The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation of Ulster, Ireland under King James I.
Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh O’Neill felt their position and power of Ulster was under threat from the English intruders. There were many series of battles defeating small English groups, the rebellion known as the Nine Years War. The following year they wrote to King Philip II of Spain for help. The Spanish aid came in but landed in Kinsale in October 1601 miles away from Ulster but O’Neill and O’Donnell gathered their army and met in Kinsale in Christmas Eve 1601 but were routed by a 20,000 strong English army, led by Lord Deputy Mountjoy. The Spaniards surrendered and within two years O’Neill and other leaders surrendered at the Battle of Mellifont. At Mellifont, the Ulster chieftains agreed to accept English rule in their lands- sheriffs and judges-and to abandon Brehon Law, the Irish language and any further thoughts of rebellion. With this decline in the support of their people and increasing English control over Ulster, O’Neill and almost one hundred leading members of Ulster’s Irish families fled Ireland in an event known as the Flight of Earls. They flew to Spain, Italy and Rome.
King James I was easily persuaded by England’s officials in Ireland that the best way to ensure Ulster’s future loyalty was through a plantation. Firstly Antrim and Down were given to two Scottish noblemen. This brought over thousands of Scottish settlers as tenants to work on the land and by 1609 these planters were securely established. The area to be planted covered six counties- Donegal, Derry, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan and Tyrone. Lessons had been learned from previous plantations- no one was to be given more than 2000 acres and laws were stricter. There were six groups involved in the Ulster plantation.
- Undertakers: their estates were usually 1,000 acres and their annual rent rates were very low about £5.33. All the undertakers’ estates were located close to each other. For protection, undertakers promised to build a strong court or stone house, depending on the size of their holdings, with a strong court or bawn (stone wall) around it. They undertook to have only English or Scottish tenants all within three years.
- Servitors: they were called servitors as they had given service to the crown as officials or soldiers in the Nine Year Wars. These formed the largest group of planters and they were allowed to have some Irish tenants provided they maintained strict control over them and servitors had to pay an annual rent of £8.
- Native Irish: This group of settlers were the native Irish themselves who had remained loyal during the nine years war. They were located near servitors who pledged to keep an eye on him.