Saturday, 26 June 2010

Dalways Bawn: The Earl of Essex's Plantation in east Antrim

(This is the fourth of a series exploring the history of the Dalway cattle drove trail)

John Dalway’s Bawn and his cattle ‘empire’ in east Antrim were to prove the most enduring legacy of the Elizabethan Plantation carried out by the Earl of Essex in east Antrim in the 1570s.

In 1571, Elizabeth I granted her Principal Secretary of State, Sir Thomas Smith, 360,000 acres of Sir Bryan McPhelim O’Neill’s Clandeboy estates in north Down and south Antrim. This was a grand scheme to reverse the centuries old encroachment of the Earldom of Ulster by the Clandeboy O’Neills. But when Bryan O’Neill laid waste the abbeys and other major buildings in north Down, along with the town of Carrickfergus, the venture appeared ill-fated. Thomas Smith (Sir Thomas’s son) led only about 100 soldier-settlers across to Strangford, and had already realised that it would only be practical to occupy the ‘Ards’ area of north-east Down. With Bryan O’Neill having destroyed any place of shelter or fortification in north Down, the Smith colonists were forced to winter in Carrickfergus. By 1573, the Smith venture had all but collapsed with the assassination of Thomas Smith at Comber, and Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex came to the rescue by offering take over the responsibility for the county Antrim part of the plantation, in return for helping to secure Sir Thomas Smith’s possession of the Ards.

Elizabeth agreed to the deal and appointed the Earl of Essex as Captain General and Governor of Ulster. He had mortgaged his own estate for £10,000 to the Queen as the venture was to be jointly funded between Elizabeth and Essex, including the cost of all fortifications. He arrived in Carrickfergus late in 1573 with 1200 men (ten times more than Thomas Smith junior had brought the previous year). Of these he had raised 200 horse and 400 foot soldiers himself, and the Queen had provided the same number. Each horse soldier that served for two years was to get 400 acres, and each foot soldier, 200 acres.

For the duration of his stay, Essex rarely ventured out of his Carrickfergus base. In his own words, “At my arrival here I found the countries in arms, and no place out of the hands of the Irish rebels or Scots, but only the town of Knockfergus, which the townsmen meant to leave and abandon, having prepared all things for their journey into the English Pale; but the townsmen, taking heart by the bruit of her Majesty's army to be sent under me, staid their determination, and have now settled themselves in their habitation."

Shortly after his arrival in 1573, Essex learnt that Thomas Smith had been killed at Comber ‘by an Irishman of his own household’, and he sent some Elizabethan troops to Holywood, county Down to help protect the house of a Mr. Moore, one of ‘the Queen’s pensioners’ after he too was killed. As Governor, Essex had full use of Carrickfergus Castle, but he also had a base near West Street in the town called both “Essex’s Mount” and “Crannaghbawn” (Wattled Bawn). The street leading up to West Street is still called Essex Street, and Governor’s Place at the south end of Essex Street was originally named Governor’s Walk after him. Along High Street, where most of the Elizabethan tower houses had been built, lived John Dalway (later of Dalways Bawn), Moses Hill (also constable of Olderfleet Castle at Larne), John Lugg (later of Castle Lugg at the western edge of the County of Carrickfergus), Richard Spearpoint (later holding lands at Magheramorne) and Thomas Stevenson (later holding land along with Moses Hill at Straid, near Ballynure). A ‘Bawn’ immediately in front of the castle was owned by Captain William Piers who later attempted to pick up some of the pieces of the Smith colony in the Ards.

The Earl of Essex and his followers (including John Dalway) were intended to get Upper Clandeboy (south and east Antrim apart from Carrickfergus), and Elizabeth’s soldiers were to get whatever lands they could win from the MacDonnells and McQuillans (the 'Antrim Scots') in the north of the county. But between 1573 and 1575 many of the adventurers returned home, disillusioned with the collapse of the Smith colony in county Down and two fruitless but bloody forays into the interior of the county. The most disastrous of these involved establishing a garrison on Rathlin Island to neutralise the threat posed by Sorley Boy MacDonnell. By 1574 Essex recognised that, like Smith, he could not possibly colonise all the area granted to him. He was likely to be confined to the town and county of Carrickfergus if he did not modify his proposals. So a revised scheme was devised for a series of settlements along the Antrim coast from Belfast to north of Larne.

Eventually Elizabeth also accepted that Essex had overstretched himself. On the surrender of Lower Clandeboy and in recognition of the capital he had already invested and lost, Essex was granted the peninsula of Islandmagee. With the exception of a few of his followers that had settled along the north coast of Belfast Lough (Greencastle, Whitehouse ‘Bawn’ and Castle Lugg near Greenisland), most of the colonists, including John Dalway, preferred the relative security of the town and county of Carrickfergus.

It is easy to see why Essex chose to consolidate his own position at Islandmagee. Like Sir Thomas Smith in the Ards, he recognised the natural security of a peninsula as it meant that only the land approach was vulnerable to cattle raids. A tower house was built at Larne (Olderfleet Castle) to defend the mouth of Larne Lough and the short ferry crossing to Islandmagee, and at Whitehead another (Castle Chichester). These were at least partly financed by Elizabeth, and Essex garrisoned them with his own men as outposts of Carrickfergus rather than as private settlements. Moses Hill was ‘constable’ at Olderfleet, and John Chichester at Whitehead. Portmuck Castle in Islandmagee was probably built at the same time, as the Chichesters (when John and later his brother Sir Arthur Chichester were Governors of Carrickfergus) held responsibility for the maintenance of both.

But all was not well for Essex in his private life. His wife Lettice (a daughter of Sir Francis Knollys who was himself involved in earlier attempts to colonise Antrim) had been romantically attached to the Earl of Leicester before her marriage to Walter Devereux. At that time, the Earl of Leicester was Queen Elizabeth’s ‘favourite’, and it was her jealousy that ended his attachment to Lettice and provoked a hasty marriage to Essex about 1560. Not surprisingly, when Essex was in Carrickfergus, she resumed an affair with Leicester and news of this reached him.

The Earl of Essex returned to England at the end of 1575, resolved "to live henceforth an untroubled life"; but he was ultimately persuaded to accept the offer of the Queen to make him Earl Marshal of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin in September 1576, and three weeks afterwards died of dysentery, although poison was suspected at the behest of the Earl of Leicester (who married Lettice shortly after). The massacres of the Clandeboy O'Neills at Belfast and the north Antrim ‘Scots’ on Rathlin Island left a dark stain on the Earl of Essex’s reputation and he was succeeded in his Islandmagee estate by his (and Lettice’s) son, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

It was in the 1590s that Robert Devereux became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Elizabethan surge to colonise east Antrim got fresh energy.


  1. Was going to post a comment when I read your entry, but the type is so very small I cannot make it out ! You may want to try to make your type larger, I do my blog entries in normal type but bold, and they can be easily read. My 2 cents worth , I may check back and try to enlarge the type on my computer, thanks ! Gina

  2. It's interesting to see how many of the names in your article are familiar to me now as "West Virginia" names.

  3. AA Garden,
    I've tried several times to make the type face bigger, but it doesn't seem to want to change. Maybe I've written too much! But I'll keep trying.

  4. Antique Art Garden
    Hooray! (With the help of my son Fergus)
    Thanks for the tip - it was way too small.

  5. Gorges
    The first time I went to the States was 27 years ago to the Appalachians - it was a magical experience made all the more curious by the connections I could make all around me.
    I remember we were lost in the countryside, and beside a dirt track up to a hill farm that just looked like home. I went over to the Mail box to read the writing and discovered the name was 'Patterson' - one of the most common names at home. It was surreal when I thought that they were probably living there for 5 or 6 generations.

  6. Great articles, Philip! Help me understand why you've named this blog STEINBECK'S REDEMPTION :)

  7. Gary,
    Steinbeck's Redemption? The short answer is ... hmmm! I'll have to do a blog on it.

    It started as a 'think aloud' inquest on a novel I had published (The Old Orange Tree) which is partly set in Steinbeck Country of California, and partly in the Ulster-Scots home country of his maternal great-grandfather (Samuel Hamilton), whose story begins 'East of Eden'. The redemptive part is the other part of both stories (in Steinbeck's case he pursues relentlessly the Cain and Abel question of the possibility of Cain's redemption after being rejected by God.

    This blog then has had a digression as I explore some childhood haunts east of my own 'Eden' - the village where I went to school and mission hall. The unfortunate thing about blogs is that only the most recent ones get read, and I doubt if anyone would ever go back and read them all in sequence - that would however give you the longer answer!

    I hope I will eventually wind up on my wandering off the trail re. Dalway's Bawn, and get back to other things 'East of Eden', but it has been a weird journey of discovery for me.

  8. History is wonderful and you explain it so well. I can feel the devastation, hunger, cold and misery. Poison was a pathway for murder back them, with no repercussions.
    Did you name your daughter Beth after Queen Elizabeth the 1st?
    My hubby had Irish ancestry, and he comes from the Appalachians in Tennessee. Our surname is Lindsey... is that a common Irish name I wonder?

  9. Thanks Philip, that's at least a good start on an answer! I've only been to the San Diego area of California (vacation 2006), but have, as you know, been to your area. Have read only Steinbeck's WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT, so I guess I'm not a thoroughly educated man. Have you read Leon Uris's TRINITY, which delves a good deal into northern Ireland's history, weaving fact and fiction?

  10. Thanks, Crystal Mary, Yes Lindsey is a very common name here (especially in Ulster, as it is a lowland Scots name here from the 1600s) It is more often spelled 'Lindsay' (300 Lindsays in my local phone book, and only 3 Lindseys!). In fact one of the fiddlers that plays for our local square dance is a Willie Lindsay. I suppose it would be what you would call a typical 'Scotch-Irish' name which would be just right for the Appalachians.

    My daughter Beth wasn't called after Elizabeth I (nor the present Elizabeth II), but my son Fergus was called after the Scottish King Fergus that my home town (Carrickfergus) gets its name from.

  11. Gary,
    I think you would like 'East of Eden' - it chronicles the story of America (or California) from his own family's story/history - a fabulous work, although I think Steinbeck himself was hard to like.
    I haven't read TRINTY, or Steinbeck's Winter of Discontent, and I make no claims to be well-read myself.
    Loved your last post by the way - combines the personal/childhood memories with an interesting account of the summer camp phenomenon in a way that brings it to life.

  12. Hello Phillip, Thank you for your information. My husband will be very interested to learn this. Bless you.

  13. Hello Phillip, I found your piece here on the Walter Devereaux Ulster Plantation most interesting. I have in my care at the moment a piece of that history. It is an agreement handwritten in fine old English script on watermarked paper signed by Walter. The bottom of the page is indented by being cut, turned and an embossed seal with Devereaux crest. It is an agreement/contract with Master of Queens Ordnance, Sir William Pelham dated in August of the 15th year of reign of queen and sheds interesting light on the assembling of the army he formed to come to Ireland. If you are interested I would like to send you the wording for your interest and comment.


  14. Bill
    Would love to see the wording! My email address in on my profile page - looking forward to it.