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The Flight of the Earls from P W Joyce's Book A Concise History of Ireland


After the defeat at Kinsale, and the subsequent surrender at Mellifont in 1603, Hugh O'Neill gave up his Irish title, O'Neill, and took the title Earl of Tyrone. He was allowed to retain most of the lands that had been granted to Conn O'Neill in 1542. Rory O'Donnell, younger brother of Red Hugh, became Earl of Tyrconnell on the same terms.


The two Earls travelled to London, where the new King, James I, confirmed the Treaty of Mellifont. But the English officials who ruled Ulster were unfriendly and tried to turn the lord deputy in Dublin against the Earls. They spread a rumour that O'Neill and O'Donnell were planning another rebellion, and the Earls were summoned to London for questioning. Fearing for their safety, the Earls decided that the best course would be to leave the country and, in 1607, they sailed from Rathmullen on Lough Swilly for the mainland of Europe.


After the Flight of the Earls, the government confiscated their lands and decided to plant six counties of Ulster, this became the basis for the subsequent Ulster Plantation. The last vestiges of an independence Irish parliament was destroyed by the creation of 40 boroughs out of small hamlets, a political manoeuvre that secured a permanent majority to the English Crown. When the new settlers arrived they found a barren un-cultivated land, most of the native population were dead, killed in warfare although the majority probably died from starvation and exposure after their homes were destroyed.


Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Tyrone were planted with new settlers. The plantations of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I had not been successful, and the government planned the new settlement more carefully. It divided the land into estates of three sizes: 810 hectares (2000 acres), 607 hectares (1500 acres), and 405 hectares (1000 acres).


Estates were granted to three kinds of people: English and Scottish settlers, who were not allowed to have Irish tenants; Servitors (men who had served in the English army in Ireland), who might take both British and Irish tenants; and Irishmen, who could have Irish tenants. Rents were low, but settlers were expected to build fortified houses.


The City of London Companies received all the lands between the Foyle and the Bann rivers. They undertook to build up the towns of Coleraine and Derry (renamed Londonderry) and to spend 20,000 pounds in developing their grant.


At the same time, two more counties of Ulster, Antrim and Down, were settled, mainly by people from Scotland. The Ulster settlement was the most successful of the plantations. Its success helped to give the area the Protestant character it has today.


The Cromwellian settlement. In the years that followed, the government made other settlements in Carlow, King's County, Leitrim, Longford, and Wexford. Even Old English nobles (descendants of Norman settlers) lost their lands.


As a result of these plantations, bitter feelings were aroused, and Roman Catholic landowners became alarmed, justifiably none felt secure in their lands.


The Flight of the Earls