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     Tudor settlement
     Flight of the earls
     The plantation of Ireland
     Ireland and the Commonwealth
     James II and Tyrconnell
     James II in Ireland

18th century
19th century
To 1922

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Tudor settlement: 1494-1601

A significant attempt to establish English control in Ireland is made by Henry VII in 1494. He dismisses the earl of Kildare from his post as lord deputy, and sends Sir Edward Poynings in his place with a full contingent of English administrators.

Poynings summons a parliament at Drogheda in December 1494. This passes much legislation to assert English supremacy, including even the reenactment of a statute of 1366 forbidding marriage between English colonists and the Irish. But its two most significant measures relate to the Irish parliament.


These acts, subsequently known as the Statutes of Drogheda (or more informally as Poyning's Law), remain in force until 1782. For nearly three centuries they limit any form of Irish independence.

The first decree states that no Irish parliament may be summoned without prior notice to the privy council in England, and that no legislation passed by an Irish parliament is valid unless submitted to the privy council. The second declares that all laws passsed by parliament in England apply also to Ireland. The extent to which these statutes have any meaning depends on the size of the very variable pale around Dublin. But they are securely in place.


The attempt to impose English authority more firmly on Ireland is given new impetus by Henry VIII in the 1530s. After he has declared himself head of the church in England, with the Act of Supremacy of 1534, it is natural to take the same step in Ireland - particularly as the English king is as yet known only as the 'lord' of Ireland, implying that the supposed grant of the island to Henry II by the pope makes him in a sense the vassal of Rome.

Both anomalies are amended. The Irish parliament passes an Act of Supremacy in 1536, following it with another measure in 1541 recognizing Henry as king of Ireland.


The Tudor intention is also to transform the Irish chieftains into hereditary peers on the English system, with a right to sit in the parliament in Dublin. An early example is the granting of the earldom of Tyrone, in 1542, to Conn O'Neill. But the precariousness of any such settlement is revealed when Conn's son, Shane, leads an armed rebellion early in the reign of Elizabeth I.

The last years of Elizabeth's reign are troubled by the far more serious uprising, between 1594 and 1603, of Conn O'Neill's great-grandson Hugh in alliance with other chieftains of Ulster. Hugh's main ally in the rebellion is the chief of the O'Donnells.


Flight of the earls: 1607

The rebellion of O'Neill and O'Donnell collapses in 1603, but they are allowed to keep their hereditary lands in Ulster. O'Donnell is even created earl of Tyrconnell, to match O'Neill's earldom of Tyrone. But the two Celtic and Catholic earls find life intolerable in an Ireland organized along Anglo-Saxon and Protestant lines. Their ancient lands are divided now into counties, and are garrisoned by English troops.

Tyrconnell engages in secret negotiations with Spain, of which word reaches the English court in 1607. Shortly afterwards Tyrconnell and Tyrone surprise everyone by secretly embarking on a ship, with their families and other clan leaders, and sailing to France.


This event, subsequently known as the flight of the earls, is a disaster for Ulster. The English, legitimately accusing the earls of treason, declare their massive territories in northern Ireland to be forfeit. They amount to the six counties then known as Donegal, Coleraine, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and Cavan.

Ulster, until this time the most Catholic and Celtic region of Ireland, begins now to be transformed into a Protestant stronghold as the English set about the process of plantation. It is not their first attempt at this form of settlement in Ireland, nor will it be the last. But it proves the most lasting in its effect.


The plantation of Ireland: 1586-1641

Plantation in its modern sense means transforming a natural landscape by the planting of trees. In the 16th and 17th century it is also used of transforming a political landscape. In this sense it is settlers who are planted, in a deliberate act of colonization.

The Anglo-Norman settlement of Ireland, in the 12th century, follows the medieval pattern of conquest followed by the grant of feudal territories. The Tudor approach, by contrast, relates to new forms of centralized government. Bureaucrats now work out systems for planting settlers, down to the smallest detail.


The first major opportunity for plantation occurs in 1583, after the failure of a rebellion led by the earl of Desmond. The forfeiture of his lands, and those of his followers, puts about half a million acres of fertile land in Munster at the disposal of the English government. Moreover it is relatively unoccupied, because so many peasants have died of famine in the disturbances.

By 1586 the details are in place. Parcels of land are offered for rent to English gentlemen (referred to as 'undertakers'), who are given precise instructions as to the number and size of farms into which their property is to be divided for subletting. All tenants are to be English by birth.


There are many distinguished English gentlemen among those to whom land is granted (among them Walter Raleigh), but the tenants have barely settled on their farms in Munster before they abandon them, in 1595, in the face of the next Irish uprising. Led by the earl of Tyrone, this rebellion leads eventually to his departure from Ireland in 1607, in the flight of the earls. Almost the whole of Ulster now becomes forfeit to the English government.

The details for the plantation are again very precisely worked out. This time there is an inverse balance between political reliablity and rent paid.


Some farms are to be occupied by English or Scottish settlers who accept on oath the supremacy of the English king; others are offered only to people of English or Scottish birth, but may be sublet to the Irish; a third class of farm is for Irish only. The annual rents for the three groups are in the ratio 1, 1.5 and 2.

The properties are taken up less enthusiastically than the government hopes, so the entire county of Coleraine is offered to the city of London at a discount. The main town, Derry, becomes Londonderry.


Gradually, during the following years, religious unrest in Scotland brings Scottish settlers and their Presbyterian ministers over the Irish Sea. Ulster acquires a mixed population very different from the rest of Ireland.

Even so there is enough Catholic resistance in Ulster for another rebellion to break out in 1641. This is a time when the tension between Charles I and parliament is approaching crisis in England. The Irish rebellion becomes entangled in the wider struggle. It ends with yet another attempt at plantation, even more schematic than its predecessors.


Ireland and the Commonwealth: 1649-1660

In response to the Irish rebellion of 1641, parliament in London passes early in 1642 a preposterous bill. It declares that at least 2.5 million acres of Irish land will be forfeited because of the actions of the rebels. On this assumption the bill proposes to raise 1 million to send an army to Ireland, the loan to be repaid later with the acres.

During the next seven years the military situation in Ireland is immensely complex. The Catholic rebels, and troops sent in their support by the pope, are at first opposed to the government of the Protestant English king. Later, choosing the lesser of two evils, they find themselves supporting the royalist cause of Charles I against the more radically Protestant parliament.


The upshot is that by the time of the execution of Charles I, in 1649, Ireland is the stronghold of royalist resistance. Parliament, recognizing this region as the prime source of danger, sends its best man to bring the situation under control. Oliver Cromwell arrives in Dublin in August 1649 as lord lieutenant and commander in chief.

An important body of royalist troops is sheltering in the fortified town of Drogheda. Cromwell takes the town in September, killing the entire garrison together with selected civilians and any priests he can find - a total of about 2800 people. Wexford suffers a similarly violent fate a month later.


With these examples in mind, several towns surrender without resistance. But others hold out. When Cromwell leaves Ireland in May 1650 (recalled to meet a new danger in Scotland), the parliamentary cause is still far from secure in Ireland. Cromwell entrusts the campaign to his son-in-law, Henry Ireton.

It is a further two years before the whole of Ireland is under control, but by 1653 the situation is calm enough for the next attempt at plantation to begin. The proposed method has an air of megalomaniac fantasy. It begins with the assumption that any Irish who have not helped the parliamentary cause are by definition guilty and should lose their property, if not their life.


A judicial process is established to identify the guilty, distinguishing them from a body of people who can be called the innocent Irish. The innocent are to be allotted land in one quarter of the island - the western province of Connaught. The rest of Ireland is to be an exclusively English zone. Land within it will be distributed to the parliamentary army, in payment for their services, and to other 'adventurers' who have contributed funds under the terms of the act of 1642.

During 1654 and 1655 much effort is expended in trying to force the innocent Irish to move into Connaught, with deportation to Barbados and even hanging used in some cases as a punishment for refusal.


Relatively few Irish move to Connaught, but land is nevertheless appropriated elsewhere throughout Ireland and given to parliamentarians. By 1658 all the claims of both soldiers and adventurers have been met. Two thirds of all Irish land is now owned or occupied by the English.

The Restoration complicates matters yet again. Charles II wants to redress the injustice done to Irish Catholics without incurring the hostility of English Protestants. The Act of Explanation, in 1665, requires a third of all land acquired during the Commonwealth to be surrended as some measure of compensation. Catholic hopes are raised even higher under Charles's successor, James II, only to be dashed again.


James II and Tyrconnell: 1686-1690

James II's appointment of Roman Catholics to high office, which causes such dismay in England, is correspondingly popular in Ireland. The main beneficiary is the earl of Tyrconnell, who is given command of the army in 1686 and becomes lord deputy of Ireland a year later. Under his rule Protestants begin to be purged from the army, the administration and the judiciary, to be replaced with Catholics.

When James II flees from England to France in 1688, Tyrconnell continues to rule Ireland in his name rather than that of William III. The island therefore seems the natural place for James II to begin the attempt to regain his throne.


James II in Ireland: 1689-1690

With active encouragement from Louis XIV, James II sails from France in March 1689 with a small army of about 1200 men. They land in Kinsale and march to Dublin, where James is acknowledged king by an enthusiastic gathering of Irish Catholics - eagerly expecting now to recover the lands appropriated over the past century by English Protestants.

In April James moves north to take control of Ulster, where the Protestant settlement is strongest. But he meets very effective passive resistance. The Protestant strongholds of Londonderry and Enniskillen close their gates. Both survive long sieges during the summer of 1689.


In June 1689 an English army arrives in northern Ireland. For the rest of that year there is wary and inconclusive skirmishing, but in 1690 the stakes are increased. Both sides build up their troops and their provisions. In March a contribution for James II comes from Louis XIV, in the form of 7000 French veterans. In June William III, the new king of England, at last arrives in person.

On 11 July the rivals confront each other across the river Boyne. William has the larger army (about 35,000 men to 21,000) and he adopts bolder tactics, but his victory in itself is not conclusive since the Irish army survives to fight another day. What proves politically decisive is the immediate flight of James II back to France.


The Irish Catholics continue to fight for another full year, hoping still to win the two concessions which would answer their grievances - security in possession of their estates and toleration for the Catholic religion.

The terms of the treaty of Limerick, ending the war in October 1691, seem vaguely promising - and like all vague promises in treaties, they are later disregarded by the victors. But one specific option has an immediate effect. There is a clause offering transport to France for anyone in the Irish army. Several thousand seize this opportunity. They and their descendants (collectively known in Ireland as the 'wild geese') provide Irish regiments within the French army throughout the 18th century.


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