In 1609, King James I directed that a substantial sum of money be raised from the City to undertake plantation of lands in Ulster. In 1610 the City agreed to contribute a sum of £20,000 for the plantation of the future County of Londonderry. Substantial other funds were levied by the Crown, principally from the 12 Great Companies. On the first round of Ulster levies, the Mercers were ordered to pay £410. The Company protested that they were unable to find so large a sum. They petitioned the Privy Council but before a decision could be reached a request for a second payment of £410 arrived. The Company at first refused to pay the two amounts and two of their Wardens were imprisoned. However, the issue was revolved and the Mercer’s next levy was reduced to £310.
In 1611, these 12 Companies were offered a share of the lands in Ulster as recompense for the money they had raised. They accepted, and a division of the land took place in 1613, when it was also decided that the then 55 Livery Companies should be divided into 12 groups, each to include one of the Great Companies, and the lands apportioned accordingly.
Thus the Mercers’ Company, who had contributed £2,680 in total, became associated with: the Innholders and the Cooks - each of whom were to contribute £200; the Broderers, who were to contribute £153; and, the Masons, who contributed £100. The Innholders decided not to pursue their share and their involvement lapsed from that point.
Land comprising some 3,210 acres was administered, on behalf of the Associated Companies, for nearly 300 years by the Mercers until it was finally sold in 1906.
At no time in its long history has the association between the Mercers Company and the Masons, Cooks and Broderers Companies depended upon any kind of written agreement. Rather, it has flourished on a basis of friendship and mutual regard for each other’s interests, as it still does today. Moreover, in 2013, the Associated Companies took steps to recombine with the Innholders in support of more contemporary projects linked with Northern Ireland.
Today, through the Gullion Link project and St Ethelburga’s Church, the Associated Companies are re-engaged with Northern Ireland in a manner more appropriate for contemporary times. Additionally, the Associated Companies support the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.
The only other association still surviving from the Northern Ireland Estates is the ‘Manor of Sal Association’, comprising Salters, Dyers, Cutlers, Saddlers, Joiners and Woolmen.