Monday, February 15, 2010

1636 - 1638: From "beggary" to "prosperity" - another wave of lowland Scots migration to Ulster

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Billy Kerr, who writes the weekly history column in the Irvine Times newspaper in Ayrshire sends me great information. In a recent email, he sent me a scanned page from a book entitled "The Royal Burgh of Irvine" by Arnold McJannet (Glasgow 1938). In it, on p 166, McJannet outlines a massive wave of migration to Ulster:

"...about 1636 the coming and going of Scots and Irish* between their respective countries was on a scale that made it a remarkable feature of the time... so numerous were the bodies of Scots passing through Irvine for Ireland at this period that the Earl of Strafford... was compelled to insist on every Scot who arrived in Ireland bringing with him a certificate of his respectability and honest intentions... no fewer than 10,000 Scots from the country between Aberdeen and Inverness had crossed to Ireland within two years... they came in parties of one hundred in number at a time through Irvine... three hundred had shipped for Ireland at one tide. The reason was that the country had suffered a series of bad harvests which reduced a large proportion of the people to beggary and drove many to emigrate to the north of Ireland to contribute by their thrift and energy to the prosperity of modern Ulster..."

This late 1630s migration is a new one to me, and warrants further research. Significantly, this part of Scotland, whilst northerly, is still mostly Lowlands and in the 1630s was very Presbyterian - the book "The Covenanters in Moray and Ross" by M MacDonald (Inverness 1892) provides some brilliant detail and insight into the area at exactly the time of this migration. From 1605 - 1613, and then 1622 - 1624, the renowned Robert Bruce of Kinnaird had been banished to Inverness by King James (his published Life and Sermons are here). Bruce was a preaching tornado and massive spiritual conversions took place across the whole region. By the time that Scotland's National Covenant arrived there in 1638 "...the people of Sutherland, Easter Ross, Nairn and Moray entered into the Covenant with alacrity...".

To bring the connections up to the present day, Billy also tells me that he was born in a part of Irvine which was then known as "Wee Ulster", such were the huge numbers of Ulster families living there and working in the shipyards of Ayrshire.

* NB - I suggest that the term "Irish" here is geographical, rather than linguistic or cultural, and refers to people who were Ulster-Scots.