Sir Thomas Smith and the Ards Plantation

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVI

Sidney now began to put his plan of local governments into execution; but this arrangement simply multiplied the number of licensed oppressors. Sir Edward Fitton was appointed President of Connaught, and Sir John Perrot, of Munster. Both of these gentlemen distinguished themselves by "strong measures," of which cruelty to the unfortunate natives was the predominant feature. Perrot boasted that he would "hunt the fox out of his hole," and devoted himself to the destruction of the Geraldines. Fitton arrested the Earl of Clanrickarde, and excited a general disturbance. In 1570 the Queen determined to lay claim to the possessions in Ulster, graciously conceded to her by the gentlemen who had been permitted to vote according to her royal pleasure in the so-called Parliament of 1569. She bestowed the district of Ards, in Down, upon her secretary, Sir Thomas Smith. It was described as "divers parts and parcels of her Highness' Earldom of Ulster that lay waste, or else was inhabited with a wicked, barbarous, and uncivil people."

There were, however, two grievous misstatements in this document. Ulster did not belong to her Highness, unless, indeed, the Act of a packed Parliament could be considered legal; and the people who inhabited it were neither "wicked, barbarous, nor uncivil." The tract of country thus unceremoniously bestowed on an English adventurer, was in the possession of Sir Rowland Savage. His first ancestor was one of the most distinguished of the Anglo-Norman settlers who had accompanied De Courcy to Ireland. Thus, although he could not claim the prescriptive right of several thousand years for his possessions, he certainly had the right of possession for several centuries. An attempt had been made about ten years before to drive him out of part of his territory, and he had written a letter to "The Right Hon. the Earl of Sussex, Lieutenant-General of Ireland," asking for "justice," which justice he had not obtained. He was permitted to hold the Southern Ards, because he could not be expelled from it without considerable difficulty, and because it was the least valuable part of his property.