Scotland and the Ulster plantations: explorations in the British settlements of Stuart Ireland

Published in Book Reviews, Early Modern History (1500–1700), General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009), Plantation of Ireland, Reviews, Volume 17

Scotland and the Ulster plantations: explorations in the British settlements of Stuart Ireland
W. P. Kelly and J. R. Young (eds)
(Four Courts Press, Ä49.50)
ISBN 9781846820762


75_small_1259264563Has the edited volume of papers had its day? These are all individually very interesting essays but they do not add up to a treatment of the subject advertised in the title—that is, Scotland and plantation in Ulster. These essays deal with certain religious, political or military aspects of the subject, but there are no chapters specifically on the Scots migrants in the settlement of east Ulster or their participation in the bigger official plantation across the rest of the province from 1610 onwards. Surely a book of this nature needs a couple of meaty chapters on the actual settlement process, or at the very least a proper introduction dealing with this and with the historiographical ramifications of Scotland’s involvement in the Irish plantations? The editors do not give us that—merely an introductory summary of the essays they are presenting. Furthermore, and tellingly perhaps, the reading of the essays is not facilitated by the fact that they are arranged in alphabetic rather than chronological order, so that they begin with Armstrong’s chapter on County Down in the 1640s rather than Cathcart’s on the medieval background. Indeed, this is hardly a book for a novice to the subject, as it assumes that the reader has the necessary background knowledge already.
The first thing that must be remarked upon with regard to the Scots and the plantations of Ulster is the dramatic reversal of affairs consequent on James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England. Beforehand James’s colonial schemes in the Highlands and Islands were miserable failures; now he was a powerful king with a real colonial opportunity in a fertile region. Beforehand the English governors of Ireland had tried their utmost to keep out the alien Scots, mostly Gaelic-speaking Catholic highlanders; now they reluctantly had to let in increasing numbers of English-speaking, Presbyterian-inclined lowlanders who, had there been no Union, would have been forced to migrate elsewhere. The result of this historical accident was a plantation process unlike the others in action elsewhere in early modern Ireland, and as such it was to have profound, long-term differentiating effects. There were Scottish allocations in the formal plantation of 1610, but the really significant developments derived from the private plantations begun by Hamilton and Montgomery in Antrim and Down in 1606. It was there that a Scots army landed in 1642 and it was where the first presbytery was founded, and it was those counties that received the massive Scottish influx in the 1680s and 1690s.
Notwithstanding the faults of omission and layout, these essays do contribute to a wider understanding of Scotland’s role in seventeenth-century Ireland. Cathcart is right to highlight the growing anti-Gaelic tendency of the Scots monarchy, as well as James’s failed plantation of Lewis. The amount of pressure and devastation wrought on the Gaelic lordships of east Ulster, evident in Brady’s essay, by the MacDonnells of the Isles, the O’Neills of Tyrone and the agents of the English state formed the necessary prelude to the private colonisers. The succession of James, however, was the key to these land grants going to Lowland Scots, as indeed it was to the grants to the MacDonnells, in spite of the concessions already made to them. The pivotal decade was the 1640s. Both Armstrong and Gillespie show the civil disorder of the Irish rebellion and the War of the Three Kingdoms undermining the ‘British aspects’ of the plantation. The Scots settlers fell back on Scotland for their defence, developing the presbytery established first by the army that came to assist them and then taking on board the Solemn League and Covenant as a unifying and organising tool. What is plain is that the Scottish plantations were no mere extension of Scotland; they were independent-minded and democratising, though they never amounted to a Massachusetts.
That other New World concept of the frontier springs to mind. The Scots in Ireland did not confine themselves to Ulster. Lenihan suggests that the Catholic Confederates made a huge strategic mistake in spending so much time and precious resources attacking and containing the Scots Covenanter forces in Ulster when they should have been investing Dublin and the ports of Munster to stop a parliamentarian landing. Surely this is a judgement in hindsight. The Scots were raiding into Connacht and threatening to march into Leinster, and they constituted the biggest single military force ranged against the Catholic Confederation! Menary writes about the Cromwellian scheme to transplant pro-royalist Scots landowners to Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford. This fell through because of the need to conciliate key figures and because of the arrival of the more conservative Henry Cromwell. Ironically, had this policy been implemented, it would have ended up extending the Scottish frontier into the heart of Ireland! Perceval-Maxwell, like Gillespie, poses and answers some of these wider questions. Far from staunching the Scottish influx, he shows the Restoration regime in Ireland adopting more tolerant attitudes to Presbyterians in Ulster, despite their involvement in the Blood and Rye House plot, than did its sister regime in Scotland itself. Thus by the end of the century we find a confident and expansionist synod of Ulster attempting to act for the whole of Ireland—an extraordinary success story against the odds.  HI

Hiram Morgan lectures in history at University College Cork.


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