When Henry VIII's daughter Elizabeth became Queen in 1558 England's control
over Ireland was at
low ebb. Just the year before, the first in a long series of rebellions
against English rule had broken out in Ulster. Although not successful,
this rebellion confirmed for Elizabeth that more stringent measures would
have to be taken to stabilize English domination in Ireland once and for
all. First she imposed the Anglican faith upon the hostile Catholic
populace and then she began steadily expanding the previously unsuccessful
plantation system (as shown on the map above).
As the Irish responded in 1593, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, took the
'illegal' Gaelic title of "The O'Neill" and prepared to lead the Ulster
chiefs in defence of territory and religion. Seeing their days numbered by
forces destined to completely erode their power, the Irish continued the
struggle in 1594, spearheaded by Red Hugh O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, who
defeated an English army at the 'Ford of the Biscuits'. The Irish in
Ulster, led by Hugh O'Neill, Ulster's "principle chieftain," succeeded
among other places, at the Battle of Yellow Ford, County Armagh, in 1598.
With the arrival and successes of Lord Mountjoy as English governor in
1600, the Irish campaign appeared to be undermined. In 1601 a Spanish
fleet, backed by King Philip III, arrived at Kinsale with 3,800 troops
to assist the Irish. The rebellion however suffered a crushing blow at
the seige and Battle of Kinsale of December 1601, ending in an English
victory. O'Neill later signed a peace treaty at Mellifont in March, 1603,
retaining his lands and earldom. Thus ended the Nine Year's War in Ireland
lasting from 1594 to 1603.
When James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603, he resumed the plantation of
English and Scottish settlers with a vengeance, especially in the part of
Ireland which had been the center of the uprising: Ulster.
Threatened by all the newcomers, O'Neill and about one hundred of the most
important people in Ulster fled the country from Rathmullan, County Donegal
in 1607. This 'flight of the earls' is generally agreed by historians to be
the real end of the Gaelic civilization as a political entity in Ireland.
Following this event dramatic changes were in store for the Irish.
In 1610, the settlement in County Coleraine (Derry) by a group of London
livery companies caused the name of the county to be changed to
Londonderry. In 1622 little more than 13,000 Protestants lived in Ulster,
yet by 1641 their population was over 100,000. Within 30 years of the
arrival of James’ first settlers, only slightly more than 10 per cent of
Ulster still belonged to the Catholic native Irish. In a generation the
social structure of Ulster had been re-engineered in a fashion that would
have painful consequences for both the newly installed, privileged
Protestant majority and the disenfranchised, soon to be impoverished
During Plantation most of the Irish remained on their lands because the
planters needed their labor, but they remained as tenants rather than
owners of their own land. By 1641, the Irish revolted again, establishing
a national parliament in Kilkenny which stood not only for independence
but for full liberty of religion and conscience. When Oliver Cromwell
landed with his zealously Protestant troops at Dublin on August 15, 1649,
the fate of the Catholic Irish was sealed. This national revolt of the
Irish people was brutally crushed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649-1650, its
people murdered by the tens of thousands, the Catholic religion outlawed,
and the rights of its native people reduced to little more than livestock.
By 1653 the English had completely subjugated the entire island, by the
combination of massacres, pestilence, and starvation which was estimated
to have killed between half and two-thirds of the Irish people; while untold
thousands of others were shipped off into slavery in the American colonies
and the West Indies. Those who could began to flee to the European
Continent, reminiscent of the flight of the earls earlier in the century.
Worse followed when the English Parliament declared that after May 1, 1654,
under penalty of death, no Irish could live east of the River Shannon and only
those who could prove they had not been rebels could own land west of the
Shannon. All the land east of the Shannon was divided among Protestant
settlers. In 1641 when The Rising began, nearly eighty percent of the land
in Ireland belonged to Catholics. By the year 1665 only 20 percent remained
in Catholic hands. By 1703, less than 5 per cent of the land of
Ulster was still in the hands of the Catholic Irish.
Extinction of the Geraldine Earldoms
John Fitzthomas, Lord of Offaly, who was created Earl of Kildare in 1316,
received a grant of land and established Maynooth as a family seat. The
Fitzgeralds steadily increased their wealth and influence with a combination
of political cunning and expedient marriages. The power of the House of
Kildare reached its zenith during the time of Garret Mór, the 8th Earl,
henceforth known as the "Great Earl". He established a sovereignty which
lasted until 1534 and the rebellion of his grandson, Silken Thomas, 10th
(and last) Earl of Kildare. Thomas, along with his five uncles, was executed
in London, at Tyburn Hill in 1537. Thus ended the power of the House of
Kildare, never again to recover its former eminence and influence.
The Tudor monarchs in England, wishing to centralize all power in their own
hands, sought to curb the power of the Desmond Geraldines. They also sought to
promote the tenets of the Reformation on Geraldine lands and to establish
colonies of English on them.
In 1571, the Geraldines, under their leader, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald,
revolted against English rule. The uprising sparked off a savage war in
Munster, during which the province was laid waste. It ended with the
destruction of the house of Desmond in 1583 and the confiscation of the
vast Geraldine estates.