Tag: Northern Ireland

Gallowglass and the Black Oath: Ulster Scots

By the beginning of the 17th century, there was already a significant Scottish presence in Ireland. From the late 1200’s to the 1500s, Scottish mercenaries known as “gallowglass” had been brought over by Irish leaders to supplement their own armies. The gallowglass were typically paid with clan land from the clan chief they had served. Naturally, they settled in Ireland, bringing with them such Scottish names as MacSweeny and MacDowell.

Sign in County Down with Irish and Ulster Scot...
Sign in County Down with Irish and Ulster Scots text (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the 16th century a new wave of Scottish mercenaries flooded into Ireland from the Isles and Highlands; however, this group was paid in currency rather than land, and most returned to Scotland. A branch of the Macdonnell clan didn’t leave. They instead settled in the northeast corner of Ulster (in modern day Antrim county), and quickly dominated the region politically. The government in Dublin viewed this Scottish settlement as a serious threat, however, and in 1556 legislation was passed banning all Scots from Ireland.

A mere 50-odd years later, James VI of Scotland ascended the thrones of England and Ireland, bringing an about-face in the Irish perspective on Scottish settlers. Knowing that Northern Ireland was typically hostile to English rule, James conceived the idea of a Protestant colony as a means of establishing the royal hold on the region.

James found his opportunity when the Roman Catholic Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell fled Ireland to take refuge in France. Their lands were quickly seized by the crown and divided up amongst new owners. These seized lands included the counties of Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Coleraine (later renamed Londonderry), and Donegal. Plans were drawn up, dividing the counties into precincts, and each of those precincts was assigned to Irish servitors or English or Scottish undertakers (so called because they “undertook” the commission of building fortifications and establishing settlements).

By 1610, the Scots were awarded nine separate precincts. Greater nobles received up to 3000 acres of profitable land, while fifty Scottish chiefs received grants of 1000-2000 acres. The government hand-picked each recipient to ensure that the noblemen had the means to meet the costs of establishing a profitable settlement.

In 1630, a military muster was conducted, and these records show the progress of the various settlements. Certain precincts, such as those in Donegal, had seen little to no growth by the time of the muster. Elsewhere, however, small communities of Lowland Scots were established and thriving. According to the muster of 1630, the adult Scottish population of Ulster had nearly reached 14,000.

Though no surveys were conducted in the years after the muster of 1630, the incoming Scots established a strong presence not only in Ulster, but also further afield. Counties Cork, Mayo, Sligo, and Wexford all show signs of a significant Scottish presence at the time. In fact, so strong was Scottish establishment in Ireland that they posed a serious threat to Charles I when he faced disputes with the Scots in the late 1630s.

English: William Petty (1623-1687)
William Petty (1623-1687) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those very disputes brought Scottish migration to a near halt for almost a decade. When Charles tried to force the Prayer Book of the Church of England on them, denying the Scots their own form of worship, many simply pulled up stakes and went home. Charles added insult to injury in 1638 by demanding that Scots in Ulster take “The Black Oath” – a solemn vow to never take up arms against the King. Many sorely insulted Scots simply chose to return to Scotland rather than being subjected to Charles’ whims.

Finally, in 1641 an Irish rebellion broke out. Men, women and children were slaughtered, and many survivors rushed to return to Scotland. In 1642, however, ten thousand Scottish soldiers flooded in to quash the rebellion. Thousands of the soldiers stayed on in Ireland, renewing the Scottish population.

It is estimated that in all, as many as 200,000 Scots crossed the North Channel throughout the 17th century, though not all remained or survived. Exact figures vary greatly; however we know that Scottish presence throughout the time of the Restoration was substantial. Sir William Petty estimated the Scottish population to be around 100,000 in 1672, and that number continued to grow significantly until around 1715.

The Plantation of Ulster

Ulster (Photo credit: Gerald 2560)

For much of the 16th century, Ulster was a wild and wooly place. The region was thickly wooded, scarcely developed, and (according to the English) under populated. Early attempts at settlement (circa 1570) were unsuccessful, and until the region was conquered during the Nine Years War in the 1590s, it was primarily inhabited by nomadic Gaelic Irish.

Permanent residences were scarce, and bloody skirmishes between clans and between the Gaelic and the English led to a very sparse population. In fact, by 1600, the total population of Ulster hovered as low as 25,000.

The English gradually broke the power of the clan chieftains as they conquered Ireland piece by piece throughout the 16th century. The Gaelic chieftains led by Hugh O’Neill surrendered to the English in 1603, and were granted generous land and terms under the Treaty of Mellifont.

A few short years later, however, O’Neill and other rebel chieftains fled Ireland in the hopes of raising Spanish support for a new rebellion. The English government saw this as an opportunity to colonize and “civilize” the region, and promptly seized the rebel lands. The original plan was to award grants of land to Irish lords who had sided with the English during the war; however, after the rebellion in 1608, those plans quickly changed.

King James VI and his counselors conceived of the Plantation of Ulster and a joint English and Scottish venture. King James wanted to reward his subjects in Scotland, where he had once reigned before becoming King of England.

Thus, plans were made for the plantation of six counties in Ulster: Armagh, Cavan, Coleraine, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Tyrone. The plan was to establish strong settlements to bring stability to the region. James wanted to prevent further rebellion, and to that purpose, he confiscated not only rebel lands, but all the land in the region.

The majority of the land was granted to wealthy English and Scottish “Undertakers” (so named for “undertaking” the plantation of the region). A quarter of the land was awarded to select Irish landowners (or Planters); however, Irish peasants were relocated to live near British garrisons and Protestant churches.

All Undertakers and Planters were granted up to 3000 acres of profitable land (not mountains or bogs), but they were held to specific terms. They were strictly barred from selling any lands to Irishmen, and were required to bring a minimum of 48 English-speaking, Protestant adult males to settle on their land. They were also required to build defenses, in the hopes of establishing a strongly loyal British community that could successfully stand up to any future Irish rebellion.

Eventually, veterans of the Nine Years War requested and were granted lands of their own in Ulster. These officers had limited resources to fund their colonization, however, so their establishment was subsidized by London guilds.

From 1606 on, a substantial number of lowland Scots moved into the Ulster settlements. Many of the initial settlers were led by James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery. Sir Randall MacDonnell soon followed in 1607, bringing 300 Presbyterian Scots to settle on his lands in Antrim.

1609 brought a veritable flood of English and Scottish settlers into Ulster, as Undertakers populated their estates and the surrounding regions. As immigrants came through the Londonderry and Carrickfergus ports, some didn’t like the land that was allotted to them, and instead struck out to build farms and homesteads, further populating the virgin territory.

By 1622, the Scottish and English population in Ireland had grown significantly, numbering around 19,000 throughout Ulster, Antrim and Down. By the 1630s, that number was as high as 80,000. Since roughly half the immigrants were female, the settler population was able to grow even faster.

Because settlements were under threat by roving bandits, military garrisons and fortified towns sprung up fairly quickly. Interestingly, most modern towns in the Ulster region date back to this period of plantation.

Those early settlers left a legacy that continues to this day. The Plantation of Ulster is arguably the source of much of the bad blood that exists between Irish Catholics and British Protestants today. Many Scottish names can be traced back to the early settlers (though Protestant/Catholic beliefs are poor indicator of heritage). And finally, the Plantation settlers contributed many words to the Ulster dialect that are still in use today.

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