Forestry Focus

Forestry since Tudor Times

Forestry in Ireland since Tudor times in relation to significant historical events.

1002 Brian Ború recognised as the ‘Emperor of the Irish’. He was later killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

1152 Synod of Kells re-organises the Irish church.

1171 Arrival of Henry II, the building of Dublin Castle and the beginning of the Norman settlement which was to continue for the next century. The Normans establish a feudal structure.

“In England, the Normans had introduced the notion of ‘forests’ (a term that simply meant a large area of land, not necessarily all wooded) as areas where a special law applied. The Irish idea of land title was very different from the Norman one of absolute ownership, and this much facilitated the Normans. When an Irish lord or king donated land to one of his subjects, he gave not ownership, but dominion subject to recall. Therefore,  the Irish nobleman who ‘gave’ land to a Norman was allowing a rescindable dominion in trust. When he learned that the Norman thought otherwise and was prepared to fight for it, the Irish lord fought back, or agreed to the Norman authority under what he saw as duress.” – Eoin Neeson ‘Woodland in history and culture’

It was under the Normans that Ireland first became a source of timber supply for England. Roads and bridges, as well as houses, were among the structures made from wattling, as the name Baile Átha Cliath (‘the Ford of the Wattles’) implies.

1297 Summoning of ‘Parliament’, with representatives from each county.

1315 Bruce invasion, Scots occupy Ulster in alliance with O’Neill. Bruce is defeated and killed in 1318.

1494 Poyning’s law dictates that the Irish parliament could only meet with the permission of the English king and only then after he had approved the measures it sought to enact.

1534 Silken Thomas revolts.

1536 Irish ‘Reformation parliament’ meets.

1541 Henry VIII declared ‘King of Ireland’ by act of the Irish parliament. He proceeds to shut down monasteries.

1543 Henry VIII’s Forest Act, a new Charter of the Forest enacted. This act is prompted by two factors: The first is the national requirement for shipping, brought on by the increase of colonization led by Drake, Raleigh and Frobisher. The second was the disclosure of corruption in the English forest administration, the result of which is a shortage in native timber. This change in policy is to have a drastic and enduring effect on the Irish woodlands.

1549 English Book of Common Prayer ordered to be used in Ireland.

1553 Papal authority restored briefly under Queen Mary.

1560Elizabeth comes to the throne and restores Anglicanism. England proceeds to build up her navy which goes on to defeat Spain in 1588. During her rule, Elizabeth I expressly orders the destruction of all woods in Ireland to deprive the Irish insurgents of shelter. The fact that England is to benefit from this isn’t a mere afterthought.

1569 Desmond rising begins, and is later crushed in 1573.

1591 TrinityCollege established as part of Elizabeth’s attempt to impose the Protestant reformation.

1594 O’Donnell and O’Neill begin their rising against Elizabethan authority.

1606 It is estimated that the Shillelagh Woods could furnish the Crown with timber for shipping and other uses for the next twenty years.

1607 The Desmond Rising ends in failure with the ‘Flight of the Earls’.

1608 Philip Cottingham first surveys Ireland on behalf of the Crown, and again in 1623. His report states that the country is abounding in timber, mainly ‘noble oaks’ fit for shipbuilding. However, he notes that they were instead being used, contrary to law, to make staves for barrels.

1609 Ulster plantations begin, with the province’s prime lands assigned to British undertakers. The idea of plantation had come from Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ of 1513. One would assign prime plots of land of the country you were seeking to conquer to loyal subjects from the home country. These ‘planters’ would, by virtue of their new land, become over time the economic and then subsequently, the political elite. The idea is put into effect in Ireland throughout the 17th century.

“Great numbers of ‘undertakers’ – English or Scots planters on forfeited lands who ‘undertook’ certain developments, or acquired a franchise to do so – spread across Ireland through out the sixteenth and seventeenth century felling woodland at an incredible rate. So profitable was timber that it was often the case that the amount for which an estate was bought was recovered in full, thus ‘making the feathers pay for the goose’, as a contemporary phrase puts it.” – Eoin Neeson ‘Woodland in history and culture’ 

1610 A Lord Blennerhasset “recommended periodic manhunts to track down the human wolves to their lairs”. The ‘human wolves’ he is referring to are woodkernes – a derogatory term for an Irish warrior who resided in the forests. These warriors are seen as a threat to the new ‘planters’.

1649 Cromwell’s campaign begins with massacres at Drogheda and Wexford.

1666 The Great Fire of London. After the London fire, a law is passed prohibiting the building of houses in Dublin from wood, which was, in any case, now scarce and expensive. The demand for Irish oak to rebuild London was very great.

1678 Renewed proclamations against Catholic clergy and schools. Between 1680 and 1700, there is a substantial decline in hazel cover, possibly because hazel was used for wattling in Irish traditional buildings and therefore, much more in demand.

1685 Accession of Catholic King James to the English throne. 1688 William of Orange arrives and the Jacobite War begins. Protestant victories at Derry and finally at Boyne in 1690 secure the Protestant monarchy.

1695 First of the Penal Laws, Catholics barred from education, bearing arms or owning a horse worth more than £5. These laws work in tandem with the plantations to secure Protestant domination in the spheres of politics and economics.

Four major reasons for the destruction of the forests during the 16th and 17th century:

• The removal of hideouts for Irish rebels.
• A demand for ship-building timber, mainly oak, as England built up its navy.
• The reconstruction of London after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
• The making of barrel staves, many of which were exported to France and
Spain as wine casks.

1698 Legislation to grow more trees is introduced by William III.

1704 Catholics are barred from owning property.

1719 Act of Toleration for Protestant dissenters, namely Presbyterians – a movement derived from Calvin’s Geneva rather than Henry VIII’s state-directed reformation.

1774 ‘Quebec Act’ grants Catholics religious and civil rights.

1791 Wolfe Tone’s ‘Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland’ is published.

1794 Samuel Hayes, owner of the well wooded estate at Avondale in Co. Wicklow, publishes his book ‘A Practical Treatise on Planting, and the Management of Woods and Coppices’. Hayes, a member of the Irish House of Commons, was also a founder of the Botanical Gardens in Dublin.

1798 United Irishmen rebellion, attempting to establish a republic along the lines of the French revolution. “They had not left wood enough to make a toothpick in many places…”   Chevalier de la Latocnaye’s ‘A Frenchman’s Walk through Ireland’ (1798).

1801 Act of Union abolishes Grattan’s parliament, bringing Ireland under the direct control of the Westminster parliament for the first time.

“One larger consequence of the Act was the linking of a rich country with one that was poor as a result of trade restrictions, exploitation and repression by the former.

London now became the capital, attracting Irish landlords from their estates and, instead of prospering, the country became steadily more impoverished as rent-capital drained  from it.” – Eoin Neeson, ‘Woodland in history and culture’

1803 Robert Emmet leads republican revolution.

1823 Daniel O’Connell founds Catholic Association to campaign for Catholic enfranchisement.

1829 Catholics enfranchised.

1838 Father Mathew founds abstinence society.

1840 Repeal of the Union organisation founded by Daniel O’Connell.

1845 Start of the Great Hunger, sparked off by the failure of the potato crop which provided the stable diet of the Irish Catholic. The famine was the worst in recorded European history.

1847 Daniel O’Connell dies.

1867 Fenian uprising.

1870 Gladstone’s first Land Act, Home Rule movement founded by Issac Butt.

1879 Land League founded by Michael Davitt, demands fair rents, fixity of tenure and free sale. Among the tactics employed is the shunning of landlords such as Captain Boycott (who, of course, lent his name to this activity). Other more militant activities include the harming of cattle and trees. (The planting of trees had become synonymous with the ‘plantations’ of the 17th century and Protestant land ownership.) The mutilation of trees is therefore became a common form of protest.

“The revived interest in forestry by the landowning elite came to be seen by the deprived peasantry and smallholders not as a means of reviving a natural national capital asset, but as yet another means of depriving them of the use of land rightfully theirs.” – Eoin Neeson, ‘Woodland in History and Culture’

1881 Passing of the Land Act of 1881 enabling land transfer from landlord to tenant. Landlords fell timber to generate revenue before transfer. New owners continue the process, to recoup costs.

1890 The Knockboy planting experiment commences in wind-swept Co. Mayo. Although a total failure, due to poor species selection and exposure, the experiment yields useful lessons for the future. It represents an early attempt at state afforestation, reflected the first steps in cohesive national forest planning.

1891 Parnell dies at Brighton.

1899 The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI) is formed with responsibility for forestry.

1903 With the passing of another Land Act, land transfer speeds up, increasing woodland clearance even more. Almost 880 recorded sawmills in operation, with numerous travelling sawmills completing the devastation. Woodland cover falls to an all-time low of 1.5%, with remaining areas being of very poor quality.

1904 DATI purchases Hayes and Parnell’s old home at Avondale and establishes a forestry school there, opening in 1906 with A.C. Forbes as its head.

1908 The Commission of Forestry issues a report on Irish forestry, recommending a comprehensive national scheme of forestry to be carried out under state direction, with the objective of creating one million acres of woodland in eighty years.

1912 Foundation of Ulster Volunteers to oppose Home Rule.

1913 Foundation of Irish volunteers to secure Home Rule.

1914 State interest in forestry in Ireland as a vital national resource continues, despite the Knockboy disappointment. In 1914, several foreign species of conifers such as Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, planted in earlier years, reach a size and age which demonstrate their value as timber trees and their ability to grow on poorer sites. Outbreak of the Great War, causing immeasurable human suffering throughout the world. Felling during the war reduced Irish forests planted during the previous century. Annual planting also suffers, reaching only 15,000 acres of its projected figure of 50,000 acres. From here on, forestry develops mainly as a state enterprise, with the emphasis on commercial timber production. Afforestation continued, this time by the new state, with poor quality land purchased for planting with non-native fast growing conifer species. Annual planting varies greatly, due to the policy priorities and limited financial resources.

1916 At the beginning of the Easter Rising, Patrick Pearse declares Ireland a Republic on the steps of the GPO. He and his fellow leaders are later executed.

1919 First Dail assembles in the Mansion House, the first ‘IRA’ assassination at Solohed Beg.

A new Forest Act is enacted in the United Kingdom, incorporating a new forest policy based on the modern concept of state forestry, first undertaken in Ireland.

1920 Government of Ireland Act establishes statelet of Northern Ireland.

1921 Truce between IRA and British forces allows for negotiations in London between Sinn Fein and the British cabinet. In accordance with the provisions of the Treaty, on 1 April 1922, matters relating to woodlands and forestry are handed over to the Provisional Government (which functioned between the signing of the Treaty and birth of Saorstát Éireann) There is less than 250,000 acres of woodland in the young state, mostly in private hands. From here on, forestry develops mainly as a state enterprise with the emphasis on commercial timber.

1922 Irish Free State Parliament meets, IRA oppose it and civil war ensues. Free State emerges victorious in 1923.

1932 De Valera and Fianna Fáil come to power. 1937 New Constitution removes last vestiges of British connection.

1939 War breaks out, with Ireland remaining neutral. The experience of ‘the Emergency’, during which timber is in scarce supply, galvanises the importance given to the state afforestation programme.

1948 First inter-party government comes to power after 16 years of Fianna Fail rule. Sean McBride, as leader of Clann na Poblachta, introduces a vastly expanded planting target to 25,000 acres/year, signifying the nation’s first real long-term forest policy.

1949 ‘Republic of Ireland’ officially declared.

1958 T.K Whitaker’s report on Economic expansion. This advocates ‘five year plans’ to end economic protectionism and to integrate Ireland into the world economy. Ireland finally starts to industrialise.

1973 Ireland and the UK enter the European Economic Community (EEC). Later to become known as the European Union (EU). The EU has financially supported forestry development in Ireland since 1981.

1979 Ireland has the largest and most rapidly expanding forest area per capita in Europe, with forest cover now at 5% of the land area.

1981 The Western Package Scheme, co-funded by the EU and the Irish government, is introduced to provide grant aid to farmers for planting marginal agricultural land. This is followed by a series of other packages aimed at encouraging further private involvement. These, together with CAP reform, increase private planting from 5% of total planting in 1984, to 73% in 1995, effectively reversing the domination of the national afforestation programme by the state.

1989 Coillte is formed to take over the commercial management and expansion of Ireland’s public forest resource previously created by the Forest Service. The Forest Service continues its role as the government body responsible for forest policy, including the administration of grant aid for forestry.

1993 COFORD is established to co-ordinate forest research and development in Ireland.

1996 The government publishes ‘Growing for the Future’, outlining a strategic plan for the development of the forestry sector well into the next century. Objectives include more emphasis on the multi-benefit aspects of forests, and increased species diversity, including broadleaves.

1998 The Northern Ireland ‘Good Friday’ agreement is signed and endorsed by majorities on both sides of the border. Ireland continues to experience huge economic growth under the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’.