As the seventeenth century began, there was already a Scottish presence in Ireland, particularly in Ulster. There were, first of all, the descendants of the so-called ‘gallowglass’ or ‘foreign warriors’ who were imported from the Scottish Isles and Highlands by Irish leaders to supplement their military strength. The first record to these Gaelic-speaking, mercenary soldiers dates from 1290, but references to them become more frequent from the time of Edward Bruce’s invasion of Ireland during the second decade of the fourteenth century up to the 1500s.
The gallowglass were usually paid for their services with clan land provided by the clan chiefs whom they had assisted. It followed that they settled in Ireland, their descendants having such names as MacSweeny, McKenny and MacDowell, but during the sixteenth century a new type of Scottish mercenary appeared on the Irish scene. These, who were called ‘New Scots,’ also came from the Isles and Highlands, but they were paid for their services in other currency than land, and they usually returned to their homes in Scotland on completion of the campaign for which they had been hired. There was, however, one major exception to this rule. The Macdonnells presided over the semi-autonomous Lordship of the Isles till its suppression by the king of Scotland in 1492, at which point one branch of the clan sought refuge in the north-east corner of Ulster. This group, not only settled in what has since become the county of Antrim, but also dominated the area politically. So grave a threat did this settlement appear to the government in Dublin that in 1556 it passed legislation outlawing all Scots in Ireland.
The succession of James VI of Scotland to the thrones of England and Ireland in 1603 brought about a transformation in attitude towards the Scottish presence in Ireland. The first sign of this change was the almost immediate ennoblement by James of Randal MacDonnell, the leader of the Irish MacDonnells, along with a grant of a title to the lands that he and his followers had occupied during the previous century. Two years later, in 1605, two Lowland Scots, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, received large grants of land on the strategically important shores of Strangford Lough. This grant was made as part of a private deal reached by the two Scots with Con O’Neill, leader of the sub-clan of the O’Neills in the area. O’Neill had been imprisoned during Elizabeth’s reign for rebellion, and under the arrangement, the Scots intervened on his behalf so that he was pardoned and allowed to retain one third of his estate, the remaining two-thirds being divided between Hamilton and Montgomery, who quickly began importing Lowland Scottish tenants.
As the first Lowland Scottish settlers were arriving in county Down, events elsewhere in Ulster were occurring that led to a much more widespread Scottish settlement in the province. Many officials both in England and the Dublin government were anxious to ensure that there was no recurrence of the type of rebellion in Ulster that had confronted Elizabeth I at the end of her reign. Thus, when in 1607 Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, earl of Tyrconnell, boarded a ship with numerous followers to go into continental exile, the event was perceived as an opportunity to expand British settlement in the province and thus implant a population that could be relied on in the event of an uprising. The reasons for the departure of the earls are disputed, but the flight was interpreted as evidence of treason and justification for the confiscation of the estates of all those who had departed. Huge tracts of land, therefore, became available for re-distribution and settlement, to which further territory was added after the suppression of a minor rebellion in the following year. Elaborate plans were drawn up whereby this land, which incorporated six Ulster counties, was divided up among new owners. One county was assigned to the city of London to settle, but the other five (Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone) were split into precincts, each precinct then being assigned either to Irish leaders who had not opposed the government in the past, English officials who had served in Ireland (called servitors), the Church of Ireland, settlers from England, called ‘undertakers’ because they undertook to import British tenants and build fortifications, or to Scottish undertakers.
Under this plantation scheme, which was ready for implementation by 1610, the Scots received nine precincts distributed among these five counties. The settlement of each precinct was, in theory, under the general supervision of a chief undertaker, either a peer, such as the earl of Abercorn in Strabane, or a knight. Each chief undertaker received a grant of 3,000 ‘profitable’ (that is, not including bog and mountain) acres. The estates, or ‘proportions’, assigned to lesser undertakers ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 acres. Fifty Scots received these smaller grants, but even at this level the government tried to ensure that those selected possessed sufficient resources to meet the considerable costs of establishing a settlement.
We can trace the progress of the undertakers, or its absence, during the first two decades of the plantation as four surveys were conducted during James’ reign to determine what had been done, and in 1630 a military muster was conducted which listed the names of most of the English and Scottish males living in Ulster who could bear arms. The surveys reveal that in some of the precincts assigned to the Scots, such as Boylagh and Banagh in western Donegal, there had been virtually no settlement by the end of the reign. Elsewhere, particularly where there was easy access to the territory, small communities of Lowland Scots were established. By using the muster of 1630, it has been calculated that some 8,000 Lowland Scottish males were living in the province, including Antrim and Down, by that date. As there were probably approximately 1.5 women present for every two men, the adult Scottish population of Ulster amounted to just under 14,000 persons. This figure may be compared to the adult white population of Virginia, founded in 1607, which, by 1622, numbered approximately 4,000 in 1622. By contemporary standards, therefore, despite almost complete failure in some areas, the Scottish settlement represented a considerable achievement. Moreover, the Scots contributed more than just numbers of people to the settlement. Captain Pynnar, who surveyed the settlement in 1618-19, remarked that neither the English nor the remaining Irish tenants cultivated the land, and that, were it not for the Scots, who cultivated the land in many places, ‘those Parts may starve.’
We do not know how many Scots settled in Ireland between 1630 and 1638 because no document, such as the surveys or the muster of 1630, survives to supply figures. Nevertheless, there are at least three reasons why we may assume that the flow of Scots into Ireland during this period was considerable: first, because there are scattered references in the Scottish records referring to continuing emigration up to 1638; indeed, Irish sources reveal a Scottish presence beyond Ulster’s borders, in such counties as Wexford, Cork, Mayo and Sligo. Second, it is evident that by 1639 the Scots in Ulster were sufficiently numerous to pose a political threat to Charles I during his dispute with his Scottish subjects at the end of the 1630s. This dispute was complex, but it arose, at least in part, from Charles’s attempt to bring Scottish religious practices more in line with those followed in England and in particular by enhancing the authority of bishops.
The response of the Scots to Charles’s policy and their justification for armed resistance was articulated in National Covenant, to which thousands swore adherence during 1638. The following year, Thomas Wentworth, Charles’s governor in Ireland, considered that the Scots living in Ulster constituted a sufficient strategic danger during the confrontation in Britain that he attempted to impose a counter oath, known as the Black oath, on the Scottish settlers which denounced the principles of the National Covenant. Rather than swear this oath, many of them, particularly those living in Antrim and Down, returned to their homeland, and when the Covenanting army marched into England in 1640, it contained a contingent of men who had left Ireland in defiance of Wentworth.
The final reason for believing migration from Scotland to Ireland continued at a considerable pace between 1630 and 1638 follows from the military evidence of the 1640s. Charles was forced to concede to most of the Scottish demands, but no sooner had peace been restored than he was faced, in October 1641, with a similar challenge to his authority in Ireland. Irish leaders in Ulster, having noted the Scottish success, demanded similar religious guarantees for Catholics in Ireland to those the Covenanters had obtained for Presbyterians in Scotland, and there was also a desire for a return of the land that had been lost at the time of the plantation. The war widened in 1642: the Ulster insurgents formed a Confederation with other Catholics in Ireland, with its centre at Kilkenny, a Scottish army of 11,000 men, led by Robert Monro, was sent to Ulster to help put down the rebellion in the north and civil war broke out in England between the king and parliament.
During the initial months of the rebellion in Ulster some of the settlers were killed by the Irish as they took over southern Ulster and parts of the west. Other settlers fled the country or to Dublin, but despite this reverse migration, it is clear that large numbers of Scots remained, and their numbers were supplemented by Monro’s army. By 1644, in addition to this army, some 8,000 settlers were stationed near Derry and Enniskillen and another 6-10,000 in Antrim and Down. We do not know just how many of these men were Scots, but contemporary comments suggest that they made up a high proportion of the settler forces. The earl of Castlehaven, for instance, who led the Irish army in the west of the province, assumed that the forces he opposed were Scots, and Sir William Cole, the English commander at Enniskillen, stated that his officers and men had Scottish origins. Another source tells us that ‘almost the whole of the garrison’ at Derry were Scots. Only at Belfast and Lisburn is it likely that English-settler soldiers outnumbered their Scottish comrades. For every soldier there was probably one man without arms, which suggests a Scottish male population of the province at this time of about 25,000 men apart from Monro’s army. This army diminished in size over time, but some elements remained in Ireland, and if we assume a female population of one to every two males, we reach a probable adult Scottish population of close to 40,000 by 1650.
The military records of the 1640s also throw light on the mentality and convictions of the Scottish immigrants, and these had an impact on the triangular relations between England, Scotland and Ireland during the civil wars. In 1643 the king agreed to a truce with the Kilkenny Confederation so that he could move troops from Ireland to tip the military balance in his favour against parliament in England. Parliament, in response, entered into an alliance with Scotland, bonded with another oath, the Solemn League and Covenant, which envisaged extending the Scottish church structure to Ireland as well as England and by which the Scots agreed to send another army to England, this time to assist parliament. Initially the Scottish government wanted to move Monro’s army from Ulster to England, but the general and his men refused to leave, stressing that, if they were withdrawn, the British population of the province would be ‘absolutely destroyed’, thereby revealing the bond that had developed between them and the settler community.
That community, as we have seen, had raised considerable forces, the majority of whom were Scots. But the officers of these units held commissions from, and answered to, not the Scottish state, as did Monro and his army, but to the administration in Dublin, which, under the leadership of James Butler, marquis of Ormond, served the royalist cause. Thus, just as Wentworth had tried to neutralize pro-Scottish sentiments in Ulster during the king’s first confrontation with the Scots, so now Ormond tried to prevent the settlers there taking the Solemn League and Covenant. As a result, a contest developed between the agents of Scotland and the English parliament, who sought to advance the cause of the covenant, and Ormond, who tried to stop it.
What emerged during this contest was division between the landowners, who often doubled as army officers, and the ordinary ‘country’ people. An agent of parliament arrived in eastern Ulster in November 1643 to invite the British colonels there to take the covenant. Soon after he arrived, Dublin sent a warning that to do so was against the laws of Ireland. The colonels managed to postpone a decision pending a further discussion at a more representative meeting, whereupon, the agent moved north to Derry. Here, as the royalist mayor reported, pro-covenant sentiment ran through ‘the veins of the common sort’, and by the end of the year so influential was this popular sentiment that the mayor complained that ‘where the ruder sort are most predominant…those that are in places of authority are inforced sometimes, with the sculler, to look one way and row another’. Subsequently, four ministers arrived from Scotland who set ‘wild fires among the people’, and despite the arrival of a proclamation from Dublin forbidding the administration of the covenanting oath, popular support for it grew to the point that officers could not resist it. By May of 1644, after the junior officers had declared against Ormond’s peace, the covenanting party won control over the city. Meanwhile, in County Down, a ‘great meeting’ was held at Newtownards during February, where the colonels had to agree not to oppose the taking of the covenant, whereupon the ‘country people’ embraced it. The next month, after supplies had arrived form Scotland, Monro and his army took the oath, and in May, in defiance of the city’s army commander, the citizens of Belfast opened their gates to Monro. Finally, by the end of this month, virtually all the colonels, including one who had been sent north by Ormond to preserve Ulster for the royalists, had joined the covenanters after being subjected to the ‘fury of the exasperated multitude.’
Undoubtedly, supplies, or the hope of them, inspired some of the support for the covenant. This was reinforced by ethnic hatred. Casltehaven recalled that there was ‘no Nation upon Earth’ that was more hated by the Irish than the Scots, and the sentiment was reciprocated. Nevertheless, there were also religious incentives that led the majority of the settler population to adopt the covenant in defiance of most of their secular leaders. It was after the arrival of the four ministers from Scotland that the colonels found the popular pressure irresistible. In short, just as the Irish rank and file on occasion preferred to heed their clergy over their officers when these leaders were divided over policy, so too did the Scots. This is not to say that their defiance was a rejection of all authority. When one of the colonels who had opposed his regiment’s adoption of the covenant, took it and rejoined his men, he was welcomed back with shouts of ‘Welcome, welcome Colonel.’ To try to explain this adherence to the religious leaders over the secular ones we have to look at the religious history of the Scottish colony and at some of the ideas that crossed the water with the immigrants.
We know little about the religious convictions, if any, of the Scots who settled in Ulster during the first two decades of the century. It may be assumed that they were nominally Protestant although a few who settled in the vicinity of Strabane were Catholic. It is probable that many arrived lacking any strong religious views. This was the opinion of one of their own ministers, who described the early newcomers, both English and Scots, as ‘the scum of both nations.’ This may have been an exaggeration, but we do know that some of the colonists were fleeing justice. King James imposed unprecedented order on the Anglo-Scottish borders, which meant that those who had formerly lived by cattle stealing in this region had to seek different careers, and many of these ‘unemployed’ certainly made their way to Ulster. However, there was a religious revival in the province during the late ‘twenties and early ‘thirties led by clergy who, in some cases, had been exiled from Scotland for their Presbyterian opinions. By 1630 mass religious assemblies were being held in the open fields of eastern Ulster attended by over one thousand worshippers at a time. Thus, although no formal presbyteries were established in Ireland until the arrival of Monro’s army in 1642, many Scots of the middle and lower social ranks became Presbyterian in spirit if not in name. It was they who defied Wentworth in 1639 and subsequently pressed their leaders to swear to the Solemn League and Covenant.
Most of the accounts of the religious revival in Ulster were written by Scottish clergy who were proud of their achievement, but we also possess a brief anonymous description of the movement by a man who was evidently an Englishman and who, although sympathetic to the revival, was not a participant in it. This account described the ministers as ‘such men for strict walking, and abundant pains with their people Sabbath day, and week days, in church and from house to house that I have never heard nor known any more heavenly in their conversation or more laborious in their ministry.’ Such dedication helps to explain the willingness of those with few resources and less power to quit their homes rather than desert their ministers. Yet we also have to explain the passion and conviction of the ministers, and to understand this, we have to glance briefly at the ‘covenant theology’ that they brought over with them from Scotland.
Even before the Reformation the Scots used covenants or bonds between feuding parties in an attempt to maintain some social order at the local level in a highly decentralized society. They therefore had little difficulty in grasping a concept advanced by the reformers of a series of covenants (God with Christ, Christ with the monarch and the monarch with his people) which justified secular authority. The idea of a covenant with God, indeed, sometimes became an element in personal faith. God called on the elect (those chosen by Him for salvation) to covenant with him. Those who believed that they belonged to the elect believed that they were bound by an agreement with their maker, and there are examples of people drawing up such covenants on an annual basis and recording them in their diaries. Coupled with the belief in such bonds sometimes went a conviction that Christ was about to return to earth as predicted in the Bible. This would, it was further believed, herald the defeat of Anti-Christ, the personification of evil, the chief manifestation of which on earth was the Roman Catholic Church.
Leading the elect in this struggle between good and evil was the ‘Christian Monarch’, who was expected to champion the cause of the church. Problems arose, however, if the monarch neglected his duty as Charles I appeared to have done, and, worse still, began to lead his people to an accommodation with Anti-Christ, as was implied by his truce with the Irish in 1643. Sometimes, the belief in covenants, combined with this millennial interpretation of current events, led to a justification for challenging the policies of the king. As one minister in Scotland put the matter, the ‘covenant [was] between God and Isreal…betwixt God and this land [i.e. Scotland]’, and it will be noted that here the king has been shunted aside, and the agreement was directly between God and his people. Resistance to monarchial rule thus became legitimate. This is not to suggest that the Scottish settlers had become revolutionaries wanting to overthrow all government. They accepted the need for the state, but only so long as it did not threaten their church, a position also maintained by many Catholics too though, of course, their perception of the true church differed markedly from that of the Presbyterians.
Despite the decision by the Scottish settlers to side with the winning party in England, the amount of territory controlled by them diminished between 1644 and 1649. In 1646 the Irish, led by the Spanish-trained general, Owen Roe O’Neill, defeated Monro’s army decisively at Benburb, County Armagh, and had the Irish general followed up his victory, the settlement might have collapsed, but the tide of war turned with Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in Ireland in 1649. The Scots had little enthusiasm for Cromwell, but his victories in Ireland led to further expropriation of land from the Irish, and the availability of this land created an incentive for further migration of population from Scotland. The long-term impact of the rebellion, therefore, was an increase in Ulster’s Scottish population.
A brief, anonymous report, apparently written after Cromwell’s death in 1658 but before the Restoration in 1660, warned that there were 40,000 Irish and 80,000 Scots in Ulster ready to bear arms and not above 5,000 English apart from the army, and even half of this consisted of Irish and Scottish soldiers. This tends to confirm that the Scottish population of the province had increased during the Interregnum although the particular figures given are too high to be credible. A more realistic figure is that provided by Sir William Petty, who estimated the Scottish population in the north in 1672 at 100,000 ‘souls’, implying an adult male component of forty to fifty thousand. But if exact figures are elusive, we can be sure that the Scottish presence at the time of the Restoration was considerable and that it continued to grow up to 1715. Ormond, who returned to the governorship of Ireland in 1662, remarked the next year on the number of Scots entering the country. Four years later, an English official warned that they were ‘so numerous, so needy and so near to Ireland, so cunning, close and confederated in a common interest’ that they were liable to dominate the whole island. In 1678 another official described how ‘shoals of people from Scotland’ were arriving at Carrickfergus, and after the conclusion of the Williamite war in 1691, there was a further flow of Scottish immigrants. Edward Synge, the Protestant bishop of Tuam, estimated that some fifty thousand Scottish families had settled in Ulster between 1689 and 1715.
Some of the Scots who settled in Ireland during this period would have been merchants as an extensive trade developed between the two countries. The Scottish authorities had an ambivalent attitude towards this trade in that Irish grain, horses and cattle competed with home products, but they were powerless to stop it and admitted in one instance that, such was the demand for Irish horses in Scotland, any interruption in the trade would actually damage Scottish agriculture. As this admission suggests, Irish agriculture was relatively efficient, and there can be no doubt that the vast majority of the immigrants were tenants or agricultural workers attracted by the opportunity offered by cheap land. The flow of people out of Scotland also worried Scottish officials. In 1678, for instance, the Scottish council complained of ‘sundry tenants and other persons of mean quality’ going over to Ireland, and of ‘many others upon divers pretences’ intending to follow them, an exodus that was likely to leave parts of the country ‘destitute of tenants and servants for labouring’ the land. A type of passport system was introduced to address the problem, but this seems to have had no better success than the attempts to control trade. Such was the lure, as one proclamation put it, of the ‘expectation of getting land in waste places in Ireland at present without any considerable rent’ that would-be immigrants overcame all official obstacles.
As before 1641, another category of immigrant after the Restoration was the man fleeing justice. The Scottish commissioners of the borders wrote those on the English side that they would ‘be careful to apprehend all such persons as shall endeavour to escape from us through that kingdom of Ireland.’ These would have been common criminals, but some who sought refuge in Ireland had committed political crimes, such as those who murdered James Sharp, archbishop of St Andrews, in 1679 and who were captured in Ireland. The murder of the archbishop was a response to persecution of those who tried to keep the covenanting torch alive in Scotland after the Restoration, and there were two, unsuccessful rebellions in Scotland by those espousing this cause, the Pentland rising in 1666 and at Bothwell Bridge in 1679. In both instances some of the fleeing rebels made their way to Ireland. Thus, after Pentland, there was a report of ‘six Scotch preachers’ addressing about 3,000 persons near Carrickfergus, ‘many of them out of Scotland’.
The adoption of the Solemn League and Covenant by the Ulster Scots during the 1640s and the arrival of militants after the Restoration were bound to arouse suspicions among Dublin officials. Almost immediately after Charles II’s restoration sixty-one ministers in Ulster were deprived of their livings, and in 1666 the Irish parliament passed the Act of Uniformity, which forced the majority of the Ulster Scots to worship outside the established church. However, it can be said that officials in Dublin adopted a more moderate policy towards Presbyterians than their counterparts in Scotland or England. There were, it is true, periods of tension, when the Scots in Ulster suffered at the hands of the Dublin administration. In 1663 a Protestant plot to overthrow the government was uncovered. Some complicity of Scottish ministers was suspected and a few were imprisoned for a time. Similarly, after the risings in Scotland and after the discovery of the Rye House plot in England in 1683, a few Scottish ministers were arrested, but such action was rare, and it will be noted that, when it did take place, it was usually in reaction to events outside Ireland.
One explanation for this comparatively moderate approach in Ireland is to be found in the character of its governors. James Butler, who returned to the lord lieutenancy in 1662 with the rank of duke, presided over Ireland to 1669 and again, after a gap of eight years, from1677 to 1685. He was more hostile to the Scots in Ireland than other viceroys. In 1663, for instance, he warned that the most dangerous internal threat to the king’s government in Ireland were those ‘who still call themselves Protestants’ but declined to worship within the Church of Ireland. The Scots in Ulster, he remarked, belonged ‘as much or more’ to Scotland as to Ireland, and later he described them as ‘more united in opinion, more compact in habitation…more apt to be inflamed and put into action by their vagabond teachers’ than their counterparts in England. Yet, for all this expressed distrust and the occasional incarceration of these teachers, he was generally opposed to taking harsh measures against them. In part this was because such measures were ineffective. ‘Dispersing of conventicles’, as he put the matter, ‘is no better than scattering crows.’ However, he also recognized that the laws of Ireland did not allow the government to act drastically against such men, in contrast to those in place in Scotland and even England. Moreover, the Scottish ministers in Ireland were often moderate in their opinions and Ormond knew this. In 1678 some leading ministers in Ulster issued a declaration of loyalty and in January of the following year Ormond was informed the Presbyterians in Derry considered that their brethren in Scotland were ‘too hasty with the Covenant’ and two years later a report informed the Irish government that ’nothing was more abominable’ to the majority of ministers ‘than the wicked and damnable principles [of] those impious rabbles’ in Scotland.
If Ormond, despite his distrust of the Scots, followed a generally tolerant policy towards them, the other governors of Ireland of the period had even less reason to persecute them. Indeed, in 1672, a small government grant, called the regium donum, or king’s gift, was established to supplement the stipends of Presbyterian ministers which otherwise had to be raised from within their respective congregations. The grant was not always paid, but it was symbolic of government latitude towards the dissenters in Ireland despite the hostility of the established church. After the renewed migration following the Williamite war, during which the Scots in Ireland had generally supported the Dutch monarch, lenience towards the dissenters continued as William himself shared some of the Calvinist opinions of his newly acquired Scottish subjects.
By 1715 the flow of Scots into Ireland had diminished to a trickle. Migration and a natural increase in the size of the population ended the supply of cheap land. Indeed, the early eighteenth century marks the beginning of a migration of Ulster Scots out of Ireland to America, but before concluding this survey of the establishment of the Scottish settlement in Ireland some assessment of its nature is in order. Two models have been advanced. One historian, J.C. Beckett, has suggested that the settlement was but an extension of Scotland until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Another, Hiram Morgan, has described it as ‘a new Pale…in the making.’ Certainly, Ormond would have concurred with the first assessment, but there were strong differences between the Scottish communities in Ireland and those they had left. They were interspersed, not only among the remaining Irish settlements, but also among English ones. Moreover, as their declarations of loyalty after the Restoration testify, they recognized that ultimately they depended for security upon the Dublin government. At times they defied that government, as during the 1640s, but as the years passed, and as they found that they could maintain their separate identity under that administration, they became an integral part of the cultural jig-saw that made up late seventeenth century Ireland.
Michael Perceval Maxwell