the ulster scots

This web page is designed to promote the Scots-Irish/ Ulster-Scots heritage overseas, particularly among Scotch-Irish Americans, many of whom wrongly believe themselves to be Irish American.

The Ulster-Scots / Scots-Irish

Ulster-Scots / Scots-Irish are the people descended from the mainly Lowland Scots who settled Ulster (the northern most province of Ireland) in the 17th century and today make up the majority Protestant population of Northern Ireland. Ulster-Scots, whether born in Northern Ireland or the descendants of those who left the north of Ireland for Britain's former colonies are closer ethnically to Scots (a mixture of Pict, Celt, Gael, Norse and Saxon) as opposed to Gaelic Irish. Over three quarters of those Protestant peoples who settled Ulster in the 1600's were Presbyterians from Scotland. Inter-marriage with the other smaller numbers of settlers from the North of England, Wales, French Huguenot, Manx, German, Dutch and Danish as well as a substantial number of Irish converts produced the people today known as Ulster-Scots or Scotch-Irish.

The term Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish) is an American term used by those descended from the Presbyterian Ulster-Scots who settled America in the 1700's, to differentiate themselves from the later influx of Gaelic Catholic Irish following the potato famine.

Ulster is the most northern of Ireland's four provinces and consists of 9 counties, six of which make up the state of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The term Ulster and Northern Ireland are used inter-changeably. Northern Ireland has a population of approximately 1.65 million, 900,000 Ulster-Scots Protestants and 750,000 Irish Catholics. The Ulster-Scots Protestants wish to remain part of the United Kingdom in partnership with Scotland, England and Wales. The Ulster Protestants generally feel they have more in common with their ancestral homeland of Scotland than they do with the Irish. Ulster-Scots are variously referred to as Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish), Orange Irish, Protestant Irish (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal), Northern Irish, Unionists, Loyalists and Ulstermen. The Irish Catholics generally wish to see Northern Ireland removed from the UK and united with Catholic Southern Ireland. They are variously referred to as Catholic Irish, Green Irish, Nationalist or Republican. These two peoples have been in a state of perpetual conflict for 400 years.

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Ancient Origins

The history of Ireland has been one of continual invasion and the displacement of one people by another. The first recorded inhabitants of the British Isles (Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man) are referred to in 325 BC by the Greek historian/explorer Ptolemy as the Pretani. The south of Ireland was inhabited by the Firbog and the north by the Cruithin (Picts). The proximity of the north of Ireland to Scotland meant Pictish kingdoms often encompassed parts of Scotland and the north of Ireland (Ulster).

By 300 BC the Celts arrived in Britain pushing as far north as Strathclyde in Scotland and from there, into Ireland. These Britonic Celts were the ancesters of the modern day Welsh. The Celtic tribe of the Ulaid (for whom Ulster is named) became the elite class in the north of Ireland living along side and sometimes ruling over the Cruithin. Around 200 BC the Gaels arrived in Ireland from the Iberian region of Spain and gradually pushed north. The Ulaid and Cruithin united in the face of a common enemy and built the defensive structure called Black Pigs Dyke (the remains of which still stands today) along the southern border of Ulster to halt the advance of the Gaels.

By 450 AD the more numerous Gaels had managed to gain control of most of the north of Ireland, with Ulster shrunken to encompass only the present day counties of Antrim and Down (the enlarged modern day Ulster boundaries were put in place by the government of the Tudor Elizabeth 1st for administrative purposes). The loss of territory led to the Ulaid/Cruithin looking for land elsewhere.

By 490 AD the Ulaid/Cruithin (named Scotti by the Romans) had established the kingdom of Dalriada in the Ayrshire and Galloway regions of Scotland. By this time the Gaels domination of Ireland had led to the Gaelic language becoming the spoken tongue of the now united Cruithin Picts and Ulaid Celts.

In 500 AD the Scotti king of Dalriada, Fergus Mac Ere ruled a kingdom that encompassed areas in both Scotland and Ulster. It is from Mac Ere that Scottish Royalty and therefore the British Monarchy are descended.

The Red Hand of Ulster

The ancient symbol of Ulster is the red hand. There are several versions as to the true origins of this symbol.

The first version involves a race between two ships carrying one of the many peoples to invade Ireland. The captains of two ships had a wager that the first to set his hand on the land would own it. One of the captains, seeing he was going to lose cut off his right hand and threw it to the shore winning the wager.

The second version has a biblical reference (Genesis 38 v 28-30) to back the story up and involves Zareh and Pharez, the sons of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. During their birthing, Zareh's hand protruded first and the midwife tied a scarlet cord around the hand to identify the firstborn. But Zareh drew back his hand and his brother Pharez came out first. Zareh's descendents were therefore disinherited and left the other tribes ending up eventually Ireland and legend tells they developed the first kingdom of Ulster in 1480 BC. The two heraldic symbols were the red hand with scarlet cord (Zareh) and the red lion rampant (Judah), one used by Ulster today, the other by Scotland.

Cuchulainn - the Hound of Ulster

The oldest story in western European history is that of Cuchulainn, the hound of Ulster. Legend has it that the young Cruithin warrior, Setanta killed the hound of the Ulaid lord Chulainn. Setanta took the name Cuchulainn and became his 'hound'. Cuchulainn became the war leader of the Knights of the Red Branch, centered at Navan fort and was repeatedly successful in repealing attacks on Ulster by the Gaels of queen Maeve.

The Scottish Plantation of Ulster

By the start of the 16th century, Ulster (Ireland comprises of 4 provinces, with the province of Ulster situated in the north) was sparsely populated after more than 50 years of war.

Lowland Scotland at this time was unable to support its growing population, many of whom turned to cattle rustling, kidnapping and other thievery to support their families. The border with England proved particularly hazardous with Scottish 'Border Reevers' repeatedly raiding across the border and making life miserable for the local English population.

The first organized movement of Scots to the north of Ireland was started by two enterprising Scottish lairds, Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton. In 1605 they had aided the Irish chieftain Conn O'Neill in escape from his imprisonment in Carrickfergus castle and arranged for him to obtain a Royal Pardon.

In return, O'Neill granted Montgomery and Hamilton substantial tracts of his land in the north Irish counties of Antrim and Down. Montgomery and Hamilton immediately began settling the land with Scottish Presbyterians from the Ayrshire and Galloway regions of Scotland.

The success of this enterprise did not escape the notice of the King, James I of England (James IV of Scotland). English attempts to pacify the north of Ireland had so far proved unsuccessful. His solution to the problem was to settle Scots in the area. This had the effect of putting in place a tough Scottish population who were Protestant (mainly Presbyterian) to counter the troublesome Irish Catholics.

Many of those Scots living along the Scottish border who had previously terrorized the English were now forcibly repatriated throughout Ulster. These Scots proved to be hardly frontiersmen and soon flourished where the English had previously failed. This second plantation saw the Scots assume the position of tenant farmer to English landowners. An estimated 80% + of the Protestant settlers in Ulster were Scots, the rest being English along with smaller numbers of French Huguenot, Welsh, Manx, German, Dutch and Danish. These other planters were eventually absorbed into the Ulster-Scots ethnic mix. While the Scottish in general did not intermarry with the native Irish Catholics, there were certainly some Irish converts to Presbyterianism. Often for an Irish convert to become 'Scottish' it was a simple matter of dropping the 'O' prefix from his surname and replacing it with a 'Mac'!

The religion of the Scots at this time was generally Presbyterian, while that of the English landowners was Episcopal (Church of England). The Episcopal Church of Ireland (the Church of England in Ireland) was the church of the establishment and the English administration persecuted the Scottish Presbyterians whom at times they regarded as more troublesome than the Irish Catholics.

Dissenter Presbyterian ministers were only allowed to preach within certain limits and could be fined or imprisoned. Marriages carried out by Presbyterian clergy were not legally binding and Presbyterians could not hold public office. In addition, in 1639 the 'Black Oath' was introduced and required all Protestants living in Ulster to bind them selves to obey all Royal commands. The 'Black Oath' was designed to prevent the Presbyterian Scots in Ulster from aiding their kin in Scotland in any confrontation with England.

While a number of Scots converted to the Episcopal Church of Ireland and a number returned to Scotland, the vast majority remained in Ulster and maintained their Presbyterian faith.

In 1641 the Irish launched a rebellion against the Protestant population of Ireland. The Ulster-Scots were in a hopeless position, having been gradually disarmed by the English to prevent them from aiding their Covenanter kin in Scotland against England. The Catholic clergy declared all Protestants to be devils and should therefore be destroyed. The outnumbered Ulster-Scots Presbyterians, including women and children suffered all manner of cruelties as they were murdered by the Catholic Irish hordes. Thousands of Protestants were slaughtered in this uprising. While the horrific stories told of torture, mutilation and murder are no doubt exaggerated to a certain degree, so great was the impact of these atrocities that they are still part of Ulster Protestant folklore today.

The Irish were led by Phelim O'Neill. P. O'Neill is the name still used by the IRA today to verify to the press when they are responsible for the murder of Ulster-Scots Protestants or members of the Security Forces. General Monroe's 10,000 strong Scottish Presbyterian army arrived in Ulster in 1642 to supplement the Ulster-Scots Protestants and tip the balance back in their favour. Monroe's army introduced Highlanders to Ulster for the first time, many of whom chose to remain.

The 1680's saw renewed migration of Scottish Presbyterians to the north of Ireland to escape the 'Killing Times' in the south west of Scotland. The final large scale movement of Scots to Ulster happened in the 1690's following King William's victory in the Battle of the Boyne when whole new towns and villages sprang up as Scots moved across the Irish sea to avoid famine in Scotland. There were no more wholesale plantations after this period as economic conditions in the north of Ireland were no better than Scotland, although there was still regular smaller scale movement between Ulster and Scotland.

Scots-Irish in America

The Scottish Presbyterians who settled Ulster (Northern Ireland) in the 1600's became known as Ulster-Scots. Those Ulster-Scots who left the north of Ireland to settle America a century later became known as the Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish).

Northern Irish Presbyterian families had been sailing from Ulster to America since the 1690's, but in the year 1717 the trickle became a torrent. In a fifty year period in excess of 250,000 Scots-Irish Presbyterians had left Ulster to make a new home in America.

The reason so many left their homeland in the north of Ireland is due both to religious persecution and economic hardship. The Scots-Irish Presbyterians were often viewed by the Anglican landowners in Ireland as more of a threat than the local Irish Catholic population The Test Act of 1704 was particularly hard on Presbyterians. Marriages conducted by Presbyterian ministers were invalid and they were unable to worship in churches or hold public office. In addition tariffs were imposed on the north of Ireland linen industry to stop the Ulster-Scots from competing on an equal footing with the linen industry in England. In this climate it is no surprise that over a quarter of the north of Ireland's Scots-Irish Presbyterian population opted for a new life in the new world.

It was a Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Francis Makemie who organized the first Presbyterian Church in America in 1693. The Scots-Irish are credited with the spread of Presbyterianism across the US. The fact that Presbyterian ministers were required to be university educated and bible school trained meant there was a shortage of Presbyterian clergy for the growing population.

As Baptist pastors at the time did not need the same degree of formal training, they were more readily available and this led to the Baptist Church eventually overtaking the Presbyterian Church as the main Protestant denomination in America.

The Scots-Irish settlers made superb frontiersmen in early Colonial America. Their experiences over the previous few centuries, first in the Scottish Borders and then fighting the Irish Catholics in the north of Ireland had created a race of hardy unyielding people who were ideally suited to clearing the forests to build farms and pushing the borders further and further west.

Their experience of religious discrimination in Ulster by their Episcopal English landlords meant the Scots-Irish had no hesitation in taking the side of the rebels in the War of Independence. In the words of Professor James G. Leyburn "They provided some of the best fighters in the American army. Indeed there were those who held the Scots-Irish responsible for the war itself".

No less a figure than George Washington once said "If defeated everywhere else I will make my last stand for liberty among the Scots-Irish of my native Virginia".

The Scots-Irish provided 25 Generals and about a third of the revolutionary army. The Pennsylvania Line was made up entirely of Ulster-Scots emigrants and their sons. The Battle of Kings Mountain was a Scots-Irish battle where a militia of mainly Scots-Irish Presbyterians defeated an English army twice its size.

President Theodore Roosevelt said of the Scots-Irish "in the Revolutionary war, the fiercest and most ardent Americans of all were the Presbyterian Irish settlers and their descendants"

The Declaration of Independence was printed by an Ulster-Scot, John Dunlop, read in public by a first generation Scots-Irish American Colonel John Nixon and the first signature came from another Scots-Irish Presbyterian, John Hancock.

The Scots-Irish embraced America and gradually lost their distinct Scotch-Irish identity to be Americans period. The name Scotch-Irish fell out of use for a period of time until the arrival of the Catholic Irish almost a century later following the potato famine. In order to differentiate themselves from the famine refugees who were Catholic Gaelic Irish, the term Scots-Irish was reintroduced.

The Irish tended to congregate in Catholic Irish communities in cities such as New York, Chicago and Boston and maintained their Irish identity, while the Scots-Irish population was spread throughout America, particularly in the American Mid West and the Southern States. Today there are approximately 27 million Protestant Scots-Irish Americans and 17 million Catholic Irish Americans (although a fair percentage of those from Protestant backgrounds and bearing Scottish surnames wrongly regard themselves to be Irish-Americans). Famous Scots-Irish Americans including Andrew Jackson, Davy Crocket, Sam Houston, Stonewall Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and John Wayne are testament to the great influence of the Scots-Irish in the formation and development of the United States.

Am I Scots-Irish or Irish?

Many Americans today wrongly believe themselves to be Irish Americans when they are in fact Scots-Irish Americans. An easy way to help determine whether someone is of Scots-Irish (Ulster-Scots) ancestry, rather than Irish is by the following:

1. Religion
Those of Scots-Irish background are more likely to be of the Protestant faith (usually Presbyterian or Baptist).
Those of Irish ancestry are most likely to be Roman Catholic.

2. Surnames
Scots-Irish names include those with the Scottish prefix of 'Mac' (e.g. MacDonald, MacDowell, McCloud) and names such as Campbell, Graham and Ferguson.
Irish names include those with the Irish prefix 'O' (e.g. O'Neill, O'Donnell, O'Rourke) and names such as Quinn, Fitzpatrick and Murphy.

3. Emigration period
The Scots-Irish left north of Ireland (Ulster) in the 1700's and were the early frontiersmen who carved America out of the wilderness. The Scots-Irish are particularly numerous across the American Mid-West and the Southern States.
The Irish arrived on mass in America in the second half of the 19th century following the potato famine. They tended to congregate in Irish Catholic communities in cities such as New York, Chicago and Boston.

The Loyal Orange Institution

The Orange Order is a fraternal organization that originated in Ulster and spread throughout the British Commonwealth. The Order is a Protestant pro-Royalist organization with a tradition of marches and parades.

The Order traces its roots back to the Battle of the Boyne fought in Ireland in the year 1690 between the Dutch Protestant King William of Orange and the Catholic King James II. This battle, won by King William's army consisting of Dutch, Danish, Huguenot, German, English, Scottish and Ulster-Scots Protestants was instrumental in ensuring the Protestant faith maintained dominance in northern Europe.

While various Orange Society's had been in existence since 1688, the Orange Order proper was formed in 1795 in the village of Loughall, Co. Armagh. Sectarian feuds between Ulster-Scots Protestants and Irish Catholics had been a regular feature of the previous decade with the Protestant 'Peep O Day Boys' and the Catholic 'Defenders' carrying out raids on each other.

Following the Battle of the Diamond near Loughall on September 21st, the victorious Protestants reorganized themselves into an Orange Society for their mutual protection. The Society was named after King William of Orange, whose victory at the Boyne in 1690 ensured the future of the Ulster-Scots Protestants in the north of Ireland.

Ulster-Scots Speech (Ullans)

The argument is still ongoing as to whether Ulster-Scots is a language proper or a Scots dialect of English. What is unquestionable is the fact that the Ulster accent and speech is very noticeably different from that of Southern Ireland, indeed Ulster is the only area outside of Scotland where Scots has survived as a spoken language/dialect.

Scots is the most defining characteristic of the Ulster accent, most Ulster-Scots who have visited other parts of the English speaking world will testify that more often than not, they are mistaken as being from Scotland rather than Northern Ireland. While broad Ulster-Scots is only spoken in the more rural communities, everyone in Northern Ireland uses Ulster-Scots words and phrases in their everyday speech.

Ulster-Scots is basically the same as West Central Scots (the language of Rabbie Burns), a Germanic tongue of common origin with English. It is ironic that the preservation of the Scots language is better funded in Ulster than it is in Scotland itself.

With the promotion of the Irish Gaelic language being used to promote Irish nationalism in Ulster, there has been a revival in interest in Ulster-Scots as a means of promoting the Ulster-Scots Protestant heritage.

Facts and Fables

Northern Ireland's Ulster-Scots can be said to be one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented peoples on the planet. Their failure and general disinterest in promoting themselves overseas, coupled with the endless barrage of Sinn Fein/IRA black propaganda has given many people in far off places like Australia and the United States a very jaundiced view of the Ulster's Protestant population.

Common misconceptions include:

The British are a force of occupation in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is part of the UK because the majority Ulster-Scots Protestant population democratically expresses their wish for it to remain so. Ireland was partitioned 80 years ago to prevent a bloody civil war between the Protestant Ulster-Scots majority in the north (Ulster) who wished to remain in the Union with Scotland, England and Wales and the majority Catholic Irish in the south of Ireland who wished to become an independent Catholic state. Northern Ireland today has a population of 900,000 Ulster-Scots Protestants and 750,000 Irish Catholics. The British Army is in Ulster to prevent a war between the two peoples.

The IRA have been fighting a war of liberation against the British.
The IRA have been carrying out a campaign of murder, terror and intimidation against the Ulster-Scots Protestant population to drive them out of Northern Ireland. Those overseas who make donations to the IRA are contributing to the deaths of Northern Irish Protestants. Indiscriminate IRA bombs have killed more Ulster Protestant men, women and children than they have British soldiers. The IRA and their Protestant Loyalist counterparts the UDA and LVF (who have been carrying out a similar campaign of terror against the Irish Catholic population), run criminal empires in their own communities, controlling drugs, prostitution and protection rackets. The IRA also has close links with world terrorism, especially the PLO, ETA and now FARC in Columbia. The IRA/UDA/LVF are not representative of the vast majority of decent Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

If Britain would just leave Northern Ireland, then the Ulster-Scots Protestants would accept becoming Irish and the Island could be united in peace.
While the southern Republic of Ireland is no longer the 'Catholic State' it once was, Ulster's Protestant population would never willingly come under its control. The Ulster-Scots have more in common with Scotland (religion, culture and speech) than they could ever have with the Irish and the prospect of gradually being absorbed and losing their distinct identity holds no great appeal. The Scots who settled Ireland in the 1600s were just the latest in a long list of invaders to settle in Ireland and their presence gives them as much claim to the land they live on as the Iberian Gaels, Danes or Normans who settled before them.

Ulster-Scot Presbyterian participation in the 1798 United Irishman Rebellion is proof that the Presbyterians of that time considered themselves Irish and could do so again.
In 1798 the Presbyterians were sick of English Episcopal persecution and after witnessing the success of the Scots-Irish (Ulster-Scots) led revolution in America, some decided they would be better of as masters of their own destiny in Ireland. While some of the Presbyterian leaders of the rebellion in Ireland genuinely wanted to unite with the Catholic Irish in a new society, the majority just wished to replace Anglican (Episcopal) rule from England with Ulster-Scots Presbyterian rule, and wanted to use the Irish Catholics to help bring this about. The rebellion failed because in some instances Irish Catholics informed the English garrisons and also far fewer Ulster Presbyterians took up the call to arms than was expected. Within a generation of the failed rebellion, the Ulster Presbyterians had come to view the Catholic Irish as the main threat to their existence, and with the end of Episcopal persecution of Presbyterianism the Ulster-Scots were convinced that union with the rest of Britain was essential for their survival. The IRA republican movement in Ireland today is exclusively Catholic and not an organization that the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians of 1798 (or for that matter 2003) could feel at home in.

The Loyal Orange Institution is a right wing fascist organization akin to the KKK.
The Orange Order welcomes Protestants of all races within its ranks, evidenced by the fact that there are numerous lodges in African countries such as Togo as well as North American Native Indian lodges in Ontario, Canada.

There are 44 million Irish Americans.
There are actually 17 million Catholic Irish Americans - the other 27 million are Protestant Scots-Irish Americans (Scots-Irish is the US term for Ulster-Scots). Despite being born in the north of Ireland, those of Irish Presbyterian descent are ethnically Scots. The Scotch-Irish were the frontiersmen who carved America out of the wilderness, the Catholic Irish did not arrive until much later, after the Irish potato famine. It is a source of considerable consternation among Northern Ireland's Ulster-Scots population when Scots-Irish Americans celebrate the Irish St Patrick's Day (although St. Patrick predated Roman Catholicism, he was an English slave and therefore not someone people of Scottish descent would likely be celebrating!). Certain US States have taken to holding an annual Scots/Scots-Irish day for the Scots and Scotch-Irish to celebrate their true heritage.

The Auld Country

Scotland is only 17 miles from the coast of Ulster at its closest point and is often described as the 'spiritual homeland' of Northern Ireland's Protestant population. Universities in towns such as Glasgow, Sterling and Dundee have traditionally had a very large student population of Northern Irish Protestants, many of who remain in Scotland after completing their education. Scotland has also been a popular destination for those Ulster-Scots families wishing to escape the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Cultural links between Scotland and Northern Ireland remain strong. Ulster produces some of the best Scottish pipe bands in the world, indeed it is interesting to note that the Pipes and Drums of Northern Irish Regiments in the British Army use Scottish bagpipes as opposed to Irish ones. Orange Lodges and flute bands from Scotland are a regular sight during parades in Northern Ireland and vice versa. Many Ulster-Scots even celebrate their Scottish roots with the annual Burn's Supper commemorating Scotland's national poet, Rabbie Burns.

The west of Scotland is similar to Northern Ireland in many ways with sectarian problems of its own, albeit on a smaller scale. Just as the Ulster's Protestant population are mainly of Scottish descent, the Catholic population in the west of Scotland are descended from Irish potato famine refugees.

One of the biggest attractions Scotland offers to both Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics is football (soccer), with thousands making the weekly pilgrimage across the Irish Sea to Glasgow to watch the cities two famous football clubs, Rangers and Celtic.

Glasgow Celtic were formed in 1888 by Catholic priests for Irish immigrants and their early success ensured the team became the pride of Glasgow's sizeable Irish Catholic community as well as having a large support in Ireland itself. Celtic play in green and white and their supporters wave the Irish flag and still feel themselves to be more Irish than Scottish. Their supporters also sing songs in support of the IRA, which has made them even more unpopular among large sections of Scotland's mainly Protestant population.

Glasgow Rangers were formed in 1873 and their ability to rival Celtic on the playing field soon made them the heroes of Glasgow's staunch Protestant population. Rangers maintained a strict Protestant tradition and did not sign a Catholic player until as late as 1987. As well as a massive support in Scotland, Rangers are the biggest supported club in Ulster. The team plays in royal blue and their supporters sing pro British and Orange songs. Rangers play in the famous Ibrox stadium and are Scotland's most successful club, having won more trophies than any other team in the UK.