The Return of the Nation to its Old Lands, 1660-1689

23. When, after the death of Cromwell, the Stuart dynasty was restored in England, the dispossessed nation confidently expected the restoration of its lands. The new Planters had executed the new King's father, and could scarcely, it was thought, expect his care. At first, indeed, some such scheme of restoration was contemplated, but at the thought the whole English nation was stirred to its depths. Fury and indignation rent the air, and quenched the acclamation with which the royal line had been welcomed back among its people. Therefore, the proposal was diluted till it meant nothing at all. The King stilled the tumult by asserting that he was for "an English interest to be established in Ireland."

The Cromwellian Planters were to retain what they had received. Many of the English who had accompanied the King into exile were also provided with land. And some of the Catholic lords, both those who did and those who did not represent old Irish families, received back the lands, or a part of the lands, they had once held; but this was only done in cases where it was clear that such lords were pledged to stand for the English interest and foreswore their National roots. However the shuffle went, the Irish nation of freemen was excluded. Nevertheless, during this time a remarkable change proceeded, unseen and unrecorded, and that change was to re-create the future. Back from Connacht to the lands they had known and loved, in which their roots were set, and which they owned by ancient possession, the people of the nation steadily and persistently drifted. How it was accomplished, none can tell, since there are no national records of the time: only that it was accomplished by an indomitable resolution and by a love that determined to lay fast hold on the very places where their fathers had aforetime built a free and desirable polity. Whatever the future was to bring, the people were determined they would be in their rightful places to receive it. That determination, and the instinct and love that prompted that determination, are clear; for within two decades from this time their names are found on the very lands on which their forefathers of that name had built their ancient Stateships, despite the efficiency of Cromwell's clearance.

It was almost as possible to locate a man's district by his name in the closing decades of the seventeenth century as it would have been in the fifteenth century. Most of those to whom land had now been granted were not, as before, Planters who themselves farmed the lands they held, but large landowners who lived in England and looked for a rent-paying tenantry. Whereas the men who now returned were willing to pay rents that meant their destitution of everything except the bare right to live on the lands they knew. They, therefore, became a rent-paying tenantry. Only in one part of the country were they unable to win this place. In Ulster the old plantations had been re-established, and the Planters still, for the most part, farmed their own holdings. Therefore, in Ulster the returning nation became tillers of the soil for them, or broke up the hard mountain lands for themselves. Hence in after-years, when the nation rose up as tenants to win back by war the land that it once had owned, Ulster was the only place where a patchwork remained to vary the unbroken re-possession of an ancient and Sovereign Nation.