The Scotch Migration to Ulster (2)

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER III (2) Start of Section

The monkish writer Gildas, A.D. 560, describes the Picts as "a set of bloody free-booters with more hair on their thieves' faces than clothes to cover their nakedness." This might serve as well for a concise expression of Lowland opinion of the Celtic clansmen at the time of the Ulster settlement. The Lowlanders were accustomed to regarding the clansmen as raiders, pillagers, cattle-thieves, and murderers. The abduction and ravishing of women were crimes so frequent as to engage the particular attention of the Government. Hardened by perpetual contact with barbarism, the Lowlanders had no scruples about making merciless reprisals. The people were hard; the law was hard. It was an iron age. One of the acts of the Scottish Parliament at this period declared that every man and woman of the Gypsy race found in Scotland after a certain date should be liable to death and persons giving them accommodations should be liable to fine and imprisonment. Mention of arrests for sorcery and witchcraft is found in the records. The proceedings of the Privy Council for 1608 contain a report by the Earl of Mar of the burning of some witches at Breichin. "Sum of thame deit in dispair, renunceand and blasphemeand, and utheris half brunt, brak out of the fyre, and wes cast in quick in it agane quhill thay wer brunt to the deid." This horrible scene of human misery was evidently viewed with grim composure. There is not a word to indicate that the event was even deplored.

The greater avidity with which the Ulster opportunity was seized in the Scottish Lowlands than in England, which had the prior claim, is to be attributed to the chronic need of Scotland for outlets to the energies of her people. The migrating Scot was a familiar figure in continental Europe. In Quentin Durward Scott gives a romantic picture of the Scottish military adventurer, a type renowned throughout Europe for a shrewd head, a strong arm and a sharp sword. The Scottish trader was quite as well known. There were settlements of Scottish people living under their own laws and perpetuating their national customs in various countries of Europe. William Lithgow, a Scottish traveler who visited Poland in the seventeenth century, reported that there were thirty thousand Scots families in that country. When Sir William Alexander, afterward Earl of Sterling, was urging the colonization of Nova Scotia, an enterprise that came into competition with the Ulster plantation, he remarked that Scotland, "being constrained to disburden herself (like the painful bees) did every year send forth swarms." Many through stress of necessity had been compelled to "betake themselves to the wars against the Russians, Turks or Swedens." Alexander urged that this scattering of Scottish ability should be discontinued, saying:

"When I do consider with myself what things are necessary for a plantation, I cannot but be confident that my own countrymen are as fit for such a purpose as any men in the world, having daring minds that upon any probable appearance do despise danger, and bodies able to endure as much as the height of their minds can undertake."

Together with a long implanted migratory tendency operating to promote Scottish colonization of the territory opened to settlement in Ulster, another cause of Scottish forwardness was facility of access. The North of Ireland could be reached by ferries from the southwestern extremities of Scotland which had been purged of their dangerous elements by Lord Ochiltree's expedition. The Scotch settlers had quick transit for themselves and their chattels while the English settlers had to take the risks of a much longer sea-passage beset with pirates.

At this period piracy was a thriving trade, its range including both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Among the outrages charged upon the pirates was that they associated with the Turks, to whom they sold captives, Tunis being a port at which this traffic was carried on.

In a report made to the English Privy Council, August 22, 1609, it is mentioned with satisfaction that John Ward, a pirate chief, had been captured by "the galliasses of the Venetians" with his ship and pinnace and their crews, "whereof thirty-six the next day were hanged in view of the town of Zante, the rest in other places, amongst which number were divers Englishmen." The Irish State Papers contain frequent references to the depredations of pirates on the southern and western coasts of Ireland. Chichester says in his despatches that it was their habit to move from the Spanish coasts to the Irish coasts during the fishing season, to revictual themselves at the expense of the fishing fleet. He mentions that in 1606 the pirates "hath robbed more than 100 sail and sent them empty home."

The traffic that sprang up as a consequence of the Ulster plantation attracted the pirates into the waters between Ireland and England. In a dispatch from Dublin Castle, June 27, 1610, Chichester says:

"The pirates upon this coast are so many and are become so bold that now they are come into this channel, and have lately robbed divers barks, both English and Scotch, and have killed some that have made resistance; they lay for the Londoners' money sent for the work at Coleraine, but missed it; they have bred a great terror to all passengers, and he thinks will not spare the King's treasure if they may light upon it."

Chichester had not the means of taking effective action against piracy, his frequent appeals for sufficient naval force failing of proper response from the home Government. This Scottish authorities acted with prompt decision and energy. An entry of June 27, 1610, on the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland notes that an English pirate had appeared on the coast of Ireland opposite Scotland, waylaying boats bound for the Irish plantation. Commission was given to the provost and baillies of Ayr to fit out an armed vessel to pursue the pirates. About the same time pirate ships were seen even in the Firth of Forth. Upon funds advanced by the City of Edinburgh three armed vessels were fitted out at Leith. The pirates had a depot in the Orkneys from which northern position their vessels could make excursions either to the eastern or western coasts of the mainland. An action was fought off the Orkneys in which one of the two pirate vessels was captured but the other escaped by fast sailing. Of the thirty pirates taken alive twenty-seven were put to death. They are constantly referred to in the State Papers as "English pirates" and their names are such as to justify the description. A feature of the official record that casts a curious light on the morals of the times is that the pirates had "one whome thay did call thair parsone, for saying of prayeris to thame twyse a day." This pirate chaplain furnished the Government with much useful information and he was not brought to trial. Piracy of such a serious-minded type must have been a relic of the time when marauding whether by land or by sea ranked as an honorable industry. This pious band perhaps regarded Scotland as a foreign country whose waters were as fair a field for spoils as the Spanish main in Elizabeth's time.

After this affair no notice appears in the Scottish records of any molesting of the sea-passage to Ulster, although mention is made of the presence of pirates in the Hebrides and the Orkneys. The probability is that the pirates found the narrow channel between Scotland and Ireland too tight a place in which to venture and they kept to safer and more profitable cruising grounds in the wide seas. Numerous references continue to appear in the Irish State Papers to their activity and audacity. They established a depot at Leamcon, a land-locked harbor, on the southern coast of Ireland, and at one time in the summer of 1611 they had there a fleet of nine sail together with four captured vessels. They were engaged in fitting up one of the captured vessels as an addition to their fleet, after which they were going to the Barbary coast where they had a market for their goods. They preyed upon the commerce of Holland, France and England impartially and defied the authority of all those Powers with remarkable success. The Dutch, who were particularly energetic in their efforts to crush the pirates, obtained permission from the English Government to pursue them into Irish waters. Three armed vessels were dispatched from Holland to the Irish seas in 1611, but the pirate fleet scattered at their coming to return when the coast was clear. Piratical depredations on the southern coast continued for many years thereafter, and the participation of the Barbary States in the business eventually led to a horrible affair. On June 20, 1631, a squadron of Algerine pirates sacked the town of Baltimore in County Cork, carrying off with their booty more than a hundred citizens of the place, mostly English colonists. Ulster, however, remained untroubled by the pirates after they had been driven out of the North Channel in the early days of the settlement. The South of Ireland was not delivered from the depredations of the pirates until about 1636 when Wentworth's energetic measures made the region too dangerous for them to visit.

In Appendix B will be found a complete list of the Undertakers as provisionally accepted by the Scottish Privy Council, and also the list as finally prepared by the English Privy Council. Although the two lists differ greatly, probably the class of immigrants was not to any corresponding extent affected by the change. It has already been remarked that the first list made up in September, 1609, was chiefly composed of sons or brothers of lairds and burgesses in the Lowlands. There is no name of a Scottish noble in the list of Undertakers. Lord Ochiltree appears as surety for four of the principals, but was not a principal himself at that time. The list as revised in England in 1611 contains the names of five Scottish noblemen, each receiving an allotment of 3,000 acres whereas in the first list the largest allotment was 2,000 acres. Only eighteen of the seventy-seven applicants enrolled in the first list appear in the final list. In view of the usual tenor of the King's proceedings in such matters favor doubtless played a part in those changes, but they cannot all be ascribed to favor.

According to the ideas of those times it was important to interest wealthy and influential noblemen in the success of the plantation. It is a point on which Chichester laid stress in his communications. Since it appears that Lord Ochiltree refrained from applying in his own behalf when the matter was in the hands of the Scottish Privy Council but is included in the list as made up in England it seems fair to presume that influence was brought to bear upon him. And it would also seem likely that the kinsmen and friends in the Lowlands for whom he had been willing to be surety when the first roll was made up might retain their connection with the enterprise under cover of his name. In a dispatch of July 29, 1611, Chichester mentions that Lord Ochiltree had arrived "accompanied with thirty-three followers, gent. of sort, a minister, some tenants, freeholders, artificers, unto whom he hath passed estates." Chichester notes that building and fortifying were going briskly forward, that horses and cows had been brought in and that ploughing had begun.

Other Scotch noblemen had thrown themselves with a will into the work of colonization. The Earl of Abercorn had brought in tenants with ploughs and live stock, and the Earl and his family were already in residence on their Irish estate. Sir Robert Hepburn was also resident, and was building and farming energetically. Mills and houses were going up and tools and live stock were being brought into the country. That there was a great bustle of intercommunication between Scotland and Ulster is evidenced by a petition to the Scottish Privy Council, October 27, 1612. The petitions set forth that in settling on their lands in Ulster they are "constrained and compellit to transporte frome this countrey thereunto, verie frequentlie, nomberis of men for labouring of the ground, and mony bestiall and cattell for plenisching of the same," so that passage between Scotland and Ulster "is now become a commoun and ane ordinarie ferrie," where seamen and boatmen are making rates at their own pleasure "without ony controlment." The public authority of Scotland was neither impotent nor irresolute in such matters. The Privy Council commissioned the justices of the peace along the west sea-coast to "reforme the said abuse in sic forme and maner as they sail hold fittest, and for this effect that they appoint and set down reasounable and moderat frauchtis [rates] to be tane for the transporte of men, bestiall, and goodis to and fra Yreland."

No further mention of this matter appears in the records but the severity with which unlawful exactions were repressed is evidenced by the entry in 1616 of an order that one Patrick Adair should be imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh at his own expense during the pleasure of the Council for insolence in demanding custom on certain horses sent to Ireland by the Earl of Abercorn. There is however evidence that as communications became regular and ample criminals made use of the facilities. Entries of October, 1612, and November, 1614, refer to traffickers in stolen goods between Ireland and Scotland and orders are given to keep a strict watch of ports and ferries, "for apprehending of suche personis as in thifteous maner travellis to and fra Yreland, transporting the goodis stollin be thame furthe of the ane cuntrie to the uther."

The energetic scouring of the Scottish Border shires contributed some elements to Ulster plantation that did not make for peace and order. Men proscribed in the Borders would take refuge in Ireland. A proclamation issued in 1618 orders the wives and children of all such persons as have been banished or have become voluntary fugitives into Ireland to join their husbands with all convenient diligence, nor presume to return under pain of imprisonment. To facilitate better control over travel between Ireland and Scotland it was restricted to certain ports, and passports were required.