The First Plantations: Their Cause, Meaning and Effect, 1558-1590

From The Historic Case for Irish Independence by Darrell Figgis

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15. In later years, when this new policy reached its perfect flower, Bacon wrote some very philosophic considerations upon it.

"Plantations are the very Nativities or Birth-days of Kingdoms," said he. "The most part of Unions and Plantations of Kingdoms," he added, "have been founded in the effusion of blood; but your Majesty shall build in Solo puro et in Area pura." The Solus purus et Area pura, however, had first to be made; and they could only be made by obliterating "the race and generation of men, valiant, hard and active," of which he also wrote, in order that covetous-ness might enjoy the "many dowries of Nature" and "Confluence of Commodities," "the fruitfulness of the Soil, the Ports, the Rivers, the Fishings, the Quarries, the Woods, and other materials" that stirred his admiration, the like of which, he said, "it was not easy, no not upon the Continent, to find .... if the Hand of Man did join with the Hand of Nature."

The first places chosen for the experiment lay conveniently near the Pale, Laoghis and O Fáilghe. Their rulers, O'Moore and O'Connor, were pricked into revolt, and an expedition was sent against them. They were taken prisoners, and the land over which they had ruled as executive officers, was held, by a fiction of treason coined in London, to be their real estate and forfeit to the English Crown. The two territories were thereupon called King's County and Queen's County, and were parcelled at fixed rentals among imported adventurers. The people who possessed the land hitherto in free states were driven to the mountains and waste places, where they were to be permitted to live. This was the first Plantation. It was, however, some time before it could effectually establish itself; for the possessors of the land approved the barbarism with which English writers charged the Irish Nation by descending continually upon the Planters, destroying both them and their virtuous homesteads, and rebuilding once again their scattered states. The work had, therefore, to be repeated, and finally the "barbarians" were driven to the other end of the country.

The second Plantation was careful to avoid the faults of the first. In it also the new religious oppression found a voice. For the Fitzgeralds of Desmond were the bulwark of the Catholic faith in the South; and became, therefore, the object of administrative attention. Harassed on all sides, they broke into revolt. The war that ensued lasted many years, and was marked by systematic and deliberate butchery. The land was destined for plantation, and was therefore to be made a waste. The Nativity of a Kingdom had to be heralded; wherefore an Area pura had to be created. Contemporary accounts, and the reports written by the military leaders in charge of the butchery, make almost intolerable reading. Death and devastation were dealt on all hands by a soldiery who, as English State Papers themselves attest, had now grown to delight in their fiendish business of making a quick end of an ancient and sovereign people. And then the land was planted by imported adventurers. The gentle English poet, Edmund Spenser, was one of those adventurers; and he has left an account of what he himself saw of those few who escaped the butchery by flying to the mountains and the bogs:--

"Notwithstanding the same (Province of Munster) was a most rich and plentiful countrey, full of corne and cattle, yet ere one year and a halfe they were brought to such wretchednesse as that any stony hart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glynnes they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legges could not beare them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eate the dead carrions, happy where they could finde them, yea, and one another soon after, insomuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time; that in short space of time there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentifull countrey suddainely left voide of man and beast."

Yet he, too, advised a repetition of the process.

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