The two centuries to 1700 were frequently punctuated by upheaval, war, and devastating violence. Historians refer to the bloodshed of the 17th century as ‘the General Crisis’, a period in which up to a third of the world’s population may have lost their lives. And yet these turbulent years saw the development of the modern economy. Familiar features such as market towns and pubs appeared for the first time, just as the world seemed to be tearing itself apart.
The Ulster Museum’s collection of items from the birth of the modern era bears testament to these trends. The conflicts of the era are reflected in the weapons and armour that we have on display. Coins, trading tokens, printed material and religious items trace the rapid development of civilian life in the shadow of war. Some of these items speak to intimate domesticity, such as Gaelic drinking vessels, called methers. These large cups are designed for social drinking—multiple handles make it easier to pass from one person to the next.
This period was transformative for Ireland. English and Scottish settlers were granted land in Ireland from the end of the sixteenth century. This process of settlement, known as the Plantation, occurred all over Ireland, but was particularly intense in Ulster.
The Plantation created conflict, but also prompted an interplay between different cultural traditions. The Dungiven Costume on display is evidence of this. The jacket is inspired by English fashion, while the tartan trousers have Scottish influences. The cloak, or mantle, is a distinctly Irish item. The implications of this cultural exchange had social, economic, and political implications for Ireland, even today.
The collection also includes gun money and other objects from the Williamite-Jacobite War in Ireland. We hold printed maps of Ulster, propaganda, paintings, and glassware dating to this period.