The Clash of Two Civilizations, The Plantation System in Ireland
At the start of the 17th century, the English plantation of Ireland was a major thrust of British colonialism. Plantations in the province of Munster, and later Ulster, pitted English settlers against traditional Irish landholders to a bloody, sometimes deadly result, and often ruining the very lands for which they fought.
On one side, England had “owned” Ireland since King Henry II conquered the island in the 12th century. Henry awarded vast tracts of land to noblemen to protect England’s claim and to exploit Ireland’s fertile ground for marketable products. When organized plantation of Ireland began in the 16th century, England was Protestant under Henry VIII’s Church of England.
On the other side were the Irish, both the native Irish who descended from the ancient Milesians, the Firbolg, and the Tuatha De Danaan a thousand years before Christ; and the English nobles who now ruled their own fiefdoms throughout Ireland, had married into the ancient Irish families, and in many cases had adopted Irish culture. They were mostly Roman Catholic.
Perhaps at first, the plantations were conceived with reasonable intent—the development of efficient agriculture to increase yield and generate prosperity in Ireland, and to teach the native Irish how to employ modern farming practices. This was the same European plantation complex that had been a means of generating income since the Crusades in the 11th century.
But, in the words of historian and biographer C.V. Wedgwood, “The clash of two civilizations, exacerbated by the clash of two religions, culminated on bloody wars. The so-called pacifications of Ireland by the English government became suppression by massacre and confiscation.”
In Henry VIII’s case, he needed the plantation to generate money for the royal treasury. Much of Ireland already had been scoured of its forests to help build the royal navy. But also, England was fighting some expensive wars. He wanted greater control over Ireland’s resources to produce far more income, and he wanted the armed forces loyal to the king, not to their local lords.
At the same time, Henry had separated from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England. The Pope would like nothing better than to assemble an army in Ireland as a strategic launch point to invade England and overthrow or assassinate the king. Henry could not allow a papist population at his back door to welcome invaders and put England at risk. Ireland’s people would either convert or suffer the consequences.
As the king sent in agents to take over administrative powers from the Irish lords, not surprisingly his advances met with resistance. Ireland’s landed gentry resented the threat to their long-term autonomy and their religion. There were many demands and many grievances, but it was the confiscation of land that cut deepest.
|The Plantations of Ireland|
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Battles were fought in courts and argued in Parliament, while rebel bands grew in Ireland’s mountains and rocky coastlines. Nevertheless, the king would have his way. The conquest of Ireland continued under his daughter Mary and then Elizabeth I. During Elizabeth’s reign, there was a feud between the two dominant clans of southwest Ireland, the FitzGeralds (Desmond dynasty) and the Butlers (Ormonde dynasty). When Elizabeth seemed to side with her cousin, Black Tom Butler, the Desmond rebellion began.
There were two Desmond Rebellions, 1569 and 1579. The first rebellion was crushed through the tactics of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who used bloody fighting, terror, random killings of civilians, corridors of severed heads, and scorched earth tactics. The second rebellion ended when the English turned Irish against Irish. For a payment in silver, the O’Moriarty family hunted down and killed the Earl of Desmond, and sent his head to the queen.
Then came the Nine Years War (1594-1603), led by the O’Neills and the O’Donnells, fought primarily in the Ulster region of Ireland. This was the largest conflict yet in Elizabeth’s reign. But England prevailed; the earls fled Ireland in hopes of finding foreign support, leaving devastation and starvation behind as the aftermath.
The penalty for rebellion was a vast English plantation of both Munster and Ulster. And under Elizabeth’ heir, James I, life for the Irish got even worse. The Penal Laws were imposed, banning Catholics from public office, from intermarriage with Protestants, and from legal and teaching professions. They could not own firearms, adopt an orphan, get a foreign education, or own a horse valued at more than £5.
By the time of Charles I, “land-hungry settlers flooded into the unexploited lands of Ireland, refused to accept Irish customs in the use and possession of land, staked out their claims, built farms, stored their surplus corn in barns, and introduced new kinds of agriculture which took the pasture away from the cattle,” Wedgwood wrote.
Despite professing to remain landless while administering for the king in Ireland, even the Lord Deputy Thomas Wentworth got in on the action, with manors in Wicklow and Kildare totaling nearly 59,000 acres.
And yet, for the Irish the fight was not over. In 1641, the simmering rebellion came to boil. The English Civil War had begun, pitting Parliament and its army against King Charles and his loyal subjects, fighting primarily over the king’s prerogative to rule without Parliament. England’s violent distraction became Ireland’s opportunity.
Mr. Roger (Rory) O’Moore, one of the principal organizers of the Great Rebellion, knew well the losses the Irish had suffered by the English insurgence. He descended from an ancient Irish family. His uncle had been known as “King of Laois,” (pronounced “Lay-oh-is) and had fought against the English during Queen Mary’s (aka Bloody Mary) reign. Englishmen with eyes for O’Moore land invited the clan to a feast, and then slaughtered all the leaders and more than 180 family members.
O’Moore’s father was later granted an estate by Queen Elizabeth, but fights, skirmishes and rages continued against the English settlers. Decades later, O’Moore tried every legal means to restore and retain Irish rights and properties. But his efforts in Parliament were fruitless, and eventually he realized Ireland had no recourse.
In pledging the Irish rebel forces to join with Royalist Confederate forces in Dublin, O’Moore said:
“My Lords, our sufferings are grown too heavy for us to bear. We are the sole subjects in Europe incapable of serving our Sovereign in places of honor, profit and trust. We are obstructed in ways of learning, so that our children cannot come to speak Latin without renouncing their dependence on the Church, and endangering their souls. These things we wished redressed in Parliament, and had they listened to us…we would have sat down contented. But the Lords Justices are merely bent on ruining our nation…”The Great Rebellion of 1641 was a brave, passionate and bloody fight. Successful at first, many English settlers were turned out as the Irish retook their properties. But when the civil war ended, Parliament won, King Charles I was executed, and England turned its attention to Ireland. Under the brutal march of Oliver Cromwell and his army, 1649-1653, more than 600,000 native people were slaughtered, deported or died by disease or starvation, and entire villages were destroyed. Ireland was devastated.
It was not until 1918, again after a bloody rising, that the Irish Republic was declared at Dublin Castle.
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As the son of a great Irish warrior, FaolAn Burke should have inherited vast lands and a beautiful castle, Glencurragh. But tensions grow in 1634 Ireland, as English plantation systems consume traditional clan properties, Irish families are made homeless, and Irish sons lose their inheritance. Encountering the beautiful heiress, Vivienne FitzGerald, FaolAn believes if she became his wife, together they could restore his stolen heritage and build a prosperous life. But, because the Earl of Cork protects her, abduction seems to be his only option.
Best friend Aengus O'Daly narrates as he and the brothers Thomas and Sean Barry help FaolAn complete the deed, and hasten to the Earl of Barrymore, who has promised to negotiate the marriage settlement. But Vivienne clearly has a mind of her own, and the adventure that began as a lark takes a dark turn when one man is injured, another is killed, and their plans for Barrymore's support go awry.
Worse still, FaolAn now finds himself in the crossfire between the four most powerful men in Ireland--the earls of Clanricarde, Cork, Ormonde, and the aggressive new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth--men who use people like game pieces to be moved about for their own benefit. And other forces threaten their plans and even their lives. With the course of events now beyond their control, will FaolAn and Vivienne ever realize the dream of Glencurragh?
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