The Ulster-Scots

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The Ulster Plantation

   There were nine counties in the province of Ulster at the time of the Plantation. Of those counties, two were to be settled entirely by Scots, two mostly by English and two mixed. The remaining three counties were not part of the 1610 Plantation scheme, but they had already been settled by both, the English and Scots. King James specifically excluded Highlander Scots from the colonization scheme; he believed that they would simply team up with the native Irish to cause discord and unrest. The Scottish settlements succeeded very well, but most of the areas settled by the English failed for one reason or another. Many of the English settlers, having been farmers in their homeland, left Ireland because of the poorer farmlands they found there. The climate was not to their liking either. In many cases, the individuals who had been set up as landlords and had the responsibility of attracting and gaining the actual settlers went about that task only halfheartedly. As time went on, the majority of the settlers of the Ulster Plantation were Scots. Even the native Irish who had been dispelled from the region gained in numbers over the English when they were enticed to take the place of those Englishmen who left. The Lowland Scots were not discouraged like the English because they found much better farmland than they had left in Scotland. The Lowland Scots were also enticed by, and more satisfied with, the fact that they could build permanent homes without the constant fear of having them destroyed by the Highlanders and the English.

   Another thing greatly contributed to the success of the Scottish portion of the Plantation. At the time of the Plantation of Ulster, Scotland was experiencing the Reformation and Presbyterianism was established as her official faith. There was a tremendous surge of religious fervor throughout the Lowlands. King James instituted a series of ecclesiastical reforms, which included the change from the presbyterian to the episcopal form of church government. Many of the Presbyterian ministers were in favor of the migration to Ireland in order to elude what they felt was a return to Catholicism. Their presence in the Ulster Plantation was an encouragement to the rest of the settlers.

   The Ulster Plantation prospered despite some years of drought and poor crops and the occasional native Irish confrontations with the settlers. Historians have estimated that the population of Ulster was approximately fifty thousand by the year 1620 and nearly one hundred thousand by 1640.

   A significant turn of events came about in the year 1641. The displaced native Irish staged a rebellion against the Ulster Plantation which developed into a war that lasted eight years. There were a number of causes for the rebellion, the primary one being that the Irish had simply reached the limit to what they would take from the intruding settlers. As the settlement flourished, the settlers' needs demanded more land, which they helped themselves to. They cleared woods and drained marshes so that the settlement could expand. The Irish became more and more embittered about being pushed away from their ancestral homes. They also were growing jealous of the prosperity of the settlers who had begun to establish industries such as wool and linen manufacture, while they remained poor. The missionaries who had originally carried the Christian religion to the Irish had converted the native Irish peoples to Catholicism; the fact that the majority of the Ulster settlers were Protestant had the effect of alienating the two groups. The final straw which broke the peace came in the form of rumors of an invasion to be carried out by the Scots and aimed at ridding Ireland of all its Catholics. Whether true of not, the rumors enraged the Irish and they decided that they needed to strike first instead of waiting for the Scottish army to arrive on Irish shores.

   In October, 1641 an Irish army of over nine thousand troops attacked the settlements in Ulster. The attack was sudden and caught the settlers off guard. The English settlers, who had taken up residence in the central region of the province, suffered the most in this attack. Many of them were immediately killed or driven from their homes and their property was seized by the Irish. Roughly two thousand people were killed in the initial raid, a figure that would be exaggerated in the reports sent to England. The Scots had a bit more time to prepare their defences by the time the Irish army reached their settlements. During the course of the war, which lasted about nine years, nearly fifteen thousand people died.

   King Charles I did not have time to react to the Irish rebellion. England's Parliament was, itself, rebelling against the king's authority. The English Civil War placed the Scots in Ulster in a difficult situation. They had, of course, sided with the English against the Irish when the war began. But the English Civil War forced them to choose sides between the King and the Parliament. They really didn't advocate the aims of either side, but because they had earlier taken the side of the Puritans the Royalists vented hostility on them. So at first they sided with the Parliamentarian roundheads being led by Oliver Cromwell. The English Parliament had, in 1643, signed the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scottish Parliament, which, in effect, called for the unification of the two countries under the Presbyterian theology. A force of 26,000 Scottish men joined forces with Cromwell's Parliamentary Army and defeated the Royalists in the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. As the English Civil War progressed, and Oliver Cromwell's position as, not only the leader of the Parliamentary Army, but as a staunch advocate of Puritanism solidified, it became increasingly apparent to the Scots that their hopes of establishing Presbyterianism as the official religion of England would fail. Then, in 1648, when the Presbyterian members of the English Parliament were ousted from the House of Commons, the Scots in Ulster switched their allegiance to the cavaliers who rallied behind the exiled King Charles I. On 30 January, 1649 King Charles I was beheaded, and the Belfast Presbytery protested.

   The king's beheading ignited a fuse that would prove destructive for Ireland and the Scots settled in Ulster. In Scotland, the eighteen year old heir to the Stuart monarchy, Charles II, was proclaimed king, and he was invited by the Catholics in Ireland to go there to establish his court. Cromwell sent an army under General George Monk with the overt design to secure Ireland under Parliamentary control. The underlying mission of the Parliamentary army was to wreak vengeance on the Irish Catholics who had started the rebellion, and who, it was believed (according to the exaggerated reports) had murdered all the Protestants in Ireland. When Monk failed to subdue the Royalist sympathizers, including the Scots in Ulster, Cromwell himself led a force to the island in 1650.

   Cromwell's expedition to Ireland had three purposes. First and foremost was the subjugation of the Catholics and Presbyterians who had rallied behind the Royalist banner. The second purpose was to remove anyone associated with the Irish rebellion. The third objective was to convert all of Ireland to the Puritan faith.

   Cromwell's army swept through Ireland in a single campaign that lasted nine months and effectively crushed the opposition staged by both Catholic and Presbyterian Royalists. An estimate has been given that approximately 616,000 people died during the course of the campaign, some from famine and plague incidental to the actual warfare. The majority of those deaths, though, were native Irish. In addition to the casualties of war, Cromwell had many of the survivors, primarily native Irish, but also some English and Scot Royalists, deported to the West Indies. A large number of the residents of the Ulster settlement were slated to be deported, but Cromwell relented and allowed them to stay in Ireland. Many of their estates were confiscated and they were forced to move to the province of Connacht to the west of the Shannon River. Through sheer force, Oliver Cromwell brought an end to the Irish rebellion begun in 1641, and the Scots in Ulster experienced peace for the first time in a decade.

   Oliver Cromwell did not carry out his intended religious conversion of Ireland. In fact, he made many allowances to the Presbyterian Scots in Ulster which enabled them to flourish as part of the Protectorate Commonwealth. When, in 1660, the Stuart monarchy was restored, there was the possibility of Catholic persecution, but Charles II proved to be as lenient as Cromwell towards the Presbyterian Scots.

   Ulster prospered throughout the latter part of the Seventeenth Century. Woolen manufacture had increased during the Protectorate period and there was a migration of English from the northern counties of England to northern Ireland. A large number of Scots from the Lowlands fled to Ulster to escape what became known as "the killing times" in Scotland. Advocates of the Solemn League and Covenant had not been silenced by the Puritan Cromwellian Protectorate and became known as the Covenanters. King Charles II advocated the Covenant only in order to obtain the Covenanters' aid in his restoration to the throne of England. As soon as he was reestablished as king in 1660, Charles II began to institute a series of restrictive measures that were aimed as stripping the Presbyterian ministers of their rights and privileges. The 1680s in Scotland saw increased conflict between the Covenanters and the governmental forces and many Scots migrated to Ulster where there was relative peace and quiet.

   In addition to the Scots and English, there was a migration of Huguenots to Ireland in 1685 when the French government revoked the Edict of Nantes which had protected religious liberties since 1598. The Huguenots were Protestants whose religious beliefs were similar to those of the Presbyterians in Scotland and Ulster and for that reason they blended in easily with the Ulster Scots. The French immigrants brought with them improved methods of linen manufacture, which benefited the Ulster economy.

   The peace which Ulster experienced from Cromwell's Protectorate government through the early1680s ended when King James II came to the throne. James II was an ardent Catholic. He hated the Scots in general and the Presbyterians in particular. Between 1685 and 1688 James waged war on the Presbyterian Scots both in Scotland and in Ulster. In Ireland a complete overhaul of the army was King James' first order of business. The regiments which were primarily Protestant were disbanded and Catholic Irishmen were enlisted to replace them. Even the English soldiers were removed from the army. Then a native Irishman by the name of Tyrconnel was named to the position of general and given the directive to rid Ireland of all English and Scottish Protestants. These actions led hundreds of families to leave Ulster. But King James' reign of terror was shortlived; unable to convert the whole of the British Isles to Catholicism, he had abdicated the throne and fled to the safety of France. William of Orange landed on the shores of England in November of 1688 to make a bid for the throne. James had, by that time, raised a Catholic army in France and with it he journeyed to Ireland to join forces with General Tyrconnel's Irishmen. The combined army headed northward to attack the province of Ulster.

   The people of Ulster had received word of the possibility of attack and had taken measures to deal with it. The defences of the few fortified towns in the province were beefed up and the residents throughout the province made their way to those fortified towns. As they left their homesteads they burned all of the buildings and destroyed whatever they could not carry with them. By the time James and Tyrconnel's army arrived at Ulster, there was nothing but desolation. One of the French officers with that army likened the countryside to the barren deserts of the middle east.

   The Irish/French Catholic army laid siege to the town of Londonderry on 18 April, 1689. James expected the town to fall quickly, but it held out for 105 days. The timely arrival of supply ships and the formation of an army composed of local residents ended the siege and forced the Catholic army to retreat.

   William of Orange's army crossed over to Ireland shortly after James' army retreated from Ulster. William led his army of ten thousand troops southward and confronted James' army near the Boyne River. The Battle of the Boyne took place during the 30th of June and the 1st of July, 1690 and ended in James' defeat. James promptly fled to France and William and his wife Mary assumed the throne of England. William granted freedom of worship to the Irish and permitted any of them that wished to go to France to do so. It is estimated that approximately eleven thousand took up the offer and eventually formed the Irish Brigade of the French Army. Over the following fifty years more than 450,000 Irish migrated to France.

   Under William and Mary peace once more came to Ireland and Ulster began to prosper again. Most, if not all, of the native Irish families that had resided in the province of Ulster moved either southward or to France. Many of the families that had fled to Scotland began to return now and Ulster once more became predominantly Scottish.