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Saturday 13 June 2015


The Brasier name crops up in several marriages in the pedigrees of my ancestors who were part of the Protestant Ascendancy – the English settlers sent to colonise Ireland and prevent rebellion among the Catholic Irish. The act of implanting such settlers was known as plantation, as if they were some alien species of tree being unnaturally introduced to the landscape by a political Forestry Commission. There were several waves of plantation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries starting with the Tudor conquest of the island in the 1550s.

Plantations tended to follow periods of unrest. Two rebellions by the Irish Earl of Desmond in the 1570s and 1580s resulted in the plantation of his lands in Munster, in southwestern Ireland. A decade later an Ireland-wide rebellion led by O’Neill of Tyrone drove out the Munster incomers. But when that rebellion was squashed in 1603, the Munster plantation was resurrected; and plans were made by James VI/I for a much larger one in the north of the country, in Ulster, which had seen the fiercest resistance to English rule.

James VI of Scotland and I of England (c1606, after John de Critz)
The union of the two countries’ crowns spawned the idea of a plantation of Ulster by equal numbers of Scots and English incomers

The plan required landed gentry from England and Scotland to take on confiscated Ulster land and populate it with workers from their estates back in Britain – Irish tenants were banned, and those undertaking the plantation (who were known as undertakers) were each obliged to introduce 48 adult males, 20 of them with families and all of them Protestant. 

Veterans of the war were also rewarded with parcels of land. In cases where the new land owners were unwilling or unable to deliver the required level of Protestant population, the king turned in 1607 to the powerful trade guilds of the City of London. They had the manpower, the wealth and (perhaps most importantly) the skills required to sustain the venture; but they had grave reservations about getting involved. One worshipful company recorded in its minutes that “it would be very foolish to entermeddle in this busynesse, for it will be exceedingly chargeable.” 

The arms of The Honourable The Irish Society, formed in 1613 and still active today

James overcame their lack of enthusiasm with the threat of fines and imprisonment. The companies fell into groups headed by one of the twelve “Great Companies”, all under the umbrella of a sub-committee of the Corporation of London which came to be called The Honourable The Irish Society. Each of the twelve was allocated an area of Ulster, on which they must build a castle, villages and churches, all ruled by English law, customs and religion, using the English language.

The Clothworkers for example, (whose group included butchers, bakers, bow- and arrow-makers, upholsterers and merchant tailors), were given the area around Killowen on the west bank of the River Bann. They faced the site on the east bank on which the Irish Society now began to plan and build the fortified town of Coleraine. Paul Brasier arrived in Ireland in 1611, the first of his family to do so. Although I don’t know which company brought him, he was an alderman of Coleraine by July 1639, when he and a business partner John Hatton were renewing the lease of a tannery in the town. 

Coleraine, 1611

Paul seems to have been a prominent and successful citizen by then. In September that year he was one of five members of a consortium allowed by the King’s Commissioners to build a new wharf for the town. As further proof of the Brasiers’ status in the new colony, Paul’s son (also Paul) married Sarah Beresford, a granddaughter of Tristram Beresford, the man appointed by the Corporation of London to manage the Ulster Plantation. Sarah's father was Sir Tristram Beresford, Baronet. Talk about connections in high places.

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