Plantations by Land and Sea

North Channel Communities of the Atlantic Archipelago c.1550-1625

by Alison Cathcart (Author)
©2022 Monographs XVI, 360 Pages
Series: Archipelagic Studies, Volume 1


This book traces the development, and subsequent implementation, of the policy of plantation from the mid-sixteenth through to the early seventeenth century focusing specifically on the North Channel context. By examining why plantation emerged as a policy within the north of Ireland, why it was implemented within the western Highlands and Isles of Scotland, and the repercussions of such a policy, the book will engage with debates about plantation as part of a «civilising» policy, and what that meant for communities and individuals that were brought together by the waters of the North Channel. Rather than view plantation as a tool of state formation, formulated at the centre and imposed onto the periphery, the author seeks to emphasise it was the result of ongoing dialogue between a number of individuals and communities and was as much a response of the centre to events on the periphery. Thus, while plantation in the northern province of Ireland came to be a pivotal part of James VI and I’s «British» project, the outworking of that policy was rather different.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of illustrations
  • List of maps
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of abbreviations
  • Chapter 1 Setting the scene
  • Chapter 2 Historical context
  • Chapter 3 Removal and relocation: Alternative Ulster plantations
  • Chapter 4 The English in Ulster: Plantation policies and processes
  • Chapter 5 Of military men, merchants and mariners
  • Chapter 6 Clanship and commerce: Plantation in a North Channel context
  • Chapter 7 James VI and I, Ulster and the South Isles
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Vraye & exacte description Hydrographique des costes maritimes d’Escosse & des Isles Orchades Hebrides avec partie d’Angleterre & d’Irlande servant a la navigation, Par N. de Nicolay D’auphinois Sieur d’Arfeville & de Belair … (ID 1374). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

P/49 (25) (L9622): East part of Ulster [1601]. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Interior of Alexander MacLeod’s tomb, Rodel, Harris. © Crown copyright: HES SC 973208.

P/49 (25) (L9622): East part of Ulster [1601] with detail of Scots’ warning fires. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

P/49 (25) (L9622): East part of Ulster [1601] with detail of O’Neill inauguration site. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Carrickfergus, 1560. © The British Library Board, Cotton Augustus I, ii, f.42.

P/49 (25) (L9622): East part of Ulster [1601] with detail of Islandmagee and Olderfleet. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Maps, drawings and plans by Richard Bartlett (Barthelet) and others, 1587–1625, Drawing of attacks on crannogs in Ulster, c.1602. Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Ireland, NLI MS 2656 (11).

P/49 (25) (L9622): East part of Ulster [1601] with detail of Strangford Lough. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

←vii | viii→

Maps, drawings and plans by Richard Bartlett (Barthelet) and others, 1587–1625, A plot of Logh Foyle brought over by Cap. Covert, 1600. Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Ireland, NLI MS 2656 (16).

P/49 (25) (L9622): East part of Ulster [1601] with detail of North Channel. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Ila Insula ex Aebudarum majoribus una, The Yle of Ila being one of the biggest of the Western Yles, Timothy Pont, 1560?–1614?, Joan Blaeu, 1596–1673 (ID 481). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

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Given the length of time it has taken to complete this book, it is perhaps unsurprising that I have accumulated a significant debt of gratitude to various individuals, institutions and funding bodies. The majority of this research was facilitated by an AHRC Research Grant (Early Career) Scheme AH/H009043/1: 2010–12, ‘Living on the Edge?: plantation and politics in the north Atlantic archipelago, 1493–1637’ and my sincere thanks to the AHRC for this funding. Without it, the collaboration between myself and my former post-doctoral fellow, Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich (now at the University of Glasgow), would not have come to fruition, and I am enormously grateful to Aonghas for his detailed knowledge of archives and libraries, an endless supply of references, constant conversations about research, his encouragement of my efforts to grapple with Gaelic and his companionship on this project. His own monograph resulting from this project came out a number of years ago (Plantation and Civility in the North Atlantic World. The Case of the Northern Hebrides, 1570–1639 (Brill, Leiden, 2015)) and I hope this book, my own contribution, can somehow begin to measure to up to his scholarship. Above all, I am grateful for the years of research collaboration and personal friendship. As well as UKRI I want to acknowledge the financial support provided by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. In 2008 their funding facilitated research into the Campbells and enabled me to spend time in Inveraray Castle Archives and Argyll and Bute Council archives in Lochgilphead; this was supplemented by additional ←xi | xii→financial assistance from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. I was aided in this by Linda Fryer and am grateful to her for many conversations about the Campbells. A fellowship at the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California, enabled me to devote time to consulting the Hastings Papers and the fabulous Ellesmere Bridgewater Collection and also to spend time in an environment that encourages research, reflection and thinking. I well remember a quiet Saturday morning in the Ahmanson reading room that fundamentally changed the direction of my research and shaped my thinking. I am grateful also for the friendship and collegiality of staff and other fellows who were always ready to discuss research (and music). Another fellowship at the Huntington in 2016, along with a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant that allowed me to spend three weeks in the archives Manx National Heritage, Douglas, Isle of Man, provided the foundation of my next monograph, but this research has offered further context for these North Channel communities. The time I was able to spend in these archives was facilitated by periods of leave supported by the School of Humanities, University of Strathclyde, who also financially supported other smaller research trips. In addition, I am most grateful to the Curran Library at Strathclyde for their acquisition of various collections, but especially parts I and II of State Papers Online, published by Gale: Cengage Company. This resource has been invaluable for my work and I am also grateful to the National Library of Scotland for enabling readers to access parts I to IV via their reading rooms both at George IV bridge and Kelvin Hall. I am grateful too to the Strathmartine Trust who generously funded the illustrations for this book, but previously supported publication of an edited volume, a special volume of Journal of the North Atlantic, which was also an outcome of the AHRC project. All of this funding has enabled me to spend considerable time in various archives and libraries both across the archipelago and elsewhere. My thanks especially to the patience and advice of staff at Argyll and Bute Council Archives, British Library, Dumfries and Galloway Archives, National Library of Ireland, National Library of Scotland, National Maritime Museum, National Records of Scotland, Public Records of Northern Ireland, The National Archives and the archives at Trinity College Dublin. My thanks especially to the Factor and ←xii | xiii→staff at Inveraray Castle Archives who allowed me access to the material before an archivist was appointed; and also to Wendy Thirkettle at Manx National Heritage for allowing me to rely so much on her knowledge of the fantastic material there. Thanks to Mary Robertson and Vanessa Wilkie, respectively former and current William A. Moffat Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at the Huntington, for their generous assistance with the collections there.

I am also indebted to the professional scholarship and personal friendship of many in the fields of Scottish, Irish and British history and archaeology many of whom I am fortunate enough to consider friends and whose work has been invaluable for my own. Indeed, I am fully aware that I stand, albeit rather shakily, on the shoulders of giants and recognise the benefit of a wider collegial network of scholars without which the process of researching and writing this book would have been much less enjoyable, while the book itself much less rich. It would take far too long to list them but I am grateful to them all for their time and sharing ideas so willingly. It would be wrong of me, however, not to mention Aonghas MacConnich, Allan Macinnes, Martin MacGregor, David Caldwell, Roger Mason, Catriona MacDonald and Michael Brown. I have had the joy of teaching the plantations to a number of fourth year special subject students, both at the University of Strathclyde and now also at the University of Stirling, and I have appreciated their engagement with and response to the material and questions I posed. Most especially I must mention Alan Kelly, Lauren McDougall and Vivien Wilsdon, members of my 2016–17 cohort, who pushed me on terminology and forced me to define more clearly what I meant. Above all, I have been privileged to supervise a number of PhD and Masters students. Conversations about and engagement with their research over the years has been a constant stimulation. My own ideas have been shaped by them and I am grateful to them all, past and current: Elizabeth Koprowski, James Mitchell, Charles Haggerty, Peter Jones, Philip Braat, David Wilson, Lesley Riddoch, Laura Moffat, Rowena Hutton, Lauren McDougall, Ian MacLellan and Scott Carballo. Thanks also to Neil McIntyre, while I did not supervise his work, he formed a core part of a postgraduate community at Strathclyde and it has been a pleasure to work with him on another project. I owe David Wilson so much, not just for producing the maps for ←xiii | xiv→this book, but for conversations about piracy and customary law of the sea, for covering my teaching while I was swamped with administrative matters (and thus learning more about Ireland than he ever cared too), and for any number of conversations about music. Of my former colleagues at Strathclyde I am grateful to the wonderful CST especially Mo McDonald, Ann Bartlett and Mark Law (now at University of Glasgow); meanwhile the friendship of Churnjeet Mahn and David Wilson has made my life all the richer. My new colleagues in the Division of History, Heritage and Politics at Stirling have been so welcoming and a joy to work with. I am incredibly fortunate to have joined them and I am most grateful these past eighteen months for their support and encouragement. I am also thankful for the assistance of Phil Dunshea and especially Lucy Melville at Peter Lang for her patience in seeing this through to the very end. The input of all these individuals has enriched my own work, while any remaining errors and weaknesses, and I am sure there are many, are my own.

The process of researching and writing this book was impacted by a period of significant mental and physical ill-health. I am grateful to UKRI for their understanding and patience regarding the delay but also to a number of colleagues who supported me during this time. Aonghas MacCoinnich stepped in to cover my teaching at the time while no doubt all of my colleagues in History at Strathclyde carried some of the burden. Above all, I am forever indebted to the then Head of School, Dr David Goldie, English Studies, who regularly took time to encourage me, refused to accept any attempt on my part to resign and supported me through a particularly grim period as I transitioned back to full-time work. The ongoing support and friendship of Catriona MacDonald, Allan Macinnes and Roger Mason during this time was also fundamental to my recovery. Without them, I would not have stayed in academia and this book would not have been written. Outside of academia and funding bodies, I am continually upheld by my own wider kin network on either side of the Channel who put up with prolonged absences and silences yet always have a bed ready or a back door open. In particular, my thanks to Dave McCarthy who, I do not know how, tolerates this extreme introvert and my constant need for solitude, while sustaining and encouraging me even through the very darkest of days.

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Chapter 1

Setting the scene


On 27 May 1597 a case came before the Privy Council in Edinburgh concerning an incident which had taken place over a decade earlier in September 1584. Gilbert Thomson, a burgess of Ayr, along with his nephew David Reid and ‘ane gentilman of Irland’ had ‘ladened a boat of his with wines, salt and other merchandise, at the haven of Air, intending to transport the same to the Isle of Lochfeule in Irland, and there to sell the same’. The journey did not go as planned. According to Thomson, ‘a grite storme and tempest’ arose whereby they were ‘drevin in to the ile of Rachrie, pertening to Angus McConeill of Dunnyveg’. Upon their arrival ‘ane grite noumer of people within that cuntrey, being all men and servandis to the said Angus … patt violent hands’ on Thomson and his party. The ‘gentilman of Irland, quha … sould have bene his convoy to the said Ile in Irland’, and Thomson’s nephew Reid, were stripped and ‘cruellie and barbarouslie slew’, with Thomson himself only saved from the same fate by ‘ane gentilman of that cuntrey, quha knew him, [and] relevit him’. While they spared his life, the islanders ‘violentlie intromettit’ with the boat and its merchandise, leaving Thomson ‘destitute’. Bereft of clothes and money Thomson ‘repaired to the residence of the said Angus and complained to him of the said slaughter and spuilyie committed by his men’. In response, Angus promised to make restitution of Thomson’s boat and goods, and to punish any of his own servants that had been involved in this crime. MacDonald, however, failed to follow through with these assurances and, some thirteen years later, Thomson was forced to take alternative measures in order to gain compensation. In his statement to the Privy Council he argued that by these ‘oppressionis and wrangis’ he ←1 | 2→was ‘ulluterlie wrackit and herreit, having nothing now quhairupoun to sustene him’ and, ‘being past the age of lxxx yeiris, unable to travel for his leving’. The Privy Council called both parties to appear to hear the case in full and allow MacDonald the opportunity to answer the allegations made against him. While Thomson appeared in person, MacDonald failed to do likewise and was ‘denounced rebel’.1

At first glance there seems little that is remarkable or notable about this attack by the inhabitants of Rathlin Island on a ship with a full cargo and its crew. The Privy Council of Scotland had every right to hear and deal with the case; it was a domestic issue involving two subjects of the Scottish crown.2 The defendant, Angus MacDonald of Dunivaig, was an important Highland clan chief whose estate lay primarily in Islay and Kintyre in the southwest of Scotland; while the complainant was Gilbert Thomson, burgess of the thriving burgh of Ayr, one of the main ports on the southwest coast of Scotland. This was but one of a number of similar cases brought before the Privy Council relating to attacks on shipping, the theft of cargo and the injury, if not murder, of crew-members. Such incidents of maritime violence were common in the waters off the west coast of Scotland where island and coastal communities existed, survived and thrived on account of their maritime strength. This was especially true of the waters of the North Channel which saw frequent traffic between Scotland and Ireland. While little else is known about Thomson, we do know much more ←2 | 3→about Angus MacDonald of Dunivaig, and this opportunistic attack, despite resulting in the death of the Irish pilot as well as loss of goods, could easily be dismissed as a piratical endeavour by the lawless and disobedient MacDonalds.3 Although it had clear ramifications for both individuals (loss of livelihood for Thomson and MacDonald put to the horn) in the bigger picture this event is barely a footnote in history. However, a closer consideration raises a number of questions, interpretations and historiographical issues that this book seeks to explore.


XVI, 360
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Plantation by land and sea as policy and process Centre and periphery frameworks Local communities of the North Channel and their interaction Alison Cathcart Plantations by Land and Sea
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XVI, 360 pp., 20 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Alison Cathcart (Author)

Having worked previously at the universities of St Andrews and Strathclyde, Alison Cathcart is currently Associate Professor of Early Modern Scottish History at the University of Stirling. Her previous work on clanship in the central and eastern Scottish Highlands highlighted the interaction between local, regional, and national agency; while the focus is now on the western Highlands and Isles, the region is placed within broader archipelagic contexts. Increasingly she describes herself as a historian of the periphery and is interested in local, and insular, communities who live at the interface of land and sea and their interaction with «central» authorities, while also drawing on economic, environmental, legal, and maritime dimensions to such relationships.


Title: Plantations by Land and Sea
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