Western USA Branch
A Short History of the Scots in Ireland
By Kevin B. McLachlan & G. Bruce McLachlan
A look at the history of Ireland finds Scottish people among the early inhabitants of northern Ireland. Some came by direct appointment, others came by choice. England was seeking to exert a greater influence upon the people of Ireland, and, because of the failed attempt to establish a colony at Darien (Panama), the English sought to try again in Ireland.
Lowlanders were among the first Scotsmen to go to Ireland as "appointed" (ordered) by England. Highlanders were not included because they were considered to be rebels. Later, however, when the colony proved successful, Highlanders crossed the channel without "invitation."
During the time of the Ulster, Ireland colonization, there was a great religious feeling among the people. The Presbyterian Church at that time enjoyed autonomy and, though there was some influence from the Church of England (Episcopal), Scots relied heavily on the Presbyterian Church. The Scottish National Covenant of 1638 described the authority of the King as "a comfortable instrument of God's mercy granted to this country for the maintenance of his Kirk." Many problems arose for the Scots in Ireland. In 1639, they were forced to sign an oath of fealty (allegiance), swearing to never oppose the King's command and to abjure all covenants and oaths contrary to the tenor of this engagement. This oath was later called the Black Oath. Scots who did not sign were punished. Native Irishmen considered the Ulster Scots as intruders and usurpers and, because of this, in an uprising in 1641, approximately 5,000 Scots were slaughtered. Later, the English revolution of 1688 helped to solidify the Scots' position in Ireland. Irish Catholics rose up in support of James II, while the Scot Presbyterians supported William and Mary. The war ended in 1691 with Ireland submitting to William and Mary.
The English never were comfortable with the Scottish Presbyterian Church in Ireland; at one time they were referred to as "blockish Presbyters" living in "a barbarous nook of Ireland." To counter political pressures presented by Presbyterian ministers, a plan from England was formed to transplant Scots to the counties of Kilkenny, Tippeerary and the seacoast of Waterford, all districts in the extreme south of Ireland, and remote from Scotland. However, Oliver Cromwell dismissed the Parliament and ended the transplantation of the Scots.
But where do we get the name "Scotch-Irish?" Oh, how that name was hated! It became commonly used in America after they arrived - they had come from Ireland, but they were Scots, hence Scotch-Irish. The Scots left Ireland not for religious reasons, but because of economic pressures. Ship building expanded, and better, larger ships, able to transport more passengers, led to an increase in emigration. Several successful businesses were established for the sole purpose of transporting emigrants to the American colonies.
Another factor in the increased emigration was the growth of trade between Scotland and America, in which Ulster naturally participated. So much trade was being accomplished between the two countries that complaints were reported in the English State Papers.
America helped emigration, too. Lord Baltimore granted a colony to be established in 1632, offering 3,000 acres of land for every thirty persons brought in any adventurer of planter. This could account for the beginnings of "Scotch-Irish" settlements in Maryland.
Religious persecution of Presbyterian ministers in Ireland was another factor in the emigration. Some transplanted to America to flee the confinement and fines; many congregations followed their ministers, in the words of one minister in 1684, "because of persecution and general poverty abounding in those parts, and on account of their straits and little or no access to their ministry."
Another economic factor in the mass emigration was the problem of Scots being unable to sell their cattle to England. Exports of cattle alarmed English landowners who complained that the competitions of the Scot's Irish pastures was lowering English rents. Laws enacted in 1665 and 1680 absolutely prohibited the importation into England from Ireland all cattle, sheep and swine, beef, pork, bacon and mutton, and even butter and cheese. Scotland adopted similar laws, ultimately contributing to Ireland's ensuing poverty and famine.
In 1667 an embargo was laid upon the Scots forbidding them to export cattle, salt beef, meal and all kinds of grain; subsequently, horses were added to the list. This explains the "general poverty abounding in those parts."
Another problem for the Scots of Ireland was the English woolen manufacturers' position that they were being infringed upon by the import of Irish woolen goods. In 1698, Ireland then submitted to England that they would establish linen and hemp manufacturing so as not to encroach upon the trade of England. The English woolen industry was not satisfied and, in 1699, the work of exclusion was completed by a law enacted by the British Parliament prohibiting the Irish from exporting manufactured wool to any country whatever. The main industry of the Scots of Ireland was thus destroyed. At the same time, actions were considered in favor of prohibiting all fisheries on the Irish shore except with boats built and manned by Englishmen. As each prohibition came upon the Scots, emigrations increased. In 1684 and 1685, Scots fleeing from their homeland of Ireland landed in East Jersey. Later, it was estimated that there were as many as 50,000 Scots living in Ulster around 1715. Land was on long-lease at low rents and, for some years, a steady stream of Scottish Presbyterians poured into Ireland. In 1717 and 1718, when leases began to come due, landlords raised the rents to as much as double and triple the original amount. Small farms tended to pass from poor Presbyterians to Catholic tenants who bid higher terms.
Then, as if all of the economic problems were not enough, the Church of England forced the Presbyterian Scots to pay tithes for the support of the Established Church. To tighten the screw even more, the English included in the Act of 1704 a clause which excluded Presbyterians from all civil and military office. Ministers could not celebrate marriage.
To escape from such conditions the people began to flee the country in great numbers, often accompanied by their ministers. So great was the mass movement that it began to approach the transportation limits of the communities. Some Presbyterian congregations actually sent people to return and report their findings. During this time, there was an active emigration from Ulster to America. Five ships arrived in 1714, two in 1715, three in 1716, six in 1717, fifteen in 1718, ten in 1719 and thirteen in 1729, stated, "The humor of going to America still continues, and the scarcity of provisions certainly makes many quit us. There are now seven ships at Belfast that are carrying off about 1000 passengers thither."
Laws were enacted to prohibit ships from leaving the harbors of Ireland. At one time there were ten ships detained with 1700 people left in distress. The captains were thrown in jail and detained. Some harbor officials refused to allow the "poor people to carry their old bedclothers with them, although ever so old, under pretense of an Act of the British Parliament."
In 1741 and 1742 a great famine took place in Ireland and the emigration increased. It is estimated that for several years the emigrants from Ulster annually totaled 12,000. It was reported in 1760-1773 that "the North of Ireland was 'drained of one-fourth of its trading cash, and of a like proportion of the manufacturing people'." An investigation by a Committee of the House of Commons in 1774 showed that one-third of all the weavers had been thrown out of work and that not less than 10,000 had emigrated to America in the preceding two or three years.
It was estimated that in 1770 some 2,000 people left from Belfast for American plantations. In 1772 that figure rose to 4,000 but, in 1775, emigration ceased. It was also noted that "if the war ends in favor of the Americans, they (the Scots) will go off in shoals."
Another factor attributed to the mass exodus of Scots from Ireland was the spirit of social revolt. Successes abroad made the old grievances of high rent and tithe payments seem more odious and discontent with existing policies swept over not only Ireland but Scotland as well. During this period there was a great migration to America from the western islands and the Highlands of Scotland.
Lecky, the historian, says: "They were with hearts burning with indignation, and in the War of Independence they were almost to a man on the side of the insurgents. They supplied some of the best soldiers of Washington."