The Ulster Land War of 1770




(From the Castlereagh Correspondence, Vol. II., page 70.)

The primacy has 100,000 acres; Derry, 70,000; Clogher, 80,000. The lands belonging to the bishoprics in Ireland are of great extent, especially those belonging to the northern sees. They cannot be let for a longer term than twenty-one years. The tenantry of Ireland will not improve lands on so short a tenure; whence it arises that the church lands in Ireland are in a much worse state of cultivation than other lands. From the shortness of the leases, bishops are often tempted not to renew with their tenants, in order, at the expiration of the leases, to make beneficial leases to their families. This practice is growing common; the bishop of Derry and the archbishop of Cashel have made great estates to their families by this means. These circumstances throw an odium on the church possessions.


Others as well as the hearts of steel were writing anonymous letters. Here is a copy of one from the Dublin records, evidently written by some one in great fear and trepidation, or assuming to be so, to Dublin Castle. Such scares were continuous and often had personal reasons behind them. There was no truth in the “intelligence sent to the good people of Newry” whoever they were. The letter may have influenced government action but was only entitled to as much consideration as anonymous letters usually are.

Intelligence from the North, 1772.

“Intelligence has just now been sent to the good people of Newry that they may expect a visit from the hearts of steel, oak boys, etc., this week; the former have come as far as Rathfrilan, the latter to Banbridge, and have seized all the arms as they pass; they say that they do not mean us any harm, and that the arms shall be restored as soon as they shall have effected their purpose of obtaining perpetual leases of lands at their valuations.

Mr. Scott is to be applied to by this post to lay the matter before government and to procure some troops, which, if not immediately sent, I think they will effect their purpose; their numbers are formidable, and should they be opposed in their demand of the arms, it is most probable they would burn the town, so that the lesser evil is to be preferred.

If government hesitate an hour in ordering soldiers to us the inhabitants here will look upon themselves as sacrificed, and the banditti as countenanced.

Much has been said about ye convenience of the late augmentation of the army; a favourable opportunity now offers to prove the utility of that measure, and we dare say it won’t be neglected, for it is beyond a doubt that were these people reinforced with that supply of arms which this place affords they could ravage the country without opposition as far as the gates of Drogheda. In short, things in Ulster (lately esteemed the free and happy part of Ireland), wear a dismal aspect

I really do not know anything of the intentions of the legislature in this matter, but the people, to a man, are prepossessed with an opinion that the measures they are taking will acquit them of all demands. We may pray for happier times, nothing less than an invasion could make them much worse. You know I neither dare subscribe my name or be thought the author of such intelligence.”
“March 1st, 1772.”


“Any lads of spirit, protestants, of reputable character, straight, light limbed, from 5 1/2 feet to 5 feet 7 1/2 inches, and from 19 to 24 years of age, ambitious to serve his majesty have now an opportunity of enlisting, etc.”
“21st July, 1769.”

This is an extremely typical advertisement. When distress and want of employment were brought about, such inducements as the above are held out to the Irish youth. The exactly same situation has been repeated in our own time.


There are several instances of the recantation of “the errors of popery.” Some may have been sincere, which is doubtful. Most of them were, undoubtedly, to obtain advantage of the special terms given to protestants, and to avoid the restrictions on catholics holding lands. Some only shammed “recantation.” The following is a fair example of such cases:


“Yesterday, in the parish church of Hillsborough, Henry Fearis, public renounced the errors of popery, and embraced the orthodox principles of the established church of Ireland; to the general satisfaction of every lover of truth, he being well known to be a man possessed of a good natural genius, and consequently the more capable of distinguishing the difference between truth and falsehood; and formerly much respected by the popish party, by whom oi late he has been slanderously distracted almost to persecution. All which he seems to bear with that resolution and calmness which generally attends a just conscience. And although he has a wife and children, and only living on sufference in the house with his wife and father (to his credit be it known) when the earl of Hillsborough proposed giving him a farm, he prudently answered, ‘that notwithstanding his dejected circumstance, he would rather labour under a few difficulties for a while, than let any person have the least reason to suspect that it was with a view of interest he had reformed, and not from choice of principles.’ This, sirs, I would recommend to you to insert in your paper, from which the world may see (wretched as man is at present) that there is still a difference to be found, both with regard to religious principles, and those that profess them.

I am, sirs,
Your most humble servant,
T. B.”
“Belfast, 26th December, 1766.”

It does not appear very innocent although “prudent” for Fearis to rebut charge before it was made. He accepted the Hillsborough farm in time. His case is similar to lord Gosford’s. He sold his country at the time of the union and postponed accepting the “honour” he had bargained for as his bribe, “as he wished to avoid the imputation that he had made any difference on this account.” He put in his claim four years later and was made one of “our old nobility.”


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