A)Daily private and public life

The Chief of the MacSweeneys at a banquet

Gaelic Ulster was the most rural part of Ireland. There was some trading at the port of Derry and the harbour at Donegal, at Armagh and at the small market town of Cavan, founded by O’Reilly in the 15th century, and later at Dungannon, where O’Neill had his chief castle. It was also the area with most emphasis on pastoral farming, with whole villages leaving their winter fields where the crops had been sown, to transfer their families and cattle to areas of rough summer grazing in the hills from May to November. There they lived in settlements of temporary huts called in Ireland booleys (Irish ‘buaile’, ‘cattle-pound’) in Scotland ‘shielings’, where they made butter and cheese and other dairy products such as ‘bonnyclabber’ or soured milk. The men temporarily travelled back to the winter village at harvest-time to save the crops.
Some people owing to their profession in life – for example a master-poet with his troupe of performers, or a captain of mercenary soldiers with his retinue – had no home base, and brought their herd of mixed livestock with them to graze the lands of each new employer. In the later middle ages such a group travelling from one grazing-land to another was known in the northern half of Ireland as a ‘creaght’ (Irish ‘caoraigheacht’). In time of war or famine, the whole population in some areas might be uprooted to travel into neighbouring territories under their leaders as creaghts – welcome or unwelcome as the case might be.

The O’Neill inauguration stone at Tullahogue ©

For most people the periodic fairs and assemblies were the high spots of the year. These might take place on May Day, or Lammas (1st August) or Hallowe’en on a traditional hill-site – often marked by an ancient and venerated tree on the summit. Here cases were tried according to customary law by the Brehons (professional judges). Chieftains consulted their nobles and announced taxes, or decisions as to war or peace. Sporting and athletic contests took place, story-tellers, musicians, poets, jugglers, professional gamblers and clowns all plied their trades, marriages were arranged and commercial deals struck. Oral tradition points to Tullahogue – the inauguration hill of the O’Neills – as the site of annual meetings for sporting contests among the youth of the country. Women in particular are depicted in literature as looking forward to this break in their routine, dying their hair blonde in preparation, plucking their eyebrows and putting on all their jewellery. Aristocratic youths are said to win all women’s hearts when they appear in these assemblies.
Since May-day and Hallowe’en were also rent-days for tenants, similar assemblies were sometimes held on the green outside the chief’s castle. The lord spent part of the rents on feasting and public entertainment, and used the gathering to consult his nobles and settle outstanding disputes and law-cases. The amusing tale of ‘O’Donnell’s kerne’ translated by Standish Hayes O’Grady in Silva Gadelica II describes such festive gatherings at a number of chieftains’ castles in the 16th century.
B) Building technology: city walls, castles, roads, masonry
The Plantation left its architectural mark on the Ulster landscape.

1) Ballygally Castle

Ballygally Castle, on the east coast of County Antrim, is one of the finest examples of Scottish baronial architecture in Northern Ireland. Built by James Shaw of Greenock in 1625, it reflects the interplay between Ireland and Scotland across the Irish Sea in the late medieval and early 17th century. The roots of this castle are very strongly Scottish: one would almost imagine this building had been uprooted from somewhere in Dumfriesshire and lain down in the Antrim countryside.
Its walls stand five-foot thick, the building is three storeys high with small castellated towers sticking out at the tops of each corner of the building. The castle stood within a bawn (a fortified courtyard) with corner towers at each corner and inside was a formal garden laid-out. Renovations in the 1760s have changed its appearance somewhat, but today’s visitor – because Ballygally Castle is now a hotel – can experience the interior of this fine early 17th century castle with its huge fireplaces, its narrow staircases, and the intimations of a ghost which are promoted on the top floor.


Richard Bartlett was a military cartographer who travelled with the English campaigns of the late 16th century, recording Mountjoy’s occupation and battles throughout Ulster in the Years 1600, 1601 and 1602. This was a dangerous occupation: it is thought that Richard Bartlett was the spy referred to as having been caught by O’Neill and having been executed, and it is possible that this is why some of Richard Bartlett’s drawings are unfinished, that they lack the labels which name the places shown on the picture-maps.
The picture-map itself is a cartoon illustrating Mountjoy’s conquest. At the top we have an attack by the English army on an Irish crannog (a lakeside, man-made dwelling). In the middle we have Dungannon, O’Neill’s heartland castle. In the middle we have Dungannon Castle, O’Neill’s main stronghold – abandoned by him, captured and destroyed by Mountjoy and, from the tower, proudly flying the flag of Saint George – deliberately drawn by Bartlett to symbolise the English domination of this site.
One can particularly focus on the one surviving site, however – the third part of the drawing, at the bottom – Tullaghoagh Fort. In its foreground stands the stone throne: this site was the inauguration place of the O’Neills where O’Neill was crowned. When Mountjoy captured this site – a large, circular earthwork on the top of a hill – the stone throne was thrown down and destroyed. The earthwork today survives as a stark, tree-covered circular mound, all that remains of the celebrations of the O’Neill inauguration.

Monea Castle, County Fermanagh – one of the finest Scottish Plantation castles in the north of Ireland. Built for Sir Malcolm Hamilton, a Scottish planter, its Scottish architectural style is very, very striking with its circular tower entrance surrounded by square caps and crow-step battlements.
Visitors to the site will be struck by its location: it stands in unprepossessing land but right next to a small lake which was formerly the site of a crannog (or a man-made island) built by the medieval Irish. ClEarly one would imagine that this land Plantation was tied in to supplanting the Irish and the building of the castle here, next to the lake, was in itself a symbolic act.
The castle was attacked in 1641 and captured and damaged, but was restored and used for decades later. It stands within its own bawn or fortified enclosure, and visitors to the bawn will see that one of its corner towers was used as a pigeon or a dove house with small embrasures for the nesting birds.
The interior of the castle is an amazing sight. The floors inside it have now gone, but it is clear from close examination that this must have been almost like a huge dungeon at ground-floor level, with a big stone vault over it: and if one looks carefully at the way the door is opened, one sees that the door is only ever opened outwards – in other words, towards the entrance. Anybody attacking could not force the doors open inwards.
When one gets upstairs it becomes more air and light with a large hall, and sleeping and other guest chambers. So there’s a striking contrast between the grim aspect of the kitchens and vaults at ground floor level, and the movement of space and light at first-floor level and above.

4)St.Colombous Londonderry Cathedtral

We are looking at a drawing of the 1730s of the Cathedral in Londonderry as it stood some time after the Siege. Quite a number of new churches were in fact erected in Ulster, mainly in the 1620s and 1630s, and mainly in the new Planter towns and villages. One can see them in places such as Lifford and Letterkenny in County Donegal, or Belturbet in County Cavan. The most famous of these, and still surviving because Derry wasn’t captured in 1641, was this Cathedral.The building of it coincides in time with the erection of the Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh, and the church in Covent Garden in London designed by Inigo Jones as part of a new suburban development there. Unlike the latter which was an ultra-modern example of classical architecture, this is mainly a Gothic structure to which the term ‘Planters’ Gothic’ has been applied.

The architect contractor for it was William Parrott, an Englishman who lived and also worked in Coleraine, and it cost about £4000 to build.
It was not particularly large like a great medieval Cathedral in England or France, but it was substantial – about 100 feet long and 60 feed broad, not including the tower. This drawing of it, published in the 1730s, shows it as it was after the Siege. The corner turrets are a very interesting feature. Parrott may have intended to reflect in them the flanker towers on the planters’ bawns in the countryside. They were probably designed to give access to the roof for repairing it – but possibly it might also have been thought that they could be put to defensive uses in an emergency. Some of the church plate and bells date from the same period. You will notice the buttresses, the porch, the crenellations on the walls, and the four light mullioned windows.
This is a drawing of the east end of the Cathedral in Derry. Particularly noticeable is the large Gothic window and the two corner turrets. When it was consecrated in 1634 by Bishop Bramhall who was one of the new ceremonial high church Anglicans, like William Laud who was Charles I’s Archbishop of Canterbury, it was named after Saint Columba, the famous local saint, probably to assert continuity. Had he been a radical Protestant like some of the Scottish ministers in County Down or those who went to New England at this time, it would probably not have been named after a saint at all because of their belief that only what was scriptural should be permitted, and to avoid what they called ‘the peril of idolatry’.
The Cathedral as it stands today is different in two respects – one, in the later 19th century it was enlarged by extending it and so the present east-end window is not the same, though similar in appearance, to what has been shown in the drawing. In the first drawing we see a tower (also with turrets) which no longer exists because a new tower and certainly a new spire was built in the 18th or 19th century.

5)Kirkistown Castle

Kirkiston Castle in County Down stands on the eastern shore of the Ards Peninsula, facing the Irish Sea. This castle, built in 1622, stands in stark contrast to the English and Scottish architecture of the planters further west in the province. This in fact was built by Sir Roland Savage, one of the Anglo-Norman gentry descended from the twelfth-century colonists. It’s in the late-medieval style of the tower-house, a tall building with single floors rising one above the other with divisions of space, very unlike the English castles.
At ground floor level one enters almost a dungeon, rising through a spiral staircase into larger rooms above which functioned as halls and bedrooms with built-in toilets running through the walls. The whole stands within a fortified courtyard or bawn which must have been the everyday living and working space – the subsidiary buildings, houses, and everyday activities taking place there.
The building as it stands today was the product of the Gothic revival of around 1800 when crenellations were added, when wide sash-windows were inserted, and the whole atmosphere and structure of the building changed according to style at the time. Those alterations, however, had their impact because the structure of the castle was weakened and large buttresses had to be built to prop it up, while steel bands were wrapped around the castle to keep its fabric tightly confined.


We are looking at a photograph of the Water Gate in Enniskillen which was probably built about 1615 as part of the reconstruction of Maguire’s Castle, carried out by the English planter, Captain Sir William Cole. Its dating is controversial with some asserting that it may have been there before, though I think that is unlikely. Some also have claimed that it has Scottish features. Certainly the corbelling on which sit the two turrets or flanker-towers which give it its distinction, is common in Scottish architecture of this period: the turrets or flanker towers were defensible features which can be entered from the inside of the building which no longer now survives. Within it also is a well to provide water for any beleaguered resident.
The wall itself to the left appears to have two stages of construction – if that be the case, the lower part of it is most likely the bawn wall of Maguire’s Castle, and the upper part of it was most likely built by the planter, Sir William Cole, because it was recommended at that time that the Castle and wall should be enlarged – but again the dating of buildings without documentary evidence is a very difficult thing to talk about accurately

7)Castle Caulfield


Castle Caulfield in County Tyrone was built by Sir Toby Caulfield in the years between 1611 and 1619. He had been granted these lands as part of the Ulster Plantation, and he chose to build his castle on the site of an Earlier building occupied by the O’Donnelly clan who were expelled from these lands.
The castle illustrates the paradox of the English colonist coming to Ireland. All had been peaceful in England for decades and the architectural styles in England at the time reflected that. Caulfield brought those with him but had to try to accommodate them to the warfare, to the hostile landscape of the Ulster colonies, and one sees that reflected in parts of the architecture in relation to how the windows were built, how big they were, and the fact that this castle needed a major gatehouse over which the coat-of-arms of Caulfield are still proudly visible.
The site was attacked and captured in 1641 – the O’Donnellys got their revenge – but once the Rebellion was over in 1641, the buildings were reoccupied until the 1660s. Some two-thirds of them now survive although the building of course is a roofless ruin, but wandering round the inside of the building, one can still see traces, through cracked stone and staining, of the massive fire that must have consumed the building when captured and destroyed in 1641.

8)Maguire’s Castle

John Thomas, in February 1594, which shows the siege and capture of Maguire’s Castle at Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The most important feature on the map is the Castle or Tower House of a ruling lord, ‘Maguire of Maguire’s County’, subsequently County Fermanagh, which was an island fortress in Lough Erne.
The castle itself was measured as being 56 feet high, 56 feet broad, and 38 feet in width, and the thickness of the walls was said to be 8 feet. Accordingly we have a very good representation of a Gaelic chieftain’s stronghold.
Since the drawing of the castle itself was remarkably accurate, the rest may be too, and so we get a good impression of the number of other houses in the vicinity of a Gaelic lord’s stronghold in late 16th-century Ulster. We also have a number of ‘cots’ which was the word for ‘boats’ which were in use on Lough Erne at that time.
The map shows that the Castle is under attack and if you look to either side you can see the position of the troops of two captains who were engaged in this. We can also see some of their ordnance and equipment – for example, there are robinets and falchions, there are also musketeers in action. Scaling is going on, and the soldiers are positioned spread-out in different positions around us.

C) Transportation technology: goods +human

During the Middle Ages, long trains of packhorses made their way across Britain. They carried goods for trade, especially wool, which was a very important commodity. The train was made up of as many as fifty horses in a single file, led by a horse with a bell. With it, besides the packman, travelled merchants, pilgrims and other travellers who kept together for safety against robbers.
Anyone who could afford to buy or hire a horse travelled on horseback. Noble ladies often travelled in a horse litter with curtains drawn to prevent prying eyes from looking in.
Ships changed greatly, especially between 1400 and 1500 (the 15th century) leading to great voyages of exploration. The Arabs first designed the three-masted style of ship in which Magdellan (1519-22) and Drake (1577-80) would later sail around the world, and in which Columbus would reach America.
D) Agricultural technology: tools+production
The majority of the new settlers lived in rural areas and earned their living through farming. The main form of agriculture was pastoral with cattle and sheep being grazed on unenclosed lands. Some land was tilled, mainly for the cultivation of oats that formed a staple part of the diet of the settler community. In Antrim and Down, the economy was a little more progressive but on the whole the new tenant farmers continued the existing agriculture economy of Gaelic society. This is not surprising given that most of the Scottish tenants would have been familiar with a similar form of agriculture in their home areas and that the natural environment of the escheated (confiscated) lands was more suited to pastoral than arable farming. It should also be remembered that the poverty of the incoming tenants hindered the introduction of any major innovations in the form of new agricultural methods.
The distribution of the settler population on the Plantation was uneven with the more fertile lands and the hinterland of the port towns, particularly of Derry and Coleraine, attracting a higher density of settlement than more remote and poorer lands. A striking feature of the early years of the Plantation was the mobility of tenants as they moved from unattractive areas (to which they may have been brought initially by an undertaker) to regions which they identified as more likely to bring them greater prosperity.

Richard Bartlett’s map of Armagh showing the Cathedral ©

Although agriculture formed the mainstay of the Plantation economy, urbanisation was central to the ideology underpinning the Plantation scheme. The planners envisaged a network of large and small towns, distributed throughout the province. Lack of adequate economic resources meant, however, that the growth of large urban centres was slow with only Derry, Coleraine and Armagh achieving the status of medium-sized towns by 1641. Nevertheless, in the long term the Plantation initiated the emergence of an impressive urban network in Ulster and by the late 17th century, it has been estimated that there were over 100 towns in the province.
Small market towns serviced the rural hinterland with a range of commercial and administrative services. Craftsmen plied their trades as cloth makers, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, butchers and malt makers while weekly or monthly markets provided an outlet for surplus agricultural produce. Tradesmen in the towns also sold a miscellaneous collection of manufactured goods, which they imported from English and Scottish towns. The list of items imported into Ulster towns in the early 17th century testifies to the consumer revolution which was taking place in the province. Among the goods imported were a wide range of household goods such as brass pots, frying pans, glasses, tables, sheets and pillows as well as food including marmalade, spices, prunes, wine and whisky; and large quantities of tobacco. The new settler population, particularly the women, also dressed differently from the local Irish population and Spanish silk, bone lace, as well as less exotic cloth and a miscellaneous collection of accessories such as gloves, hats and shoes regularly feature in the import list
E)Religion(location of religious buildings), arts, philosophy
The Protestant Reformation was introduced into Ireland in the 1530s but made little progress in winning converts among the indigenous Irish population. King James I was, however, a committed member of the Church of England and was concerned to promote the established church in Ireland. Consequently, religious reformation was central to the ideological framework of the Plantation scheme. One of the criteria for the selection of undertakers and tenants was that they be conformable in religion. Each portion in the Plantation was designated a parish in the established church and provision for parochial land was incorporated into the scheme. In addition, each county was to have a royal school for the education of young men, some of whom it was hoped, would later attend Trinity College Dublin to train as Protestant ministers. The university was also given a generous grant of land on the escheated lands in order to ensure its long-term economic viability.
The new settlers enthusiastically supported the religious programme incorporated into the Plantation scheme. Individual landlords built or restored churches at their own expense and provided for ministers to service them. The number of resident Protestant clergy in Ulster increased significantly in the early 17th century. Many came from Scotland where they had been ordained as Presbyterian ministers in the Scottish church. In Ireland, despite their Presbyterian background, they became ministers in the Church of Ireland. It was not until 1642 that a separate Presbyterian Church was formed in Ireland.
Presbyterianism fostered an active lay involvement in church affairs. Weekly prayer meetings and small group discussions on the Scriptures were encouraged, as was regular attendance at Sunday sermons. In the absence of a church, meetings were held in the home or in an outbuilding on a farm. The strength of the religious commitment of the Ulster Presbyterian community was demonstrated in the 1620s when a religious revival took place in the Six-Mile-Water area in County Antrim. Initiated by a popular preacher, James Glendinning, the movement expanded as more ministers joined and hundreds of people walked upwards of 20 miles to listen to preachers and pray together for several days at a time. Even critics of Presbyterianism in Ulster were impressed by the religious fervour of the ministers and the laity.

The Burning Bush, symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland ©

Sir Thomas Wentworth (later the Earl of Strafford), Lord Deputy in Ireland, 1633-1641 disliked the Presbyterian orientation of the church in Ulster and he dismissed many of the Scottish clergy in the 1630s, an action which only served to strengthen the Presbyterian ethos of the settler community as it perceived itself to be under siege from members of the Roman Catholic as well as of the established church.
Wentworth was not as zealous in his prosecution of the Catholic Church as he was of dissident ministers within the established church. The infrastructure of the Catholic Church was in fact strengthened in the 1630s and, although Catholic laymen were banned from holding public office, the Dublin government tolerated private practice of Catholic services. The number of resident clergy increased during this time and played an important role in encouraging popular support for the rebellion in 1641.
F)Administration of cities

A page from a Brehon law tract ©

Brehon law was based on private arbitration of disputes by a hereditary caste of professional judges, the Brehons. They simply judged the amount of fines due from those guilty, and left it to extended families, patrons or chiefs to enforce payment. Their judgements were based on customary law – preserved in old Irish law tracts of the seventh to the ninth centuries – on case law, and on proclamations of the local ruler. Chiefs employed official Brehons to try cases involving their own interests, appeals from a lower court, and fines for disobedience and tax evasion. By the 16th century, the lord’s Brehon also tried public cases of murder and theft.
Although English law and ecclesiastical law came to influence the system, land inheritance was a very conservative area. This affected the status of women because only men inherited family land. A female could inherit furniture or cattle from her father, and receive settlements in goods, or a life-interest in landed estates, from her husband. Her status in law compared with an adult son still living in his father’s house, under paternal authority. The adult son would become emancipated later as a landowner but women always remained under some male authority – father, brother, husband or adult son. Such a protector had a duty to sue for any compensation owed to the woman, to guarantee payment of any fines she incurred, and to arrange her marriage.
A woman without brothers could inherit a life-interest in her family’s land but unless she married a close cousin – as many such heiresses did – she could not pass the estate on to her children. Therefore marriages were not arranged between Gaelic ruling families for the sake of transferring estates of land from one noble lineage to another, as regularly happened in England. The key consideration in war-torn Gaelic society was that marriages should seal important political and military alliances between the chieftains’ dynasties.

Women at a Gaelic hedge-school ©

Another distinctive feature of Gaelic custom was that most illegitimate children had a right to share in their father’s inheritance. Many daughters of minor chieftains were given by their families as concubines to paramount chiefs, and their sons became recognised nobles. The payment of a ‘bride-price’ to the concubine or her family, and the consent of her kinsmen, conferred respectability on the arrangement. Even married women were sometimes known to ‘name’ one or more of their children as illegitimate offspring of the local chief – once their own husband had died or they themselves were on their deathbed. If the claim was acknowledged, nobility and a right to some share in the chief’s inheritance was immediately conferred on the child.
The clash between church law and these archaic secular marriage laws meant divorce at will was common among the upper classes. The only requirement was the return of the wife’s marriage goods. Should the rejected wife choose to contest her dismissal in the church courts (Protestant or Catholic), the husband could usually justify himself in the church’s eyes on the frequently-occurring grounds of over-close kinship, or a previous contract of marriage to a woman still living.

G)Settlement Map

H)The Plantation
Some English civil servants and army officers were delighted when they heard the Ulster chiefs had fled. They were declared traitors and the King took their land. The army officers hoped to get some of this good land. James agreed with these people on the best way to keep Ulster loyal to him. He would give the land to English and Scottish Protestants. They would be ‘planted’ on the land. They would live on it and protect it for the king. Schemes to plant English settlers had been tried before in other parts of Ireland but they had all failed. James was determined that this plantation would work and it was well planned. This time the settlers were to live in specially built fortified towns known as Plantation Towns.
By 1608, almost all of Tyrconnell, Coleraine, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and Cavan were in the King’s hands. This was a unique opportunity for James I to reward the many who had claims on his patronage and it would be a civilising enterprise, which would establish the true religion of Christ among men. Besides, a plantation would quieten Ulster and reduce the risk of native rebellion and foreign invasion.
In 1609, the English mapped out 4,000,000 acres of land. Counties Down, Monaghan and Antrim were planted privately. Counties Derry and Armagh were planted with English. Counties Tyrone and Donegal were planted with Scots. Counties Fermanagh and Cavan were planted with both Scots and English.
The ‘Printed Book’ of conditions for successful applicants for Ulster land was published in April 1610. Separation was the essence of the scheme. The government was determined on sweeping measures and the plantation began in 1609. It was calculated that there were about 510,000 acres of ‘profitable’ land to be planted. The 510,000 acres were to be divided up into blocks of 2,000, 1,500 and 1,000 acres. These estates were to be leased to three different classes of planters.
1) Undertakers –English and Scottish Protestants. They paid a very low rent of £5.6s.8d. per 1,000 acres. However, they were not allowed to take Irish tenants, and they had to build fortified houses and keep men to defend them.
2) Servitors – Mainly Scots. They paid the same low rent as the Undertakers. However, if they took take Irish tenants their rent was increased to £8 per 1,000 acres.
3) The Meritorious Irish –Loyal Irish natives who paid a rent of £10.13s.4d. per 1,000 acres and might take Irish tenants.
Native grants only came to about 58,000 acres out of the total of 510,000 planted. Therefore, the Irish aristocracy became a minority among the landowners in the province and they got little of the best lands, which went to the English and Scots.
All classes of planters had obligations to build stone houses and defensive works. Conditions were laid down for founding towns, bringing in craftsmen, setting up schools and erecting parish churches.
The lord deputy was filled with a deep sense of foreboding. His advice to win the confidence of selected chieftains by creating a large class of anglicised and contented Irish landowners had not prevailed. The ‘deserving’ Irish were left only in possession of between on quarter and one fifth of the confiscated lands and some of these estates only during their lifetimes. The servitors, Chichester believed, had not been given enough – around one fifth of the land, not sufficient to carry out the defensive role expected of them. The undertakers had more than one quarter of the confiscated territory. Chichester doubted if they had the resources to carry out their obligations.
Sir John Davies writes a letter to the Earl of Salisbury, concerning the state of Ireland in 1610 and outlines plans for the Plantation of British settlers in Ulster.

*Map of the plantation of County Coleraine showing the division between the different London Guilds and Sir Thomas Phillips estate




Jonathan Bardon, “A Shorter Illustrated History of Ulster”, 1996, BlackStaff Press ISBN 0-85640-586-8
Rev. T.H. Mullin D.D. “Coleraine in by-gone centuries”, 1976, Century Services Ltd
Randall Clarke, M.A, “A short History of Ireland from 1485 ….”, University Tutorial Press
Encyclopædia Britannica CDROM 1999
Library Resources
NI Centre for Learning Resources, “The Plantation of Ulster”
Educational Facsimiles 161-180 ”Plantations in Ulster”


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