Ireland has been home to native Irish, Scots and English since the 12 th century.
The native Irish, referred to as “mere Irish” by the English, lived for the most part under the rule of a local chief or noble. The succession for the noble class was not assured a smooth transition so there were numerous struggles and conflicts with associated shifting alliances and no central ruler. A relatively primitive form of agriculture and a semi-nomadic pastoral life following herds of cattle characterized the means of production in late medieval native Ireland with trade becoming more important in the early modern period. The native Irish retained their unique form of Catholicism that permitted divorce, trial marriage and married clergy after the Reformation and from the mid 16 th century on looked to Spain and France for trade, clergy, and military assistance. By the middle of the 16 th century, those local nobles who lived near the ever expanding English settled land, found themselves assigned English captains to serve as seneschals, or sheriffs, living in established strong houses on their property. These English captains were all to often more than willing to goad the Irish nobility into rash action, hoping it would result in more land lost to them as a penalty for rebellion and more gained by the English.
The Old English
The first Anglo-Norman settlements were established on the east coast in the 12 th century and were militarily important to early England in order to control the sea which separated England and Ireland. As time went on, the English involved the Irish in their internal politics and continental adventures, occupying more and more land in an effort to civilize Ireland that did not include assimilation of the native Irish but rather insured their isolation. The English who settled in Ireland were seen as more Irish and less English by those who remained in England. The English Protestant Reformation and the consequent inclination of the English in Ireland to remain Catholics only increased this division. These, then, were known as the “Old English.” They represented a land owning aristocracy that, in the view of some authors, were becoming virtually indistinguishable from the native Irish by the 17 th century. By the mid 16 th century their property rights were under threat. English recognized land titles could only be guaranteed by a system in which part of the land was surrendered to the English Crown. As the 17 th century progressed, particularly after the Gunpowder Plot of 1607 and the subsequent decline of religious freedom, the Old English saw less representation in the Irish Privy Council and Parliament and a subsequent loss in influence over decisions being made about Ireland.
The Antrim Scots
Scottish mercenaries had served Irish nobles for several hundred years before they began to settle in Antrim in the 15 th century. These were the “redshanks” of Clan Donald who were able to retain their lands in northern Antrim after the Lordship of the Western Isles was broken by Scotland in the 16 th century. The Antrim Scots lived with and intermarried with the native Irish, retaining their Catholicism as well as their long standing blood feud with Clan Campbell who had engineered their loss of land and influence in Scotland. By the 17 th century Randall MacDonnel, the Earl of Antrim, was accepting tenants on his land from Scotland, and, to a limited degree England as well.
The importance of religion and its inherent political identity cannot be underestimated in 17 th century society and in this regard Ireland was no different than the rest of Europe. The shared Catholicism of the native Irish, Old English and Antrim Scots created a strong basis for political and military cooperation.
The New English and New Scots
The Munster Plantation
The Desmond rebellion, 1579-83, was seen by many English soldiers and administrators familiar with Ireland as a chance to acquire large tracts of land at the expense of the Irish rebels, even before the rebels were defeated. The Desmond rebellion was also the first time the Papacy and Spain took an active role in supporting the Irish and Old English, making this and all subsequent conflicts, at least in part, religious. Once the rebellion was over, there was a conflict between unpaid officers of the English army and those Old English nobles who had remained loyal to the English, as both sought to take possession of the “escheated,” or confiscated land. The English crown resolved this conflict with the Plantation of Munster. With establishment of the Plantation of Munster, large numbers of English Protestant settlers began arriving at the end of the 16 th century. Many of them were unpaid soldiers who had been discharge from the English army. Those assigned to divide up the land found a shortage of English settlers, so in many areas the Munster Plantation retained Irish inhabitants. The English settlers for the most part fled back to England or were killed in the 9 Years War (1594-1603).
In the early 17 th century,English settlements were established at Carrickfergus and Belfast by Sir Arthur Chichester and elsewhere in Antrim by Sir Fulke Conway, the Clotworthy’s and Langfords. In Down, the Bagenals and Hills established themselves as well.
In 1605 an Irish noble with considerable land holdings in the north of County Down named Con O’Neill was involved in a drunken brawl in which an English soldier was killed. The English Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester, had him thrown in the prison of Castle Carrickfergus for the offense. The wife of Con O’Neil appealed to the Scotsman, Hugh Montgomery, Lord of Braidstane, to get him released. Hugh Montgomery in turn arranged for a relative, Thomas Montgomery, to ingratiate himself to the keeper and garrison of the castle. Thomas also managed to ingratiate himself to the keeper’s daughter, whom he later married. Con was able to escape after being provided with a rope while the garrison was drunk from wine and ale provided by Thomas Montgomery. Hugh Montgomery, later styled Lord Montgomery of the Ards and an influential associate, Sir James Hamilton, later styled Viscount Clanboyne, arranged for a royal pardon for Con O’Neill. The royal pardon and audience with James I cost O’Neill all of his land, which Montgomery and Hamilton used to establish a predominantly Scottish plantation. Those Scots who came to settle on Montgomery’s and Hamilton’s plantations tended to come from the south or lowlands of Scotland and in many cases had a pre-existing relationship either as tenants or family with these two men or their undertakers. Theses settlers brought their Presbyterianism with them and relied primarily on a pastoral economy raising livestock and limited crops.
The Ulster Plantation
With the end of the 9 Years War in 1603, the Earl of Tyrone made his submission to James I and VII. Tyrone’s minimal loss of land as a result of his rebellion was not satisfactory to those English who hoped for a major confiscation to their benefit. Tyrone’s departure with his followers for Spain, described as the “Flight of the Earl’s” in 1607 set the stage for the Plantation of Ulster on the lands subsequently abandoned and confiscated from the absent Tyrone. The land confiscated from Tyrone was augmented by land confiscated from Cahir O’Dogherty following his brief failed uprising in 1607. An interesting footnote to O’Dogherty’s uprising is the deployment of two Scottish companies in June 1607 under Patrick Crawford and William Stewart in order to put down the uprising. These companies were sent by Scotland at the request of England. Both men received land grants and presumably most of their men remained in Ulster.
The establishment of the Ulster plantation in 1610 resulted in large numbers of English and Scots settling in west and central Ulster. Undertakers divided up the land and sold it or rented it to Scots and English settlers. Servitors were given land grants directly as a result of service, as were universities.
The Scottish settlers of the Plantation were concentrated in Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone Counties. The Ulster plantation was a means of removing troublesome Scottish Presbyterian Dissenters and Lowland Scots Rievers from the border marches with England. Population pressures on England were relieved by the establishment and settling of the Plantations as well, although it proved difficult to convince the English to settle in Ireland. Much of the land originally intended for English settlers ended up in the hands of the far more numerous Scots and Irish. The Scots that went to the Ulster plantation also brought their Presbyterianism with them and relied on a pastoral way of life. Despite their numerical superiority and adaptability of the Scots to conditions in Ireland, the vast majority of positions of responsibility and prestige were consistently occupied by Englishmen.
Native Irish who were permitted to live in the Plantation were relatively few in number and subject to paying exorbitant rent to Scots and English landlords. The resentment among the native Irish caused by the plantations was considerable and this resentment was a factor in popular support for the rebellion of 1641. Religious, cultural and social differences as well as a sense of impending persecution from increasingly radicalized Protestants were doubtless contributing factors as well.