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1. The Plantation in Ulster

Ulster was the last province in Ireland to be brought under the control of the English Crown. This was finally accomplished following the end of the Nine Years’ War in 1603. With the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne as James I in that year the course of Irish history changed forever. Following the departure from Ireland of the two most important Gaelic chieftains and a large number of their followers in 1607 the government embarked upon a scheme of plantation whereby lands were confiscated and parcelled out, for the most part, to new landowners of English and Scottish origin known as undertakers. Six counties were to be affected in the official plantation: Armagh, Cavan, Coleraine (renamed Londonderry), Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone (collectively known as the ‘escheated counties’). These grantees were expected to colonise, being required to plant ten families or 24 men for every 1000 acres they were granted.

The official plantation scheme did not extend to counties Antrim, Down and Monaghan. In Antrim and Down private plantations in the early seventeenth century resulted in the large-scale migration of English and Scottish settlers to these counties. In north-east County Down, two Scots, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, acquired large estates from lands formerly owned by Con O’Neill. The British – overwhelmingly Scottish – settlement on the Hamilton and Montgomery estates was heavier than in any other part of Ulster. The largest land grant made in Ulster in the early seventeenth century was the grant of the greater part of the four northern baronies in county Antrim – an area of well over 300,000 acres – to Randal MacDonnell, a Scottish Catholic, in 1603. In order to develop his massive estate, MacDonnell invited lowland Scots to settle on his lands. In 1611 it was noted that adjoining his castle at Dunluce he had founded a village, containing ‘many tenements after the fashion of the Pale, peopled for the mo st part with Scottishmen’. To encourage Protestant Scots to settle on a Catholic-owned estate, MacDonnell contributed to the building and repair of churches.

By 1630 British settlement was well established in large parts of Ulster and there were clear areas of demarcation between areas in which English and Scottish settlers predominated. Scottish settlement was heaviest in north Antrim, north-east Down, east Donegal and north-west Tyrone, while English settlers were in the majority in County Londonderry, south Antrim and north Armagh. Much of the province remained virtually unsettled, including most of north, south and west County Donegal, south County Armagh, mid County Tyrone and mid County Londonderry. The more mountainous areas, far from the main British settlements, remained almost exclusively Irish.

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