Plantations of Ireland

Plantations in 16th- and 17th-century Ireland involved the confiscation of Irish-owned land by the English Crown and the colonisation of this land with settlers from Great Britain. The Crown saw the plantations as a means of controlling, anglicising and 'civilising' parts of Ireland. The main plantations took place from the 1550s to the 1620s, the biggest of which was the plantation of Ulster. The plantations led to the founding of many towns, demographic and economic changes, changes in land ownership and the landscape, and also to ethnic and sectarian conflict. They took place before and during the earliest English colonisation of the Americas, and a group known as the West Country Men were involved in both Irish and North American colonization.[1]

The traditional counties of Ireland subjected to plantations (from 1556 to 1620). This map is a simplified one, as in the case of some counties the area of land colonised did not cover the whole of the area coloured.
A more detailed map of the areas subjected to plantations

There had been small-scale immigration from Britain since the 12th century, after the Anglo-Norman invasion. By the 15th century, many of these settlers had assimilated into Irish culture and direct English control had shrunk to an area called the Pale. In the 1540s the English began colonizing the island, beginning the Tudor conquest of Ireland. The first plantations were in the 1550s, during the reign of Queen Mary I, in Laois ('Queen's County') and Offaly ('King's County'). These plantations were based around existing frontier forts, but they were largely unsuccessful due to attacks from the local Irish clans.

The next plantations were during the reign of Elizabeth I. A privately—funded plantation of east Ulster was attempted in the 1570s, but it also sparked conflict with the Irish and ended in failure. The Munster plantation of the 1580s followed the Desmond Rebellions. Businessmen were encouraged to invest in the scheme and English colonists were settled on land confiscated from the defeated rebel lords. However, the settlements were scattered and attracted far fewer settlers than was hoped for. When the Nine Years' War broke out in the 1590s, most of these settlements were abandoned, although English settlers began to return following the war.

The plantation of Ulster began in the 1610s, during the reign of James I. Following their defeat in the Nine Years' War, many rebel Ulster lords fled Ireland and their lands were confiscated. This was the biggest and most successful of the plantations and comprised most of the province of Ulster. While the province was mainly Irish-speaking and Catholic, the new settlers were required to be English-speaking and Protestant, with most coming from England and Scotland. This created a distinct Ulster Protestant community.

The Ulster plantation was one of the causes of the 1641 Irish Rebellion, during which thousands of settlers were killed, expelled or fled. After the Irish Catholics were defeated in the Cromwellian conquest of 1652, most remaining Irish Catholic-owned land was confiscated and thousands of English soldiers settled in Ireland. Scottish settlement in Ulster resumed and intensified during the Scottish famine of the 1690s. By the 1720s, British Protestants were the majority in Ulster.

The plantations changed the demography of Ireland by creating large communities with a British and Protestant identity. The ruling classes of these communities replaced the older Catholic ruling class, which had shared with the general population a common Irish identity and set of political attitudes.[2] The new ruling class represented English and Scottish interests in Ireland. The physical and economic nature of Irish society also changed, as new concepts of ownership, trade, and credit were introduced. These changes led to the creation of a Protestant Ascendancy.