In the last Chapter, we saw how the wars depopulated the northern region of Ireland and made the plantation of Ulster more feasible. Two private individuals of Ayr connived to acquire property and induced Scots, especially from Ayrshire, and most likely included the Hemphills, to colonize the region and plant crops for export.
Ulster harvests in both 1606 and 1607 in Ulster were so plentiful that, as word spread, others “came over the more in number and the faster.” By 1610, they could raise a thousand fighting men in his four parishes, and four years later they raised two thousand. Another private enterprise followed.
The success of these private enterprises was not lost upon the shrewd Stuart King. He began a series of complex maneuvers and intrigues whose upshot was that the two Irish earls fled to the continent never to return to Ireland in what is known as the “Fight of the Earls.” In the following year all the holdings of their clans in six of the nine northern counties were declared escheated to the King.
King James was an eager colonist. In 1606 he had approved the colony named for him at Jamestown in Virginia and now decided upon an ambitious scheme of colonization in Ulster.
If the colony were successful, he would have found a way to settle the constantly nagging Irish problem and so to spare him the expense of maintaining an army in Ireland. It seemed likely that industry might be stimulated in Ulster if the settlers were encouraged to raise sheep and flax; if this should occur, the realm would have increase trade at no expense to the exchequer. The two groups he especially hoped to interest, the London merchant companies and the Scottish lords and lairds, who would not only be grateful for his largesse but would benefit the state by their colonization.
Scottish participation in the Plantation, which does not seem originally to have been regarded as important by James advisors, eventually became the mainstay of the enterprise. The King, “out of his unspeikable love and tindir affectioun” for his Scottish subjects was making land available to the Scots who would have great advantage, since they “lye so near to that coiste of Ulster” that they could easily transport their “men and bestiall.” Fifty-five men were selected from seventy-seven applicants to be granted 81,000 acres in Ulster. Five of the fifty-nine were noblemen and the rest were gentry, trusting that their feudal power would enable them to bring with them sizable bodies of colonists. James knew the poverty of Scotland, the adventurous nature of the Scots, and the appeal of a good bargain. He knew that the hardness of Scottish life would induce more colonists to leave their country than would go from England, whose gentry and farmers were more established and who would have to make longer journey.
News from Ulster was generally good in the early days, but there were a few complaints made to the King: many of the landlords were absent, who left affairs to agents who were dishonest; a number of men who received grants, after visiting their lands, returned home and were now trying to sell them; the quality of the settlers—especially of those from Scotland—was regarded as poor; and the prospects of establishing an effective garrison against possible Irish uprisings were slight.
Twelve London Companies who had shared in the Plantation were given most of the county in Coleraine in the north. After a parish from county Tyrone had been added to it, the Londoners changed the name from Derry to Londonderry, and it still nettles the Irish. The settlers whom the Companies brought to Ulster were mostly Londoners of the Puritan persuasion. Since many of them found the climate and the trials of farming not to their liking, they returned to London. Their place was taken chiefly by Scots and, despite its illegality, by Irish tenants. Scottish influence soon became predominant here as in other counties.
Despite occasion setbacks, including massacres and war, the Plantation gradually grew strong and proved to be a success. If one cause more than any other can be singled out for its success, it would be the presence, the persistence, and the industry of the Scots. The Scottish source of supply of manpower made possible constant replenishment because of the nearness of Scotland to Ulster; the Scots came in numbers large enough form neighborhoods; they were generally industrious, for all their backwardness in methods; and they clearly felt the prospects in Ulster better than the ones they had float-left in the Lowlands.
A hoary institution of Scotland quietly disappeared from the scene in the colonization of Ulster: feudalism was not transplanted to northern Ireland. This mark of the Middle Ages was to linger in Scotland itself for another century. From now on Ulstermen, like their Scotch-Irish descendants, would feel a new freedom to strike their own bargains, a man deciding his future for himself. The passage to Ulster was a stride toward individualism.
Despite the Ulster-English’s two great advantages over Ulster-Scots: coming from a more civilized country and agricultural methods far in advance of those of Scotland, their move to Ulster was decline in living standards compared to the Scots, whose living standards hadn’t much changed. They only had more to gain by success.
Now any Scot who had the inclination might take the short journey across to Ulster and there, on easy terms, acquire a holding of land reputed to be far more fertile and productive than any he was likely to know in his own country. More than this, he would be encouraged in his enterprise: the native Irish were driven back into the hills or expelled altogether, and there would be the protection of the English army, with a promise of peace and law.
Economic distress in the Lowlands and economic opportunity in Ulster were the predominant causes for migration during the first fifty years after the plantation scheme had begun in 1610. Thereafter, for the next thirty years, religious difficulties provided the chief incentive.
The reformed Kirk of Scotland led a tempestuous life for more than a hundred years after its establishment, never more than after Scottish kings sat on the English throne. The son of Mary Queen of Scots (who fled Scotland in 1567) was James VI. A mere child upon his succession, he was trained by Protestant tutors and showed himself precocious, shrewd, and wily. While he was for Scotland as a Protestant country, he also saw it as a danger, with its authority and free speech, to the monarchy. His attempt to tame the power of the Kirk set him on a collision course with powerful Presbyterian theologians. He tried to bring Presbyterians more in line with the English Anglican Church but met with stiff resistance. In this regard, he was stalemated until his death in 1625. Charles I inherited the crown and continued his father’s work. However, his work was seen as trying to revive Catholicism and set off an explosion in Edinburgh when a parishioner threw her stool at the head of the Dean conducting the service, shouting as she did, “Traitor, dost thou say Mass at my lug [ear]?” Convinced that the Reformation was being undone the people overthrew the episcopacy in 1638 which James had instituted.
The Scottish ministers, after negotiating with the Puritan leaders in England, pledged themselves to mutual defense against all enemies, to root our papery and maintain the privileges and rights of Parliament to meet with the King. Despite Charles acquiesce, civil war broke out in England. Charles was beheaded by the Puritan and parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell. The Scots did not support this action and Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1650. The Scots saw venerated leaders of the Kirk driven from their places of meeting by English soldiers and led like criminals through the streets of Edinburgh. After Cromwell’s death, the crown was restored to Charles II in 1660 but Charles set out to bring the Presbyterian Scots to heel.
There followed now in Scotland the “killing time,” the Scottish Covenanters fought a guerrilla warfare against Charles men. Hiding in the hills and in secluded valleys, Charles soldiers were sent to hunt them down, killing many in the moors; hundreds were cast into prison, tortured, hanged and transported to the Americas to work in the fields of the tobacco plantations.
While this religious turmoil was raging bitterly in Scotland, there was comparative freedom of worship in nearby Ulster. It is a small wonder that a new wave of migration began. The coming of thousands of Covenanters, as well as their neighbors who wanted to be out of the way of the violence, strengthened the Scottish element in Ulster. Presbyterians after the middle of the 17th century were dominant in six of the nine counties of Ulster and far outnumbered the Anglicans.
The Bloodless Revolution of 1689, which brought William of Orange to the throne, promised the Scots freedom in religious matters, and the promise was kept. The Presbyterian Church, without bishops, was now once more the Established Kirk of Scotland. In 1707 the Act of Union brought Scotland and England together in the United Kingdom, with the result of an immediate and vast improvement in the economic condition of the Scottish Lowlands. The two main causes for migration to Ulster were thereby, in less than two decades, removed. The push and pull of the Scots toward Ireland practically ceased when Stuarts no longer sat on the throne.
The greatest uncertainty of life for the newcomers was, and remained for many years, the native Irish who had been driven from their lands to make the Plantation possible. The expression, “One hand on the plough and the other on the sword,” was used often. The Lord Deputy of Ireland had from the start tried to persuade the King to deal generously with the natives, to return much of the land to Irish gentry as landlords and to permit the peasants to remain as tenants. Only thus could the colonists avoid constant violence with the bitter exiles, he felt. King James, however, replied that he was engaged in a fight to eliminate barbarism within his dominions. The utmost concession he would make was to give niggardly grants to several of the Irish gentry and to allow servitors and Irish landlords to employ Irish tenants.
The settlers themselves undermined James’s intentions. They needed workers, and the Irish were on hand, cheap. The Lord Deputy reported that the settlers were trying to get licenses to have the natives remain as subtenants, “which is so pleasing to the people that they will strain themselves to the uttermost to gratify them, for they are content to become tenants to any man rather than be removed from the place of their birth,” rather looking for the first opportunity to cut their landlords’ throats.
Few settlers, if they perceived at all the rancor in the hearts of the Irish, seemed to regard it as nothing more than one of the hazards of life to be guarded against. Their attitude seems to be akin to the pioneer on the American frontier: the rich lands are in better hands now, moreover the authorities have gone through the proper legal forms, and the pioneers now own the land.
The natives who had received no land at all had to retire to the mountains or woods. They became known as "widcairns,” or wood-kerns (a “kern” originally meant a light-armed soldier), and they were feared and hated by all the settlers. Wood-kerns often operated in bands, un the leadership of fiery spirits among the youthful gentry and former nobility of Ireland, whose resentments and bravado mad them Robin Hoods to their followers. They lived by plunder, since they now had no lands of their own. The government offered large sums for their heads and the colonists were ferocious in dealing with them.
Another constant danger to the settlers was wolves. Much of northern Ireland was heavily wooded, so that pastures near the forests were never safe. The ravages of wolves were so great in mid-century that Cromwell’s government in 1652 offered a bounty of £6, then an enormous sum, for the head of every she-wolf. Payments continued until 1710, and wolves were not finally eliminated in Ireland until 1770.
The first task of each settler was to build a shelter of some kind. Most early houses were rude, rush-thatched huts, built as near the landlord’s bawn as possible. As soon as the pioneer had proved to himself that it was worth his while to stay, he improved his house. By 1619, a count of 1,897 “Dwelling Houses of Stone and Timber, after the English manner . . . besides very many such Houses in several parts which I saw not.” For reasons of defense and protection as well as from tradition, the houses of the farmers were together in a village, while the farmer’s lands were divided into strips, as had been customary in Scotland.
Two discoveries made by the Scots greatly assisted their enterprise and made farming in Ulster much more satisfactory than it had been in Scotland. First they learned from the more advanced English tenants the art of draining bogs and swamps; and second, they now planted the potato, which had recently been introduced from America, which gave them a new and healthy staple of diet, one that was soon to become so indispensable not only in Ulster but throughout the whole country that it acquired the name of the “Irish” potato.
Sheep flourished on the Ulster meadows. From the beginning of the plantation the settlers made woolen cloth, which was easy to convey over the poor roads to seaport towns and which found a ready market abroad. Most of the ready money of the colonists came from the export of cloth.
Just as the Scots had shown themselves eager for spiritual guidance after the Reformation, so did the transplanted Scots in Ulster. Ministers found that the people had an extraordinary fondness for sermons and instruction, coming several miles from their own houses to communion, to the Saturday sermon, and spending the whole Saturday’s night in several companies, sometimes a minister being with them, and sometimes themselves alone in conference and prayer. Ulster thus early received a puritanical and Presbyterian character. Ulster proved a haven for ministers from both England and Scotland who desired to escape the episcopacy being promoted in England and Scotland by Kings James and Charles.
Despite a relative stability after the first two decades, from 1634 onward to 1690, life for the colonists was to consist of a series of crises, some of them so prolonged and severe that the very existence of the Scottish settlements was threatened. The trouble had two causes: religious exactions from England and native uprisings. It might be said that both had their roots in religious differences and that both were phases of the wars of religion that were desolating many countries in Western Europe during the 17th century.
Thomas Wentworth was made Lord Deputy of Ireland. He was an able man, personally unselfish and honest, and intent upon giving Ireland stability and prosperity; he was also imperious in his certainty and was determined to punish anyone, Catholic or Protestant, Irish or English or Scottish alike, who opposed his policies. It was characteristic of him that, in order to protect English manufacturers, he prohibited the making of woolen cloth in Ireland; yet, recognizing the economic distress this measure caused the people of Ulster, he spent his own money to import flax seed from Holland, to build mills, and bring over skilled workmen from the Low Countries. The linen industry he thus began was to become immensely successful as a source of real prosperity to Ulster.
Since the Anglican Church was now the Established Church of Ireland, one major policy goal of Wentworth was the religious conformity of all of Ireland. In Ulster, the Scots were required to swear to obey the King’s royal commands and to declare their disapproval of the recent Scottish rebellion against the King’s episcopal ordinances. All who refused to take this “Black Oath” were severely punished. This resulted in a considerable exodus of Scots whose consciences would not allow them to subscribe to it: they went back to the mother country where the “rebellion” of the Covenant of 1638 had successfully re-established Presbyterian practice.
While Ulster flourished economically under Wentworth, it became victim to the law of unintended consequences when he mobilized an army of nine thousand mostly Catholic Irish to aid the king in his planned invasion of Scotland to punish those who had rebelled against his episcopal ordinances. Before the army could embark for Scotland, Wentworth was recalled by Charles to England to support him in the great contest that was beginning between himself and Parliament.
The Irish Army was disbanded, but it shortly reassembled itself for a dire purpose, the extermination of the colonists. The Rebellion of 1641 was the mightiest effort by the natives to drive out the aliens. The Irish rankled for a generation that in the Plantation all the best lands had gone to the intruders. And now their prosperity rankled them even more. There were rumors that a Scottish army was about to descend upon Ireland and destroy Catholicism in that country. Puritans in the English Parliament were said to have boasted that neither a single priest nor single Catholic would be left in Ireland.
The opportune moment for an Irish blow seemed to have arrived. The King was thoroughly embroiled with his own Parliament, the Scots had proved a rebellion could be successful and the nine-thousand troops assembled would make the nucleus of a formidable army.
The rebellion began in October 1641. It had been prepared so cautiously that the settlers were unready to meet it. Those in the central parts of Ulster were driven from their homes and their property seized. At the beginning the rebel’s objective seemed to be plunder and recovery of the land, but soon the war became as vicious and as cruel (on both sides) as other wars of this cruel century. Englishmen were the worst sufferers, not only because the Irish held them responsible for their worst miseries but also because their settlements lay in regions first attacked. By the time the Scottish farms were reached, defenses had been prepared.
Fighting lasted for eleven years. England itself was too involved with her own civil ear to pay attention to events in Ireland. It is impossible to estimate even the approximate number of deaths resulting from the uprising, for the guesses run from 8,000 to 200,000. The soberest figure seems to be about 15,000, of whom a third lost their lives in the fighting and the rest died of privations. It is probable that about a seventh of the total population of colonists in Ulster had died.
The Scots were in an anomalous position throughout the insurrection. There was no doubt that they would fight against the Irish, even though these natives had shown themselves less hostile to Scots than to English. But the English themselves were now divided between Royalists and Parliamentarians, and the Scots found themselves unenthusiastic about either side. In Wentworth’s time they had sided with the Puritans and had thus become the focus of Royalist hostility; but when the English Parliament ejected Presbyterians from the House of Commons, Ulster Scots turned against Parliament.
Cromwell himself crossed to Ireland in 1650, and in one dreadful campaign crushed the opposition of Catholic and Presbyterian alike, ending the rebellion and establishing the rule in Ireland of the English Parliament. What Cromwell did deserves to be ranked with the horrors of Genghis Khan. His “pacification” of Ireland was so thorough that it left scars on that country which have never been forgotten or forgiven.
At first Cromwell’s government pressed hardly on Ulster Presbyterians, and many of the settlers were scheduled for transportation (meaning sent to the American colonies as forced labor). Cromwell relented, however. His orders for transportation were not carried out. To the surprise of the Presbyterians, government allowances were made to their ministers. Under Cromwell’s stern rule the North of Ireland seems to have recovered steadily from the terrible blow of the rebellion. The Lord Protector tolerated no squabbles between Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Peace had come by superior force.
During the years from 1660 to the end of the century the British element in Ulster rapidly increased. Foremost in numbers were the Scots who came over to escape the ‘Tailing times” of the Covenanting troubles. Whether themselves mostly actual Covenanters or rather those who desired to escape these violent religionists, the fact is that the southwestern counties of Scotland, nearest Ulster, were in disturbance while Ulster had peace and toleration.
Prosperity such as no part of Ireland had ever known was maintained through most of Charles II’s reign. Cromwell had long since relaxed the restrictions on woolen manufactures, and these now grew to such proportions that Irish woolens acquired a good name throughout Europe. I should note here that my sister, Gail, brought me a cable knit fisherman’s sweater from Ireland in the late 60’s.
The bounties Wentworth had given in 1630’s to encourage the cultivation of flax and the manufacture of linen were beginning to pay large dividends in both manufacture and trade. Economic setbacks occurred at times. In 1663 the English Parliament, with its large representation of country squires, grew so jealous of Ulster’s trade that it forbade Irish ships to carry goods to any part of His Majesty’s dominions. One of the most fortunate occurrences for Ulster was an influx of French Huguenots when France revoked the Edict of Nantes, which for many years had assured them religious liberty. Their thrift and industry were beneficial, but their contribution was an improvement of the methods of manufacturing linen, for which the colony was already noted.
Then the three-year reign of James II (1685-88) and its immediate aftermath brought some of their hardest times to the Scottish colonists. James, an avowed Roman Catholic, appointed his brother-in-law, another Catholic, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Tyrconnel, an ardent Irish Catholic, General of the Forces on the island. Englishmen were turned out of the army, Protestant regiments were disbanded, and Roman Catholic Irishmen took their place. It was openly stated that Tyrconnel’s purpose was to drive all English and Scottish colonists out of Ireland, to destroy Protestantism in the country, and to restore the old faith. In alarm, hundreds of families left Ulster.
If James hatred of Protestantism showed itself in Ulster, it was even more evident in Scotland. His severe measures in the Lowlands no doubt played their part in stimulating a renewed migration to Ulster during the succeeding years and benign reign of William of Orange,
An imposing Dutch army disembarked at Brixham in the south-west of England and, when a few days later Louis XIV ordered the invasion of Holland, the German princes rallied to its defense. After fatal vacillation King James fled to France just before Christmas of 1688 and the following February William and his wife Mary, James eldest daughter, were proclaimed joint sovereigns of England, Scotland and Ireland. This bloodless revolution gave the English parliament new constitutional powers, but members were not stirred into action until news came in March that James had arrived in Ireland with a formidable French army. ‘If Ireland be lost,’ one MP observed, ‘England will follow’, and another declared: “Tis more than an Irish war, I think “tis a French war.”
Protestants feared another uprising like that of 1641, for news had got about that a general massacre was planned for the night of December 9. The citizens of Londonderry, Enniskillen, and Coleraine (Andrew1 Hemphill’s home), all in the northernmost parts of Ulster, closed their gates to government troops and prepared for defense.
Tyrconnel thereupon declared the northern Protestants rebels and sent an army to deal with them. Colonists in the line of march of the army pulled down their houses, burnt and destroyed what they could not take with them, and fled to fortified towns. When James reached Dublin in March 1689, Tyrconnel assured him that all Ireland was his except for the small corner in the north, which he felt could not hold out for many days against his army.
James’s French army now marched northward to subdue these revolting towns. Londonderry County was truly desolate. One of the French officers said, “This is like traveling through the deserts of Arabia.” Another said that in a journey of forty miles ‘only three miserable cabins” were float-left standing: “everything else was rock, bog, or moor.” The siege of Londonderry began on April 18 and, to the amazement of the attacking army, the town held out for 105 days. The endurance of the people of that city and the ingenuity of the untrained soldiers of Enniskillen, who constantly harassed the attackers, gave the lie to Tyrconnel’s confident assertion of his army’s power. Londonderry was relieved at the final moment by the arrival of supply ships, and the Enniskillen men gave a resounding defeat to the Catholic forces.
Shortly after James’s repulse in Ulster, William of Orange’s army landed with ten thousand seasoned troops in Ulster. Marching south, he met James’s army at the Boyne river. There on June 30 and July 1. 1690, the decisive battle was fought. William was completely victorious, James fled once more to France, and the “Glorious Revolution,”—which the English called “Bloodless,” but was far from having been so for the Ulstermen—put William and Mary on the throne of England. This victory is still celebrated with Orange parades in Northern Ireland and Canada.
William was truly a Protestant prince, and he granted them complete freedom of worship. The era of religious wars was now nearing its end, and it may be said that William’s actions marked the triumph of the first of the democratic liberties, freedom of religion. Not only had peace come to Ulster, but such a promise of civil security as it had never known.
William did what he could to limit the scope of land confiscations, but if the Glorious Revolution meant anything, it meant that the monarch had to bow to the wishes of parliament.
During the last decade of the seventeenth century Ulster received one final wave of immigration from Scotland, of men attracted by the offer of farms that had been laid waste during the trouble under James II. This newest accession to the population was a valuable one, estimated at fifty thousand Scots. These latest arrivals were among the most substantial of the colonists, as far as property was concerned, that had received from Scotland. When the king’s grants to his favorites had been firmly revoked at Westminster and all Jacobite claims had been met or denied, nearly half a million acres were available for sale. By then the bottom had dropped out of the market for land which had been won with so much blood, especially as only Protestants could buy. Half the land was bought at a knockdown price by a consortium of London merchants calling themselves the ‘Company for Making Hollow Sword Blades in England’. The merchants sold out six years later and, indeed, many estates changed hands. William Conolly2 was one of those with ready cash and a good business head who made a fortune from land jobbing; the son of a native Irish innkeeper in Ballyshannon, he became a Protestant and ultimately the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the richest man in Ireland.
The first half of the eighteenth century were hard years of the settlers of Ulster. Cattle disease and harvest failure caused great distress. ‘Dismal marks of hunger and want’ were on the faces of the people. When a coach horse was accidently killed, some fifty people fell on the carcass, hacking off pieces with choppers and axes to take home to their families. Oatmeal (which is the bread of the north) sold for twice or thrice the usual price. Whole families went abroad to beg as their neighbors had nothing to relieve them with. This scarcity of 1726-7 was followed by a severe famine in 1728-9. Then at the end of 1739 a sharp frost set in and lasted for seven weeks, potatoes in store and in clumps in the soil were destroyed; cattle died; water-powered cornmills could not operate. Shortage of seed and further bad weather led to a terrible famine in 1741. The roads were spread with dead and dying bodies; people fed on nettles; wagons filled with two or three, sometimes more, were taking the dead to the graveyard for want of bearers to carry them; and many were buried only in the fields and ditches where they perished.