The Planters of Ulster

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

« Previous page | Start of chapter | Contents | Next page »

CHAPTER I....continued

The great bulk of the Protestant population, whether Episcopalian or Presbyterian, felt, however, no sympathy either with the opinions or the objects of their Irish fellow-countrymen. Most of them were the descendants of English and Scottish colonists, who, since the beginning of the century, had been in the habit of coming over the channel to reside in Ireland. The design of the English Government in the Plantation of Ulster was to introduce the arts of peaceful life among a people rent hitherto with feuds and factions, and among whom the growth of civilization had been constantly checked by repeated outbursts of rebellion and civil war; but the colonists themselves came to settle in the country with no higher philanthropic or political motive than Irish emigrants now go to reside in the prairies of America, or in the deserts of Australia, or in the manufacturing towns of England and Scotland —simply to improve their means of life. The first colonists found Ulster covered with bogs, and swamps, and forests; its hovels tenanted by a thin and wretchedly poor population; its fortresses garrisoned by English soldiers; the land everywhere lying waste; no town greater than a village; no agriculture, no manufacture, no trade—the desolations of war superadded to the rude wildness of primeval nature.

Some of the settlers were civil or military servants of the Crown, who had obtained from the King a grant of waste land on condition that they would build, and plant, and reside upon it; others were Court favourites, who had influence enough to procure for themselves some vast tract of forest and moor which they designed to make the family estate; others were men of knowledge and piety, who were simply seeking for some quiet spot where, under British rule, they might have leave to worship God in their own way; others were farmers and labourers who hoped to support themselves by honest toil; others were artizans who sought a field whereon to ply some humble trade; others were of no profession in particular, but only anxious to obtain the means of life on as easy terms as possible, and had been drawn to Ireland by the fact that there, as in every newly-settled country, the object of their search could be secured with more facility than elsewhere. Some of them waited on the services of the Protestant Episcopal Church, which Government had lately imported out of England, and had raised to the position of the Ecclesiastical Establishment of Ireland; others of them, being English Puritans or Scottish Presbyterians, preferred forms of worship which, as they supposed, were of a more scriptural and simple nature, and to which, at all events, they had grown accustomed.

The period of the Commonwealth had done much to strengthen the Presbyterian element in Ireland, which at the time of the Revolution constituted the larger part of the Protestant population of Ulster. All parts of that population, whether Episcopal or Presbyterian, were devotedly attached to British rule and to the Protestant religion. Some of them were old enough to remember, and all of them had heard of, the massacre of 1641, when Sir Phelim Roe O'Neill and his followers had made a bold endeavour to exterminate the whole Protestant inhabitants, without regard to age or sex, and they had learned, in consequence, to regard the native Irish with a suspicion and dislike amounting to little short of the feeling that civilized men everywhere entertain for the most bloodthirsty barbarians. Individual Irishmen, no doubt, were well known to be men of honesty and truth; but to the Protestants of 1688 it seemed that a people who, as a general rule, did not act on their own brave and noble instincts of what is right and true, but were content to look at everything through the eyes of another, and to surrender themselves to the will of the priest, were not to be trusted; and that neither religion, nor liberty, nor property, nor life itself, would be safe, should the Roman Catholic Irish, with the feelings that they then cherished, ever succeed in getting the legislative and executive power of the country into their hands.

It was not difficult, therefore, to foresee what side the Protestants of Ulster would be likely to take should the struggle between James II. and his son-in-law, the Prince of Orange, ever reach a crisis. In opposing the King, they considered that they were fighting for religion and liberty, for property and life; all of which would be seriously imperilled if James should be the victor. This persuasion made the Protestants much more hearty in favour of the Prince, than the Roman Catholics were in favour of the King.

When King James in his exile, encouraged by Louis XIV. of France, determined to make one great struggle to regain his crown, Ireland was naturally chosen as the place where the trial should be made. There Tyrconnel, one of his creatures, was in the position of supreme governor; the majority of the population was on his side; the army, the bench, the whole machinery of Government, were now, through the unscrupulous action of the Executive, in the hands of those whom, from community of faith, he was able to trust. Those on the other side, though possessing most of the intelligence and property in the country, were numerically inferior,[10] and might, he supposed, be easily borne down. Ireland once his own, a descent on Scotland was practicable, and Dundee, at the head of the Highland clans, might press forward into England before the new Government would have time to make itself secure.[11]

« Previous page | Start of chapter | Contents | Next page »


[10] Lord Macaulay, Hist., ch. vi., estimates that in 1688 the Roman Catholics of Ireland amounted to 1,000,000, and the Protestants to 200,000.

[11] "In the meantime there is 5000 ordered forthwith for Scotland to keep the Highlanders, and others the king's friends there, from fainting till more can be sent them. We conclude we can spare a formidable army of horse and foot for England, and the like for Scotland; who, with greater supplies we expect at the same time to land in England from France, and the king's friends yet in England, who want only our presence to join with us, will, with loss of as little blood as he lost them, recover those his kingdoms, again."—Letter of a Lieutenant in King James's Army, dated May 7th, 1689, in Ireland's Lamentation, p. 35.

The design was to land ten thousand men at Troon, on the coast of Ayrshire, march on Glasgow, form a junction with the Highlanders and seize Stirling.—Avaux's Memorandum, dated May 16/6th, 1689, and given to James. See Negociations, p. 151.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.