Above: detail of Baptista Boazio's sideways map of Ulster, c. 1599.
No, I am not referring to Gerry Adams' recent controversy, but this post has been influenced by it. In his Description of Ulster, A.D. 1586, Henry Bagenal said this of the district of Dufferin (Killyleagh):
"... Diffrin, sometymes th' enheritance of the Mandevilles, and nowe apperteyninge to one White, who is not of power sufficient to defend and manure the same, therefore it is usurped and inhabited for the most parte, by a bastard sort of Scottes, who yield to the said White some small rent at their pleasure. The countrey is for the most parte wooday and lieth uppon the Loghe, which goeth out at the haven of Strangford, There are of these bastarde Scottes dwelling here some sixty bowmen and twenty shot, which lyve most upon the praie and spoile of their neigbours ..."
It seems to be a reference to a community who moved in after the MacDonnells (whose centre of power was mid and north Antrim) had murdered John White of Dufferin near Killyleagh around 1552 –
"... John White was landlord but was deceitfully murdered by M'Ranyll boy his sonne, a Scot; and since that murder he keepeth possession of the said lands, by mean whereof he is able to disturb the countries adjoining, on every side, which shortly by God's grace shall be redressed".
It is hard to know whether the 'B-word' was a reference to their parentage or ancestry, or was just an insult to express how the English overlords regarded them. The leader of this community is described elsewhere as Alexander Macranald Boy. The Whites were an old Anglo-Norman family; they must have reasserted their power in Dufferin, or at least retained the title to their estate, but it was sold to James Hamilton of Bangor in 1610. The map above (drawn in 1599 but showing information from the 1570s) shows 'Rowland Whit' as the landowner, and just below his name is 'Diffren / Killelagh'.
These Co Down MacDonnells seem to disappear as a distinct community from the historical records, and might have either moved back to Antrim, or become culturally absorbed into the incoming Lowland Scots population. In my school days in the 1980s I had a friend from the area whose surname was McDonnell, whose family had lived there for many generations. In the late 1800s a William M'Donnell and James M'Donnell were prominent Presbyterians in Portaferry. I would be interested to find out more if anyone has other references.
• UJA article 'The Whites of Dufferin and their Connections' by Major R.G. Berry available online here which includes a reference to a 'Walter Whit' who fought in Edward Bruce's army.