ulster Plantation (1606 onwards):
Prior to its conquest in the Nine Years War of the 1590s, Ulster was the most Gaelic part of Ireland and the only province that was completely outside English control. The war, of 1594-1603, ended with the surrender of the O'Neill and O'Donnell lords to the English crown, but was also a hugely costly and humiliating episode for the English government in Ireland. Moreover, in the short term it had been a failure, since the surrender terms given to the rebels were very generous, re-granting them much of their former lands, but under English law.
However, when Hugh O'Neill and the other rebel Earls left Ireland in 1607 (the so called Flight of the Earls) to seek Spanish help for a new rebellion, the Lord Deputy, Arthur Chichester, seized the opportunity to colonise the province and declared the lands of O'Neill, O'Donnell and their followers forfeit. Initially, Chichester planned a fairly modest plantation, including large grants to native Irish lords who had sided with the English during the war. However, this plan was interrupted by the rebellion of Cahir O'Doherty of Donegal in 1608, a former ally of the English, who felt that he had not been fairly rewarded for his role in the war. The rebellion was swiftly put down and O'Doherty killed but it gave Chichester the justification for expropriating all native landowners in the province.
James VI of Scotland had become King of England in 1603, uniting those two crowns -also of course gaining possession of the Kingdom of Ireland - an English possession. The Plantation of Ulster was sold to him as a joint "British", i.e. English and Scottish, venture to pacify and civilise Ulster. So at least half of the settlers would be Scots. Six counties were involved in the official plantation - Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Coleraine, Donegal and Tyrone.
The plan for the plantation was determined by two factors, one was the wish to make sure the settlement could not be destroyed by rebellion as the first Munster plantation had been. This meant that, rather than settling the Planters in isolated pockets of land confiscated from convicted rebels, all of the land would be confiscated and then redistributed to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons. What was more, the new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants and had to import them from England and Scotland. The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was supposed to be relocated to live near garrisons and Protestant churches. Moreover, the Planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman.
The second major influence on the Plantation was the negotiation between various interest groups on the British side. The principal landowners were to be Undertakers, wealthy men from England and Scotland who undertook to import tenants from their own estates. They were granted around 3000 acres (12 km²) each, on condition that they settle a minimum of 48 adult males (including at least 20 families) who had to be English-speaking and Protestant. However, veterans of the war in Ireland (known as Servitors) and led by Arthur Chichester, successfully lobbied that they should be rewarded with land grants of their own. Since these former officers did not have enough private capital to fund the colonisation, their involvement was subsidised by the City of London (the financial sector in London), who were also granted their own town Derry and lands. The final major recipient of lands was the Protestant Church of Ireland, which was granted all the churches and lands previously owned by the Roman Catholic church. It was intended that clerics from England and the Pale would convert the native population to Protestantism.
The plantation was a mixed success for the English. By the 1630s, there were 20,000 adult male British settlers in Ulster, which meant that the total settler population could have been as high as 80,000. They formed local majorities of the population in the Finn and Foyle valleys (around modern Derry and east Donegal) in north Armagh and east Tyrone. Moreover, there had also been substantial settlement on unofficially planted lands in north Down, led by James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, and in south Antrim under Sir Randall MacDonnell. What was more, the settler population grew rapidly as just under half of the planters were women - a very high ratio compared to contemporary Spanish settlement in Latin America or English settlement in Virginia and New England.
However, the Irish population was neither removed nor Anglicised. In practise, the settlers did not stay on bad land, but clustered around towns and the best land. This meant that many British landowners had to take Irish tenants, contrary to the terms of the plantation. In 1609, Chichester had deported 1300 former Irish soldiers from Ulster to serve in the Swedish Army, but the province remained plagued with Irish bandits known as "wood-kerne" who attacked vulnerable settlers. It was said that English settlers were not safe a mile outside walled towns as native Tories plagued the forests and wolves roamed the countryside.
The attempted conversion of the Irish to Protestantism also had little effect, at first because the clerics imported were all English speakers, whereas the native population were usually monoglot Irish-Gaelic speakers. Later, the Catholic Church made a determined effort to retain its followers among the native population.
Later Plantations (1610-1641):
In addition to the Ulster plantation, several other small plantations occurred under the reign of the Stuart Kings - James I and Charles I - in the early 17th century. The first of these took place in north county Wexford in 1610, where lands were confiscated from the MacMurrough-Kavanagh clan.
Since most land-owning families in Ireland had taken their estates by force in the previous four hundred years, very few of them, with the exception of the New English arrivals, had proper legal titles for them. As a result, in order to obtain such titles, they were forced to forfeit a quarter of their lands. This policy was used against the Kavanaghs in Wexford and subsequently elsewhere too, to break up Catholic Irish estates (especially the Gaelic ones) around the country. Following the precedent set in Wexford, there were other small plantations in Laois and Offaly, Longford, Leitrim and north Tipperary.
To take one example of this policy; in 1621 King James I established his claims to the whole of Upper Ossory in County Laois including the manor of Offerlane. James claimed royal inheritance (from the de Clare family) at an inquisition held at Maryborough and instituted a plantation of the area in 1626. John FitzPatrick, Baron of Upper Ossory, refused to submit the manor of Castletown to the plantation. In 1537 his ancestor, Brian MacGiollapadraig, agreed to surrender Upper Ossory to King Henry VIII and was regranted the lordship under English law and in 1541 was made Baron of Upper Ossory. After John FitzPatrick's death in 1626 his son Florence continued this opposition to the plantation on his estates. However, the Fitzpatricks were eventually forced to concede a portion of their lands.
In Laois and Offally, the Tudor plantation had consisted of a chain of military garrisons, but in the new, more peaceful climate of the 17th century, it attracted large numbers of landowners, tenants and labourers. Prominent planters in Leinster in this period include Charles Coote, Adam Loftus and William Parsons.
In Munster, the peaceful first half of the 17th century saw thousands more English and Welsh settlers arrive in the province. There were many small plantations in Munster in this period, as Irish lords were required to forfeit up to one third of their estates in order to get their deeds to the remainder recognised by the English authorities. The settlers became concentrated in towns along the south coast - especially Youghal, Bandon, Kinsale and Cork city. Famous English Undertakers of the Munster Plantation include Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser, and Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork. The latter especially made huge fortunes out of amassing Irish lands and developing them for industry and agriculture.
The Irish Catholic upper classes were unable to stop the continued plantations in Ireland because they had been barred from public office because of their religion and had become a minority in the Irish Parliament by 1615, as a result of the creation of "pocket boroughs" (where Protestants were in the majority) in planted areas. However, they managed to temporarily halt land confiscations in 1625, by agreeing to pay for England's war with France and Spain.
In addition to the plantations, thousands of independent settlers arrived in Ireland in the early 17th century, from the Netherlands and France as well as Britain. Many of them became chief tenants of Irish land-owners, others established themselves in the towns (especially Dublin) - notably as bankers and financiers. By 1641, there were calculated to be up to 125,000 Protestant settlers in Ireland, though they were still outnumbered by native Catholics by around 15 to 1.
Not all of the early 17th Century English Planters were Protestants. A considerable number of English Catholics settled in Ireland between 1603-1641 in part for economic reasons but also to escape persecution. This may seem paradoxical at first. However in the time of Elizabeth and James I the Catholics of England suffered a greater degree of persecution than English Catholics in Ireland. In England, Catholics were greatly outnumbered by Protestants and lived under constant fear of betrayal by their fellows. In Ireland however they could blend in with the local majority Catholic population in a way that was not possible in England. English Catholic planters were most common in County Kilkenny, where they may have made up half of all the British planters to arrive in this region. As such it is no surprise that the sons and grandsons of English planters played a major part in the politics of the Confederation of Kilkenny in the 1640s, most notably James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven.
Plantations stayed off the political agenda until the accession of Thomas Wentworth, a close advisor of Charles I, to the position of Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632. Wentworth's job was to raise revenue for Charles and to cement Royal control over Ireland - which meant, among other things, more plantations, both to raise money and to break the political power of the Irish Catholic gentry. Wentworth confiscated land in Wicklow and planned a full scale Plantation of Connacht - where all Catholic landowners would lose between a half and a quarter of their estates. The local juries were intimidated into accepting Wentworth's settlement and when a group of Connacht landowners complained to Charles I, Wentworth had them imprisoned. However, settlement only went ahead in County Sligo and County Roscommon. Next, Wentworth surveyed the major Catholic landowners in Leinster for similar treatment, including members of the powerful Butler dynasty. Wentworth's plans were interrupted by the outbreak of the Bishops Wars in Scotland, which eventually led to Wentworth's execution by the English Parliament and to civil war in England and Ireland. His constant questioning of Catholic land titles was one of the major causes of the 1641 Rebellion and the principal reason why it was joined by Ireland's wealthiest and most powerful Catholic families.
The 1641 Rebellion:
In October 1641, after a bad harvest and in a threatening political climate, Phelim O'Neill launched a rebellion, hoping to rectify various grievances of Irish Catholic landowners. However, once the rebellion was underway, the resentment of the native Irish in Ulster boiled over into indiscriminate attacks on the settler population in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Irish Catholics attacked the plantations all around the country, but especially in Ulster. English writers at the time put the Protestant victims at over 100,000 and William Petty, in his survey of the 1650s, estimated the death toll at around 30,000. More recent research, however, based on close examination of the depositions of the Protestant refugees collected in 1642, suggests a figure of 4,000 settlers were killed directly and up to 12,000 who may have perished from disease or privation after being expelled from their homes.
The Irish Catholics formed their own government, Confederate Ireland, to fight the subsequent wars, negotiating with Charles I, for, among other things, an end to the plantations and a partial reversal of the existing ones. The following ten years saw murderous fighting between the rival ethnic and religious blocks throughout Ireland until the Irish Catholics were finally crushed and the country occupied by the New Model Army in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649 to 1653.
Ulster was worst hit by the wars, with massive loss of civilian life and mass displacement of people. The atrocities committed by both sides further poisoned the relationship between the settler and native communities in the province. Although peace was eventually restored to Ulster, the wounds opened in the plantation and civil war years were very slow to heal and arguably still fester in Northern Ireland today.
In the 1641 Rebellion, the Munster Plantation was temporarily destroyed, just as it had been during the Nine Years War. Munster saw ten years of warfare between the planters and their descendants and the native Irish Catholics. However, the ethnic/religious divisions were less stark in Munster than in Ulster. Some of the earlier English Planters in Munster had been Roman Catholics and their descendants largely sided with the Irish in the 1640s. Conversely, some Irish noblemen who had converted to Protestantism - notably Earl Inchiquin, sided with the settler community.
Cromwellian land confiscation (1652):
The Irish Confederates had pinned their hopes on Royalist victory in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, so that they could cite their loyalty to Charles I and force him into accepting their demands - including toleration for Catholicism, Irish self-government and an end to the Plantation policy. However, Charles' Royalists were defeated in the English Civil War by the Parliamentarians, who committed themselves to re-conquering Ireland and punishing those responsible for the rebellion of 1641. In 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland with the New Model Army and by 1652, the conquest was all but complete. The English Parliament then published punitive terms of surrender for Catholics and Royalists in Ireland that included the mass confiscation of all Catholic owned land.
Cromwell held all Irish Catholics responsible for the rebellion of 1641 and said he would deal with them according to their "respective de-merits"- meaning sanctions varying from execution in worst cases, to partial land confiscation even for those who had taken no part in the wars. The Long Parliament had been committed to mass confiscation of land in Ireland since 1642, when it passed the Adventurers Act, which raised loans secured on the Irish rebels' lands that were to be confiscated. The Act of Settlement 1652 stated that anyone who had held arms against the Parliament would forfeit their lands and that even those who had not would lose three quarters of their lands - being compensated with some other lands in Connacht. In practice, those Protestants who had fought for the Royalists avoided confiscation by paying fines to the Commonwealth regime, but the Irish Catholic land-owning class was utterly destroyed. In some respects, what Cromwell had achieved was the logical conclusion of the plantation process.
The work was aided by the compilation of the Irish Civil Survey of 1654-5. The purpose of the survey was to secure information on the location, type, value and ownership of lands in the year 1641, before the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. In all twenty-seven counties were surveyed and a survey produced for each. The Down Survey of 1655-6 was a measured map survey, organised by Sir William Petty, of the lands confiscated.
Over 12,000 veterans of the New Model Army were given land in Ireland in place of their wages, which the Commonwealth was unable to pay. Many of these sold their land grants to other Protestants rather than settle in war-ravaged Ireland, but 7,500 soldiers did remain in the country. They were required to keep their weapons to act as a reserve militia in case of future rebellions. Taken together with the Merchant Adventurers, probably over 10,000 Parliamentarians settled in Ireland after the civil wars. Most of these were single men however and many of them married Irish women (although banned by law from doing so). Some of the Cromwellian soldiers therefore became integrated into Irish Catholic society. In addition to the Parliamentarians, thousands of Scottish Covenanter soldiers, who had been stationed in Ulster during the war settled there permanently after its end.
Some Parliamentarians had argued that all the Irish should be deported to west of the Shannon and replaced with English settlers. However, this would have required hundreds of thousands of English settlers willing to come to Ireland and such numbers of aspirant settlers just did not exist. Therefore, what actually happened was that a land-owning class of British Protestants was created, ruling over Irish Catholic tenants. A minority of the "Cromwellian" landowners were actually Parliamentarian soldiers or creditors. Most of them were pre-war Protestant settlers, who took the opportunity to attain confiscated lands. Before the wars, Catholics had owned 60% of the land in Ireland. During the Commonwealth period Catholic landownership fell to 8-9% and after some restitution in the Restoration Act of Settlement 1662, it rose to 20% again.
In Ulster, the Cromwellian period eliminated those native landowners who had survived the Ulster plantation. In Munster and Leinster, the mass confiscation of Catholic owned land after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, meant that English Protestants acquired almost all of the land holdings for the first time. In addition, some 12,000 Irish people were sold into slavery under the Commonwealth regime and another 34,000 went into exile, mostly in France or Spain.
Recent research has shown that although the native Irish land-owning class was subordinated in this period, it never totally disappeared, many of its members finding niches for themselves in trade or as chief tenants on their families' ancestral lands.
For the remainder of the 17th century, Irish Catholics tried to get the Cromwellian Act of Settlement reversed. They briefly achieved this under James II during the Williamite war in Ireland, but the Jacobite defeat there led to another round of land confiscations. The 1680s and 90s saw another major wave of settlement in Ireland (though not another plantation). The new settlers were principally composed of Scots, tens of thousands of whom fled a famine in the lowlands and border regions of Scotland to come to Ulster. It was at this point that Protestants and people of Scottish descent (who were mainly Presbyterians) became an absolute majority of the population in Ulster.
Another group established in Ireland at this time were French Huguenots, who had been expelled from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Many of the Frenchmen were former soldiers, who had fought on the Williamite side in the Williamite war in Ireland. This community established themselves mainly in Dublin, where their communal graveyard can still be seen off St Stephen's Green. The numbers of this community may have reached 10,000.
The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in several ways. The first was the destruction of the native ruling classes and their replacement with the Protestant Ascendancy, of British-origin (mostly English) Protestant landowners. Their position was buttressed by the Penal Laws, which denied political and most land-owning rights to Catholics and to some extent to Presbyterians. The dominance of this class in Irish life persisted until the late 18th century, and it voted for the Act of Union with Britain in 1800.
The present day partition of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is largely a result of the settlement patterns of the Plantations of the early 17th century. The descendants of the British Protestant settlers largely favoured a continued link with Britain, whereas the descendants of the native Irish Catholics wanted Irish independence. By 1922, Unionists were in the majority in four of the nine counties of Ulster. Consequently, following the Anglo-Irish settlement of 1921, these four counties - and two others in which they formed a sizeable minority - remained in the United Kingdom to form Northern Ireland. This new state contained a sizable Catholic minority, many of whom claimed to be descendants of those dispossessed in the Plantations. The Troubles in Northern Ireland are therefore in some respects a continuation of the conflict arising from the plantations.
The Plantations also had a major cultural impact. Gaelic Irish culture was sidelined and English replaced Irish as the language of power and business. Although, by 1700, Irish remained the majority language in Ireland, English was the dominant language for use in Parliament, the courts, and trade. In the next two centuries it was to advance westwards across the country until Irish suddenly collapsed after the Great Famine of the 1840s.
Finally, the plantations also radically altered Ireland's ecology and physical appearance. In 1600, most of Ireland was heavily wooded, apart from the bogs. Most of the population lived in small townlands, many migrating seasonally to fresh pastures for their cattle. By 1700, Ireland's native woodland had been decimated, having been intensively exploited by the new settlers for commercial ventures such as shipbuilding. Several native species such as the wolf had been hunted to extinction. Most of the settler population now lived in permanent towns or villages, although the Irish peasantry continued their traditional practices. Moreover, almost all of Ireland was now integrated into a market economy - although many of the poorer classes had no access to money, still paying their rents in kind or in service.