Plantation of Ulster

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER LIII. (continued)

The flight of the earls threw all the hungry adventurers into ecstacies! Now, at least, there would be plunder. The vultures flapped their wings and whetted their beaks. Prey in abundance was about to be flung them by the royal hand. To help still further the schemes of confiscation now being matured in Dublin Castle, Sir Cahir O'Doherty—who had been a queen's man most dutifully so far—was skillfully pushed into a revolt which afforded the necessary pretext for adding the entire peninsula of Innishowen to the area of "plantation." Ulster was now parcelled out into lots, and divided among court favorites and clamoring "undertakers;" the owners and occupiers, the native inhabitants, being as little regarded as the wild grouse on the hills! The guilds, or trade companies of London, got a vast share of plunder; something like one hundred and ten thousand acres of the richest lands of the O'Neills and O'Donnells—lands which the said London companies hold to this day. To encourage and maintain these "plantations," various privileges were conferred upon or offered to the "colonists;" the conditions required of them on the other hand being simply to exclude or kill off the owners, to hunt down the native population as they would any other wild game; and, above all, to banish and keep out "popery." In fine, they and their "heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns," were to garrison the country—to consider themselves a standing army of occupation in the English Protestant interest.

For two hundred years of history we shall find that "colonized" province, and the "colonists" generally, endowed, nursed, petted, protected, privileged—the especial care of the English government—while the hapless native population were, during the same period, proscribed, "dead in law," forbidden to trade, forbidden to educate, forbidden to own property; for each which prohibition, and many besides to a like intent, acts of parliament, with "day and date, word and letter," may be cited.

So great was the excitement created among the needy and greedy of all classes in England by the profuse dispensations of splendid estates, rich, fertile, and almost at their own doors, that the millions of acres in Ulster were soon all gone; and still there were crowds of hungry adventurers yelling for "more, more!" James soon found a way for providing "more." He constituted a roving commission of inquiry into "defective titles," as he was pleased to phrase it—a peripatetic inquisition on the hunt for spoil. The commissioners soon reported three hundred and eighty-five thousand acres in Leinster as "discovered," inasmuch as the "titles" were not such as ought (in their judgment) to stand in the way of his majesty's designs. The working of this commission need scarcely be described. Even the historian, Leland, who would have been its apologist if he could, tells us there were not wanting "proofs of the most iniquitous practices, of hardened cruelty, of vile perjury, and scandalous subornation, employed to despoil the unfortunate proprietor of his inheritance." Old and obsolete claims, we are told, some of them dating as far back as Henry the Second, were revived, and advantage was taken of the most trivial flaws and minute informalities.

In the midst of his plundering and colonizing James died, March 27, 1625, and was succeeded by his son, Charles. Bitterly as the Irish Catholics had been undeceived as to James' friendly dispositions, they gave themselves up more warmly than ever to the belief that the young prince now just come to the throne would afford them justice, tolerance, and protection. And here we have to trace a chapter of cruelest deceit, fraud, and betrayal of a too confiding people. The king and his favorite ministers secretly encouraged these expectations. Charles needed money sorely, and his Irish representative, Lord Faulkland, told the Catholic lords that if they would present to his majesty, as a voluntary subsidy, a good round sum of money, he would grant them certain protections or immunities, called "royal graces" in the records of the time. "The more important were those which provided 'that recusants should be allowed to practice in the courts of law, and to sue out the livery of their lands on taking an oath of civil allegiance in lieu of the oath of supremacy; that the undertakers in the several plantations should have time allowed them to fulfill the condition of their tenures; that the claims of the crown should be limited to the last sixty years; and that the inhabitants of Connaught should be permitted to make a new enrolment of their estates.' The contract was duly ratified by a royal proclamation, in which the concessions were accompanied by a promise that a parliament should be held to confirm them. The first instalment of the money was paid, and the Irish agents returned home, but only to learn that an order had been issued against 'the popish regular clergy,' and that the royal promise was to be evaded in the most shameful manner. When the Catholics pressed for the fulfillment of the compact, the essential formalities for calling an Irish parliament were found to have been omitted by the officials, and thus the matter fell to the ground for the present."[1]

In other words, the Irish Catholics were royally swindled. The miserable Charles pocketed the money, and then pleaded that certain of the "graces" were very "unreasonable." He found that already the mere suspicion of an inclination on his part to arrest the progress of persecution and plunder was arousing and inflaming against him the fanatical Calvinistic section of English Protestantism, while his high-handed assertions of royal prerogative were daily bringing him into more dangerous conflict with his English parliament. To complete the complications surrounding him, the attempts to force Episcopalian Protestantism on the Calvinistic Scots led to open revolt. A Scottish rebel army [2] took the field, demanding that the attempt to extend Episcopacy into Scotland should be given up, and that Calvinistic Presbyterianism should be acknowledged as the established religion of that kingdom. Charles marshaled an army to march against them. The parliament would not vote him supplies—indeed the now dominant party in parliament sympathized with and encouraged the rebels; but Charles, raising money as best he could, proceeded northward. Nevertheless, he appears to have recoiled from the idea of spilling the blood of his countrymen for a consideration of spiritual supremacy. He came to an arrangement with the rebel "Covenanters" granting to them the liberty of conscience—nay, religious supremacy—which they demanded, and even paying their army for a portion of the time it was under service in the rebellion.

All this could not fail to attract the deepest attention of the Irish Catholic nobility and gentry, who found themselves in far worse plight than that which had moved the Calvinistic Scots to successful rebellion. Much less indeed than had been conceded to the rebel Covenanters would satisfy them. They did not demand that the Catholic religion should be set up as the established creed in Ireland; they merely asked that the sword of persecution should not be bared against it; and for themselves they sought nothing beyond protection as good citizens in person and property, and simple equality of civil rights. Wentworth, Charles' representative in Ireland, had been pursuing against them a course of the most scandalous and heartless robbery, pushing on the operations of the commission of inquiry into defective titles. "He commenced the work of plunder with Roscommon, and as a preliminary step, directed the sheriff to select such jurors as might be made amenable, 'in case they should prevaricate;' or, in other words, they might be ruined by enormous fines, if they refused to find a verdict for the king. The jurors were told that the object of the commission was to find 'a clear and undoubted title in the crown to the province of Connaught,' and to make them 'a civil and rich people' by means of a plantation; for which purpose his majesty should, of course, have the lands in his own hands to distribute to fit and proper persons. Under threats which could not be misunderstood, the jury found for the king, whereupon Wentworth commended the foreman, Sir Lucas Dillon, to his majesty, that 'he might be remembered upon the dividing of the lands,' and also obtained a competent reward for the judges.

"Similar means had a like success in Mayo and Sligo; but when it came to the turn of the more wealthy and populous county of Galway, the jury refused to sanction the nefarious robbery by their verdict. Wentworth was furious at this rebuff, and the unhappy jurors were punished without mercy for their 'contumacy.' They were compelled to appear in the castle chamber, where each of them was fined four thousand pounds, and their estates were seized and they themselves imprisoned until these fines should be paid, while the sheriff was fined four thousand pounds, and being unable to pay that sum died in prison. Wentworth proposed to seize the lands, not only of the jurors, but of all the gentry who neglected 'to lay hold on his majesty's grace;' he called for an increase of the army 'until the intended plantation should be settled,' and recommended that the counsel who argued the cases against the king before the commissioners should be silenced until they took the oath of supremacy, which was accordingly done. 'The gentlemen of Connaught,' says Carte ("Life of Ormond," vol. i.), 'labored under a particular hardship on this occasion; for their not having enrolled their patents and surrenders of the 13th Jacobi (which was what alone rendered their titles defective) was not their fault, but the neglect of a clerk intrusted by them. For they had paid near three thousand pounds to the officers in Dublin for the enrolment of these surrenders and patents, which was never made.'"[3]


[1] M'Gee.

[2] Often called "Covenanters," from their demands or articles of confederation in the rebellion being called their "solemn league and covenant."

[3] Haverty.