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Plantations of Ireland

With emphasis on Scottish movement into Ireland


There were many Plantations in 16th and 17th century Ireland involved the seizure of land owned by the native Irish and granting of it to colonists ("planters") from Britain. This process began under the reign of Henry VIII and continued under Elizabeth I, James I, Charles I, and Cromwell.

The plantations substantially altered the demography of Ireland, creating large communities of people who had a British and Protestant identity, in contrast to the earlier Irish and Roman Catholic inhabitants. They also affected the politics of the country, creating a British Protestant ruling class and strengthening the control of the London government over Ireland. The Plantations also substantially changed the physical and economic nature of Irish society — opening up what had been a subsistence economy to intensive commercial agriculture and trade.

James VI of Scotland had become King of England in 1603, uniting the those two crowns –also of course gaining possession of the Kingdom of Ireland – an English possession.

The Plantation of Ulster was sold to King James as a joint "British", i.e. English and Scottish, venture to pacify and civilise Ulster. So at least half of the settlers would be Scots. Six counties were involved in the official plantation – Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Londonderry, Donegal and Tyrone.

The new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants and had to import them from England and Scotland. The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was supposed to be relocated to live near garrisons and Protestant churches. Moreover, the Planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman.

The principal landowners were to be Undertakers, wealthy men from England and Scotland who undertook to import tenants from their own estates. They were granted around 3000 acres (12 km²) each, on condition that they settle a minimum of 48 adult males (including at least 20 families) who had to be English-speaking and Protestant.

The plantation was a mixed success. By the 1630s, there were 20,000 adult male British settlers in Ulster, which meant that the total settler population could have been as high as 80,000. The formed local majorities of the population in the Finn and Foyle valleys (around modern Derry and east Donegal) in north Armagh and east Tyrone. Moreover, there had also been substantial settlement on officially unplanted lands in south Antrim and north Down, sponsored by Scottish landowner, James Hamilton. What was more, the settler population grew rapidly as just under half of the planters were women.

However, the Irish population was neither removed nor Anglicised. In practise, the settlers did not stay on bad land, but clustered around towns and the best land. This meant that many British landowners had to take Irish tenants, contrary to the terms of the plantation. In 1609, Chichester had deported 1300 former Irish soldiers from Ulster to serve in the Swedish Army, but the province remained plagued with Irish bandits known as "wood-kerne" who attacked vulnerable settlers. The attempted conversion of the Irish to Protestantism also had little effect, if only because the clerics imported were all English speakers, whereas the native population were usually monoglot Irish Gaelic speakers.

In 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland with the New Model Army and by 1652, the conquest was all but complete. The English Parliament then published punitive terms of surrender for Catholics and Royalists in Ireland that included the mass confiscation of all Catholic owned land. Thousands of Scottish Covenanter soldiers, who had been stationed in Ulster during the war settled there permanently after its end.

The 1680s and 1690s saw another major wave of settlement in Ireland (though not another plantation). The new settlers were principally composed of Scots, tens of thousands of whom fled a famine in the lowlands and border regions of Scotland to come to Ulster. It was at this point that Protestants and people of Scottish descent (who were mainly Presbyterians) became an absolute majority of the population in Ulster.

The present day partition of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is largely as a result of the settlement patterns of the Plantations of the 17th century.


  • CANNY, Nicholas P, Making Ireland British 1580–1650, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001
  • LENNON, Colm, Sixteenth Century Ireland — The Incomplete Conquest, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994.
  • LENIHAN, Padraig, Confederate Catholics at War, Cork: Cork University Press 2000.
  • MCCARTHY, Daniel, The Life and Letter book of Florence McCarthy Reagh, Tanist of Carberry, Dublin 1867.
  • MACCARTHY-MORROGH, Michael, The Munster Plantation — English migration to Southern Ireland 1583–1641, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1986.
  • SCOT-WHEELER, James, Cromwell in Ireland, New York 1999.






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