The Role of the London Companies
Planning for the Plantation of Ulster was stimulated by the Flight of the Earls in 1607 and the fear of their return with a foreign army. The initial survey of confiscated lands in 1608 was undertaken, after this the King had to secure adequate funding for such a large project, with plans to colonise six of the counties of Ulster. With Donnell O'Cahan underarrest, and his lands seized by the crown
To ensure that substantial private funding was invested in an early version of a private-public partnership. A large tract of land consisting mainly of what was known as "O'Cahan's country" was set aside to lure investment by a syndicate of 12 London Companies which later became known as 'The Honourable The Irish Society'.
'O'Cahan's country' was chosen because of its abundant natural resources, raw hides, tallow, beef and iron ore. The fishing stocks of the Bann and the Foyle were an additional allurement, offering vast quantities of eel and salmon. Just as enticing for the London Companies, however, were the region's vast forests, at a time when the production of pipe staves was critically important to the economic development of England as a maritime nation. Despite the enticement of prospective riches, it was by no means certain that the London Companies would jump at the opportunity offered. Lingering fears that the Earl of Tyrone would return from the continent and overthrow the Plantation were widespread.
To the great relief of James I, London Companies were persuaded to become involved. At the outset, considerable initial investment in buildings and equipment was required. At first, rapid progress was made. Sir John Davies, an eyewitness, memorably drew a classical allusion having observed building work at Coleraine during the summer of 1610. Commenting on the 'ferment of activity', Davies compared the scene to the building of Carthage in Virgil's ancient classic, The Aeneid.
The agreement reached with the crown required the London company to build a town of 60 houses at Derry and one of 40 at Coleraine. The grant of lands to the London company was the whole of the county of Coleraine, with the barony of Loughinsolin, containing the great woods of Glenconkeyne and Killetragh, and areas west of the Foyle near Derry and east of the Bann near Coleraine, thus creating the present county of Londonderry. The lands allocated to the Vintners, Drapers and Salters lay in South Derry, with present day towns having such names has Draperstown and Saltersland. The lands of the Grocers and Goldsmiths lay to the east of the City of Derry. The Haberdashers' estates had its centre in the northern part of Derry where a castle was built at Ballycastle and occupied by Sir Robert McClelland. Across the River Roe in the direction of Derry City were the fishmongers, whose centre was at BallyKelly. The Skinners had a large estate of which the main centre was Dungiven, where the former Castle of the O'Cahans was occupied by a Mr Dodington. The lands of Magilligan was occupied by the Clothworkers stretching into Killowen. Next to this came the estates of the Merchant tailors, whose centre was at Macosquin. Farther south still were the Ironmongers whose estates were in the Aghadowey and Garvagh districts.