Agriculture and the Integration of British Colonial Migrants in Early Modern Ireland

In: Journal of Migration History
Eugene Costello Environmental Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden,

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This article offers a critical re-examination of Early Modern migrations to Ireland and their effect on farming practices, c.1580–1660. During and after the English conquest of Ireland, tens and eventually hundreds of thousands of settlers arrived from Britain. Focusing on Munster and to a lesser extent Ulster, I argue they were not greeted with an agricultural tabula rasa ripe for ‘improvement’. In contrast to what Tudor writers claimed, and what some scholars today have assumed, cereal cultivation and field enclosure already formed important elements in the agricultural landscape. Changes clearly took place, but English, Welsh and Scots settlers also made some remarkable adaptations by accepting local breeds of livestock and relying economically on forms of semi-mobile pastoralism that earlier writers had decried. Looking outside Ireland helps to evaluate their actions, since livestock mobility was widespread in contemporary European pastoralism, and if anything contributed to, rather than conflicted with, the commercialisation of farming.

Conquest and Confiscation: Setting the Scene for Plantation and Migration

From the mid-1530s up to the early 1650s, a series of military campaigns and conquests saw the entire island of Ireland subdued by the English Crown.1 Over the course of this complex and extremely violent period, most of the land in Ireland was confiscated from the indigenous Gaelic and Hiberno-Norman lords, who had effectively controlled the island since the late twelfth century. These confiscations commonly took place after a lord who had nominally submitted to the Crown (as part of the ‘Surrender and Regrant’ policy2) was provoked into rebellion, that is, by the incursions of English ‘adventurers’ and the expansion of Tudor military activity outwards from Dublin. In doing so, the lords became subject to attainder and their lands were effectively forfeit in the eyes of the Crown. For example, the unsuccessful second rebellion of the FitzGerald Earl of Desmond from 1579 to 1583 led to the confiscation of well over 200,000 hectares of land, mainly in Counties Limerick and Kerry.3

These violent confiscations are crucial to understanding the migration of people en masse to Ireland in the Early Modern period, for after land was taken it was generally granted to soldiers or officials associated with the English administration, most of whom were Protestant. In several cases, these grants amounted to ‘plantations’ in that English, Scottish and Welsh tenants were encouraged to move over and settle the confiscated lands. Initial schemes for the midlands in the 1550s and Munster in the 1580s encountered difficulties, with no plantation attracting more than a few thousand settlers and many facing overthrow in subsequent warfare.4 This changed after the last Gaelic Irish lords and their Spanish allies were defeated by Tudor English forces during the Nine Years’ War (1593–1603). Starting with the Ulster Plantation, and accelerating after the Cromwellian conquest (1649–1652), it is thought that between 250,000 and 300,000 people arrived into Ireland over the course of the seventeenth century; they were almost entirely from Britain, with small numbers from France and the Low Countries.5 Although not all of these migrants stayed (some returning home and others migrating onwards to the New World), some 30 per cent of the island’s population is estimated to have been of recent British origin by 1700.6

Given these large numbers, one might take it for granted that migrants caused significant shifts in rural land use and above all a widening human impact on the landscape. It must be remembered, however, that the new settlers were not evenly distributed. The majority were concentrated in pre-existing towns and cities along the south and east coast and in lowland areas of the northern province of Ulster.7 Moreover, they arrived into a country with a fluctuating population size. Due to the savage nature of the wars of conquest and rebellion and associated scorched-earth policies, hundreds of thousands of Ireland’s rural inhabitants – mostly ‘churls’ or unarmed peasants – were killed by sword or died due to famine and disease in the years preceding each episode of confiscation and migration.8 For example, it was said of much of the countryside of North Kerry and Limerick in 1582 that the bawling of a cow or the voice of a ploughman could hardly be heard (nach mór co m-baoí geim bó no guth oiremhan o Dhún Caoín co Caisiol Mumhan);9 they had been ‘consumed, what with the sword, and by justice, but chiefly by famine’.10 Similarly, in the late 1650s, a survey of confiscated lands in Dunkerron Barony, South Kerry, remarked that ‘all the inhabitants [were] dead, transported or transplanted’.11 While slight exaggeration is possible – the surveys, after all, contain information on placenames and land units that could only have been obtained by speaking to local inhabitants – it is fair to say that many newcomers were arriving into landscapes that had seen reductions in human population. As such, their migration did not necessarily lead to an immediate expansion of the human footprint in rural environments.

Nevertheless, the Early Modern English writers and officials who oversaw these movements had strong ideas about land use, and how it needed to be organised in a more ‘civil’ manner in Ireland (see section 2). What lasting effects these colonial ideas had in the landscape is a crucial question that has yet to be resolved, particularly in areas that had seen widespread death or displacement of the indigenous population. By far the greatest weight of Early Modern Irish historiography has been on the political, religious and socio-cultural implications of colonisation, with little attention paid to the physical landscape.12 A recent chapter on Early Modern Ireland’s environmental history has made a welcome attempt to initiate such a discussion.13 Being an overview, however, it does not provide enough evidence of local landscape change to support its contention that the plantations caused radical changes to the countryside in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Historical geographers and economic historians have attempted more regionally-specific studies of how the plantations impacted land use, though their strongest findings relate to the mid-seventeenth century onwards, well after the plantations and migrations had begun.14 Furthermore, archaeological research on the period has been biased towards the most obvious central places of migrant activity, i.e. towns, manor houses, ironworks, ale houses and religious sites.15 The meaning of this important form of mobility for the Irish landscape therefore remains uncertain.

This article critically re-examines the impact of colonial in-migration on rural landscapes of Early Modern Ireland using documentary, cartographic and archaeological sources and, to a lesser extent, palaeoenvironmental and genetic evidence. This novel combination of sources is necessary because of the relative scarcity of detailed written records in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it is possible because of my experience in interdisciplinary research. The article’s primary focus is on the province of Munster as it has a particularly well-documented history of in-migration from the 1580s onwards, but evidence from less well-studied parts of west Ulster and Connacht is also taken into account (figure 1). The first section outlines the importance of obtaining a landscape-level view, due to the ideological significance which different forms of land use held during the initial Tudor English conquest of Ireland. I will then investigate the reality of preconquest land use to understand what the scope for change actually was, and compare that with the evolving post-conquest situation from the 1580s and especially the early 1600s onwards. Particular emphasis will be placed on scale, that is to say, how to differentiate between change that was additive rather than fundamental.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Location of selected places mentioned in the article, as well as those depicted in Figures 2 and 3.

Citation: Journal of Migration History 8, 2 (2022) ; 10.1163/23519924-08020008

source: satellite image data: google, nasa, terrametrics, 2020.

Furthermore, the article hopes to better understand the experience of Ireland by placing it in an international context. In both history and archaeology, scholars of migration are increasingly advocating global perspectives, arguing that direct comparisons between regions and indirect analogies between time periods can help to identify migrants and evaluate their influence.16 With this in mind, I will use a number of examples from elsewhere in Europe to help critique the notion that migration from Britain instigated fundamental economic change in the seventeenth century. I will, for example, discuss some of the remarkable evidence for continuity, particularly in livestock husbandry, which saw international migrant mobility intersect with more local forms of mobility in the landscape.

The Land and What to do with it: Civility and Efficiency

At first glance, the lack of attention given to the wider landscape is understandable. Historical evidence in the late sixteenth century suggests that English settlers in rural areas of Munster were concentrated in towns like Newcastle West, Rathkeale and Cashel and around their lords’ manor houses; for instance, regulations on an estate that the famous English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh had received in County Cork, stipulated on 1 August 1586 that:

no tenant belonging to the lands of Mogeely shall henceforth dwell abroad [...] in woods, bogs, glinns and other remote places […] but shall presently resort and dwell within the town, or depart from those lands […] all shall bring within the castle walls, or town, and shall set their ricks of corn in such places near unto ther castle.17

The English and Scottish tenants who started to settle in Ulster just over twenty years later were likewise directed ‘to build Houses for themselves and their Families near the principal Castle, House, or Bawne, for their mutual Defence or Strength’.18 More broadly, William Smyth’s analysis of poll-tax returns from 1659, suggests a tendency towards towns and villages in the distribution of ‘rural’ English and Scots, especially outside the more densely-planted lands of North-East Ulster.19

Yet, the wider rural landscape remains alluring because its alleged (mis)usage by the native population had been one of the primary factors driving Tudor propaganda about Ireland. As early as the 1180s, Gerald of Wales had complained in his Topography that the Irish had ‘not yet departed from the primitive habits of pastoral life’, and that they were ‘contrary to agricultural pursuits, so that the rich glebe is barren for want of husbandmen, the fields demanding labour which is not forthcoming.’20 This theme was picked up again in the late sixteenth century, with the poet Sir Edmund Spenser – another grantee in the Munster Plantation – claiming that the Irish ‘keep their cattle and live themselves the most part of the year in Bollies, pasturing upon the mountain and waste wild places, and removing still to fresh land.’21 Fynes Moryson also remarked that one would ‘think these men to be Scythians’ since they ‘build no houses’ and ‘like nomads living in cabins, remove from one place to another with their cows’.22 Their ‘Scythian’ manner of wandering was, ultimately according to Spenser, ‘a very idle lyfe, and a fit nursery for a theife’.23 Sentiments like these were echoed widely in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and the only remedy which English officials could see was for the native population to settle down in towns and villages and start ploughing the land for cultivation.24

In this regard, there was another widespread belief that both Hiberno-Norman and Gaelic areas of the country lacked the enclosed fields which would supposedly facilitate ‘improved’ land use and arable farming in particular. For example, in an influential treatise in 1612, the Attorney General for Ireland, Sir John Davies, claimed that before the recent conquest the Irish never did ‘plant any gardens or orchards, enclose or improve their lands, live together in settled villages or towns, nor make any provision for posterity [my emphasis].’25 The Munster council also complained in 1617 and again in 1619 that most of that province was open and unenclosed; so that it ordered all freeholders and tenants with leases longer than seven years to plant hedges or dig ditches around their land.26 With the native population (apparently) making such inefficient use of the country’s fertile soils, successive Tudor and Stuart administrations felt they had an important justification for completing the conquest of Ireland and bringing settlers over to instigate change.

The Reality of Pre-Plantation Landscapes and Land Use in Ireland

In order to determine how much rural landscapes changed as a result of migration from Britain, we firstly need to ask how accurate the ‘baseline’ provided by Tudor and Stuart era writers is. While there is still sometimes a tendency to go along with the idea that the pre-seventeenth century Irish economy was essentially pastoral and that people lived a highly mobile life,27 researchers in general now recognise this to be an exaggeration.28 Cereal cultivation was certainly common in the province of Munster; as the above annal entry from 1582 hints, it was not only cows that were missing from North Kerry and Limerick but the call of the ploughman as well. Siege depictions of Glin castle in Limerick and Cahir castle in Tipperary in 1599 also show a mixture of open pastoral land and cultivation ridges in the surrounding countryside (figure 2).29 Both of these areas lay outside the lands granted to English settlers during the Munster Plantation. Furthermore, cereal cultivation took place in areas of Gaelic Irish rule; for instance, the foreground of Richard Bartlett’s military picture map of Enish Loughan fort in Antrim, North-East Ulster, clearly depicts ridges filled with cereal crops.30 What is more, pollen records from Ulster and various locations along the western seaboard – all areas that had escaped medieval Norman colonisation – attest to the cultivation of cereals throughout most or all of the medieval and Early Modern periods.31 Thus, it cannot be said that the arrival of migrants from Britain caused a fundamental landscape change in terms of cereal cultivation: grain crops were already common across the island.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Siege of Cahir castle, County Tipperary, in 1599, looking west towards the Galtee Mountains.

Note the mixed landscape of cultivated fields and open grazing land, as well as a patch of woodland located at the foot of the Galtee Mountains.

Citation: Journal of Migration History 8, 2 (2022) ; 10.1163/23519924-08020008

source: anon., pacata hibernia: or, a history of the wars in ireland, during the reign of queen elizabeth, vol. 1 (london 1633) map 3.

The presence of cereal cultivation raises questions about the landscape’s supposed lack of enclosure. Many geographers, historians and archaeologists have assumed that pre-plantation Ireland had few fenced or enclosed spaces, and that the seventeenth century saw a clear expansion in the amount of enclosed land.32 In response, it has to be admitted that no period in Ireland’s pre-modern history is likely to have seen as many functioning field enclosures as the mid- to late nineteenth century, when enclosure of one form or another dominated every parish in the country.33 However, a detailed history of enclosure prior to the nineteenth century in Ireland is still only emerging and, since the island is quite heterogenous in terms of physical and human geography, there is likely to have been a high degree of regionality to land management.

For now, a combination of historic map analysis and landscape archaeology suggests that scholars have exaggerated the landscape’s openness, and that enclosure was in fact not an uncommon sight for migrants arriving between c.1590 and 1610. This is most clear around the towns and villages which had been established in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries by Anglo-Norman colonists. In Joanes’ maps from the year 1600, the hinterlands of Limerick city and Kilmallock town are depicted as mixtures of unenclosed land of bright green colour (probably indicating pasture) and land that is divided up into rectangular fields of light green or yellow colour (probably indicating meadow and cereal crops respectively).34

These maps were, admittedly, drawn just after the Munster Plantation. However, as none of the farmland in question had been given to English undertakers, it is probable that the fields were established before the plantation. This is especially likely at Kilmallock where, tellingly, the Civil Survey and Down Surveys record Irish rather than English names for each field.35 Another possible pre-plantation tradition of enclosure is to be found on Joanes’ map of Youghal in County Cork in 1600. Besides the small rectangular fields visible outside the medieval town walls, on Sir Walter Raleigh’s lands, the map depicts significant clusters of enclosure around settlements that were located on non-plantation lands across the River Blackwater in County Waterford.36 Furthermore, in the aforementioned siege depictions of Glin and Cahir castles – locations certainly outside the remit of the Munster Plantation – cultivation ridges were located within fields, with more open pastoral land or woodland beyond (figure 2).

There is similar cartographic evidence from Gaelic Ulster, with a map of the Battle of Yellow Ford in 1598 clearly depicting and labelling enclosed ‘corn fields’, along with more open areas of pasture, bog and ‘underwood’ in the countryside of west Armagh (figure 3).37 What these maps are telling us is that the late sixteenth century landscape was a mosaic of different land uses in which enclosure did play a part. For the more western Gaelic lordships, which lack detailed Early Modern maps, there is archaeological evidence for enclosed farmland. This is especially true of terrain where rock is at or close to the surface, since boundaries partly built of stone tend to survive better than the earthen ones found elsewhere. For example, the Rathcroghan area of North Roscommon and much of the Burren in North-West Clare contain extensive surface remains of routeways and field systems.38 These are complex multi-period landscapes but the presence of later medieval moated sites and ringforts and cashels, which in some cases were occupied up to the seventeenth century, suggests that at least some of the fields (particularly rectilinear ones) were an active part of the farming landscape up to the time of the Tudor and Cromwellian conquests.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Battle of Yellow Ford near Armagh in 1598. Here the army of English marshal, Sir Henry Bagenall, was defeated by Aodh Ó Néill, Chief of Tír Eoghain (alias Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone). Note the mixed landscape of cultivated fields, open pastoral land, bog and underwoods.

Citation: Journal of Migration History 8, 2 (2022) ; 10.1163/23519924-08020008

source: tcd ms 1209/35. reproduced by kind permission of the board of trinity college dublin.

What is more, thanks to detailed examination of early seventeenth-century English surveys in Ulster and Connacht, and the almost island-wide Down Survey undertaken in the 1650s, it appears that the practice of pastoralism was not as disorganised as Spenser and subsequent writers portrayed it to be. Recent research has confirmed that mobility was a feature of cattle management in Ireland going back to the early medieval period. However, there is a clear distinction to be made between temporary refugee-like wanderings of people and livestock – which were to some extent caused by the recent campaigns of conquest, i.e. ‘creaghting’ or caoraigheacht – and the more systematic practice of transhumance or booleying (Irish: buailteachas).39 In the latter, livestock were moved in a fairly predictable seasonal manner between lowland and upland, mainland and island, dryland and wetland. While the distances could vary from 3 to 30 kilometres, they were rarely greater than 12 kilometres, even in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Moreover, transhumant movements were embedded in the socio-economic fabric of a territory, motivated by the need to preserve better land around home settlements for meadow and/or cereals, and structured by local systems of landholding and grazing rights.40 Indeed, the significant Early Modern arable cultivation taking place in the lowlands around the Galtee Mountains was one of the reasons why these upland pastures were exploited in transhumance.41

The Extent of Migrant-Influenced Changes in Farming, c.1580–1660

If cereal cultivation and field enclosure were already common and, in many areas, bound up with highly-sophisticated systems of pastoralism, how great really was the scope and desire for land use change by settlers coming from Britain? In terms of cultivation, it could be argued that the introduction of the potato led to radical change. However, it remains unclear who introduced it and when, and it was only from the eighteenth century that it was commonly consumed by tenant farmers outside of South Munster. Moreover, as Dickson has pointed out, the real drivers of this agricultural transformation were Catholic cottiers and minor tenant farmers, particularly on poorer soils where the potato became an agent of land improvement.42

Where enclosure is concerned, there is no doubt that some fencing and ditching of land was undertaken by English tenants in the immediate aftermath of the 1580s plantation in Munster, most famously at Mogeely castle,43 and that this gathered pace in the early seventeenth century, judging from previous archival research on government regulations and the 1641 depositions.44 Considering the evidence in the previous section, however, I would argue that these should be seen as relatively small-scale additions to a multi-layered history of enclosure. The most radical phase of enclosure, in which the old ‘mosaic’ disappeared and fields came to stretch over almost the entirety of Ireland’s lowland countryside, seems to have taken place between the mid-eighteenth century and the end of the nineteenth century,45 i.e. well after the main period of conquest and colonisation.

The idea that migration was accompanied by more continuity than change, at least in terms of farming practices, is supported by the settlers’ attitudes towards livestock. In his work on Munster Plantation interrogatories, MacCarthy-Morrogh has shown that by 1589 only some of the English undertakers and prosperous tenants had brought English breeds of livestock over with them; instead, most of the cattle, sheep, pigs and horses held by the settlers were of Irish breeds acquired locally.46 Subsequently, officials overseeing the Ulster Plantation did legislate for the importation of at least some livestock from Britain. However, there still appears to have been a willingness to make use of Irish cattle; even before the plantation took off, agents sent over from London to assess the Derry area were commenting on how the local cows looked ‘as fair and likely as the ordinary cattle of England.’47 The reliance of settlers on Irish stock is perhaps borne out by the ‘1641 Depositions’, a collection of c.8,000 testimonies which the government recorded mainly from Protestants during and after the Confederate Wars (1641–1653). Out of several thousand testimonies which allege the robbery or killing of livestock by Irish Catholics, less than 200 make mention of English cattle, sheep, pigs or horses in their herd.48 Given the contemporary significance of English animals – having a higher value and being an alleged target of hatred for some Irish Catholics49 – I argue that the deponents would have specified their stolen or slaughtered livestock as English if indeed some of them were. At the same time, nearly 100 of the deponents claim to have possessed ‘garrans’ (Ir.: gearráin), which were small Irish work horses or geldings.

There is no doubt that some settlers had brought livestock with them to Ireland, and were breeding them there. Indeed, we can expect that some admixture had started to take place given that one interesting deposition from County Wicklow mentions ‘33 Cowes old & younge [. . .] of a Bastard breede’.50 However, it cannot be said from the available historical evidence that there was a large-scale influx and establishment of British breeds in Ireland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Again, the main period of change does not seem to have come until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when genetic and historical evidence points to widespread siring of ‘native’ breeds by introduced British shorthorn cattle, not just in Ireland but in many parts of Europe.51 Until more detailed zooarchaeological and genetic analysis is undertaken on animal bone assemblages in Ireland, the fragmentary historical picture we have of livestock during the period, c.1585–1650, suggests widespread acceptance of local breeds by the migrant minority.

This pragmatism makes sense in light of the continuity that is becoming evident in contemporary livestock management as a whole. Instead of putting large tracts of land under cereal cultivation, most settlers from Britain became very much involved in the much-maligned practice of pastoralism. Live exports of cattle and sheep’s wool grew rapidly after the violence of the Tudor conquest had died down, continuing up to 1641, with butter exports rising greatly thereafter.52 Historians have debated whether this commercial activity was sparked by colonisation from Britain and to what extent it represented a revolution for Ireland’s agricultural economy.53 For example, there is still a tendency to view Gaelic land use systems in the west and north as economically inward-looking prior to 1600, with agrarian commercialisation only taking off in the late seventeenth century, if not the late eighteenth century.54 However, if we consider a longer time span it becomes clear that Ireland – east and west – had been entwined in international systems of livestock-related trade for well over a century before the first plantations. Hides, skins, wool, tallow and sometimes meat and butter were being produced for markets in not only England but also Flanders, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, while in return Ireland was a market for continental wine and metals, amongst other things.55 Seventeenth-century economic growth may therefore be regarded as building on a pre-existing history of agrarian commercialisation, which the Tudor conquest had interrupted.

What is more, we can only make a fair assessment of British migrants’ role in economic change after placing Ireland in a broader geographic context. Doing this reminds us that commercialisation of livestock and dairy production was far from a culturally specific phenomenon. It is particularly interesting to look at the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Although Gaelic and Norman lords remained in control of most of these lands until the eighteenth century, the fattening and droving of beef cattle southwards to English cities had been developing into a major enterprise since the fifteenth century. Even the supposedly remote Isle of Skye was connected into this network from the early 1500s.56 In fact, commercialisation of livestock rearing is attested in many socio-political contexts around Europe, including Scandinavian forest farmers breeding traction animals for Sweden’s Mining District, the finishing of beef cattle in Denmark and Hungary for growing German cities, and the vast nobility-controlled business of herding Merino wool sheep in the Iberian peninsula.57

Accepting and Explaining Continuities in Livestock Management

When we examine particular localities within Ireland, we can see that commercial management of livestock in the seventeenth century was facilitated by pre-existing systems of husbandry. Thus, we arrive at a second, smaller scale form of mobility, namely seasonal movements of livestock. For example, despite two Englishmen receiving land at the foot of the Comeragh Mountains in Waterford and the Nagles Mountains in Cork in the 1580s,58 we find historical evidence of cattle being grazed seasonally in these upland pastures in the early and mid-seventeenth century.59 Indeed, seasonal usage of upland commons in the Comeragh Mountains was being officially licensed to Irish graziers like Teig O Keyly by the corporation of Clonmel. Cattle reared here ultimately fed into a burgeoning live export trade from the Protestant English-dominated town of Youghal, 50 kilometres to the south-west on the coast.60 As such, the commercial enterprises of urban English settlers on Ireland’s southern coast actively relied on Irish pastoralism.

Meanwhile, in Kerry, there is clear evidence for transhumance taking place in the large tract of mountains which lay just south of Jenkin Conway’s Munster Plantation grant in Killorglin and north of Sir William Petty’s later colony in Kenmare (established in the 1660s).61 While it is very difficult to identify the individuals who participated in Early Modern transhumant herding, English, Welsh or Scots settlers were clearly at least present in the areas where it was practised. Furthermore, into the eighteenth century, there were significant numbers of Protestant middlemen of British descent to be found to the south of the Galtee Mountains, and in the hilly Slieve League peninsula in the south-west of Donegal.62 Tenant farmers in both areas depended on putting dairy cows on hill pastures under the watch of their young folk up to the mid-nineteenth century, and there is as yet no evidence to suggest the middlemen found this problematic, so long as rents were paid.

More interesting still, the Loughros peninsula, located just north of the Slieve League peninsula, offers potential evidence for the direct involvement of Protestant tenants in transhumance. In contrast to other parts of Western and South-Western Donegal, this small peninsula saw significant settlement by migrants from Britain. Their arrival in Ulster, like that of many others, would appear to post-date the official beginning of the plantation by several decades; although Loughros (then ‘Moynargan’) was granted to a Scottish Undertaker in 1609, Pynnar’s survey in 1618–1619 could only record a ‘few Brittish Tenants, but a great many of the Irish, which dwell upon the land’.63 However, by the early nineteenth century, around half of the peninsula’s population was formed of Methodist and Anglican tenant families with Scottish surnames like Boyd, Lockhart, Elliott and Morrow.64

The presence of so many non-elite Protestant farmers is significant given that historical geographer Jean Graham has found documentary evidence from the years 1609 and 1755 which points to a stable system of transhumance operating between Loughros peninsula and the upland pastures around Sliabh Tuaidh to the south-west, that is, some 2–8 kilometres distant on the other side of Loughros Bay.65 Oral history confirms that at least some of these movements continued up to the mid-nineteenth century.66 As such, there is a high possibility that tenant farmers of migrant Scottish origin were relying on transhumance to find grazing for their cattle, and perhaps even sent some of their family members to upland booley sites to look after and milk the dairy cows, as Catholic tenants in South-West Donegal certainly did. Here and elsewhere in Ireland, it was only as landlord- and government-led programmes of agricultural ‘improvement’ gathered pace in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that semi-mobile systems of farming were actively dismantled on ideological grounds.67

The relative ease with which migrants from Britain adapted to Irish agro pastoralism may appear surprising compared to the religious and linguistic divisions which developed in Ireland during and after its conquest. But given the wider reality of rearing livestock in Early Modern Europe it is perhaps not. Despite sometimes being treated as a relict ‘folk’ curiosity in Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia during the early twentieth century,68 transhumance had in fact been a vital economic practice in many regions of Europe during the preceding centuries. Not only did it free up space around farmers’ home settlements for meadows and crops, it helped to fuel the commercialisation of livestock production by using extensive ‘outlands’ to produce surplus goods. For instance, historical research on North-Central Sweden has shown that seasonal use of fäbodar in the Boreal forest enabled peasant families to produce butter and cheese from cows and goats and beef cattle, at least partly for market,69 while summer pasturing of cattle and sheep in the French Pyrenees enabled (sometimes competing) dairy and wool production by local farmers and certain elite lowland actors.70

Moreover, the practice of moving livestock between lowlands on the one hand and upland or woodland pasture on the other, existed in Britain itself. Several of the ‘undertakers’ who received major estates in Munster during the 1580s hailed from Devon in South-West England, where cattle and sheep are well known to have been sent to graze on Dartmoor and Exmoor in summertime. Three other undertakers – including Jenkin Conway – came from Wales, where full transhumance of people and livestock remained widespread until the seventeenth century.71 And of course, the majority of those planted in Ulster originated from Lowland Scotland and, to a lesser degree, neighbouring parts of Western Scotland, where summer shieling sites were in use up to the early seventeenth century and the late eighteenth/nineteenth century respectively.72 Thus, seasonal movements cannot have been an alien form of livestock management for many British settlers in rural Ireland. Mobility formed part of their experience on more than one level, not only as migrants but also at a local level in the annual round of farming life.


This article has sought to reframe the question of migration and agricultural change in Early Modern Ireland. Given the violent conquest and plantation of the country by an expanding English monarchy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, one of the key issues at this time is the role of newcomers in instigating change. Yet, our understanding of rural landscapes and their development has not, to date, been sufficient to answer this question. We have been limited by not only a scarcity of systematic local land use records for the period, but also the scarcity – until relatively recently – of archaeological research that focuses on everyday farming practices in later historical times.

The present article has mitigated these problems to some extent. It illustrates how claims of change and continuity can be evaluated with a combination of careful, locally-situated research and wider geographical and chronological contextualisation. In the first place, if we move beyond politically-influenced treatises and explore the wealth of indirect evidence in English maps and surveys, archaeological surveys (both aerial and field-based) and pollen studies, it becomes clear that pre-plantation landscapes did not present migrants from Britain with an open pastoral landscape in either Hiberno-Norman or Gaelic Irish lordships. This tempered the level of change they could actually bring about, particularly with regard to field enclosures.

Farming practices also speak to the integration of British settlers who, despite their political and religious pre-eminence, were always a minority in most of the country. This is especially clear in livestock rearing, particularly their acceptance of native breeds and (in)direct involvement in seasonal movement of cattle to upland pastures. Although it is often held up as an example of the transformative economic effect of English colonisation, the increasingly commercial production of dairy and meat is hardly unique from a European standpoint. Moreover, in parts of Munster, it was facilitated by the pastoral mobility which Edmund Spenser and others had used to justify the conquest of Ireland. Protestant merchants and middlemen farmers born in Britain relied on systems of summer mountain grazing for the production of surplus animal products, which ultimately paid rents and generated exports.

Remarkably, there is even possible evidence for direct participation in transhumance by Protestant tenants in Western Donegal. This corner of Ireland therefore speaks to a largely forgotten aspect of migrant history in Ireland, one where pioneers of the expanding British state became integrated into supposedly the most Irish of all practices, namely, booleying. It also hammers home the value of international contextualisation in agrarian research. Treated in isolation, the idea of colonial Protestant settlers participating in booleying could be regarded as an anomaly, a curious but forgettable quirk within Irish cultural history. Yet, framed in another way, taking systems of pastoralism in Western Britain and elsewhere in Europe into account, it was a rational economic adaptation. The fact that these migrants became involved in systems of seasonal mobility that had been frowned upon in colonial texts, suggests that they were much more pragmatic about mobility than government officials and other leading figures in the conquest of Ireland. Through migration and pastoralism, they were prepared to use mobility in different ways to exploit opportunities which came their way in the expanding Early Modern world.


I would like to thank Tomáš Klír and Jonas Lindström for editing this issue, as well as the two anonymous reviewers of my article. I would also like to thank Dr David Edwards, University College Cork, for pointing me towards some useful previous studies in Early Modern Irish history.

I would like to acknowledge support from the Swedish Research Council (Project Grant: 2020-01948) and the National University of Ireland (Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities).


N. Canny, Making Ireland British, 1580–1650, revised edition (Oxford 2003); J. Ohlmeyer (ed.), The Cambridge history of Ireland: volume II, 1550–1730 (Cambridge 2018).


Christopher Maginn, ‘“Surrender and regrant” in the historiography of sixteenth-century Ireland’, The Sixteenth Century Journal 38 (2007) 955–974.


M. MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation: English migration to Southern Ireland, 1583–1641 (Oxford 1986) 289.


Anthony Sheehan, ‘The overthrow of the Plantation of Munster in October 1598’, The Irish Sword 15 (1982) 11–22.


Nicholas Canny, ‘English migration into and across the Atlantic during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, in: Nicholas Canny (ed.), Europeans on the move: Studies on European migration, 1500–1800 (Oxford 1994) 39–75.


W. Smyth, Map-making, landscapes and memory: A geography of colonial and Early Modern Ireland (Cork 2006) 100.


William J. Smyth, ‘Wrestling with Petty’s ghost: the origins, nature and relevance of the so-called “1659 Census”’, in: Séamus Pender (ed.), A census of Ireland, circa 1659: with essential materials from the poll money ordinances, 1660–1661 (Dublin 1999) v-lxii, figures 10 & 11.


David Edwards, Pádraig Lenihan and Clodagh Tait (eds), Age of atrocity: violence and political conflict in Early Modern Ireland (Dublin 2007); David Edwards, ‘Tudor Ireland: Anglicisation, mass killing and security’, in: Cathie Carmichael and Richard C. Maguire (eds), The Routledge history of genocide (London 2015) 23–37.


Annals of the Four Masters, M1582.19. Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition: G100005E. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


Lambeth, Carew ms 632, F. 60, quoted in MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, 29.


Down Survey Barony Map, Dunkerrin Barony. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


E.g. MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation; C. Lennon, Sixteenth-century Ireland: the incomplete conquest – Irish landlords and the extension of English royal power (New Gill History of Ireland 2) (Dublin 1994); Canny, Making Ireland British; Mícheál Ó Siochrú and Eamonn Ciardha (eds), The plantation of Ulster: Ideology and practice (Manchester 2012); M. Caball, Kerry, 1600–1730: The emergence of a British Atlantic county (Dublin 2017); David Edwards and Colin Rynne (eds), The colonial world of Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork (Dublin 2018); D. Heffernan, Walter Devereux, First Earl of Essex, and the colonization of North-East Ulster, c.1573–6 (Dublin 2018).


Francis Ludlow and Arlene Crampsie, ‘Environmental history of Ireland, 1550–1730’, in Ohlmeyer, Cambridge History of Ireland, 611, 615–617.


E.g. D. Dickson, Old world colony: Cork and South Munster, 1630–1830 (Cork 2005); Smyth, Map-making, landscapes and memory.


Eric Klingelhofer, ‘Edmund Spenser at Kilcolman Castle: the archaeological evidence’, Post-Medieval Archaeology 39 (2005) 133–154; C. Breen, An archaeology of Southwest Ireland, 1570–1670 (Dublin 2007); James Lyttleton and Colin Rynne (eds), Plantation Ireland: settlement and material culture, c.1550 – c.1700 (Dublin 2009); J. Lyttleton, The Jacobean plantations in seventeenth-century Offaly: An archaeology of a changing world (Dublin 2013); A. Horning, Ireland in the Virginian Sea: colonialism in the British Atlantic (Chapel Hill 2013); Eugene Costello, ‘Medieval memories and the reformation of religious identity: Catholic and Anglican interactions with parish church sites in County Limerick, Ireland’, Post-Medieval Archaeology 51 (2017) 332–353.


Stefan Burmeister et al., ‘Archaeology and migration: approaches to an archaeological proof of migration’, Current Anthropology 41:4 (2000) 539–567; J. Lucassen and L. Lucassen (eds) Globalising migration history: the Eurasian experience (16th-21st centuries) (Leiden 2014).


The National Archives (of Britain), State Papers relating to Ireland, Queen Elizabeth, Vol. cxxv, Item 38, ‘Orders to be observed by the tenants of Mogelly’, 2 pp.


G. Hill (ed.), An historical account of the plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century, 1608–1620 (Belfast 1877) 82.


Smyth, ‘Wrestling with Petty’s ghost’, lx-lxi, figure 11.


T. Wright (ed.), The historical works of Giraldus Cambrensis (London 1863) 124.


H.J. Todd (ed.), The works of Edmund Spenser, volume the eighth (London 1805) 363.


C.L. Falkiner (ed.), Illustrations of Irish history and topography, mainly of the seventeenth century (London 1904) 222–232.


Todd, Edmund Spenser, 363.


See discussions in Hiram Morgan, ‘Giraldus Cambrensis and the Tudor conquest of Ireland’, in: H. Morgan (ed.), Political ideology in Ireland, 1541–1641 (Dublin 1999) 22–44; Canny, Making Ireland British, 47, 133; Horning, Ireland in the Virginian sea, 31–32; Costello, Transhumance and Ireland’s uplands, 30–33.


J. Davies, A discovery of the true causes why Ireland was never entirely subdued(…) (London 1612) 270, Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition: E610003. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


Munster Council Book, British Library Harleian ms 697, f. 203; Calendar of Carew Mss., 1603–24, 423; both cited in MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, 230.


James A. Delle, ‘A good and easy speculation’: spatial conflict, collusion, and resistance in late-sixteenth century Munster, Ireland’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3 (1990) 11–35, 32; Edwards, ‘Tudor Ireland’, 28.


E.g. MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, 227–228; Lennon, Sixteenth-century Ireland, chapter 2; Raymond Gillespie, ‘Economic life, 1550–1730’, in: Jane Ohlmeyer (ed.), The Cambridge history of Ireland: volume II, 1550–1730 (Cambridge 2018) 531–554, 535–36.


Trinity College Dublin Library (tcd) ms 1209/60, The Castell of Glynn in the County of Lymrick, taken by Sir George Carew Lord President of Munster, attributed to William Jones. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).; Anon., Pacata Hibernia; or a History of the Wars in Ireland, during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (taken from the original chronicles) (London 1633) map 3.


National Library of Ireland (nli), ms 2656 (6), Richard Bartlett, Drawing of Enish Loughan fort, Co. Antrim, circa 1602. Accessed online at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


Ljubica Jeličić and Michael O’Connell, ‘History of vegetation and land use from 3200 B.P. to the present in the north-west Burren, a karstic region of western Ireland’, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 1 (1992) 119–140, fig. 10; Valerie A. Hall and Lynda Bunting, ‘Tephra-dated pollen studies of medieval landscapes in the north of Ireland’, in: Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards and Elizabeth FitzPatrick (eds), Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650: land, lordship and settlement (Dublin 2001), 207–222, 220; Karen Molloy and Michael O’Connell, ‘Holocene vegetation and land-use dynamics in the karstic environment of Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, western Ireland: pollen analytical evidence evaluated in light of the archaeological record’, Quaternary International 113 (2004) 41–64, fig. 8; D. Hawthorne, Quantifying fire regimes and their impact on the Irish landscape (Dublin 2015) Thesis, Department of Botany, Trinity College Dublin, fig. 6.1.3.


Frederick H.A. Aalen, ‘Enclosures in Eastern Ireland. A general introduction’, Irish Geography 5:2 (1965) 30–35, 31–32; MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, 228–229; Canny, Making Ireland British, 350; Breen, Southwest Ireland, 168; Raymond Gillespie, ‘The changing structure of Irish agriculture in the seventeenth century’, in: Margaret Murphy and Matthew Stout (eds), Agriculture and settlement in Ireland (Dublin 2015) 119–138, 136; Ludlow and Crampsie, ‘Environmental history’, 616; Keith Pluymers, ‘Cow trials, climate change, and the causes of violence’, Environmental History 25:2 (2020) 287–309, 291, 294–295.


See Ordnance Survey Ireland’s Historic Map 6-inch maps (1837–1842) and Historic Map 25-inch maps (1888–1913). Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


tcd ms 1209/57, The Citie of Limrick, attributed to Joanes/Jones. Accessed at:; tcd ms 1209/62, The towne of Kilmallock in the County of Limerick, per Joanes [or Jones]. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


Gort (meaning ‘field’) and stiall (meaning ‘strip’) being the two most common components of these names; see R.C. Simington (ed.), The civil survey, A.D. 1654–1656: county of Limerick (Dublin 1938) 234; Down Survey Parish Map, Kilmallock Liberties. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


tcd ms 1209/67, Plan of the town and port of Youghall. Attributed to Joanes/Jones. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


tcd ms 1209/35, The defeate of the Marshall, Sir Henry Bagnell, in 1598, at the Blackwater. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


Michael Herity, ‘A survey of the royal site of Cruachain in Connacht iv. Ancient field systems at Rathcroghan and Carnfree’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 118 (1988) 67–84; Niall Brady et al., ‘Unravelling medieval landscapes from the air’, Peritia 22 (2011) 295–316; Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, ‘Native enclosed settlement and the problem of the Irish “ring-fort”’, Medieval Archaeology 53:1 (2009) 271–307.


For development of the discourse, see: Katharine Simms, ‘Nomadry in medieval Ireland: the origins of the creaght or caoraigheacht’, Peritia 5 (1986) 379–391; Katharine Simms, ‘The origins of the creaght: farming system or social unit?’, in: Margaret Murphy and Matthew Stout (eds), Agriculture and settlement in Ireland (Dublin 2015) 101–118; E. Costello. Transhumance and the making of Ireland’s uplands, 1550–1900 (Woodbridge 2020) 31–33.


Costello, Transhumance and Ireland’s uplands.


Eugene Costello, ‘Post-medieval upland settlement and the decline of transhumance: a case-study from the Galtee Mountains, Ireland’, Landscape History 36:1 (2015) 47–69.


Dickson, Old world colony, 236–238.


nli Ms. 20028, Map of Mogeely Estate, John White, 1598.


Canny, Making Ireland British, 220, 322, 350.


See William J. Smyth, ‘Estate records and the making of the Irish landscape: an example from County Tipperary’, Irish Geography 9:1 (1976) 29–49; J. Feehan, Farming in Ireland: history, heritage and environment (Dublin 2003) 130; Dickson, Old world colony, 242–243; John D.J. O’Keeffe, The archaeology of the later historical cultural landscape in Northern Ireland: a case study of the Ards, County Down (Coleraine 2008) Thesis, The University of Ulster.


MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, 128–130.


Hill, Plantation in Ulster, 375, 418.


Trinity College Dublin (tcd), 1641 Depositions Project. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


tcd, 1641 Depositions, Deposition of Robert Maxwell, ms 809, fol. 009r; Deposition of Thomas Ricroft, ms 818, fol. 124r; Pluymers, ‘Cow trials’, 287–288.


tcd, 1641 Depositions, Deposition of Henry Harrington, ms 811, fol. 55r.


Patrick Leonard Curran, Kerry and Dexter cattle and other ancient Irish breeds: a history (Dublin 1990); Dickson, Old world colony, 299–301; Marleen Felius, Bert Theunissen and Johannes A. Lestra, ‘Conservation of cattle genetic resources: the role of breeds’, Journal of Agricultural Science 153 (2014), 152–162, 153; Sam Browett, Gillian McHugo and David E. MacHugh, ‘Genomic characterisation of the indigenous Irish Kerry cattle breed’, Frontiers in Genetics 9:51 (2018) 1–17, 7–8.


Robert C. Nash, ‘Irish Atlantic trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, The William and Mary Quarterly 42 (1985) 329–356; Dickson, Old world colony, 18–19, 121–148; Gillespie, ‘Changing structure of Irish agriculture’.


For evolution of the debate, see MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, 225–228; Canny, Making Ireland British, 351; Dickson, Old world colony, 17–21; Gillespie, ‘Changing structure of Irish agriculture’, 120–121; Pluymers, ‘Cow trials’, 289.


Dickson, Old world colony, 147; Gillespie, ‘Economic life’, 537, 554; Ludlow and Crampsie, ‘Environmental history’, 613.


E. Power and M.M. Postan (eds), Studies in English trade in the 15th century (London 1933) 198; Jacques Bernard, ‘The maritime intercourse between Bordeaux and Ireland c.1450-c.1520’, Irish Economic and Social History 7:1 (1980) 7–21; Wendy Childs and Timothy O’Neill, ‘Chapter xvi. Overseas trade’, in Art Cosgrove (ed.), A new history of Ireland: volume II, medieval Ireland 1169–1534 (Oxford 1987) 492–524; Mary Ann Lyons, ‘Maritime relations between France and Ireland, c. 1480–c. 1630’, Irish Economic and Social History 27 (2000) 1–24, 23; S. Flavin and E.T. Jones (eds), Bristol’s trade with Ireland and the Continent, 1503–1601 (Dublin 2009); Gillespie, ‘Economic life’, 535–536.


A.R.B. Haldane, The drove roads of Scotland (Edinburgh 1952) 14, 152; Malcolm MacSween, ‘Transhumance in North Skye’, Scottish Geographical Magazine 75 (1959) 75–88, 81–82; Donald B. Adamson, Commercialisation, change and continuity: an archaeological study of rural commercial practice in the Scottish Highlands (Glasgow 2014) Thesis The University of Glasgow.


E.g. J. Klein, The mesta: a study in Spanish economic history, 1273–1836 (Cambridge, MA 1920); Ian Blanchard, ‘The continental European cattle trades, 1400–1600’, Economic History Review 39:3 (1986) 427–460; J. Myrdal and J. Söderberg, Kontinuitetens dynamik: agrar ekonomi i 1500-talets Sverige (Stockholm 1991).


MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, table 1.


For the Comeraghs, see entries regarding the Commons of Clonmel in B. McGrath (ed.), The Minute Book of the Corporation of Clonmel, 1608–1649 (Dublin 2006) 25–36; and also Down Survey of Ireland, Glanihery Barony Map. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022). For the Nagles Mountains, see Books of Survey and Distribution, Co. Cork, 1641–1701, Monaneme Parish, lot V. National Library of Ireland, P. 3767 (microfilm of Ms. 2a.2.6 Public Records Office).


McGrath, Corporation of Clonmel, 35; Dickson, Old world colony, 19.


Down Survey of Ireland Maps. Accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).; W.M. Brady. The McGillycuddy Papers: a selection from the family archives of ‘the McGillycuddy of the Reeks’; with an introductory memoir (London 1867) 184; William O’Sullivan, ‘William Molyneux’s geographical collections for Kerry’, Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society 4 (1971) 28–47, 46.


Costello, Transhumance and Ireland’s uplands, 137, 140.


Hill, Plantation in Ulster, 504; see also V. Treadwell (ed.), The Irish Commission of 1622: An investigation of the Irish administration, 1615–1622, and its consequences, 1623–1624 (Dublin 2006) 612.


National Archives of Ireland (nai), Tithe Applotment Books, Inishkeel, 1833, accessed at:; Griffith’s Valuation, 1847–1864, accessed at:; See also nai, Census of Ireland, Glengesh ded, 1901, accessed at: (date accessed 15 April 2022).


Jean M. Graham, ‘South-west Donegal in the seventeenth century’, Irish Geography 6:2 (1970) 136–152, 139–41.


Séamus Ó Duilearga, ‘Varia. Mountain shielings in Donegal’, Béaloideas 9 (1939) 295–297, 296.


For the Galtees, Donegal and Connemara, see Costello, Transhumance and Ireland’s uplands, 139–140, 171–176; for elsewhere, see O’Keeffe, The archaeology of the later historical cultural landscape; R. Clutterbuck, Rural landscapes of improvement in Ireland, 1650–1850: an archaeological landscape study (Galway 2015) Thesis The National University of Ireland, Galway.


Mark Gardiner, ‘Folklore’s timeless past, Ireland’s present past, and the perception of rural houses in early historic Ireland’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology 15 (2011) 707–724; Eva Svensson, ‘The Scandinavian shieling: between innovation and tradition’, in: E. Costello and E. Svensson (eds) Historical archaeologies of transhumance across Europe (London 2018) 15–27, 14–16.


Jesper Larsson, Fäbodväsendet, 1550–1920. Ett centralt element i Nordsveriges jordbrukssystem (Uppsala 2009) Thesis The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 40–52.


C. Rendu, La montagne d’Enveig, une estive pyrénéenne dans la longue durée (Perpignan 2003) 313–314; T.J. Markovitch, Les industries lainières de Colbert à la Révolution (Paris 1976) 458–459.


MacCarthy-Morrogh, Munster Plantation, table 1; Harold S.A. Fox, Dartmoor’s alluring uplands: transhumance and pastoral management in the Middle Ages (Exeter 2012); T. Pennant, Tours in Wales, vol. II (London 1810) 334–335; E. Davies, ‘Hafod and lluest – the summering of cattle and upland settlement in Wales’, Folk Life 23 (1984–1985) 76–96.


Piers Dixon, ‘Hunting, summer grazing and settlement: competing land use in the uplands of Scotland’, in: J. Klápšte and P. Sommer (eds), Medieval rural settlement in marginal landscapes (Turnhout 2009) 27–46; Costello, Transhumance and Ireland’s uplands, 20–28.

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