The Clearing is set in 17th century Ireland, as Cromwell's men are systematically transporting women and children, and forcing Irish landowners and English royalists off their land. Robert Preston, politically neutral, apparently, with no inheritance in England but possessed of lands in Ireland, is married to Madeleine, an Irish woman. When Madeleine's childhood friend Killaine is taken by English soldiers to be sent to the West Indies, she pleads with the English governor, Sir Charles Sturman, for her release. Sturman's response is to order Madeleine and Robert to be transplanted with their child to barren Connaught, in the west of Ireland. But Robert refuses to go.