Plantation of Ulster

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The history of Scottish migration to Ireland can be traced to the middle ages when Scottish gallowglass or mercenary soldiers were employed by Gaelic lords. Some settled permanently in Ulster, a process which was intensified in the late 14th century when the MacDonnell clan acquired property in the Glens of Antrim through marriage to a local heiress. The increasing Scottish settlement in north east Ulster in the first half of the 16th century alarmed the Tudor monarchy concerned that a Scottish-Franco alliance could invade Ireland as part of a wider continental war against England.


The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation (or plantation) of Ulster by people from the British Empire. Private plantation by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while official plantation controlled by King James I of England and VI of Scotland began in 1609. All land owned by Irish chieftains the Ó Neills and Ó Donnells (along with those of their supporters) who fought against the British in the Nine Years' War (Ireland) were confiscated and used to settle the colonists. The Counties Tyrconnell, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Coleraine and Armagh comprised the official Colony however most of the counties including the most heavily colonized Counties Antrim and Down were privately colonised. These counties, though not officially designated as subject to Plantation, had suffered violent de-populatation during the previous wars and proved attractive to Private Colonialists from nearby Britain.

The official reason for the Plantation is said to have been to pay for the costly Nine Years' War (Ireland) but this view was not shared by all in the British establishment most notably the British Attorney-General of Ireland in 1609 Sir John Davies (poet):

A barbarous country must be first broken by a war before it will be capable of good government ; and when it is fully subdued and conquered, if it be not well planted and governed after the conquest, it will eftsoons return to the former barbarism

The Plantation of Ulster continued well into the 18th century, interrupted only by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, This Rebellion was initially led by Phelim O'Neill, and was intended to overthrow British rule rapidly, but quickly degenerated into attacks on Colonialists, in which dispossessed Irish slaughtered thousands of the Colonialists. In the ensuing wars (1641–1653, fought against the background of civil war in England, Scotland and Ireland), Ulster became a battleground between the Colonialists and the native Irish. In 1646, an Irish army under command by Owen Roe O'Neill inflicted a defeat on a Scottish Covenanter army at Benburb in County Tyrone, but the native Irish forces failed to follow up their victory and the war lapsed into stalemate. The war in Ulster ended with the defeat of the native army at the Battle of Scarrifholis on the western outskirts of Letterkenny, County Donegal in 1650, as part of the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland conducted by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army, the aim of which was to expel all native Irish to the Province of Connaught.

Forty years later, in 1688-1691, The Williamite war in Ireland began, the belligerents of which were the Williamites and Jacobites. The war was partly due to a dispute over the rightful head of the British Monarchy, and thus the ruler of the British Empire, but also part of the greater War of the Grand Alliance fought between King Louis XIV of France and his allies, and a European-wide coalition the Grand Alliance, led by William of Orange and Leopold I of the holy Roman Empire, supported by the Vatican and many other nations, the Grand Alliance was a cross-denominational alliance designed to stop French eastward colonialist expansion under King Louis XIV with whom James II was allied.

The majority of Irish people were ("Jacobites") and supported James II due to his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence or as it is also known, The Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience, that granted religious freedom to all denominations in England, Scotland and Ireland and also due to James II's promise to the Irish Parliament of an eventual right to self determination. However James II was (deposed in the Glorious Revolution) and the majority of Ulster Colonialists (Williamites) backed William of Orange. It is of note that both the Williamite and Jacobite armies were religiously mixed; William of Orange's own elite forces, the Dutch Blue Guards had a papal banner with them during the invasion, many of them being Dutch Catholics.

At the start of the war, Irish Jacobites controlled most of Ireland for James II, with the exception of the Williamite strongholds at Derry and at Enniskillen in Ulster. The Jacobites besieged Derry from December 1688 to July 1689, ending when a Williamite army from Britain relieved the city. The Williamites based in Enniskillen defeated another Jacobite army at the battle of Newtownbutler on July 28, 1689. Thereafter, Ulster remained firmly under Williamite control and William's forces completed their conquest of the rest of Ireland in the next two years. The war provided Protestant loyalists with the iconic victories of the Siege of Derry, the Battle of the Boyne (1 July 1690) and the Battle of Aughrim (12 July 1691), all of which the Orange Order commemorate each year.

The Williamites' victory in this war ensured British rule in Ireland for over 200 years. The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland excluded most of Ulster's population from having any Civil power on religious grounds. Roman Catholics (descended from the indigenous Irish) and Presbyterians (mainly descended from Scottish Colonialists) both suffered discrimination under the Penal Laws, which gave full political rights only to Anglican Protestants (mostly descended from English settlers). In the 1690s, Scottish Presbyterians became a majority in Ulster, due to a large influx of them into the Province.


Despite the failed colonial projects and the massacre on Rathlin, Scottish migration to north east Ireland continued throughout the late 16th century and intensified in the early 17th century when George Douglas of Shiel, James Douglas of Clappertoun and William Douglas of Pumpherston acquired property which they developed as a private Plantation. James Douglas of Spott also acquired land, but soon sold it.


See also:

  • Scottish Undertakers
  • The Ulster Scots Story of the North West of Ireland



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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024