The Scotch Migration to Ulster

Henry Jones Ford

The racial elements that have gone into the making of Scotland are matters upon which there are sharp differences among specialists in this field. The first chapter of Andrew Lang's History of Scotland gives a statement of the conflicting views that are expressed upon ethnic questions. The great question is: Who were the Picts? An eminent Celtic scholar, Professor Rhys, mainly upon philological grounds holds that they were members not of the Celtic but of some non-Aryan race, enmeshed by Celtic migration like the Basques of France. Mr. Lang himself concludes that they were simply a Celtic tribe, the ancestors in some degree of the present Highlanders. In Scotland as in England the historical data point to Teutonic and Scandinavian invasion pushing back the Celtic tribes. Mr. Lang points out that there is no marked difference in the racial composition of the people between the Scottish Lowlands and the adjacent parts of England. In both countries the people spoke a language now designated as Early English. The two regions were one geographically. Mr. Lang remarks: "Nothing in the topography of the country contains a prophecy of this separation of the Teutonic or English conquerors of Southern Scotland into a separate Scottish nation. The severance of the English north and south of the Tweed was the result of historical events."

Substantially the same view is taken in T. F. Henderson's history of Scottish Vernacular Literature. He holds that: "The Scottish vernacular is mainly a development of the Teutonic dialect of that Northumbria which embraces the more eastern portion of Britain from the Humber to the Firth of Forth. Here the Saxons obtained a firm footing early in the sixth century, the Cymri being, after a series of desperate struggles, either conquered or forced gradually westward until they concentrated in Cumbria or Strathclyde, between the Mersey and the Clyde, where for some centuries they maintained a fragile independence. . . . The triumph of the Saxon element was finally assured by the great influx of Saxons during the period of the Norman conquest. . . . The Teutonic speech and civilization gradually penetrated into every district of the Scottish Lowlands."

Mr. Henderson points out that "when it first emerges from obscurity toward the close of the fourteenth century, the literary language of the Scottish Lowlands is found to be practically identical with that of England north of the Humber." Early English exhibited three dialects, Northern, Midland and Southern. The Midland dialect became the sole literary language of England, the Northern and the Southern dialects "vanishing almost entirely from English literature." In the Scottish Lowlands the Northern dialect survived and from it the literary language of Scotland was fashioned. In support of these views Mr. Henderson points out that early Scottish, the Scottish of Barbour and Wyntoun (fourteenth century), "differs but slightly, if at all, from Northern English." At a later period the difference became marked.

The matter of ethnic origins has been touched upon, because some writers upon the Scotch-Irish have placed the Picts, the Caledonians and other early inhabitants of Scotland among the forebears of the Scottish settlers in Ulster. But as a matter of fact the settlers were almost as English in racial derivation as if they had come from the North of England. Occasional allusions in the State Papers show that the Government had in mind the English-speaking districts of Scotland and not the Gaelic regions as the source from which settlers should be drawn. Indeed, the conditions were such that the Ulster plantation appeared as part of the general campaign carried on to break down Celtic tribal polity and to extend civilized polity in both Ireland and Scotland. During the O'Dogherty insurrection Chichester wrote to the Scottish Privy Council advising that the sea-passage between Western Scotland and Northern Ireland be guarded to prevent the recruiting of the Ulster rebels by sympathizing fellow-Celts from Kintyre, Islay, Arran, and the neighboring islands. The Scottish Privy Council on the receipt of the news of O'Dogherty's rising had been quick to perceive the danger of sympathetic disturbance in Gaelic Scotland, and before they heard from Chichester they had issued a proclamation forbidding any aid from the southwestern shires to the Ulster rebels on pain of death. In later correspondence, after O'Dogherty's rising had been suppressed, Chichester referred to his own work in Ulster and the work which the Scottish Council had in hand against the Celts of the western Scottish islands as but two branches of one and the same service.

Irish history during this period has been kept under the spot-light so much as to create an impression that English policy in Ireland was somewhat singular in character and was actuated by special animosity. No support to this notion is found in the State Papers. In them the Ulster plantation appears as part of a general forward movement against barbarism. So far as treatment of the native inhabitants goes the measures taken in Ireland seem less severe than those taken in Scotland itself. The reign of James was marked by a determined effort to crush the marauding spirit of Gaelic Scotland and to suppress the feuds that were carried on in defiance of law. An armed expedition to the western islands was fitted out in 1608, and many castles were seized and dangerous chiefs were arrested both in the islands and the neighboring parts of the mainland. Andrew Stewart, Lord Ochiltree, who was in command of this expedition, became one of the Ulster Undertakers. His name did not appear in the original list, but on returning to Edinburgh, triumphant from his expedition, he was sent to London to make his report to the King. When the revision was made by the King and the English Privy Council of the list of applicants submitted by the Scottish Privy Council, the name of Lord Ochiltree appears as Undertaker for 3,000 acres in County Tyrone.

The steady pursuit of the Clan MacGregor in the main Highlands is an evidence of the determination to crush outlawry at any cost. They are described in proclamations as that unhappy race which has so long continued "in bluid, thift, reif and oppression." The members of the clan were proscribed and the use of the very name was prohibited. The war on these wild clansmen went on for many years. In 1604 Alexander MacGregor of Glenstrae, chief of the clan, and eleven of his principal kinsmen and retainers, were hanged and quartered at the Market Cross in Edinburgh. In August, 1610, a commission of fire and sword against the MacGregors was issued to twenty-eight nobles and lairds in territories surrounding the MacGregor country. By proclamation the King's lieges were warned not to assist any of the clan, their wives, children or servants nor have any intercourse with them. In 1611, after a preamble declaring that the clansmen still persist in their "barbarous and wicked lyff," the Earl of Argyle is commissioned to root out and extirpate all of that race, until, says the King, "they be ather reducit to our obedience or ruitit out of our kingdome." Notwithstanding these energetic measures a report of 1613 says that remnants of the clan have again begun to go about the country "sorning, oppressing, quarreling, where they may be masters and commanders." "Sorning" is the Highland equivalent of the Irish "coshering," the privilege claimed by the warrior class of living on forced hospitality. The harrying of the MacGregors went on by fits and starts for many years.

Besides these campaigns to introduce the King's law into Celtic Scotland, the Government had to deal with the habits of rapine which had been implanted by centuries of border warfare, and which possessed something of a patriotic character when Scotland and England were traditional enemies. Now that a Scottish King had mounted the English throne the further continuance of border lawlessness became intolerable. It was put down with ruthless energy. The English and Scottish shires which had formerly been "The Borders" were rechristened by James in 1603 as "The Middle Shires of Great Britain" and the administration was put into the hands of ten commissioners, five for each side, each set of commissioners executing their orders through an appointed chief of mounted police. The Scottish State Papers from April, 1605, to April, 1607, contain abundant evidences of the activity of the Scottish commissioners. Their chief of police was Sir William Cranstoun, and with his force of twenty-five horsemen he scoured the Borders, arresting murderers and robbers and bringing them before justice courts held by commissioners from time to time at stated places. At the end of the first year the commissioners give the names of thirty-two persons hanged for their crimes, fifteen persons banished, and above seven score in the condition of fugitive outlaws, who should be pursued with hue and cry wherever they might be found. In October, 1606, fifteen more of these Border outlaws were hanged and by the end of the year the list of fugitives had increased to thirteen score, whose names were to be advertised on the market crosses of all towns and the doors of all parish kirks in all the "in-countrey." The Scottish Privy Council sustained this work with hard resolution. The commissioners reported periodically to the Council, asking instructions upon difficult points, sometimes referring a case in which they think there might be mercy, but in every such case the Council sent back word to "execute justice," which meant that the culprit should be put to death.

Besides hanging and banishing, the commissioners were active in breaking up the nests of outlawry. The houses of thieving families were searched for stolen goods, the iron gates that barred entrance were removed and dragged away to be turned into plough irons. The official record of those who were hanged doubtless fell short of the actual number put to death, for Sir William Cranstoun thought it necessary to obtain an act of indemnity, which was granted by the King, December 15, 1606. It sets forth as its occasion that he had been moved "often tymes summarlie to mak a quick dispatche of a grite mony notable and notorious thevis and villanes by putting thame to present death without preceiding tryall of jurye or assyse or pronunciatioun of ony conviction or dome."

Among the names of malefactors officially returned as having been hanged by order of the justice courts are such good patronyms as Armstrong, Gilchrist, Johnstone, Milburn, Patterson, Scott, and Wallis. This Scott may well have been a kinsman of the great author, for in times when Border lawlessness had been so long extinct as to be susceptible of romantic treatment Sir Walter was pleased to claim Border outlaws as among his forbears. The Lay of the Last Minstrel describes the stronghold of Auld Wat of whom the poet says:

"But what the niggard ground of wealth denied,

From fields more blessed his fearless arm supplied."

Of Auld Wat's bride, Mary Scott, "the Flower of Yarrow," Lockhart relates that "when the last bullock which Auld Wat had provided from the English pastures was consumed the Flower of Yarrow placed on her table a dish containing a pair of clean spurs; a hint to the company that they must bestir themselves for their next dinner." As the Flower of Yarrow married Auld Wat in 1567, the halcyon days of her predatory housekeeping were separated by little more than one generation from the stern suppression of such methods. The effect of the thorough work of King James' commissioners was very marked. The Borders were so tamed and disciplined that in 1610 Chancellor Dunferline was able to assure the King that they had been purged "of all the chiefest malefactors, robbers and brigands" as completely as Hercules had cleansed the Augean stables and that they were now "as lawful, as peaceable and quiet as any part of any civil kingdom in Christianity."

There is evidence that the chronic turbulence of the Borders was not so completely suppressed as would seem from the Chancellor's account, but the opening of safe land-passage for steady trade between the two kingdoms appears to date from that period. The memorials of the period of turbulence were eventually converted by the relieved people into materials for legend and song, but this poetry of the situation did not appear until the prosaic aspect had been established to which Dr. Johnson adverted when he remarked that the noblest prospect a Scotchman could see was the high road that led to England. The enlargement of commercial intercourse and the growth of business opportunity were essential features of the pacification of the Borders, as of all regions brought under the rule of law. Severe and terrifying punishment of crime is an indispensable agency in disciplining a people addicted to rapine, but in compelling them to live by honest industry the law must afford them opportunity.

To complete this account of the conditions in Scotland from which the Ulster settlers derived their habits of thought it should be added that the Ulster settlement was essentially a migration from the Lowlands. The elements of the population to whom the opportunity appealed are displayed by the first list of Undertakers. It was mainly composed of sons and brothers of lairds, sons of ministers, and burgesses or sons of burgesses in the shires south of the Firth of Forth, and nearly all were from the upper tier of those shires from Edinburgh to Glasgow. A few names appear from Border shires, among them Robert Stewart of Robertoun, a parish of Roxburghshire in which was situated Harden Castle, the seat of Auld Wat's power. This Robert Stewart received a grant of 1,000 acres in County Tyrone. A grant of 1,500 acres in the same county was made to Sir Robert Hepburn, a lieutenant of the King's Guard. This was a force employed in the general justiciary work of the Scottish Privy Council, outside of the special jurisdiction of the Border commissioners.

The Scots that flocked into Ulster carried with them prepossessions and antipathies implanted by centuries of conflict with predatory clansmen.