History of the Scots-Irish or Ulster Scot


Who Are The Ulster Scots? — Under The Tartan Sky

Most Ulster Scots were in Scotland before they migrated to Ireland. MOST but not ALL.. We’ll discuss where else they might have been later. But for now, where were they in Scotland and when did they move to Ireland and why?

Most of them were in areas of Scotland adjacent to Ireland. The largest migration of Scots to Ireland was in the early 1600’s. Due to lack of definitive records, we do not have exact numbers, but in the early 1600’s 120,000 are believed to have migrated — from both England and Scotland. Bailyn says in one 24 month period in the 1630’s at least 10,000 Scots migrated to Ireland (Bailyn, Bernard. The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction, Vintage Books, 1988, p 26).

In the early 1600’s Ireland was the primary destination for migrating Scots because it provided opportunities that Scotland couldn’t offer– and Scots were not welcome in English colonies. Protestants were welcome. Catholic Scots, of which there are many, were not welcomed by the government in Ireland, though some did come, largely at the behest of Scottish Catholic lords, on whose lands in Scotland they may have already been living. But the bulk were Presbyterian lowlanders.

Campbeltown Scotch whisky region


They include a group of Protestant lowlanders that the Scottish government settled in Kintyre. They were run off by hostile natives and sheltered by Sir Randal McDonald (Catholic) on his lands in Antrim. He appreciated the lowland farmer. This group were a few of the many victims of the McDonald/Campbell feud.

Many tenant farmers came from Ayrshire — though Ireland attracted enterprising landlords and merchants from all over Scotland. Other Scots had come from Argyle and other McDonald homelands in the mid 1500’s with the McDonalds. Many of them were Catholic. They are still settled in the Glens of Antrim. Many are ethnically Irish because they are Catholic.

Another source of Scottish and English settlers was the Scottish/English border. At the time, James I/VI was breaking up those clans to secure the border between the two countries. Many fled hanging in England or Scotland to Ireland, largely settling in Fermanagh.

Often lords acquiring lands in Ireland recruited from their own Scottish estates or the estates of their neighbors, relatives, and friends.

An unknown number of Scots fled back to Scotland in the 1630’s to avoid religious persecution in Scotland.


In the early 1600’s the Scots joined a small Irish population. Since poor Ulster had been decimated by more than 50 years of war at the time of the Plantations there were not many Irish. AND, contrary to popular belief, they were not “run off”. If you doubt me, read Elliott The Catholics of Ulster –or any number of history books. True, the government WANTED to run them off and pursue a “Cherokee” type solution. However they were very short of men to farm and bring in the harvests. They could not afford to displace the Irish as their lives depended on them staying to bring in the harvests.Though the law prohibited the newcomers from renting to Irish, many did anyway. The Church (Protestant) was under no such restraints so many of its tenants were Irish.

The Ulster Irish spoke of course Irish, which was simply a different dialect of Gaelic. Scots and Irish could communicate without difficulty. This isn’t surprising since the Scotti, an Irish tribe, moved from Ireland originally. They also followed similar naming patterns to the Irish. There were sons of Hughs, Johns, and James everywhere. So they sometimes ended up with the same or similar surnames as the incoming Scots.

Presbyterian Catechising

Due to the destruction caused by war, there were no habitable houses. All the churches were in ruin. There were very few priests or Protestant clergy. It is documented that in at least one Antrim parish the entire Irish population became Presbyterian because the only minister about was the Scottish Presbyterian minister. If you wanted the baby baptized, he did it. In a world where religion was not yet politicized, this happened without communal pressure — in some locations.

What Was the Irish Rebellion of 1641?
A drawing from engraver Wenceslause Hollar in “The Tearers of Ireland” (The Terrors of Ireland), a 1642 book by James Cranford that purported to show the violence of the native Gaelic and Old English forces in Ireland during the Rebellion of 1641. The caption reads “Multitudes of Herringes driven into Dublin 20 a peny.” (National Library of Ireland)

In 1641 many Ulster Scots were killed by the Irish in the Rising, but we are not sure how many. We do not know how many people were in Ulster as many had fled to Scotland in the 1630’s to avoid the Black Oath. In 1642 more Scots arrived to defend the survivors as part of Monroe’s army. It founded the first Presbyterian presbytery in Ireland. Before that, there was none. Though Presbyterian, not all these men were lowlanders. I have an ancestor who presumably arrived in 1642 in Monroe’s army. He came from Kintyre and was a Lamont, though the surname of his descendants is BLACK. They settled into Antrim.

In the 1680’s more Scots came to Ireland, fleeing the Killing Times in south western Scotland.

Land War - Wikiwand

In the late 1690’s another period of enhanced Scots immigration to Ireland occurred after King William secured his throne. Apparently whole new towns and villages sprang up at this time. There is also evidence of a famine in Scotland which caused increased migration.

After the Williamite Settlement there were no large movements of Scots to Ireland because economic conditions in Ireland were not good. Sometimes they fled to Ireland to avoid religious persecution, though sometimes they fled back to Scotland to escape it in Ireland. People also moved in both directions at various times to avoid political problems. People also migrated seasonally to Scotland to work on farms.

Non-Scots “Ulster Scots”

However not all “Ulster Scots” were from Scotland. Assimilating into this ethnic group, which has become synonymous for Presbyterians in Northern Ireland, were the English settlers of the Ulster Plantations. The English did not survive well in the tough climate of Ulster in the early 1600’s. The Scots tended to replace them even in the English Plantations.

Far right: 16th century escutcheon showing the quartered arms of Sir John Chichester (quarterly of 4: Chichester, Raleigh, Beaumont quartering Willington, Wise), impaling Courtenay quartering Redvers. Chimney-piece in Simonsbath House,[15] having been moved there in the early 20th century by the Fortescue family from their seat at Weare Giffard Hall.[16] Hugh Fortescue (1544–1600) of Weare Giffard married Elizabeth Chichester (died 1630), a daughter of Sir John Chichester by his wife Gertrude Courtenay

Other English/Welsh blood was donated by the Chichesters, who started a colony of their tenants in Antrim from their lands in Devon and Wales in the later 1500’s. This is called the “Lost English Colony”. The surnames remain in the Belfast area. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Chichester of Raleigh, Devon, was appointed as governor of Carrickfergus at a time when the English were seeking to extend their influence in Ulster away from sea-supported colonies. This provoked a general uprising by the native Irish under Hugh O’Neill in the period between 1595 and 1603. Chichester was captured in a battle with Randall MacSorley MacDonnell in 1597 and beheaded.

Also you have other immigrants such as the Thompson family, who emigrated from Holland. They became a prominent Belfast merchant family. After 1690 many of King William’s continental soldiers settled in Ireland. Not too many of Cromwell’s soldiers were settled in Ulster since it already was largely in the hands of loyal Protestants.

Protestants such as Huguenots and Germans also settled in Ireland in the 1600’s. Many of these settled elsewhere in Ireland than Ulster, though there were settlements of Germans in Antrim and Huguenots in Lisburn — as well as others.

The surnames of the non-British settlers rapidly became anglicized so that they can be difficult to identify by surname alone.

Finally Irish assimilated into the Ulster Scots ethnic group. As Irish converted to Protestantism, descendants assumed their families came from Scotland as they adopted the myths of the Ulster Scot as their own. However some don’t. Surnames were fluid. Adopting a new ethnic identity was very simple: drop the O. Some Irish surnames began with Mac as well as Scots. By dropping the Mac, the name was anglicized and indistinguishable from English surnames.

In the 1600’s there appears to have been an ethnic fluidity in Ireland. Your “ethnicity” was determined more by your choice of religion rather than your ancestrage. In some areas in south Antrim, it is believed that, due to lack of both Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy and the presence of Gaelic-speaking Presbyterian clergy, the indigenous population became Presbyterian by default. The first Presbyterian minister in Bushmills was an Irishman named O’Quinn in the early 1600’s. He preached in Irish to his congregation and went on missions to convert the Irish. Evidence remains that the Scottish Presbyterians maintained an active ministry in Irish though this became impossible to maintain due to the government policies outlawing the use of Irish. Meanwhile Scottish men were marrying Irish women — who raised their offspring Catholic and Irish speaking. In fact, when the law was repealed in the early 1600’s which made it illegal for Scots to marry Irish, we are told there was “great rejoicing”.

Let none of this of course detract from your current ethnic tag. We are who were are; our ancestors, however, may well have been something different. At one time they were Strathclydians, Mercians, Northumberlanders or Irish or Scots warriors fighting with Irish or Scots warriers of differing clans. These kingdoms and the clan rivalries are forgotten though at one time their inhabitants fought bitterly with one another to establish their cultures in Great Britain. In fact, the Scotti of Roman days were an Irish clan — from County Antrim. They later invaded Scotland (500 AD) and won the local cultural battle with the Picts.

As long as Ireland and Scotland have been next to each other, there’s been migration between the two to adjacent areas. Ulster is adjacent to Scotland — so that’s where many Scots went. It was easy to go over and come back again.

Often it was difficult to tell a Scot from an Irish because in many cases, they shared a common culture and spoke a common tongue. They had similar cultures. Many Scots clans are founded by Irish clans. In fact, Scotland is a colony of Ireland. Before 500 AD the “Scotti” were in Ireland. Scotland was called “Alba” then and Picts lived there. The Scotti established a colony on the western shores. Eventually these Antrim boys lost their lands in Ireland to marauding Irish clans, but they supplanted the Picts. Kenneth McAlpin united the thrones of the Picts and Scots. However the eastern lowlanders were a different people. They are the descendants of Angles and Vikings and Pictish clans, not the Irish Scotti.

In the 13th century the MacSweens controlled lands across central Argyll, extending as far north as Loch Awe and as far south as Loch Fyne. Their principal seats included Lochranza Castle on the Isle of ArranSkipness Castle and Castle Sween at Knapdale, which may be Scotland’s oldest surviving stone-built castle.

In the late Middle Ages a new phenomena began to occur that would have a massive impact on Ireland. Irish lords began to hire Scottish mercenaries to help fight their intertribal and wars with the English. They were called Galloglass soldiers from the Irish gall oglaigh or stranger soldiers. They were apparently from the western Scotland and of mixed Scots and Viking origin. They changed the course of history in the 1500’s. Through one dynastic marriage an Irish lord got 10,000 of these soldiers. Some of them settled down in Ireland and established clans of their own. The McSweenies are one example of a galloglass clan who assimilated into the Irish. If they stayed Catholic, they assimilated into the Irish and lost their ethnic identity as Scots.


As mentioned, the majority of the Ulster Scots came in the Ulster Plantation period. They came willingly, recruited by their lairds, many of whom were also acquiring Irish estates. Their forte was not only farming but also the skilled labor required to create a colony. They could build homes, raise livestock, blacksmith, and so on.

Seventeen Hundreds

Much of the text on this page has focused on the sixteen hundreds since it was the formative period of the Ulster Scots. It was also a very turbulent hundred years in Ireland. Nonetheless, Scots didn’t attempt to emigrate to the Americas in any large numbers. A few did leave. In fact Rev Mckemie began the Presbyterian Church in America. However most didn’t leave till the 1700’s.

In the early 1700’s the political situation in Ireland stabilized. There would be no more rebellions till 1798. However economic conditions worsened, at least partially due to trade restrictions placed on the economy by Parliament.These laws also impacted the Scottish economy. Consequently Ireland was no longer an attractive destination for immigrants.

While in the 1600’s the Presbyterians were persecuted and neither they or Catholics worshipped in churches, as the Penal Laws were reduced in the 1700’s, they began to construct churches, called meeting houses. While in the 1600’s it was common for families to move to new farms frequently, in the 1700’s people “settled down” and attempted to hold onto the lease that they’d had. Thrown into competition over reduced resources, Irish and Scots began to conflict locally. For instance the Hearts of Oak disturbance.

The great wave of emigration of Ulster Scots to American began in 1718 and continued till the start of the American Revolution.

Published by Clan Carruthers Society - USA

We are all passionate about where we came from and where we're going. We set this website/blog up so we can all share our family stories along with the history for future generations.

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