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Two essays on the Ulster Scots - the first a brief history of Scottish migrations to Ireland, the second the story of United States President Andrew Jackson, in Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) - enjoy!

(c) Chris Paton 2009

The Ulster Scots - a brief history

Although from the earliest times of recorded history there had been frequent cultural and commercial exchanges across the Irish Sea, the first substantial link between the two lands came in the 5th Century, in the kingdom of Dál Riada. This was founded in the year 470AD by the three sons of the Ulster king Erc, and in particular Fergus Mór, who created a power block to rival that of the O’Neills in Ulster. The kingdom was the most successful militarily of any Celtic kingdom ever, controlling all the major sea routes north of the Isle of Man. From the extension of their power in Ulster, the sons of Erc introduced the Gaelic language and culture into the west coast of Scotland, which in time spread throughout most of the country. These settlers were known as Scotti by the Romans, and it was they who gave modern day Scotland its name.


For hundreds of years, the Ulster-Scottish link was one of almost complete cultural unity, with both territories of Dál Riada referred to as the one country, but the capital of which existed at Scone, in Scotland. However, with the continuing expansion of the Anglo-Saxons northward, the kings of Dál Riada began to concentrate on the formation of a Scottish nation, by uniting with first the Picts of the north and then the Britons of the south. Ulster was left out of the equation, after the defeat of the Ulster Dál Riadans at the hands of the O’Neill, at the Battle of Moira in 637AD.


For the next few hundred years the Ulster Irish, whilst sending out Christian missionaries throughout Europe, continued to wage war against each other. It was not until 1169 that a new enemy dramatically affected the balance of power in the north – the Normans. And as politics with the Normans developed in Ulster, similar happenings were taking place in Scotland. Not long afterwards, the affect of Norman politics in Scotland became an incentive for the first migration of Scots back to Ulster, for many of them, their ancestral home.




The Bruce Invasion


On 26th May 1315, Edward the Bruce, brother of Robert, arrived near Larne in County Antrim with 300 ships filled with over six thousand Scottish soldiers. These soldiers were gallowglasses (from “gall óglaigh”, meaning “foreign warriors”), mainly from the Hebrides, who had a mixture of Norse and Gaelic blood. After the Norse connection had been broken in the Battle of Largs in 1263, they had become mercenaries, fighting in the Viking style with axes. They were led by MacRuaidri from the Hebrides, and MacDomnaill from Argyle. Edward’s mission was to defeat the Norman garrison in Ulster, in a bid to secure control of all territory north of the Isle of Man for his brother, territory which he himself would inherit as Robert’s recognised successor.


With the aid of their Gaelic Irish cousins, they swept down the east coast of Ireland, razing towns and abbeys as they went, and broke through the Moyry Pass to Dundalk, where on 1st May, Edward was crowned the High King of Ireland. The English Earl, Richard de Burgh, moved up from the south of Ireland to counter his attacks, but at Coleraine (Co.Londonderry) was finally defeated by Edward’s forces. By 10th September 1315, only the great Norman castle at Carrickfergus (Co, Antrim) held out.


For an entire year the castle withstood the siege. On one occasion, an English relief squad from Drogheda (Co.Louth) was slaughtered by the Scots in the town, but on another occasion thirty Scots were captured by a raid from the castle – the annals of the time say that eight were killed and eaten, so hungry were the English. Eventually, in September 1316, the garrison surrendered.


At Christmas, Robert the Bruce arrived at Carrickfergus with more gallowglasses, and moved to the south of Ireland, which he razed. But there was a great famine at the time, and the annals say that his men “were so destroyed with hunger that they raised the bodies of the dead from the cemeteries…and their women devoured their own children from hunger.”


By May 1317, things were not going well for the Bruces. Robert could not secure the south of Ireland, and with Edward, was forced to retreat back to Ulster. On the 22nd May, Robert returned to Scotland, leaving Edward with the job of facing a new English army that had landed on the island. He was able to consolidate his position for another year, but in an attempt to retake Dundalk again, was killed by the English Sir John de Birmingham in the Moyry Pass, along with MacDomnaill and MacRuaidri. The first major Scottish invasion of Ireland ended – but many of the gallowglasses stayed behind to work for Irish chieftains, and established their own settlements.



The MacDonnells and the Glens of Antrim


After the Bruce invasion, Scots continued to settle in Ireland, with hundreds coming over to Ireland to serve as mercenaries for the Gaelic Irish tribes. In Ulster, the MacCabes, the MacRorys, the MacDougalls and the MacSheehys were some of the Scottish clans who settled, but the predominant clan was a branch of the MacDonnells, who allied themselves with the northern O’Neill clan in Tyrone. They became a powerful component of the O’Neill war machine.


After the defeat in Ireland of the English king Richard II in 1399, the Norman English of Antrim were completely left on their own. Soon the whole Antrim area became run over by various groups, including many Scottish settlements. In north Antrim, the town of Twescard was renamed as the Route by the MacQuillan clan, who had themselves been driven out of Down. The name came from the word ‘rout’, meaning ‘army’, and referring to their Scottish gallowglass origins.


In the same year, John Mor MacDonnell married Margery Bissett, a member of a Norman ruling family in Antrim. This union led to the MacDonnells, the clan ruling the Scottish Lordship of the Isles, to gain a great deal of land in Antrim, including the Glens of Antrim and the island of Rathlin. In 1476 the Lordship of the Isles finally succumbed to the power of James IV of Scotland, and the Hebrides lost their independence from Scotland. One branch of the MacDonnells, the Lords of Islay and Kintyre, continued to defy the king and continued to campaign against him. But in 1494, their leader, Sir John Cahanagh MacDonnell, was defeated by the Campbells, and handed to the king as a traitor. He was executed at Barrowmuir, outside of Edinburgh. 


The result of this was that the rest of his clan sought refuge in Ulster, and in particular in the Glens of Antrim. They brought with them hundreds of allies in the clans of MacNeill, MacAllister, Mackay and Macrandalbanes from Kintyre and Gigha, and the Magees from the Rinns of Islay (from whom the peninsula of Islandmagee in Co. Antrim is named). With their new lands in Antrim, and their continued hold over Gigha, Islay and Kintyre, the MacDonnells founded a new Lordship, which lasted well into the sixteenth century. They conquered the MacQuillans in the Route, and held onto their lands there well into Elizabeth I’s Irish wars.


The MacDonells of Antrim suffered a heavy defeat in 1565 at the hands of the ambitious Irish chieftain Shane O’Neill. Shane wanted the patronage of Elizabeth I, and was advised that if he was to conquer the Scots in the Antrim Glens, it would be looked on favourably by the Queen. With the aid of the Clandeboye O’Neill clan, he set north from County Down at Easter.


The MacDonnells, under Sorley Boy MacDonnell, saw the O’Neill army arriving and set off warning fires along the north coast, at Fair Head and at Torr Point. The flames were seen across the Irish Sea at Kintyre, and Sorley Boy’s brother, James MacDonnell, led a force from there to aid his comrades. As their ships approached Cushendun, they saw that they were too late, with their castle in Red Bay in flames.


Meanwhile, Sorley Boy was leading a rearguard defensive action from the Glens towards the north coast. He met up with James’ army at Knocklayd, but their combined forces were not enough to withstand the O’Neill. Between six and seven hundred Scots were murdered in the ensuing battle, and eventually the two MacDonnells were captured. Both Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots pleaded for Shane to accept a ransom for their release, but Shane refused. He let James die from his wounds, and threatening Sorley Boy with starvation, he forced the surrender of the Scottish held castles at Dunseverick, Ballycastle and Dunluce.


But Shane O’Neill’s ambitions were ultimately to lead him to his death at the hands of the MacDonnells. In trying to further his gains, he soon found himself fighting against an English army from the Pale in Dublin, and was forced to retreat. He made his way to the Glens of Antrim, and tried to bargain with the remaining MacDonnells for shelter, by promising to return to them both Sorley Boy and Lady Agnes MacDonnell, James’ widow. The Scots set up a great feast at Glenshesk in an apparent mood of reconciliation, but on O’Neill’s arrival they hacked him to death.


Respite for the Scots was short. Elizabeth I was not going to leave Shane’s work unfinished in the Glens, particularly as James MacDonnell’s widow and daughter remarried into powerful Irish tribes, threatening the Queen’s Irish campaign. She authorised the subjugation of the Glens and north Antrim under the authority of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex.


Essex took a naval brigade from Carrickfergus, under the command of Sir Francis Drake, north to Rathlin. He landed and allowed his soldiers to slaughter the 200 Scots living within the castle, and a further 200 Scots that were found hiding throughout the island. But Sorley Boy was not on the island, and enraged at the massacre on the island which he had seen captured from the Glens, he made his way south to Carrickfergus and slaughtered the English garrison there. As a result, Essex was retired and sent to Dublin, in disgrace.


Elizabeth shelved her plans for the subjugation of Ulster for a decade. As a result of the continuing ties between the MacDonnells and the indigenous Irish, hundreds of Scots once more made the crossing from Scotland to Ulster, prompting Sir Nicholas Malby in 1580 to write to Elizabeth: “Here is a great bruit of 2000 Scots landed in Clandeboye. Tyrlagh Lenagh’s marriage with the Scot (Lady Agnes MacDonnell) is cause of all this, and if her majesty does not provide against her devices, this Scottish woman will make a new Scotland of Ulster. She hath already planted a good foundation; for she in Tyrone, and her daughter in Tyrconnell, do carry all the sway in the North.”


The influx of Highlanders and Islanders to Ulster finally convinced Elizabeth that she had to break their power in the province. She sanctioned Sir John Perrott to recover Antrim once again.


With the advance of a new English army to Ulster, most of the MacDonnells (under Sorley Boy) fled back to the Isles. A council was convened on Bute, where it was decided that a full scale attempt to seize back all of the clan’s lost lands in Ulster was essential.  Rathlin, Red Bay and Dunluce were recaptured. The attacks were ferocious, and soon Perrott was suing for peace with Sorley Boy, whose son Alasdair had been slaughtered in the campaign. In Dublin, and before a portrait of Elizabeth, Sorley Boy, now aged eighty, prostrated himself, in return for the recognition of his clan’s rights to the Glens and the Route. For the rest of his life he succeeded in holding onto his lands. In 1599, he died.



The Plantations of Ulster


In 1603, Irish chieftains Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell went to England to receive a royal pardon from James VI & I for their roles in the Nine Years War fought against him by their tribes in Ulster. As a part of the conditions for this they were to submit to the king’s authority.


By August 1607, however, these new ‘earls’ had lost control of their domestic situation, with new laws and English settlements gaining a firm grip on their land. When it was realised that the English were manouevering to accuse the chieftains of treachery against the king, they fled Ireland in what became known as the Flight of the Earls. By December 1607, James had confiscated all of their former lands, and was now instituting a new scheme to try to conquer Ulster. This scheme was to physically ‘plant’ British settlers into the land, and to try and evict the native Irish to the edges of the territories granted to the new colonists.


The Plantation of Ulster was not a one-off event, but a series of colonisations over a number of years. Even before the king had formally created the project, settlements had already been started by other means. In 1605, the Irish chieftain Conn MacNeill O’Neill had been rescued from Carrickfergus Castle by Sir Hugh Montgomery, the 6th Laird of Braidstane in Ayrshire. On the condition that O’Neill gave one third of his Ulster lands to another Scottish nobleman, James Hamilton, Montgomery instructed his brother to seek a royal pardon for the chief, which was duly obtained. The colonisation of the Ards peninsula as a result of this action was the first Plantation settlement.


Once the Plantations were started they spread like wildfire. Sir Hugh Montgomery had a small harbour built at Donaghadee in County Antrim, which provided a short crossing of three hours to the Scottish village of Portpatrick. On this route, thousands of Scots sailed over to start a new life, and they came from all walks of life. Vast tracks of land were granted to Scottish nobles eg. the Earl of Abercorn and Lord Ochiltree were granted lands in County Tyrone. English nobles also received land, most notably the City of London was granted permission to establish a settlement on the River Foyle – Londonderry was the result. But the majority of settlers within these new ‘earldoms’ were Scottish Lowlanders, who came mainly from the south-west of Scotland, from areas such as Lanark, Stirlingshire, Renfrew and the Borders. Large numbers of them were people who had been rack-rented and evicted from their homes. Others were horse-thieves and fugitives from justice, who came to Ulster to escape from their pursuers, and who created remote coastal settlements in Ulster to try and stay away from the authorities.


The Plantations occurred in all of Ulster’s counties, but the counties of Antrim and Down found the policy the easiest to accommodate, simply because there were so many English and Scottish settlers there already. In Antrim, the three hundred thousand acres of land owned by Sir Randal MacDonnell in the Glens and the Route, readily absorbed thousand of immigrant Scots, and in 1620 Sir Randal became the first Earl of Antrim.


But unlike the settlements in previous years and centuries, there were great differences between them and the new colonists. The newcomers were mainly Protestant in their religion, with the majority being Presbyterians. In the eyes of the English, this was almost as heinous a crime as being a Roman Catholic.


The Scottish settlers differed from the English in one other major point – language. Many of the Presbyterian settlers were Scottish Gaelic speakers. Indeed, the first book to be published in Gaelic was the Calvanist Book of Common Order in Edinburgh in 1567, for the use of the Presbyterian church. The diarist McSkimmin noted that in Carrickfergus, the population of the town’s Scotch Quarter by 1800 were still speaking a dialect of Gaelic that the local Irish speakers found very difficult to understand, and which they believed to be of the same dialect spoken in the Red Bay Gaeltacht i.e. the Glens of Antrim, Rathlin and the Route. By 1716, it was recorded that ten per cent of the Presbyterian settlers were native Gaelic speakers, and until the second half of the 20th Century, a hybrid dialect of Scottish Gaelic and Irish was spoken on Rathlin, which was finally eradicated after the Anglicising effects of television were introduced to the island.


But the majority of the Scots immigrants that came to Ulster spoke in the ‘Scots’ dialect of English, which in Scotland is sometimes called Lallans, and which in Ulster became known as Ullans (‘Ulster Lallans’). Today, Ullans speakers can still be found in communities in the north of Antrim and Donegal, and Ian Paisley’s DUP issues press releases bilingually, in both English and Ullans.


Many of the settlers arrived with nothing more than a cow and a few sheep, but within a couple of years they had transformed Ulster. The boggy lands that in previous years had separated Ulster from the rest of Ireland were drained, and throughout the Province the soil was transformed with the aid of sea-wrack to become some of the most fertile in Ireland.



The final migration - the Presbyterians


The start of the Williamite Wars in 1689 saw hundreds of Presbyterian Scots cross the Irish Sea to act as victuallers to the Williamite armies. They ‘purchased most of the vast preys which were taken by the Army in the campaign and drove incredible numbers of cattle into Ulster.


The 1690s were a terrible time for Scotland, with vast harvest failures that saw nearly a quarter of the population die from starvation. Many of those who survived saw Ulster as an opportunity for a better life, and they came flooding over in their thousands. Edward Synge, the bishop of Tuam at the time, reckoned that there were nearly 50,000 Scots who settled in Ulster between 1689 and 1715.


With such numbers arriving in the Province, the English colonists began to despair that they were becoming vastly outnumbered. Jonathan Swift, author of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, complained that in Kilroot he could find nobody from the Anglican Church with whom to converse – he was more frightened of the Scottish Presbyterians than he was of the Irish Catholics. The Anglican Church, as the ‘Church of Ireland’, treated these new settlers with little more dignity than that which they displayed towards the Catholics. The Scots had to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland, but their Presbyterian Dissenter marriages were not recognised by it.


The Scots received a temporary respite in 1701 from their persecution, when they gained limited recognition and rights, but three years later they were almost back to square one. In 1704 a law to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery was injected with a sub-clause, which stated that any person wishing to hold public office in Ireland could only do so if they publicly received the Anglican Church’s sacraments. The target for this amendment were the Scots, as the Catholics had already been prevented from taking high office in previous oppressive laws.


Things finally came around for the Scots when after the Jacobite invasion scare of 1715 they had declared for George II. In reward for their loyalty the Toleration Act of 1719 granted them equal rights to other forms of Protestantism. However, times remained occasionally hard for the Presbyterians, and in the early 18th Century they suffered many harvest failures and many of their cattle became diseased. They were so disillusioned that many decided to leave their new temporary home of Ulster for somewhere where their lives could be a little more hopeful and secure – the United States. The first nine presidents of the United States were descended from Scottish Presbyterians who had settled in Ulster.


The last great act that the Scots carried out in Antrim and Down occurred at the end of the 18th Century, when still being discriminated against by the Anglican Church and taxed to the hilt by the English Parliament, they rose in rebellion. In 1798 the United Irishmen rose in Antrim and Down to try and overthrow the Anglican regime. Aided by Catholic farmers, they were ultimately crushed by the English and the Orange Order, a secret society which at that stage had a majority of Anglican members. The result of this action was the assimilation of Ireland into the United Kingdom in 1801, and the end of the uniquely Scottish aspect of Ulster, as many Presbyterians after the rebellion conformed to the majority rule as a defeated people.  


Ceann-suidhe nan Stàitean Ceilteach


Bha ‘Na Stàitean Ceilteach’ air Telebhisean na-h-Alba ann an 2000, sreath Gàidhlig mu dheidhinn eachdraidh nan Cuimreach, nan Albannach agus nan Eireannach ann an Ameireagaidh. Chaith mi deich mìosan anns a’ bhliadhna sin ag obair air a’phroiseacht seo, agus mar phàirt de seo chaidh mi ceithir mìosan ann an Ameireagaidh a’ rannsachadh is a’ togail dhealbhan dha. Bha e gu math inntinneach, ach b’e eachdraidh nan Clèireach as Ulaidh a b’inntinniche dhomh. ’S ann as Eirinn a-Tuath a tha mi fhìn, agus bha ùidh agam gu h-àraidh ann an aon duine gu sònraichte – Andrew Jackson, an seachdamh Ceann-suidhe air na Stàitean Aonaichte.


Rugadh màthair Andrew Jackson ann an Latharna ann an Contae Aontrama, agus rugadh athair ann an Carraig Fhearghasa, 14 mìle air falbh. Uill, rugadh mi fhìn ann an Latharna is thogadh mi ann an Carraig Fhearghasa cuideachd – air sgàth sin b’ aithne dhomh an sgeul aige! Dh’ fhuirich a phàrantan ann an Carraig Fhearghasa anns an 18mh linn, ach dh’ fhalbh iad a dh’Ameireagaidh còmhla ri mòran Chlèirich eile as Ulaidh is as Alba, nuair a rinn an Crùn geur-leanmhainn orra air sgath na diadhachd aca.


Ach bha chuimhne aig na h-Ultaich air na rudan a rinn na Sasannaich orra ann an Ulaidh is an Alba. Dhìol iad an Riaghaltas Sasannach ann an Ameireagaidh ann an 1776 anns an Ar-a-mach Ameireaganach, agus chuidich iad na Stàitean Aonaichte gu bhith air an cruthachadh. Gu dearbh, thuirt mòran daoine aig an àm gum b’e ar-a-mach Clèireach a bh’ ann.


Rugadh is thogadh Andrew air a’ chrìoch eadar Carolina a-Tuath is Caroline a-Deas. Bha iongnadh orm nuair a dh’ ionnsaich mi gun robh Gàidhlig air a’ cleachdadh anns na Carolinas gu 150 bliadhna air ais, fiù ’s anns na cuirtean. Bha mòran Albannaich is Eireannaich a’ fuireach an-sin agus tha an sliochd air an ainmeachadh an-sin mar “Eireannaich Albannach” fiù ’s an-diugh. An robh Gàidhlig no Gaeilge aig Jackson? Tha e eucoltach, ach cò aig a tha fìos?!


Tha argamaid a’ dol an-diugh mu dheidhinn àite bhreith Jackson, agus tha dà àite air gach taobh den chrìoch far a bheil muinntir nan àite sin ag radh gun robh e air a bhreith! Tha e coltach gun robh e air a bhreith air an taobh a-deas agus dh’ fhuirich e ann an taigh far a bheil Pàirc Stàite Andrew Jackson an-diugh. Tha a phàrantan is a’ bhraithrean nan laighe ann an uaighean ann an cladh Clèireach ann an Old Waxhaws, baile beag faisg air làimh, agus nuair a bha mi an-sin bha tè de’ n sliochd a’ fuirich an-sin fhathast. B’ e Nancy Crockett an t-ainm a bh’ oirre agus bha i air a bhith na tè aithris den sgeul Jacksonach an-sin fad deicheadan. Bha i gu math pròiseil as a sinnsear ainmeil!


Tha e gu math neònach a dh’ ionnsachadh mu dheidhinn na pearsantachd aige, nuair a smaoineachas tu gum b’ e Clèireach Ultach a bh’ ann! B’ fhuath leis na Sasannaich agus bha ballrachd aige anns an Ancient Order of Hibernians, buidheann a thog airgead air son an ar-a-mach mhòir a thachradh aon là ann an Eirinn.


Nuair a bha Jackson òg, gheàrr oifigear Sasannach aodann le chlaidheamh nuair a dhiùlt e seirbheis a dhèanamh dha anns an ar-a-mach, agus bhasaich a bhraithrean anns a’ chogadh sin. An creideadh na Clèirich Ultach an-diugh gun robh fear dhe na mic Phrostanach as motha aca cho poblachadh? Làithean eadar-dhealaichte gu dearbh!!!


Ann an 1829, chaidh Jackson ’na Cheann-suidhe air na Stàitean Aonaichte. Aig an àm sin bha Ameireagaidh a’ fàs uabhasach luath, agus chuidich Jackson sin leis na polieasaidhean aige. Dh’ fhuadaich e na h-Innseannaich as an sgìrean, cleas nam Fuaidaichean ann an Alba – bh e ag iarraidh rum a dhèanamh air son Eòrpaich agus Ameireaganaich eile. Agus rinn e sabaid an aghaidh nan Spàinnteach ann am Florida, agus cheangail e Florida ris na Stàitean eile.


Bha Jackson fiadhaich agus cruaidh, ach gun Jackson bhiodh na Stàitean gu math eadar-dhealaichte an-diugh. Air sgàth seo tha ìomhaigh de Jackson na sheasamh dìreach mu choinneamh an Taigh Ghil ann an Washington DC. Cha robh ann ach aon de mìltean Ultaich a ghluais a dh’ Aimeireagaidh, ach saoilidh mi gun e am fear as cudromaiche ann an eachdraidh na dùthcha sin. Bha mòran Ultaich eile ann an Ameireagaidh a bha cudromach cuideachd: Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, James Knox Polk, agus moran eile. An-diugh tha coig mìle Ameireaganach ag radh gun e ‘Eireannaich Albannach’ a th’ annta. Nuair a smaoineachas tu nach eil ach mìle Ultach Prostanach ann an Ulaidh fhein na làithean seo, tha sin gu math iongantach!