Plantation surveys

Plantation surveys

The government commissioned four surveys between 1611 and 1622 to investigate the progress being made in the Ulster Plantation and the information contained in these is the basis for most Plantation studies. These surveys and where they may be found are discussed below.

1611 – A survey carried out by Sir George Carew: Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts, 1603–24, pp. 68–9, 75–9, 220–51. Read online at

Sir George Carew had considerable experience of Ireland and Irish affairs, having served there in various capacities between 1574 and 1603, latterly as president of Munster, and was considered by the government as the ideal man to carry out an investigation into the initial progress of the Plantation. He received his instructions in mid June and set off for Dublin a short time afterwards. Preparations for his journey north were then made and in late July he and his fellow commissioners set off on their ‘perambulation about Ulster’. Travelling via Newry, Carrickfergus and Dunluce, Derry was reached on 14 August. Thereafter they made their way through Donegal, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh before returning to Dublin on 5 September. Their investigations were carried out with such haste that it was not possible to visit every county – Cavan was missed out – let alone every proportion. Much of the information collected during the survey was provided by the governors and sheriffs of each county. Because of this, some caution must be exercised as to the accuracy of population figures and progress of the building projects. Nonetheless it is possible to gain an insight into progress in the escheated counties at the very start of the Plantation.

1613 – A survey carried out by Sir Josias Bodley: Historical Manuscripts Commission, Hastings Mss, iv (London, 1947), pp. 159–92.

Concerns that little progress had been made in the months after Carew’s survey resulted in December 1612 in the king ordering a further investigation to be carried out. This was conducted between 2 February and 25 April and was led by Sir Josias Bodley, an experienced English official in Ireland. In late 1612 Bodley was appointed director-general of fortifications in Ireland. He had also carried out a detailed investigations of fortifications in Ireland in 1608 and in 1609 oversaw the large-scale mapping exercise of the escheated lands in Ulster. Bodley spent nearly four times as long as Carew in carrying out his survey and his report can be considered a much more accurate account of the progress of the Plantation. He visited most of the proportions in person. Bodley’s experiences as a military engineer and his understanding of fortifications is reflected in the detailed descriptions he sometimes gave of castles built by the undertakers. He was also careful to assess the information provided to him on the numbers of tenants on each proportion.

1618–9 – A survey carried out by Captain Nicholas Pynnar. This survey is printed in full in George Hill, An Historical Account of the Plantation of Ulster at the Commencement of the Seventeenth Century (Belfast, 1877). A copy is also available in the Manuscripts Room in Trinity College, Dublin.

On 28 November 1618 Captain Nicholas Pynnar was issued with a commission to carry a new survey into the progress of the Plantation in the escheated counties. Like Bodley and Carew before him, Pynnar had considerable experience of Ireland. He himself had been the recipient of a servitor’s proportion in County Cavan though he did little to improve his lands. He spent the best part of four months – 119 days in all – carrying out his investigations and this is reflected in the level of detail he was able to provide on each proportion. Like Bodley he visited most of the Plantation estates in person and, in addition to describing the buildings, agricultural practices and numbers of tenants, he also distinguished between the different categories of tenant, indicating the number of freeholders, leaseholders and cottagers.

1622 – A survey carried out by commissioners appointed by the government. The official reports for each county were published as follows: 1622 – A survey carried out by commissioners appointed by the government. The official survey for each county has been printed in Victor Treadwell (ed.), The Irish Commission of 1622 (Dublin, 2006), published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

The 1622 commission was the most detailed of all the investigations into the progress of the Plantation. Preparations for it probably began in late 1621. The commission was concerned with far more than simply the state of affairs in the escheated counties and its remit extended to investigating the Church, legal system, trade and a host of other issues affecting Ireland. Seven of the 21 persons on the commission were chosen to visit Ulster. The names of these men and the counties they investigated were Lord Caulfield, Sir Dudley Digges and Nathaniel Rich (Armagh and Tyrone), Sir Thomas Phillips and Richard Hadsor (Donegal and Londonderry), and Sir Francis Annesley and Sir James Perrot (Cavan and Fermanagh). Their visits to Ulster took place between late July and mid September.

The methods employed in compiling the reports differed from county to county. For Armagh and Tyrone there is considerably more documentation than for the other counties. In these two counties each undertaker or his agent was required to submit a certificate detailing the number of tenants on his proportion(s) as well as the building activities that had been undertaken. The certificate might then have been checked and comments made on its accuracy. Much of this material has been included in Treadwell’s abovementioned volume. While this survey was more thorough than the others mentioned above, it is clear that not every proportion was visited. For example, it was reported of Connor McShane O’Neill’s proportion of Clabby, 1,500 acres, ‘This was much out of our way so as we went not to see it’. Instead the commissioners relied instead on information from the high sheriff and ‘other gentlemen of credit’ and Pynnar’s survey.