The Greening of Ireland - tenant tree-planting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

  • William J. Smyth Department of Geography, University College Cork.
Keywords: History, tenant farming, afforestation, deforestation, forestry policy, planting, politics, economics.


Trees have always been central to the functional and symbolic life of communities. In Ireland, the conquests and plantations of the second half of the sixteenth and all of the seventeenth century saw the almost total eradication of the woodland cover both for economic and strategic purposes. Consequent to these changes, a cultural landscape of landlordism was created from the late seventeenth century. The planting of trees became a central symbol of this new civilisation. A series of parliamentary acts between 1698 and 1791 progressively provided greater incentives to tenants to plant and eventually to claim ownership of the trees they planted. A Register of Trees for 13 counties provides detailed evidence of the scale and character of tenant tree-planting between c.1760 and c.1900. This paper seeks to locate tenant tree-planting in the wider economic and cultural contexts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It explores who the tenant tree-planters were, where they planted and what number and types of tree species they favoured. The greatest surge of tenant tree-planting was from the end of the eighteenth century to the period of the Great Famine. In this short phase, an enduring rural landscape of hedgerows, avenues, shelter belts and woodland plantations was created. For a variety of reasons, this expansive phase of tenant planting faded over the latter part of the nineteenth century, when the landlord system faced its last crisis and tenants were transformed into farm-proprietors.
How to Cite
Smyth, W. J. (1997). The Greening of Ireland - tenant tree-planting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Irish Forestry. Retrieved from
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