The Plantations

Patrick Weston Joyce

408. In the time of queen Mary, who succeeded Edward VI. in 1553, an entire change was made in the mode of dealing with Irish territories whose chiefs had been subdued. Hitherto whenever the government deposed or banished a troublesome chief, they contented themselves with putting in his place another, commonly English or Anglo-Irish, more likely to be submissive, while the general body of occupiers remained undisturbed. But now when a rebellious chief was reduced, the lands, not merely those in his own possession, but also those occupied by the whole of the people over whom he ruled, were confiscated—seized by the crown—and given to English adventurers, undertakers as they were commonly called. These men got the lands on condition that they should bring in or plant on them a number of English or Scotch settlers; for whom it was of course necessary to clear off the native population.

409. After the banishment of O'Moore and O'Conor in 1548 (368) their districts of Leix and Offaly were given to an Englishman named Francis Bryan and to some others, who proceeded straightway to expel the native people and parcel out the lands to new tenants, chiefly English. But the natives resisted; and the fighting went on during the whole of the reign of Edward VI., with great loss of life to both sides.

410. As this settlement did not succeed, the whole district was made crown property in 1555 and 1556, during the reign of queen Mary, and replanted. But the natives still struggled for their homes; and a pitiless war of mutual extermination went on for many years, till the original owners were almost completely banished or exterminated.

411. After the attainder of Shane O'Neill (386) more than half of Ulster was confiscated; and the attempt to clear off the old natives and plant new settlers was commenced without delay. In 1570 the peninsula of Ardes in Down was granted to the queen's secretary Sir Thomas Smith, who sent his illegitimate son with a colony to take possession. But this plantation was a failure; for the owners, the O'Neills of Clandeboy, not feeling inclined to part with their rights without a struggle, attacked and killed the young undertaker in 1573.

412. The next undertaker was a more important man, Walter Devereux earl of Essex. In 1573 he undertook to plant the district now occupied by the county Antrim, together with the Island of Rathlin.

He waged savage war on the natives, stopping short at no amount of slaughter and devastation—burning their corn and depopulating the country to the best of his ability by sword and starvation. He treacherously seized young O'Donnell of Tirconnell and Brian O'Neill chief of Clandeboy and sent them prisoners to Dublin. And he massacred hundreds of the Scots of Clandeboy and of Rathlin Island to gain possession of their lands. Yet after all this fearful work he failed, and he had to return to Dublin where he died.

413. After the death of the earl of Desmond his vast estates, and those of 140 of his adherents, nearly a million acres, all in Munster, were confiscated by a parliament held in Dublin in 1585.

414. In 1586 proclamation was made all through England, inviting gentlemen to "undertake" the plantation of this great and rich territory. Estates were offered at two pence or three pence an acre, and no rent at all was to be paid for the first five years. Every undertaker who took 12,000 acres was to settle eighty-six English families as tenants on his property, but no Irish; and so in proportion for smaller estates down to 4,000 acres.

Sir Walter Raleigh got 42,000 acres in Cork and Waterford, and resided at Youghal, where his house is still to be seen. Edmund Spenser the poet received 12,000 acres in Cork, and took up his residence in one of Desmond's strongholds, Kilcolman Castle, the ruin of which, near Buttevant, is still an object of interest to visitors.

In the most important particulars, however, this great scheme turned out a failure. The English farmers and artisans did not come over in sufficient numbers; and the undertakers received the native Irish everywhere as tenants, in violation of the conditions. Some English came over indeed; but they were so harassed and frightened by the continual attacks of the dispossessed owners that many of them returned to England. And lastly, more than half the confiscated lands remained in possession of the owners, as no others could be found to take them. So the only result of this plantation was to root out a large proportion of the old gentry and to enrich a few undertakers.

415. There were many other plantations during these times and subsequently, all resembling in their main features those sketched here.