The Plantation Period of Ireland, 1550 – 1690

Since we know that our Manary/Menary ancestors were mostly tenant farmers in Armagh, Tyrone, and Down, it is possible they were in Ireland for many years before the Battle of the Boyne. They may have been brought in as “Planters”, the term used for these mostly English and Scottish settlers who immigrated into Ireland, beginning in the mid-16th century.

The English quest to control Ireland had been ongoing for centuries by that point. In the early part of the 12th century, small clusters of British Protestants had immigrated to Ireland, and by the Middle Age period from 1250 – 1500, Britain had control of the small strip of territory known as the Pale. This territory was centered on the east coast of Ireland around Dublin. By 1450, the Pale had expanded to lands that stretched from Dalkey, south of Dublin, to the garrison of Dundalk in the north, and inland to Naas and Lexilip in County Kildare.


Efforts to control the Irish heated up in the 16th century. Queen Mary I began to organize the first so-called Plantations in Ireland in an attempt to colonize the island with English-speaking Protestants and force out the native Gaelic Catholics. Several Plantations were attempted with lands just west of the Pale, but failed due to the resistance of the local Irish.

When Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, she continued with attempts to colonize Ireland. In the 1570s, the first Plantation of East Ulster began and in the 1580s, another attempt was made, known as the Munster Plantation. This took in the entire southern tip of Ireland. The decree of the Plantations was that all lands belonging to the Irish Catholic land owners were to be confiscated by the Crown and settled by farmers and immigrants from England and Scotland. However, these settlements were scattered, and in the 1590s, when the Nine Years War broke out, they were abandoned. After the war, some of the English settlers returned.

The Plantation of Ulster, the period when it’s possible that our Manary/Menary ancestors arrived in Ireland, began in 1609 under the rule of King James I, successor to Elizabeth I and so-called sovereign of England, Scotland, and Ireland. James succeeded where the former attempts had failed. After the Nine Years War, many of the Irish warlords fled from Ireland to Spain in what is called the Flight of the Earls. Their intention was to reorganize, but they never returned to Ireland. This opened up a huge opportunity for English colonization and King James I seized the moment.

In his organization of the new, larger Plantation, James decreed that half of the Plantation would be made up of Scottish immigrants, with the other half composed of English. Six counties were included in his official plan for the Ulster Plantation: Armagh, Cavan, Coleraine, Fermanagh, Donegal, and Tyrone. Most of the land had been owned by Irish Catholics but under the new system, the land was confiscated and wealthy English and Scottish men were granted land areas consisting of approximately 3000 acres each. New land owners were instructed to colonize each of these acreages with no less than 48 men from their native country. Of the 48, 20 had to be married men who would immigrate with their families.


Seen here in orange, the Ulster Plantation thrived through the death of King James I in 1625 into the reign of his son and successor, King Charles I. By the 1630s, it was reported that there were 20,000 English and Scottish adult males within the boundary of the Plantation. Adding in women and children, it is possible that the actual population of immigrants numbered between 80,000 and 150,000.

Although the English and Scottish were now the majority of the population, the Plantation never did rid itself of the lands of the Irish Catholic, nor did it Anglicize them. Contrary to the proclamation of King James I in 1609, which forbade allowing the Irish to be tenants, many land owners found that it was necessary. Because the Planters chose to settle on only the best of the farmlands in or near an established town, that left vacant land in need of farming. None of the Scottish or English settlers were keen to live there because of the plague of Irish renegades, who attacked and slaughtered families if they were further than a mile outside of the walled towns. It was much safer and more productive to have Irish tenants, who would escape such retributive tactics.

Early documents of the Manary/Menary names and its many variations have been found during the period of the Ulster Plantation, predating the Battle of the Boyne. This leaves open a distinct possibility that our ancestors may have been among the Planters in the early days of Ulster. However, even if this is the case, it does not clearly indicate where we came from, since the Plantation was made up of half English, half Scottish. One thing that has become clear through our extensive DNA research is that it’s very unlikely that our origins were native Irish.

Contributor: Todd Manary



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