17 th Century Happenings

When the most powerful chief in Gaelic Ireland, Hugh O’Neill, who had taken the English title of Earl of Tyrone, submitted to Lord Mountjoy, the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant at Mellifont Abbey in Louth in the early 17 th century, the English Conquest was all but complete.

Seventeenth century Ireland saw society experience transition on social, economic and political fronts. Social norms of Gaelic Ireland were dismantled and replaced with English standards of social order. The economy became increasingly commercialised and Irish trade expanded and diversified. A local government system based on new geographical units such as the county was developed and became increasingly widespread from the middle of the sixteenth century. However the old order was not entirely obliterated, particularly in Ulster . In contrast with the other Provinces, the power of great Gaelic chiefs in west Ulster had remained largely intact until the late sixteenth century. Their moral authority persisted into the seventeenth century.

The Plantation Scheme devised for Ulster after the Flight of the Earls in September 1607 was radically different from previous schemes. Land tenure was to be dramatically reorganised and the confiscated lands of the native Irish chiefs was to be granted to English and Scots settlers who were ex-army officers and government officials. The new landowners were bound to introduce further new settlers as their tenants, build castles and towns and act as agents for the introduction of English law, for the Protestant religion and for ‘civility’. The plan created an environment where, for such people, land was cheap and the authority of the English crown weak. Consequently men who felt their opportunities in England and Scotland limited saw in Ulster a chance to make a profit or to reverse declining fortunes. By 1630 there were 24,000 newcomers to Ulster and this large population increase had widespread repercussions in every area of Ulster life.

Ulster exports increased by 150% between 1616 and 1626, stimulating improved market structures. Over 150 markets and 85 fairs were licensed in the first 40 years of the century. The cash economy was born. A man’s status in society was now determined by the amount of land he owned. A tenant’s status and economic position depended on his landlord and the terms on which he occupied his holding from this landlord. These were set out in a legally binding document, a lease. Landlord/tenant relations dominated society.

There was a Catholic uprising in 1641 which was soon repressed but economic conditions were affected. Ten years later Ulster was in a dire political and economic state. Thereafter there was some little revival but the century’s end saw a further worsening. William III landed in Carrickfergus on 14 June 1690 . The Williamite Settlement saw Ulster a colonised province, more Presbyterian than Catholic, yet controlled by the landed gentry of the Church of Ireland Ascendancy . As the colonisation process pushed out from the main ports of Derry and Donaghadee in south and westerly directions, and from South Antrim and North Down of earlier settled English and Scots, the native Irish either absorbed the coloniser’s ideas and customs of estate management, cultural and social values and economic organisation, or retreated before them. Raymond Gillespie writes that by 1700 the native Irish had been pushed to the southern boundary of Ulster ‘s influence, to meet the northern limit of the Pale, an already well-developed commercial ‘English’ area.

The result was an economic borderland of poor, underdeveloped land with only limited contact with a wider commercialized world. The distinctive nature of South Armagh – which was to persist to the present day – had been established. It largely retained its native identity and resisted the authority of central government. For at least another century and a half it resisted the imposition of English as the first language. It also resisted the suppression of the Catholic faith. There was however to be great change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

.. the O’Neills up to Squire Jackson …

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