Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic

Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic

Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic

Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic


In the late sixteenth century, the English started expanding westward, establishing control over parts of neighboring Ireland as well as exploring and later colonizing distant North America. Audrey Horning deftly examines the relationship between British colonization efforts in both locales, depicting their close interconnection as fields for colonial experimentation. Focusing on the Ulster Plantation in the north of Ireland and the Jamestown settlement in the Chesapeake, she challenges the notion that Ireland merely served as a testing ground for British expansion into North America. Horning instead analyzes the people, financial networks, and information that circulated through and connected English plantations on either side of the Atlantic.

In addition, Horning explores English colonialism from the perspective of the Gaelic Irish and Algonquian societies and traces the political and material impact of contact. The focus on the material culture of both locales yields a textured specificity to the complex relationships between natives and newcomers while exposing the lack of a determining vision or organization in early English colonial projects.


Histories exist in and shape the present. This study comparing and contrasting English expansion into Ireland and the New World has been written over many years and over a period of considerable transition in Northern Ireland—the place I now call home. Throughout the writing process, I have been acutely aware of the contemporary ramifications of my historical and archaeological forays into the character of late medieval Gaelic life, the experiences of incoming settlers and their impact on the Irish, and especially of the conflict that marked that process and resonates into the present. At the same time, material and documentary evidence for the emergence of syncretic practices undermine the stark narratives of planter-versus-Gael, just as they complicate understandings of the relationship between English settlers and New World Natives.

Challenging historical memories of the nature of plantation in contemporary Northern Ireland is not merely an academic endeavor. Society remains divided between two communities with plantation-era roots: broadly drawn, one is Catholic, nationalist, and self-identifies as heirs of the Gaels; the other is Protestant, unionist, and self-identifies as heirs of the planters. More than 90 percent of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland are educated in either maintained majority-Catholic or controlled majority-Protestant schools. in Belfast, physical boundaries—so-called peace walls—still divide neighborhoods. Settlement across the province is sharply defined by community identity. Memories of plantation are routinely invoked by partisans from both traditions to illustrate and explain the violence characterizing the most recent conflict, “the Troubles,” which began in 1968 and claimed more than 3,700 lives. Debates over whether the Troubles are best understood as the result of economic, social, or religious tensions are not easily resolved. Regardless, the practice and presentation of historical scholarship are inevitably implicated. in short, sectarian historical narratives remain deeply rooted and resistant to change.

1. Marie Smyth and Jennifer Hamilton, “The Human Costs of the Troubles,” in Owen Hargie and David Dickson, eds., Researching the Troubles: Social Science Perspectives on the Northern Ireland Conflict (Edinburgh, 2003), 15–36; Brendan O’Leary and John McGarry, The Politics of Antago nism: Understanding Northern Ireland (London, 1993); Frances McLernon et al., “Memories of Recent Conflict and Forgiveness in Northern Ireland,” in Ed Cairns and Mícheál D. Roe, eds.,

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