Who are the Ulster-Scots?
The Scots Presbyterians who migrated to Northern Ireland/Ulster beginning about 1605 are generally referred to as 'Ulster-Scots', although sometimes in North America they are referred to as 'Scotch-Irish'. Both terms most commonly refer to those Scots who settled the northern counties of Ireland during the Plantation scheme. However, there were Scots in Ireland as early as the 1400s, such as the McDonalds of County Antrim. There was also a steady stream of Scots migrating to Northern Ireland in the early 1800s as a result of the highland clearances in Scotland. It can therefore be considered that anyone whose ancestors migrated from Scotland to Northern Ireland from 1400 onward, is of Ulster Scottish, protestant descent, although the term Ulster-Scot was born with the Plantation scheme.
Roots and Beginnings of the Ulster-Scots
We in Ulster (Northern Ireland), who are descendents of the Ulster-Scots, or as Robert E. Lee put it "The Scots by way of Ireland", are extreamily proud!! proud not only to be descendents of those bravest of Ulster-Scots, but proud of the culture they gave us, the history they made for us.
Although Scots had been settling in Ireland and more particularly Ulster for hundreds of years, it was not until 1606 that a major plantation occurred. The plantation was masterminded by two men, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery. Both were native Scots but each saw major benefits in a settlement which would undoubtedly leave them as powerful landowners in Ulster.
The main player was Hugh Montgomery who in a dramatic episode helped a prominent Irish chieftain, Con O'Neill escape from jail in Carrickfergus. In return Con O'Neill was to sign over a major proportion of his lands of Upper Clannaboye (modern day North Down) to Montgomery.
However Montgomery's plan was disrupted by the efforts of James Hamilton. Upon hearing of Montgomery's exploits, Hamilton persuaded King James I that O'Neill's lands should be split three ways and thus the bedrock was layed for the plantation.
The settlers were mainly lowland Scots from Ayrshire, Lanark, Wigton and of course the Borders. They were mainly lowland farmers involved in both arable farming and rearing cattle. However the Border families who came with them had a much more colourful background.
These borderers were the notorious Reivers; warlike clans who had existed in a society where survival came through strength in combat and bounty obtained in murderous raids on other Reivers.
Although these Reivers were not the mainstay of the settlement their influence was enormous and there is little doubt that those organising and funding the settlement felt the risks of their inclusion were outwayed by the benefits.
The plantation was focused on the land known as Upper Clannaboye (modern day North Down) with the first sizable settlements begining at Donaghadee and Newtown (Newtownards).
These early settlers undertook the work of the plantation with enormous energy and within a short while produce was being exported in abundance. This new land showed enormous potential with fertile pasture, rivers teaming with fish and extensive areas of woodland.
However the early aspirations of the settlers was tempered with the knowledge that the native Irish peoples of the area had not been enthusiastic at their arrival and indeed some who had been displaced from their lands by this and earlier plantations were intent on revenge.
This led to the need to be watchful of raids and attacks by groups of native Irish known as 'woodkern'; named so because of their habit of hiding in dense woodland and attacking travellers or families in their area. Amongst the early settlements, fortified houses called 'bawns' began to be built as these at least gave their occupants some protection.
With the help of such buildings and stubborn determination (later to be seen as the hallmark of the Scots-Irish) the settlement began to extend throughout Ulster. Hostility with the native Irish was limited due to the lack of co-ordination in their attacks. However, as time would prove, this situation was about to change dramatically.
On the 23 September 1641 a great rebellion of the native Irish began all over Ireland. However it was in Ulster that the full wrath of the rebellion was felt. Those areas such as Antrim, Down and Armagh that had been extensively settled by Scots were the subject of a tide of violence brought on by years of resentment and bitterness.
The Scots had not only displaced the native Irish but their mainly Presbyterian beliefs were contrary to the Roman Catholic Irish. Added to this was the fact that they were seen as identifying with the growing puritan, anti-royalist and anti-Roman Catholic movement in England.
Against this background the rebellion was to yield stories of terrible violence, the most famous of which was the slaughter of a large number of protestant families at Portadown. Although some of the stories told of such incidents have been dismissed as exaggeration, there is little doubt from the extensive records of the time that the rebellion was a bloody one and some scholars have put the death toll amongst the settlers at over 10,000.
The rebellion of 1641 was to be the first bloody landmark of the Scots-Irish and it was to leave an indelible mark on their attitudes and beliefs which remain even to the present day. For many Scots-Irish today the bloody days of 1641 are as vivid as if they were yesterday.
In the years to follow the Scots settlers would attempt to redress the losses of 1641 although initially this would end in failure at the battle of Benburb. The arrival of Cromwell in 1649 would see the delivery of a terrible and crushing blow against the native Irish and at least allow the settlers to begin to expand once again. However it would see the emergence of a new era and a new adversary in the form of the throne of England and an attack on their rights and religious beliefs.
The argument is still ongoing as to whether Ulster-Scots is a language proper or a Scots dialect of English. What is unquestionable is the fact that the Ulster accent and speech is very noticeably different from that of Southern Ireland, indeed Ulster is the only area outside of Scotland where Scots has survived as a spoken language/dialect.
Scots is the most defining characteristic of the Ulster accent, most Ulster-Scots who have visited other parts of the English speaking world will testify that more often than not, they are mistaken as being from Scotland rather than Northern Ireland. While broad Ulster-Scots is only spoken in the more rural communities, everyone in Northern Ireland uses Ulster-Scots words and phrases in their everyday speech.
Ulster-Scots is basically the same as West Central Scots (the language of Robbert Burns), a Germanic tongue of common origin with English. It is ironic that the preservation of the Scots language is better funded in Ulster than it is in Scotland itself.
Ulster-Scots music is a mixture of Scottish, English and Irish folk music. Often combining the three, Ulster-Scots music is now like the language getting a revival, with groups such as the "Ulster-Scots Folk/Fowk Orchestra", educating people through their music which is really our music!
Ulster-Scots musical influences in America
The distinctive styles of many modern-day American country, bluegrass and folk music performers can be traced directly back to the 18th century Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish settlers. And the dance tradition of the Appalachian region in the south - eastern part of the United States has also very strong Ulster-Scots roots. This is music and dance, which crossed the Atlantic during the great waves of emigration and in the modern idiom it is a rich cultural expression, which is being taken back to the homeland.
The Ulster-Seats sound of drone notes, associated with the pipes and fiddles are very pronounced and the story-telling balladry of the Scots-Irish diaspora remains deeply rooted in what is American country and folk music today. These were a people who brought with them to North America the old Scottish, Irish and English folk songs and ballads, and in remote communities in the Appalachian, Cumberland and Smoky Mountains, the songs stayed unaltered until the 20th century.
Aswell as folk music there is a long tradition of Scottish piping (Bagpipes), there are a number of Pipe-Bands here in Ulster and they often take part in international competitions, Ulster also has the "Ulster Pipe Band Championship" which attracts hundreds of competitors from all over the world!
Culture or Politics
With the promotion of the Irish Gaelic language being used to promote Irish nationalism in Ulster, there has been a revival in interest in Ulster-Scots as a means of promoting the Ulster-Scots Protestant heritage, most of whom make up the "Unionist" (Pro-British) population.
Many believe that culture and politics are inseparable, and in a lot of ways that is true, however it is not impossible to see culture being expressed independently of politics, it is not very likely that a Catholic has never listened to Blue grass or American folk music even though it originates from the Southern States region of the USA, a largely Protestant area with a large Scots-Irish-American population, or that a Protestant has never listened to Irish folk music which is a tradition of a majority Catholic population of Ireland.
Culture can give voice and be an expression of politics yet can also be enjoyed independent of a political or ethnic group. Those that dismiss Ulster-Scots culture as "Unionist Propaganda" or "Fairytales" are using politics as a weapon to defame a strong cultural heritage. It may be the fact that some of those people, who reject Ulster-Scots culture as wishful thinking on the part of Ulster Protestants, are really refusing the idea that Ulster Protestants and Unionists have a culture or have the right "Genes" to produce culture.
As Ulster nationalists we must seek to reclaim our culture from political vultures who would seek to denounce, or abuse it, for their own selfish aims. We must also show that just because some one is from Ulster-Scots, Protestant descent, it does not make them some kind of uncultured Philistine.
Revitalising our culture is the first means to achieving national independence!