From the Broads to the Lakelands – English Plantation in Fermanagh in the early 17th century..

From the Broads to the Lakelands – English Plantation in Fermanagh.

 To give a very simplified mental picture of the Plantation of Fermanagh one has to visualise Fermanagh as a rectangle with Lough Erne running from east to west through the centre of the county. South of this east west line are three of the seven Baronies of Fermanagh with the most easterly and the most westerly namely Knockninny and Magheraboy were  granted to Scottish settlers and the central one partly to Irish and partly to English. On the northern side of the Erne the two Baronies on either end of Fermanagh were granted to English settlers and the two central largely to Irish natives other than around Enniskillen which was to be the new centre of the county of Fermanagh.

The south eastern barony originally granted to Scots from around the Edinburgh collapsed with the first ten years of the Plantation so that of the 9000 acres granted to them Sir Stephen Butler, an Englishman from Bedfordshire had purchased 8000 of these acres rendering this Barony therefore English rather than Scottish nearly straight away. So now the English had almost four of the seven Baronies of Fermanagh and had them in the most strategic places in the county – in the west next to the sea at Ballyshannon, in the centre about Enniskillen and in the east close to the entrance to the Upper Erne.

Most of the English who arrived in Fermanagh came from the area of East Anglia generally as Undertakers – those who undertook to carry our various conditions such as the building of a castle and bawn enclosure and the building of a church. To do this they had to have a certain high level of income (self assessed but) to build and to attract with them from England sufficient quality settlers to labour and farm and occupy the territory granted. Most of the servitors who got land in Fermanagh were also English. In Clinawley Barony, Sir John Davies, Attorney General 1,500 in the rich wheat bearing district around Lisgoole Abbey and reaching towards Enniskillen. Samuel Harrison, English 500 acres and Peter Mostyn, from Flintshire 246 acres.

The Barony of Coole and Tirkeneda Barony contained 116,006 acres almost entirely occupied by 9 undertakers, four of whom were servitors. These were Sir Henry Ffolliott, Baron Folliott of Ballyshannon, 1,500 acres, Roger Attkinson, 1,000 acres,  William Cole, reputedly from Devon 1,000 acres, and Paul Goore, son of a merchant-tailor of London, who had 1348 acres called the Manor of Inishmore.

In this short talk I am trying to explore why these English people were coming to Ireland when at the same time their neighbours, particularly in East Anglia were making America their plantation destination choice. Why Fermanagh rather than Jamestown in America, named after King James 1st? Most of the inhabitants of America’s first permanent English settlement came from Norfolk, England, including Samuel Lincoln, a forefather of President Abraham Lincoln. These are very fully documented in contrast to plantation and migration to Ireland e.g. from the Jamestown Original Settlers and Occupations – May 13, 1607 we even have the labourers recorded John Laydon, William Cassen, George Cassen, Thomas Cassen, William Rods, William White, Ould Edward, Henry Tavin, George Golding, John Dods, William Johnson, William Unger.

Firstly I think that at this stage in history the English had gained a lot of knowledge about this part of Ireland while relatively little was known of the Americas. Quite a few events of the Nine Years War had taken place in and around the Erne. In 1597 the English were defeated at Ballyshannon and then there had been a major siege of Enniskillen Castle in 1594. The island was captured by the English in 1607 and Ballyshannon had received a Royal Charter in 1613. So those who had served in the English army in Ireland and who as English Servitors wanted to be rewarded with Irish lands knew Fermanagh well and liked what they saw.

Sir John Davies, chief architect of the Plantation wrote after visiting Fermanagh, “ Have now finished in Fermanagh, which is so pleasant and fruitful a country that if he should make a full description thereof it would rather be taken for a poetical fiction, than for a true and serious narration. The fresh lake called Lough Erne being more than 40 miles in length, and abounding in fresh water fish of all kinds, and containing 100 dispersed islands, divides that county into two parts; the land on either side of the lough rising in little hills of 80 or 100 acres apiece, is the fattest and richest soil in all Ulster.

He goes on to suggest planting Dutch people in Fermanagh also led by a Dutch merchant called Maximilian van der Lever, who, by their industry the lake will be so full of boats and barks, that they will be a great strength to all the civil inhabitants round about.”

The Dutch interest in Fermanagh came to nought but it too had an origin in East Anglia. For centuries there had been huge commercial links between the Low Countries and this part of England. Dutch Protestant refugees fleeing Spanish Catholic persecution in their own country were getting refuge in East Anglia much to the annoyance of the Spanish. When the English upbraided the Spanish for giving refuge to the Irish Earls who fled there they responded in turn by pointing out England’s acceptance of Dutch refugees.

Such was the English interest in Fermanagh that they actually petitioned to plant the entire county themselves. The names of 40 gentlemen are recorded who offer to bestow £40,000 on the plantation of Fermanagh as they intend to have a market town on the south side thereof at Bellike, and from thence, three miles nearer the sea, to erect a strong corporation at Ballyshannon. They intended to erect 40 manors, if they are granted  60,000 acres, the Loughe, Islands therein, Fishings, and the sole command thereof and they with followers, not less than 1000 men well furnished for all kind of handiwork.”  Of those 40 listed 22 came from Norfolk and Suffolk and the rest from adjoining counties, London or were already in Ireland, presumably with contacts to the same area.

In the Precinct of Lurg and Coolemakarnan in northwest Fermanagh 9000 acres were allocated mainly to men of Norfolk and Suffolk. 1000 acres each to Thomas Flowerdewe, John Archdale, Suffolk, Edward Warde, Thomas Barton, Norfolk and Henry Honynge, Suffolk. John Archdale was related through marriage to the Honynge family having married Francis Hoynynge. The last two were portions of  2000 acres each to Thomas Blenerhassett, Esq., Norfolk and Sir Edward Blenerhassett of the same place. . The Blennerhassetts built what is now known as Crevenish Castle, near Kesh, which they called Castlehasset and established English workmen and tenants about them which they brought from their home near Norwich, in the county of Norfolk in the  East Anglia region of England.

Before becoming established in East Anglia the Blennerhassetts had lived in a village of the same name in Cumberland about twenty miles to the south-west of the city of Carlisle. The village of Blennerhassett today consists of a pub, post office and a village school with a small scattering of houses. So previous generations of the family who had lived on the Cumbrian coast just a short distance from Ulster also had a familiarity with Ireland which included the Blennerhassetts who had set themselves up in County Kerry area shortly before around Blennerville where they are still to be found today. These large of land had come from Queen Elizabeth 1 when the Earl of Desmond’s Estates were forfeited and so the family had a familiarity with the idea of Plantations before they ever came to Fermanagh.

Thomas Blennerhassett’s career before coming to Ireland included being Captain of Guernsey Castle. He was a literary man and wrote several books including, a book entitled, “Directions for the Plantation of Ulster.” He also issued a proclamation as a form of advertising to encourage others in the task of bringing “civilization” to Ireland. In part it reads,

“The County of Fermanagh, sometimes Maguire’s County rejoice. Many undertakers, all incorporated in mind as one, they, there with their followers, seek and are desirous to settle themselves. The islands of Lough Erne shall have habitations, a fortified corporation, market towns and many new erected manors, shall now so beautify her desolation that her inaccessible woods, with spaces made tractable, shall no longer nourish devourers, but by the sweet society of a loving neighbourhood, shall entertain humanity even in the best fashion. Go on worthy Gentlemen, fear not, the God of Heaven will assist and protect you.”

Thomas Blennerhassett has with him six persons, one a joiner, another a carpenter, and three other workmen with one tenant. He has built a boat, and has broken stones for lime and some burnt; and thirty trees felled; some squared and sawed; a fair large Irish house, with windows and rooms after the English manner, wherein is a new kitchen with a stone chimney and an oven. For cattle three horses, a mare and some thirteen head of other cattle.

There were two chief ways of generating wealth in Fermanagh in this early period of the Plantation; smelting low grade iron ore and the making of barrel staves. Both Blennerhassetts built iron works at Clonelly and Hassetts Fort which is now Castle Caldwell near Belleek while there was another nearby at Garrison. Boates indicates-woodcutters were needed, sawyers to saw, carpenters, masons, smiths, bellow makers, water leaders or water-course keepers to steer the water course, bucket makers to make containers for carrying ore and other materials, diggers of ore, carriers of ore, colliers to make charcoal, fillers to put ore and charcoal into the furnace, furnace keepers, firers and hammerers to look after the smelted iron and labourers to look after anything else:

“and for all this, the owners there of did greatly gain thereby, ordinarily not less than forty in the hundred per annum” ,” Iron works were a very profitable if highly destructive industry. Most of the Fermanagh produced iron being exported via Ballyshannon at £11 per ton and fetching £17 per ton in London.” In those days the favourite objects of solicitude were the manufacture of pipe-staves, and the development of the iron-works which were then supposed to be the true El Dorado of Irish enterprise—most people holding with Bacon that ‘Iron is a brave commodity where wood aboundeth.’ Both industries depended for their success upon the woods, which were accordingly drawn upon regardless of the consequences. From Munster whole shiploads of pipe-staves were exported, to the great profit of the proprietors and the great destruction of the woods; and Boate says, in his  Ireland’s Naturall History, “it is incredible what quantity of charcoal is consumed by one iron-work in a year.’’ These enterprises were carried on at a terrible price to the Irish landscape. This wholescale deforestation began the process which has resulted in Ireland being one of the least forested countries of Europe with only about 9% of the country covered in trees while for example France is about 40% afforested.

In summary therefore the vast majority of Fermanagh was planted by either English undertakers or servitors many of whom had an intimate knowledge of the area from their military experience or previous contact as planters in Ireland. They knew with plentiful forest they could make money from smelting iron or converting the forests into usable timber particularly barrel staves. They brought in numerous English settlers whose names are still found in the county, Barton, Archdale, Allingham, Cole, Chittick, Eves and there is even a solitary Blennerhassett. Fermanagh history needs to be rewritten to take account of this English aspect of its heritage.

I have been in East Anglia numerous times and in its libraries and public record offices and the amazing thing is that there is no record whatsoever of people from East Anglia coming to Fermanagh. There are ships lists of those going to Jamestown, down to the least commoner but a total amnesia about plantation families going to Ireland. Perhaps the overwhelming fame of America has totally eclipsed the memory of those who went to Ireland but this is a remarkable fact.

My particular interest in the plantation period concerns name of Eves, an East Anglian name from Old English meaning a dweller beside a forest. Three of that name came to Fermanagh with the Archdales as ploughmen. An Eleanor Eves is noted in the 1821 Census fragment for County Fermanagh as a lady’s maid to the wife of General Archdale. Unusually perhaps the Eves family remained Roman Catholic despite being closely allied and working for the landed Archdales who were Church of Ireland. It has been noted in the predominantly Protestant Kesh area that through the centuries the Eves could purchase any property in the locality despite their religion in a largely Protestant neighbourhood – presumably under the benevolent wing of the Archdales and they also were the operators of one of the first Post Offices in the village of Kesh. As one might say old family links from the Broads of East Anglia were maintained in the Lakelands of County Fermanagh.

JBC 7-11-2008.

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