Henry VIII claimed the title “King of Ireland”, and henceforth it was the English policy to rule the whole island. This new policy met with determined resistance, both from the native Irish, and also from the Old English, descended from the medieval invaders. The change in religion to Protestantism, which was resisted and only accepted by a small number of people in Dublin in Ireland, was also a source of conflict. The Scots in Antrim were seen as a dangerous intrusion by the English government. In 1575, the entire population of Rathlin, was massacred by an English expedition commanded by Sir Francis Drake, the worst atrocity of this period. The MacDonnels and the O’Cahans both supported Hugh O’Neill in the Nine Years War against England, but deserted him when his cause seemed lost.
O’Neill’s defeat in 1603, followed by his flight, with other Irish lords, to the continent, in 1607, resulted in the confiscation of the lands of the exiles, their possessions reverting to the Crown. This did not affect County Antrim, but there was an unofficial, privately organised, plantation of Antrim and Down, which led to many English and Scottish settlers crossing over, with these counties becoming predominantly Protestant. Sir Randal MacDonnell in 1610 had been confirmed in all lands of Co. Antrim from the “Cutts at Coleraine” to the “Curran at Larne”. He brought in most of the Planters who came to the Causeway Coast and Glens, their main arrival points being Glenarm and Balycastle.
An attempt to bring English settlers to the Ballymena area was unsuccessful in Queen Elizabeth’s time, but in 1626 King Charles I confirmed the grant of the Ballymena Estate to William Adair, a Scottish landowner, and granted him the right to hold markets and fairs. The Adairs created an estate which they held until the early twentieth century. What was formerly known as O’Cahan’s Country, then as the County of Coleraine, was part of the government plantation in the west of the province, with its name changed to County Londonderry. Donnell or Donal O’Cahan, the last O’Cahan chief, ended his days in the Tower of London, suspected of treason. A new, fortified town of Coleraine was built by the Irish Society, a body set up by the Livery Companies of London, which had been granted the county by the king, building started in 1610 and work gradually continued until completion in 1641. This new town was put to the test when the Irish rising broke out in 1641, and the town successfully withstood a siege of a hundred days.
Sir Thomas Phillips, who surveyed the forfeited estates, was granted 1,000 acres on which he founded the town of Limavady, (originally called Newtownlimavady) with the first townspeople brought from England. He also built a castle, which survived a siege in 1641, but the entire town was burnt out, and had to be rebuilt after the conflict. The town was to be destroyed again in 1689.
Those who were living in the country (mostly termed “the native Irish”) resented the coming of the Planters and rose in rebellion against them in 1641. It was a bloody fight with heavy causalities on the Planter side. It took a Scottish army under General Monroe to restore peace and put planters back in their farms. For many years, it is said, they worked in the fields with the plough in one hand and a sword in the other. The Cromwellian conquest followed, with the confiscation of most land owned by Catholics. The Catholic Earl of Antrim, Randal MacDonnell, was given preferential treatment, and was restored to his estates in Charles II’s reign, but this was highly exceptional. To this day, the MacDonnells remain at Glenarm. This process was completed after the Williamite Wars, when King William III found it necessary to come to Ireland in person, at the head of his army, landing in Carrickfergus on 14 June 1690, and then holding court in Belfast, before marching to the Boyne. After the Williamite victory, the Penal laws were imposed, which deprived Catholics of political and economic power. By this stage most of the land was owned by Protestants.
The eighteenth century was the period of Protestant Ascendancy, and Protestant at this time meant membership of the Church of Ireland. Presbyterians, as well as Catholics, endured inferior status. Methodists, at this time, did not form a separate church. Their founder, John Wesley, made several trips to Ulster, including one in 1760, when he spoke to survivors of the French invasion, when a French force under Commodore François Thurot seized Carrickfergus, but had to surrender when defeated, Thurot being killed, in a naval engagement.
The Society of United Irishmen, founded in 1794, sought to unite all Irishmen, achieve paramilitary reform and end English influence in Ireland. They had been inspired by the War of American Independence and the French Revolution and felt they had no option but use force as Parliament would not listen to their calls for reform. In 1797 the government took action to suppress the movement, over fifty people being executed, including William Orr, of Farranshane, hanged at Carrickfergus on the 14th of October. His “Dying Declaration” was printed and widely circulated, helping to inspire the uprising of 1798. The United Irishmen, led by Henry Joy McCracken, seized Ballymena and Randalstown, but were totally defeated at the Battle of Antrim. Many who took part in the Rising were hanged and others were burned out of their home, whipped or sent to America or Australia.
But this period, though ending in revolution, was one of greatly increased prosperity, with agricultural improvements going hand in hand with the development of the linen industry. John Wesley observed that, in contrast with the rest of Ireland, in Ulster “the ground was cultivated just as in England, and the cottages not only neat, but with doors, chimneys and windows”. Some farmers were better placed than outside Ulster because of the development of the Ulster Custom, where they could not be evicted so long as they paid the rent, and if leaving could demand a lump-sum payment from the next tenant. Linen weavers at this period would work from home, and would combine farming, often including the growing of flax, with weaving. The work of weavers was made faster by John Kay’s invention of the flying shuttle, which was brought to Gracehill, near Ballymena, by the Moravians in 1778. The shuttle enabled yard-wide cloths called “Ballymenas” to be woven.
The failure of the Rising of 1778 was followed by the passing of the Act of Union in 1800. Since the Union was not accompanied by Catholic Emancipation, it did not reconcile Catholics to British rule. The catastrophe of the Great Famine also caused lasting bitterness. In this area, there were few deaths, but widespread hardship, resulting in overcrowded workhouses, and the emigration of many small farmers. In 1859 there was a great Revival of Religion in Ulster. Beginning in Kells and Ahoghill, it spread widely within the next few months, with many public manifestations of religious enthusiasm. The Coleraine Museum has a unique Bible, which is suitably inscribed as a Memorial to the events of that year.
Farmers in Ireland were tenants, paying rent to landlords. Sometimes landlords were harsh, imposing high rents and evictions took place. A Route Tenants Defence Association was established in Ballymoney and at a great gathering there in February 1873 the Rev. Nathaniel McAuley Brown of Limavady gave the movement its famous slogan – 3Fs – Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale. These were granted by the government in 1881 and there followed the destruction of the old landlord-tenant system and schemes by which tenants “brought out” their land and became owner occupiers.
The next big potential issue was Home Rule, the right of Ireland to have a parliament in Dublin to deal with domestic affairs. Protestants disliked this and although many had supported Gladstone’s Liberal Party in the Tenant Right campaign, they now nearly all became Unionists and opposed Home Rule. There were some noteworthy exceptions – The Rev. JB Armour, a Presbyterian minister in Ballymoney, Sir Roger Casement, educated at Ballymena Academy, and Captain Jack White of Whitehall Broughshane. The Unionist Anti – Home Rule campaign gained great support and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was established with weapons brought in at Larne from Germany on the night of 24th/25th April 1914. The UVF was prepared to fight if necessary, but the coming of the First World War changed the whole situation and most of the UVF found themselves at “the front” in France. Great numbers of them died on 1st July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. The Easter Rising of 1916 and the guerrilla campaign against British rule, which began in 1919, stimulated sectarian conflict in what became Northern Ireland, when the country was partitioned, with a Unionist government in the North.
Intense violence accompanied the formation of Northern Ireland in 1921 but, following the outbreak of civil war in the Irish Free State in June 1922, a long period of comparative peace ensued, or at least reduction of conflict, but the outbreak of the Troubles in the 1960s demonstrated that political and religious differences could still lead to prolonged violence.