Heavily armed Norman-English barons, on the orders of Henry II, King of England and with the blessing of the then English Pope Adrian, landed in Wexford in 1169 and began the attempt to conquer Ireland and appropriate it to the English realm. Thus began the “Irish Problem”.

In the course of time, many of the invaders fell victim to the phenomenon which has been met with by many strangers to Irelands shores – they became more Irish than the Irish themselves and became an obstacle and affront to English power.

By the time the Protestant Queen Elizabeth arrived on the English throne, England was a powerful aggressive country and the Queen was determined to achieve at last the complete subjection of Ireland, to settle it with loyal English subjects and to make it an English province.

The Queen’s Lord Deputy in Ireland carried out her policies in successive savage Wars of Extermination. Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy, wrote to the Queen about the rebel Earl of Desmond:-

“He enjoyeth under the rule of tyranny the third part of this great country, which I assure your majesty, I know to be greater than Yorkshire. In all his lands your name is not revered or your Laws obeyed. Neither does my sheriff execute any part of his office therein”.

In November 1579 the Earl was declared a traitor and by 1583 when the Munster countryside had been laid waste and depopulated the attempt at rebellion by Desmond was over. The poet, Edmond Spencer, who acquired some of the lands subsequently confiscated, penned the following description of the then state of Ireland:-

“Out of every corner of the woods and glens they come creeping forth, upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked like anatomies of death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrion, happy when they could find them ……… in a short space there was almost none left, and a most populous and plentiful country was suddenly left void of man and beast”

Half a million acres of the depopulated lands of Munster were given to English undertakers. In contrast to earlier plantations, the Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan settlers were Protestants.

They were encouraged to look on the native Catholic Irish as an inferior people and they despised their Catholic religion. As a result, they were alien to the Irish population and seldom intermarried with them . The settlers saw themselves as an English garrison surrounded by a potentially hostile Catholic tenantry and they looked to London as their capital.

The “Undertaker” who was most successful in attracting English colonists to Ireland was Phane Beecher of London who was granted 12,000 acres at Bandon Bridge in County Cork, including the castle of the former owner, the rebel Cnogher O’Mahony. Beecher brought in shiploads of colonists through Kinsale port with their wives and children. The first houses were built by the colonists in Bandon in 1596.

After the defeat of the Irish forces at the battle of Kinsale in 1601, West Cork was subdued with the capture of the castles of the O’Mahony’s and of O’Sullivan Beare’s Castle at Dunboy. Richard Boyle had come as a clerk to Cork Court in 1599, participated in the Battle of Kinsale and was chosen to bring the news of the “great victory” to Queen Elizabeth. He obtained a large acreage of confiscated land. In 1604 he also purchased the lands (40,000 acres) of Sir Walter Raleigh whose property was confiscated as a result of a Bill of attainder against him.. Captain Freke, who also fought at Kinsale acquired 13,700 acres in the Barony of Carbury. The Freke residence was built at Rathbarry and subsequently named Castlefreke. Its Irish tenants included the Collins’s of Woodfield, the place which was to be, centuries later, the birthplace of Michael Collins, the greatest leader in the fight for Irish freedom.

The settlers in Cork were mainly of English and Welsh origin and of the Protestant religion. The “Undertakers” did not carry out wholesale evictions but, having constructed large fortified houses for themselves, allowed many of the Irish inhabitants to remain as rent-paying sub-tenants and labourers.

In contrast, the post-Elizabethan policy adopted in the northern counties of the province of Ulster after the Battle of Kinsale and the flight of the Earls, brought about the systematic clearing of the fertile lands of Ulster, attracting as settlers very large numbers of Lowland Scottish farmer families and the establishment of towns, capable of being defended throughout the planted region.

Such Irish inhabitants as were allowed to remain retained only small areas of the poorer land and others remained in the area as labourers. Thus was set the scene for the Ulster Problem which has continued to the present day.

Phane Beecher’s Bandon settlement had many similarities to Northern towns to the extent that Catholics were forbidden to enter the walled town of Bandon. With its two thousand English families, represented by two members in the English Parliament, Bandon was the only exclusively Protestant town in Munster. When Richard Boyle constructed the walls nine feet thick and up to fifty feet high around the town, he would boast:- “My town of Bandon-Bridge is more encompass than Londonderry.. my walls are stronger and thicker and higher”

The advent of power in England of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector brought further grief and confiscation of land in Ireland. In County Cork, the Boyle family and the Bandon yeomen were fanatical supporters of Cromwell. Roger Boyle, Baron Broghill, the third son, is referred to in West Cork folklore as “the merciless Broghill”. After he had sacked Clonakilty he wrote:- “At some sights I could have pitied, but consider that pity spoils a city; I did not cherish that charity”

Cromwell visited Bandon in 1650 and delighted the planter inhabitants when he said:- “If there had been an Earl of Cork in every province of Ireland it would have been impossible for the Irish to have raised a rebellion”.

The memory of the brutal massacres of the entire population of captured towns is still fresh in Ireland and “The curse of Cromwell on you” still a potent malediction in Ireland. In the late part of the century the Irish supported the Catholic King James II of England against the Protestant William of Orange but the defeat of James brought further confiscation and trials. Penal Laws were enacted designed to eradicate the practice of the Catholic religion. Priests were hunted, Catholics could not own a horse worth more than five pounds and lived in abject poverty. These laws remained in force up to the 1780’s.

Had Queen Elizabeth’s policies finally succeeded? More than eighty per cent of all the lands of Ireland were in English hands and the Irish were an unarmed and largely uneducated subject class. However, only the land of Ireland had been conquered, not its people.