Map of Tudor Plantations in Ireland Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission Tudor Plantations in Ireland

The close physical proximity of Scotland, England and Ireland made social, economic and political linkage inevitable. England claimed overlordship of Ireland during the Middle Ages and, during this period, knights and adventurers claimed several estates on the island as their own. The impact of this settlement was minimal as the incomers were relatively few in number, they shared a Catholic faith with the locals and were gradually absorbed into Gaelic culture.

The imperialism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was much more intrusive. Following England's withdrawal from Europe, the Tudors (who proclaimed themselves monarchs of Ireland) initiated a 'plantation' policy in which much larger numbers of settlers arrived on the island and displaced the locals from their land. As this occurred in the wake of the English Reformation (during which Ireland remained substantially Catholic) a layer of religious antagonism was inserted into the colonial equation. The new settlers viewed the locals as primitive savages, mired in error and superstition. Map One depicts the extent and location of English plantations in Ireland prior to 1603.

 

Jacobean Plantations in Ireland, 1605 an d1609 Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission Jacobean Plantations in Ireland, 1605 and 1609

James VI's accession to the English throne (1603) and the 'Flight of the Earls' resulted in a rapid acceleration of the plantation policy. Disgruntled by the persecution they encountered following the Nine Years War (1594- 1603), one hundred aristocrats and gentry from Ulster (including the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel) fled the country in 1607, going into exile on the continent. The Crown claimed the 4m acres they left behind (mainly in Ulster) as its own and, in 1609, the Privy Council announced that this land would be opened up for plantation. Map 2 reveals the location of the new plantations established during the early years of James' reign.

 

Map of Jacobean Plantations in Ireland, 1618 and 1620 Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission Jacobean Plantations in Ireland,1618 and 1620

Plantation continued apace during James' reign and Map 3 depicts the plantations added in 1618 and 1620. By the latter date, approximately 40,000 Scottish Presbyterians had settled in Ulster, and they brought with them not just their religious faith but also new farming techniques and a Calvinist mindset. This explains why the north of Ireland is, in many regards, economically and culturally different from the rest of the island. It also provides a historical context in which the partition of 1921 and the 'troubles' of the 1970s and 1980s can be understood. By 1641, approximately 100,000 Scottish and English Protestants had settled in Ulster and as they had gained at the expense of the locals, it explains the ferocity of the rebellion when it exploded in 1641. The 1641 rebellion was led Owen, as leader of Kilkenny Confederation, nephew of the displaced Earl of Tyrone.

English and Scottish penetration of Ireland accelerated after 1641, and Map 4 depicts the reduction in Irish Catholic landownership between 1641 and 1688.

 

Map of Irish Catholic Land Ownership, 1641 and 1688 Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission Irish Catholic Land Ownership, 1641 and 1688

This maps illustrates the marginalisation and displacement of Irish Catholic landownership during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Map 4A depicts those areas where Catholic landownership exceeded 50% in 1641 and, conversely, where it was less than 5%. As can be expected, the areas of low Catholic landholding are in the northern counties, but Catholics continued as majority landowners throughout large swathes of the island.

 
Map of Irish Catholic Land Ownership, 1688 Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission

Forty-seven years later (Map 4B), the picture is very different. On the eve of the Glorious Revolution, majority Catholic landownership was confined to marginal territory on the west coast, while Catholics made up less than 5% of landowners in ten counties, all in the north of the island. This map illustrates the extent to which England regarded Ireland as an imperial possession during the seventeenth century, fit for colonisation and exploitation.