Birth of the Modern Era

The period between 1500-1700 was an era of change both in terms of politics, religion and military conflict, as the native Gaelic population witnessed the arrival of new settlers. Momentous events in Irish history included the Battle of the Boyne (1690). 

Ireland was ruled by powerful Gaelic lords but by 1603 military conflict with the English crown led to the ‘plantation’ of Ulster. Physical changes in the landscape included the development of towns. Trade expanded and there was a greater range of cultural diversity. 

The fortunes of the Catholic and Protestant religions fluctuated with the ruling monarch, ending with a massive transfer of power from Catholic to Protestant hands under William of Orange. The following story reflects some of the events, people and traditions.

Birth of the Modern Era: drinking vessels

Birth of the Modern Era: drinking vessels

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Gaelic Society: Dungiven costume

Gaelic Society: Dungiven costume

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From Reform to Conquest: Lithuanian coin

From Reform to Conquest: Lithuanian coin

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From Reform to Conquest: Wassail bowl

From Reform to Conquest: Wassail bowl

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Turbulent Times: ‘Lobster-tail’ helmet

Turbulent Times: ‘Lobster-tail’ helmet

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Divided Kingdom: William III

Divided Kingdom: William III

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Divided Kingdom: James II

Divided Kingdom: James II

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Divided Kingdom: Mortar shell

Divided Kingdom: Mortar shell

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A New Way of Life: Bible and Book of Common Prayer, 1632

A New Way of Life: Bible and Book of Common Prayer, 1632

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A New Way of Life: Carey’s plan of Coleraine, 1611

A New Way of Life: Carey’s plan of Coleraine, 1611

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A New Way of Life: Jacobean Child

A New Way of Life: Jacobean Child

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Birth of the Modern Era: drinking vessels

Image: Mether BELUM.A345.1911 - on display
Mether BELUM.A345.1911 - on display

These drinking vessels – one, an Irish mether, the other an English standing cup, represent two very different societies.

Mether or in Irish 'meadar or madder', is derived from the Latin 'metrum' meaning measure. Dating from c.1400-1700, they were made from a single block of wood usually with a separate base and they are a feature of high-status drinking rituals in Gaelic Ireland. Alcohol, usually ale, wine or mead, was drunk from one of the splayed corners and the mether was rotated in a clockwise direction to the next willing participant!

Image: Loftus cup BELUM.VI - on display
Loftus cup BELUM.VI - on display

The silver-gilt standing cup was made for Adam Loftus in 1593. Born to an English Catholic family, he converted to Protestantism and in Ireland became Keeper of the Great Seal and Lord Chancellor. The cup was made from an obsolete Great Seal of Ireland, symbol of powerful Tudor government. The impressive cup was purely ceremonial.

 

Gaelic Society: Dungiven costume

Image: Dungiven Costume BELUM.A356.1956 - on display
Dungiven Costume BELUM.A356.1956 - on display

Found in 1956, in a bog near Dungiven, were the remains of a jacket, mantle (cloak) and tartan trews (trousers), along with shoes and a leather belt.

It seems unlikely that they were originally made for one person, but rather they mirror people and places shaping the Irish landscape. The jacket reflects English fashion and the tartan trousers Scottish influences, while the mantle is a distinctly Irish item. Another feature of the clothing is the idea of ‘make do and mend’ in that it is heavily patched and repaired.

Among contemporary accounts of clothing was the apparent trend in wearing trousers low on the hips ‘ …. and the pryde of it is to wear it so in suspense that the beholder my still suspect it to be falling from his arse’!

 

From Reform to Conquest: Lithuanian coin

Image: Lithuanian coin, 1547. On loan - on display
Lithuanian coin, 1547. On loan - on display

This 1547 Lithuanian coin, excavated from the remains of a 17th century house at Dunluce, County Antrim, was worn as a pendant by a Scottish merchant. It shows continuing international trading networks and emerging markets in Ireland during this period.

Image: Reconstruction of Dunluce c.1625. Illustration Philip Armstrong © NIEA
Reconstruction of Dunluce c.1625. Illustration Philip Armstrong © NIEA

The castle, in its striking location, is well-known, but the remains of a town (established in 1608) lay hidden until recent excavations. Unearthed were broad cobbled streets with houses either side and premises such as a blacksmith’s workshop.

Following the abandonment of the castle, in the later seventeenth century, the town became deserted.

Image: Dunluce Castle and Electric tram, County Antrim. BELUM.Y.W.01.44.5
Dunluce Castle and Electric tram, County Antrim. BELUM.Y.W.01.44.5

 

From Reform to Conquest: Wassail bowl

Wassail bowl BELUM.O95.1945 - on display
Wassail bowl BELUM.O95.1945 - on display
Wassail bowl detail
Wassail bowl detail

From the Anglo-Saxon Waes Hail meaning ‘be you healthy’ this elaborate wooden bowl, made from an exotic tropical wood, was associated with the drinking ceremony Wassal from southern England.

The Wassal drink consisted of a hot, mulled cider, ale or mead, topped with toasted bread. It belonged to Arthur Chichester, Governor of Carrickfergus, who came to Ireland in 1598 following the death of his brother. Superbly crafted and decorated, it must have been a reminder of his English roots.

 

Turbulent Times: ‘Lobster-tail’ helmet

Image: ‘Lobster-tail’ helmet. BELUM.O689.1937 - on display
‘Lobster-tail’ helmet. BELUM.O689.1937 - on display

The helmet consists of several pieces of metal riveted together, including peak , ear-guards and the characteristic lobster-tail neck guard.

About 18,000 English troops were in Ireland during the Nine Years War which ended with the defeat of the Gaelic leaders and their allies in 1603.

Image: English Morion helmet – a type worn by infantry during the Nine Years War. BELUM.O681.1937 - on display
English Morion helmet – a type worn by infantry during the Nine Years War. BELUM.O681.1937 - on display

The 1643 Solemn League and Covenant agreement between the English parliament and the Scots, had both a military and religious dimension. Its immediate purpose was to overwhelm the Royalists who in 1643 seemed likely to win the English Civil War.

The Scots agreed to send an army and in return sought help upholding the Protestant religion with a particular emphasis on Presbyterianism – a religious union of England, Scotland and Ireland intent on removing all traces of popery.

It was signed by many Protestant settlers in Ulster in 1644 and throughout England and Scotland, but when Oliver Cromwell gained control of England, he had little sympathy for the Presbyterians and ignored the Covenant.

 

Divided Kingdom: William III

King William III 1650-1702 BELUM.U698 - on display
King William III 1650-1702 BELUM.U698 - on display
C. Leigebe engraving, ‘Willhelm Heinrich Princs Von Orangen‘.  This classic pose on hoeseback is closely associated with the king. BELUM.W2012.676 - on display
C. Leigebe engraving, ‘Willhelm Heinrich Princs Von Orangen‘. This classic pose on hoeseback is closely associated with the king. BELUM.W2012.676 - on display

William of Orange reigned as king, 1689-1702. His victory at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) resulted in the exile of the Catholic King James II.

The Dutch artist Jan Wycke who specialised in battle scenes, came to England with William and his wife Mary. He completed a series of paintings of the Battle of the Boyne and William III on horseback.

This picture of William, on a rearing white horse with field marshal’s baton raised high in the air, became highly popular and is frequently seen on banners, murals and souvenirs.

William plate - made after 1690 either in London or the Netherlands. BELUM.V1096 - on display
William plate - made after 1690 either in London or the Netherlands. BELUM.V1096 - on display
The Boyne cup (c.1688-90). "GOD SEND YE KING SAVE TO IRLND". The inscription must refer to the visit of William III to Ireland before the Battle of the Boyne (1690). BELUM.V1119 - on display
The Boyne cup (c.1688-90). "GOD SEND YE KING SAVE TO IRLND". The inscription must refer to the visit of William III to Ireland before the Battle of the Boyne (1690). BELUM.V1119 - on display

The commemorative plate depicts William III on horseback. It was made after 1690 either in London or the Netherlands.

The type of ceramic it is made from was called tin-glazed earthenware or delftware, which refers to the potteries at Delft in the Netherlands that made blue and white pottery that mimicked early Chinese porcelain.

 

Divided Kingdom: James II

Image: James II when Duke of York 1633-1701.BELUM.U673 - on display
James II when Duke of York 1633-1701.BELUM.U673 - on display

The painting completed in the 1660s by an unknown artist, shows James, Duke of York, before he was crowned King. He is not wearing armour but Roman military dress, a fashion which became popular in portrait painting around the mid-17th century.

James conversion to Catholicism in 1672 resulted in his temporary exile before claiming the throne as James II, in 1685.

Fears of Catholic succession resulted in James Protestant nephew and son-in law, William, Prince of Orange, to take action, ousting James with the ensuing struggle including at the Battle of the Boyne (1690).

Image: Adrian Schoonbeck engraving, one of a series to celebrate the victory of William III.  This propaganda print shows King James looking at a mass hanging of Protestants in Ireland. BELUM.W2012.709.34
Adrian Schoonbeck engraving, one of a series to celebrate the victory of William III. This propaganda print shows King James looking at a mass hanging of Protestants in Ireland. BELUM.W2012.709.34

 

Divided Kingdom: Mortar shell

Image: Mortar shell BELUM.W2014.211 on display
Mortar shell BELUM.W2014.211 on display

A mortar was basically a short tube, most likely to have been made of bronze. It was used to fire a hollow ball of cast iron filled with gunpowder and ignited by a lit fuse.

Its shells or ‘bombs’ were fired at a high trajectory over defensive obstacles. They were used as weapons of terror specifically to destroy buildings and inflict casualties indiscriminately, demoralising both garrison and civilians alike.

During the period 1689–91, mortars were used by both the forces of William III and James II, most notably at Londonderry, Carrickfergus, Charlemont, Athlone and Limerick.

Image: Engraving by Schoonbeck (Amsterdam) depicting James II laying siege to Londonderry, includes huge mortar being loaded on the left. BELUM.W2012.709.35
Engraving by Schoonbeck (Amsterdam) depicting James II laying siege to Londonderry, includes huge mortar being loaded on the left. BELUM.W2012.709.35

 

A New Way of Life: Bible and Book of Common Prayer, 1632

Image: Bible and Book of Common Prayer, 1632. printed by Robert Barker in London. ARMCM.53.1975
Bible and Book of Common Prayer, 1632. printed by Robert Barker in London. ARMCM.53.1975

During the Protestant reformation, the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer were central to the development of the Anglican church.

"The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament, and the Nevv: Newly Tranflated out of the Originall Tongues: And with the former tranflations diligently compared and revifed, By his Majefties fpeciall commandement, Appointed to be read in Churches. Printed at London By Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings moft Excellent Maieftie. And the Affignes of Iohn Bill. ANNO 1632."

The ease of telling the time is something we take for granted, but even a few hundred years ago this was more of a challenge.

Image: Presbyterian sermon hourglass BELUM.W2013.137 - on display
Presbyterian sermon hourglass BELUM.W2013.137 - on display

One solution was the hourglass, a simple method of calculating the passage of time where a volume of sand travels from one glass globe to another. Early depictions include a painting of 1338. Hourglasses would have been a common sight in churches, houses and workplaces, declining in popularity with the development of the mechanical clock.

The sermon was a focal point of the Presbyterian service – one of the most well-known biblical sermons being the ‘sermon on the mount’.

 

A New Way of Life: Carey’s plan of Coleraine, 1611

Image: Carey’s plan of Coleraine, 1611 BELUM.P37.1937
Carey’s plan of Coleraine, 1611 BELUM.P37.1937

Coleraine was the first planted town in Ulster. This formal street plan, featuring a large central market square, a Protestant church, and fortified by an earthen rampart and ditch, conforms to the ideal vision of a Plantation town.

Urban life brought shops and inns as trade and commerce expanded.

 

A New Way of Life: Jacobean Child

Image: The Jacobean Child ARMCM103.1990
The Jacobean Child ARMCM103.1990

This early portrait, painted in the 1600s, was originally in poor condition but has been expertly repaired by the Museum’s conservation department and was known to the donor as ‘The Jacobean Child’.

The name ‘Jacobean’ from the Latin Jacobeaus (James) is associated with the reign of James I of England. The child is playing with a whip and spinning top and although wearing a dress, is likely to be a boy from a wealthy family.

As a result of high infant mortality rates dresses were used for both boys and girls in their early years, even into the Victorian era.