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Gaelic Ireland

It was not until the early 16th Century that a concerted effort was made to bring the whole country under the English system of government and the control of a parliament in Dublin. Queen Elizabeth [r. 1558-1603] was determined to anglicise Ireland and she proceeded steadily throughout her reign towards this objective. Religious change in England had a major impact on Ireland. The descendants of the Norman settlers in Ireland, who came to be called the Old English, were, by and large, hostile to the Protestant reformation which had led to the establishment of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. In addition, the central strategic importance of Ireland, as an island close to both Britain and continental Europe, and hence a possible base for English malcontents or foreign enemies, gave Irish affairs an urgency that they had not had for centuries.

The old English of the pale were little more disposed to embrace the reformed religion, or to acknowledge the despotic principles of a Tudor administration, than the Irish themselves ; and though they did not join in the rebellions of those they so much hated, the queen's deputies had sometimes to encounter a more legal resistance. A new race of colonists had begun to appear in their train, eager for possessions, and for the rewards of the crown, contemptuous of the natives, whether aboriginal or of English descent, and in consequence the objects of their aversion or jealousy.

A strong country party, as it may be termed, was formed in opposition to the crown. The policy of centralisation, attempted by one or two of the Irish kings, had never developed. Despotism tends to centralisation, freedom of the people to decentralise. Among the Celts as among the Greeks of antiquity and the Italians of the Middle Ages, the instinct of local freedom usually prevailed over the policy of centralisation.

A series of revolts in Ireland arose in 1592 in response to religious differences and to the English Crown's policy of introducing new settlers from Britain. The Nine Years' War [1594-1603] was not only one of independence but a religious war as well, the defining moment in English attempts to conquer Ireland for the first time. Hugh O'Neill cast off the title of Earl of Tyrone, and was proclaimed The O'Neill. Those companies whom he had trained were keen steel fit for use. In August 1598 Hugh O'Neill [the Great O'Neill] destroyed an English army at the battle of the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater River. The Nine Years War culminated in the defeat of the native Irish armies by those of Queen Elizabeth I at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

Following this, Gaelic resistance was worn down and in 1603, the last Gaelic stronghold, Ulster, was brought under Crown control. The same year which witnessed the death of the great Queen, witnessed also the final overthrow of the great chieftains who had so long defied her power: and, within a few weeks from the day when the first Stuart ascended the throne of England, he received the homage of the O'Neil and the O'Doimel at Whitehall. The Ulster plantation which followed brought many English and Scots settlers to Ulster and had a lasting impact on the religious and political complexion of the province. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the authority of the English Government, which had first been introduced into Ireland in the twelfth, may be said to have definitely established itself throughout the island.

Bacon deemed it so important "to allure by all means fit Undertakers" that in the memorial of 1606 he suggested that grants of knighthood, "with some new difference and precedence," might "work with many" in drawing them to the support of the cause. Action taken by the King early in 1611 accords with Bacon's advice. The order of baronets, officially described as "a new dignitie between Barons and Knights," was instituted, to consist of gentlemen who should bind themselves to pay a sum sufficient to maintain thirty foot-soldiers in Ireland for three years, the money thus obtained to be kept as a special fund so that it might be "wholly converted to that use for which it was given and intended." The first of these baronets was Bacon's own half-brother, and it appears that Bacon advised the King on points raised touching the dignity and precedence of the new order of nobility.

Finding Ireland conquered and in no condition to rise again, James I established circuits and a complete system of shires. The site of Derry was granted to the citizens of London, who fortified and armed it, and Londonderry became the chief bulwark of the colonists in two great wars. Whatever may have been its morality, in a political point of view the plantation of Ulster was successful. The northern province, which so severely taxed the energies of Elizabeth, had since been the most prosperous and loyal part of Ireland. But the conquered people remained side by side with the settlers; and Sir George Carew, who reported on the plantation in 1611, clearly foresaw that they would rebel again.

After the Nine Years War, in 1607 Ireland's remaining major chieftains left for the European continent in the 'Flight of the Earls'. The Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, O'Neill and O'Donnell, together with their entourages left Ireland from Rathmullan in Donegal. The Flight of the Earls was undoubtedly one of the most dramatic moments in Irish history. If there is a collective national memory, the picture of the Irish chieftains sailing by night on the stormy seas to Spain must be one that hauntingly grips our imagination. The departure at midday on 14th September 1607 of the aristocracy of Ulster heralded an end to old Gaelic Ireland.

After the Flight of the Earls, Tyrone and Tyrconnell (Donegal), to permanent exile on the Continent in 1607, much of Ulster was ripe for plantation (colonisation). With the accession of King James I and his policy of encouraging new colonists to settle in Ireland, a political division rapidly developed. In 1617 Bacon, as Lord Chancellor of England, addressed the person called to be Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Bacon remarked that "Ireland is the last ex filiis Europae which hath been reclaimed from desolation and a desert (in many parts) to population and plantation; and from savage and barbarous customs to humanity and civility." He commended the plantations to the special care of the new justice, with the admonition: "You are to be a master builder, and a master planter, and reducer of Ireland."

In the years immediately following on the plantation of Ulster three other plantations, in North Wexford (1610-20), Longford and Ely O'Carroll (1615-20), Leitrim and the midland districts along the Shannon (1620), comprising nearly half a million acres of land, were taken in hand. But, though not one of these could be regarded as even moderately successful, such were still the fortunes to be made in land-jobbing that it seemed as if the natural boundaries of Ireland could alone set a limit to the craving for Irish land. The Irish had themselves been largely to blame. Their inability or unwillingness to accommodate themselves to English ideas, their repeated rebellions and intrigues with foreign Powers, had exhausted the patience of English statesmen and forced them, at first more in self-defence than from any other reason, to adopt a policy of extirpation and plantation.

To the old settlers of Anglo-Norman origin the new plantations constituted a grave political danger. They were almost to a man Roman Catholics. Their hopes that with the accession of James I their position would undergo a change for the better had been disappointed. In Ireland, where religion was becoming more and more the touchstone of national life, it was little wonder if, in face of the danger menacing them, the gentry of the Pale should have thought their only chance of safety lay in a union with the native element.

The supplanting of the native Irish under James I's plantation in the northern counties led to an uprising by the Ulster Irish who were joined by the Catholic 'Old English'. This resulted in the 1641 'Parliament' of Kilkenny - the first attempt to establish a central body representative of the majority of Ireland's inhabitants.

The Roman Catholic insurgents of 1641 just failed to seize Dublin, but quickly became masters of nearly the whole country. That there was no definite design of massacring the Protestants is likely, but it was intended to drive them out of the country. Great numbers were killed, often in cold blood and with circumstances of great barbarity. The English of the Pale were forced into rebellion, but could never get on with the native Irish, who hated them only less than the new colonists. The Pope stood for an arrangement which would have destroyed the royal supremacy and established Romanism in Ireland, leaving to the Anglicans bare toleration, and to the Presbyterians not even that.

The necessities of Charles I induced his ministers to promise certain graces, of which the chief were security for titles, free trade, and the substitution of an oath of allegiance for that of supremacy. Having got the money, Charles as usual broke his word; and in 1635 the lord-deputy Strafford Admiaiso began a general system of extortion. The money obtained by oppressing the Irish nation was employed to create an army for the oppression of the Scottish and English nations.

Through these events all the Celtic chiefs of most consequence in the north of Ireland were removed, six counties, Tyrone, Donegal, Armagh, Coleraine, Cavan, and Fermanagh, were escheated to the crown, and the way was opened for the memorable plantation of Ulster. It is usual to describe the thirty years that elapsed between the plantation of Ulster and the Rebellion of 1641 as a period of peace and prosperity. That they were so in a relative sense is not to be denied. It is unquestionable that the country, thanks to the industry of the new settlers, made rapid progress in material prosperity. All the same it was a period of deep unrest and suppressed discontent. For the time, the sword had done its work. Their chiefs slain, exiled, or imprisoned, themselves decimated by famine and pestilence, the natives looked on in impotent rage while the chicaneries of the law stripped them one by one of lands to which they believed they possessed an indefeasible right.

Irish political history in the seventeenth century was intimately linked to events in England and Scotland, including the Civil War, the rise of Oliver Cromwell, the Red Hugh O'Neill restoration of Charles II and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which placed William and Mary on the English throne.

The conquest of the country was not completed until the early 17th century, by which time it had developed its own political institutions. Cromwell's campaign (1649-1650) showed how easily a good general with an efficient army might conquer Ireland. Oliver's severe conduct is not morally defensible, but such methods were common in the wars of the period. Cromwell's civil policy, to use Macaulay's words, was " able, straightforward, and cruel." By the long war, the population was reduced to some 850,000, of whom 150,000 were English and Scots. Those who settled in Ireland after 1641 were in a very different mood. They hated, feared and despised the Irish, and took pride in preserving their pure English speech.

The English fought another Nine Years War (1689-97 - a war with at least five different names, also known as the War of the League of Augsburg, War of the Grand Alliance, King Williams' War, or War of the English Succession) against France to uphold the Protestant regime and to maintain England's hold over Ireland. The victory at Londonderry over Catholic King James II's invading army in 1689 was only the first of several battles. A struggle for supremacy between the Catholic Old English and Gaelic Irish on the one hand, and the Protestant New English (who included further new settlers) on the other, was, after numerous ebbs and flows throughout the period, finally settled at the Battles of the Boyne (1690) and Aughrim (1691). The Roman Catholic Celts aided by France were entirely beaten, the Protestant colonists aided by England were entirely victorious. William III was the most liberally minded man in his dominions; but the necessities of his position, such is the awful penalty of greatness, forced him into intolerance against his will.

The Old English and the Gaelic Irish were crushed and many of their leaders and followers ('The Wild Geese') left Ireland to pursue military, religious or commercial careers abroad. Many members of the old Gaelic and Norman families - the Wild Geese - fled to the Continent of Europe after their defeat in the Williamite Wars of the 1690s. Even before the departure of the "Wild Geese" after the Treaty of Limerick, Irish soldiers had practised their profession abroad. The Protestants of the Established Church monopolised political power and ownership of the land, and penal laws discriminated against Catholics. The turmoil of the mid- and late-17th century led directly to the concentration of power in the hands of the 'Protestant ascendancy'. A series of penal laws were enforced, one of which was the total exclusion of Catholics from the Irish parliament in Dublin.

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Page last modified: 06-02-2013 19:00:55 ZULU