Sunday, March 29, 2009

From Kintyre to Antrim

Places and culture are connected. You hear the name of a place, or see a dot on a map, and you jump to a particular cultural conclusion. In crude local terms, if someone introduces themselves to you as being from west Belfast, you'll make a cultural assumption. Likewise, if someone tells you they're from the Shankill once again you'll make a cultural assumption. You can apply this to any country or region in the world. It's human nature. But life's often more complicated and interesting than that.

The age-old Highland / Lowland divide in Scotland, and its impact upon Ulster-Scots history, is not always as clear cut as we might think. The broad view has always been that Ulster-Scots all have Lowland/Scots-speaking/Presbyterian origins. From 1640 when the term Ulster-Scots was first recorded, to the present day, this has been the dominant view.

So, when accounts of people from other, non-Lowland, parts of Scotland are found in old books, there's often a simplistic assumption that those folk are not Lowlanders. Maybe they're Gaelic, Highlanders etc.

Let me give you an example that shatters that assumption:

• KINTYRE 1599 - 1607: In June 1607, there was an outbreak of trouble on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland. It's just 13 miles across the sea from County Antrim. The trouble was caused by the usual factors - competing land claims, two local lairds who both claimed the territory, things getting difficult for the people living there - so much so that significant numbers of the people upped-sticks and sailed over to the safety of north Antrim "with their goods and cattle to inhabit there". Then two of the warring lairds - Angus McConnell and Donnell Gorm - assembled their own fleet of boats and began to plan an "invasion" of north Antrim, maybe to round up their escaped tenants and bring them back over? It was a complex and messy time. But the refugee Scots stayed in north Antrim, on the MacDonnell estates.

At first glance, most would assume that the escaping refugees were Gaelic western isles people or maybe even highlanders, and that their migration would have established a Gaelic community in North Antrim. In this case, that assumption would be wrong.

To go back a few years, there had been an "insurrection" on Kintyre in 1599. Following this, the Earl of Argyle repopulated Kintyre with Lowland farmers - "presbyterians from the shires of Renfrew, Dumbarton and Ayr". They lived there in relative peace until 1607, at which point there was another uprising and the Lowland settlers looked like they were going to be booted out -

"the settlers, who indeed did not wait to be expelled. Fortunately for them, better lands awaited them on the Antrim coast, and many of them made their way with their cattle and goods across the Channel. Sir Randal MacDonnell received them, presbyterians though they were, and these people were the more welcome no doubt, because of their bringing with them the means of stocking their farms. In this came many Lowland settlers to the Antrim estates, who were literally driven thither by the circumstances above-mentioned..."

(references above are taken from The MacDonnells of Antrim by George Hill; the story is recounted in The Birth of Ulster by Cyril Falls, p 153)

The planting of people from the Lowlands to other parts of Scotland happened in other places too:

• ISLE OF LEWIS 1598 - 1610: Lewis is one of the islands known as the Hebrides, on the far north-west of Scotland. It was the focus of another settlement/plantation scheme of Lowlanders into the Highlands at exactly the same time. In autumn 1598, King James VI of Scotland invited a party of "gentlemen adventurers" from (Lowland) Fife to relocate to the isle of Lewis. The venture failed by about 1610, and it's fair to say that the cultural differences were a factor in that failure.

> Wikipedia link here
> Detailed chronology of the venture here
> PDF and list of the adventurers - it would be interesting to see if any of these had Ulster connections.

These stories both deserve further study, but they do show that a dot an a map, or a placename in an old document, is a shaky basis for cultural assumptions.


As further illustrations, Sir James MacDonnell was described around 1597 in a Scottish document as: " ane man of Scottis bluid, albeit his landis lye in Ireland. He was ane bra man of person and behaviour, but had not the Scots tongue, nor nae language but Erse."

And elsewhere in Hill's Macdonnells of Antrim it says "...even until about the commencement of the last century, the lowland Scotch always spoke of their countrymen in the Highlands and the Isles as the Yrishe, or Yrischemen of Scotland..."


Barry R McCain said...

Mark... as always good blog post. I am tracking a large kinship from from mid Argyll, in the DNA project. One thing I'm working on is the Redshank families that moved from Argyll to east Donegal circa 1570 to 1590s, sort of forgotten Ulster Scots in many ways. Many of the 'planter' families in Kintyre also ended up in Ulster eventually, and many are in our DNA Project. Usually we can tell as when the results come in you have kinship groups form and geographic patterns develop. Many Aryshire and Gallowayshire have Gaelic origin surnames, but will then also have matches in those areas as well as Argyll. Fascinating things to study