The Making of the Ulster Scot

Henry Jones Ford

By the Rev. Professor James Heron, D.D., of The Assembly's College, Belfast, Ireland.

As to the parts of Scotland from which the Ulster settlers came there is no controversy, and they may be indicated in a sentence or two. As we gather from such records as the Hamilton and Montgomery MSS., Hill's account of the Plantation, the State Calendars, Commissioners' Reports in the "Carew MSS.," Pynnar's "Survey," and other contemporary documents, the districts of Scotland which supplied the Ulster colonists of the seventeenth century may be grouped conveniently under three heads—namely:


(1) Galloway and the Scottish counties included in the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde—Dumbartonshire, Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, and Dumfriesshire;

(2) The counties around Edinburgh—Edinburghshire, Haddingtonshire, and Berwickshire; and

(3) The district lying between Aberdeen and Inverness, corresponding to the ancient province of Moray.

It should be noted here, however, that a certain portion of Scotland was expressly excluded from the privilege (if it was a privilege) of sharing in the Ulster Plantation. It was made a necessary condition that the colonists, both of the higher and lower ranks, must have been "born in England or the inward parts of Scotland." This restriction of authorised Scottish settlers to those born in "the inward parts" of the country was evidently designed to exclude Argyllshire and the Isles; that is to say, the Scottish Dalriada, the parts of Scotland inhabited by Celts from Ireland. It was manifestly for the express purpose of excluding them that the restriction referred to was made. They were not the sort of people that were wanted.

Now, let us trace the history of the several regions named, note the successive races by whom they were occupied, the numerous invasions, the incessant conflicts, the devastations and colonisations they passed through, and the probable outcome as regards the blood, race, and moral quality of the residue. A superficial view on a perfunctory survey of the history might be quite misleading. As the history reaches back far so as to touch even prehistoric tracts of time, and as the events and movements to be observed, even within the historic period, are often involved and complex, and extend over more than a thousand years, both patient study and a fair share of trained insight and of the historic imagination are requisite to realise those movements in their operation and outcome. In the present brief statement of the case I can only attempt to place before you the elementary facts of a somewhat difficult problem, and thus put you in a position to judge for yourselves. And for obvious reasons I have though it better, as far as possible, to state the facts in the words of recognised historians rather than in my own.


As a necessary preliminary, however, to our consideration of the districts I have named, some notice must be taken of the Picts, who held almost the whole of the country we now call Scotland when it begins to emerge into the light of history. A keen controversy as to the racial connection of the Picts, in which the Scottish historians, Pinkerton and Chalmers, toward the end of the eighteenth century, were the chief protagonists, raged for many years, Pinkerton maintaining that they were Teutons, and his opponent arguing with equal vigour that they were Celts. Sir Walter Scott, in his tale of the "Antiquary," has a most amusing skit on that controversy. At the dinner-table of Monkbarns a sharp debate arises between the Antiquary and Sir Arthur Wardour on this very question, who were the Picts? Mr. Oldbuck asserts with Pinkerton that they were Goths, while Sir Arthur asseverates quite as strenuously with Chalmers that they were Celts. The discussion, like many a similar one, gets more heated as it proceeds, till at length the combatants lose their temper, and Sir Arthur rises from the table in high dudgeon and "flounces out of the parlour." Dr. Hill Burton, in his "History of Scotland," describes the controversy between Pinkerton and Chalmers as quite inconclusive. In fact, the verdict of the latest and best modern experts is that both were wrong, and that the Picts were neither Celts nor Teutons! Dr. Skene, writing more than a generation ago, held that they were Celts; but I suppose the highest living authority on the subject is Sir John Rhys, Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, and Professor of Celtic in Oxford University, and Sir John Rhys, led by philological, ethnological, and topographical considerations, affirms that "the most tenable hypothesis may be said to be that the 'Picts' were non-Aryan, whom the first Celtic migrations found already settled" in the country. "The natural conclusion is," he says, "that the Picts were here before the Aryans came; that they were in fact the aborigines." He adds that "it is not too much to say that the theory of the non-Aryan origin of the Pictish language holds the field at present" ("The Welsh People," pp. 13-16). The judgment of the late eminent Professor of Celtic Philology in the University of Berlin, Professor Zimmer, coincides with that of Rhys. His opinion is that "Pict" was the Roman translation of the name given to the aborigines by the British and Irish Celts. And I see that Dr. Macewen, in the volume of his "History of the Church in Scotland," which has just appeared—a work of very careful research and scholarship—adopts this view. Note, then, that, according to such distinguished experts as Sir John Rhys and Professor Zimmer, of Berlin, the original inhabitants of the greater part of North Britain, including the aborigines of Galloway and of the North of Scotland from the Firth of Forth to the Pentland Firth, and by the Romans called "Picts," were not Celts.

I. We turn now, then, to the first of the three groups of districts I have named as having supplied a very large number of Ulster colonists—namely, Galloway and the Northern portion of the ancient British kingdom of Strathclyde, which included the modern counties of Dumbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, and Dumfriesshire.


(1) As to Galloway, the remarks just made with regard to the Pictish aborigines have to be kept in mind. Even in the time of Bede we find here a people called by him "Niduari Picts," and at a still later time known as "Galloway Picts."[8] According to Sir John Rhys they were neither Goidelic nor Brythonic Celts, but non-Aryan aborigines, who had been subdued by the Celts, and had adopted the language of their Celtic invaders. When they were subjugated by a Celtic people, and became in a measure Celticised, is quite uncertain. In Strathclyde also, embracing the counties I have mentioned, there appears to have been a considerable substratum of Pictish aborigines. But overlying them, and constituting the dominant element in the population, were the Britons, or Brythonic Celts, who formed the British kingdom of Strathclyde. They were in close kinship with the Welsh. That, then, is the first thing to be noted with regard to this region—that prior to the coming of the Romans, and later, Galloway is chiefly populated by Pictish aborigines, and Strathclyde by Britons, who were Brythonic Celts, akin to the Welsh.

(2) The second fact to which I have to direct your notice is the invasion of North Britain by the Romans. The Roman occupation began in the year 80 of our era, continued till 410, and left, without doubt, some lasting effects. The six campaigns in which Agricola sought to subdue North Britain, and the numerous campaigns of later Roman invaders, laid waste the country, and exterminated a considerable proportion of a population which was already sparse, for the forests, moors, and marshes were then extensive; while in the course of the three centuries of the Roman occupation there would be more or less intermarriage with the Britons, and some infusion of Roman, or at least foreign blood. Remains of Roman camps have been found in various places. We hear of one (at Bar Hill), where, with a cohort of auxiliaries from Germany, about a thousand settlers continued to live for nearly half a century. Dr. Macewen, in his recent "History of the Church in Scotland" (p. 18) says that with the Picts and Britons there was "blended a mongrel, half-foreign element, the residue of the Roman population. This element is difficult to explain in its relations to native life, but it is extremely historical both in itself and in its influences." He describes the people even at this early date as "the hybrid inhabitants of Strathclyde"; while Dr. Zimmer points out that Patrick in his letter to Coroticus speaks of the subjects of Coroticus in Strathclyde as being of both British and Roman descent.

(3) We have next to record the influx into the whole province of Galloway and Strathclyde of a Teutonic people. In the words of Skene "Galloway was for centuries a province of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria" ("Celtic Scotland," Vol. I., p. 311); and the same is true of Strathclyde also. Bede informs us, for example, that in the year 603 Aethelfrid, king of Northumbria, "ravaged the Britons more than all the great men of the Angles. He conquered more territory from the Britons, either making them tributory or expelling the inhabitants, and planting Angles in their places, than any other king" ("Eccl. Hist.," B. I., c. 34). Mark the policy of the Northumbrian king, as described by Bede, of "expelling the inhabitants and planting Angles in their places"—a policy which seems to have been pursued by his successors. Bede also states that Oswald, another Northumbrian king (635-642), "brought under his dominion all the nations and provinces of Britain"; and that his brother and successor, Oswiu, even extended his realm ("Eccl. Hist.," B. III., c. 6). As Mr. Andrew Lang puts it: "Oswiu dominated Strathclyde and Pictland up to the Grampians, the English element for the time extending itself, and Anglicising more and more the Scotland that was to be" (Article on "Scotland" in "Encycl. Britan."). Under Ecgfrid, Oswin's successor, they tried to throw off the yoke of servitude, but Ecgfrid "made so great a slaughter of them that two rivers were almost filled with their bodies, and those who fled were cut to pieces" (Eddi's "Life of Wilfrid," c. 19). A century later, in 756, "the successes of Eadbert reduced the fortunes of the Britons in this quarter of the lowest ebb," and Cunningham and Kyle were taken possession of, with Alclyde itself, the bulwark of the North Britons (Robertson's "Scotland Under Her Early Kings," Vol. I., p. 18). By the repeated ravages, slaughter, and expulsion of the native Britons, they must have been immensely reduced in number, while the possession and domination of the province for so long a period by a Teutonic people, whose policy it was to "expel the natives and to plant Angles in their stead," cannot but have added a large and powerful Teutonic element to a population already much reduced and mixed with other than Celtic ingredients.


(4) But we come now to another Teutonic invasion which must have still more profoundly affected them—the seizure and occupation of both Galloway and Strathclyde by the Scandinavians. There is a record in the Ulster Annals to the effect that in 822 "Galloway of the Britons was laid waste with all its dwellings and its Church." But in 870 again both Strathclyde and Galloway were devastated by the terrible Northmen; Alclyde was taken and demolished, and many captives and much booty carried away. And the chronicler, Symeon of Durham, records another desperate invasion of the same territories by the Danes in 875, when they laid waste the country and "made great slaughter" of the inhabitants; and this is confirmed by the Ulster Annals. Referring to the same incursion in his "History of the County of Ayr" (p. 15), Paterson says that they "laid waste Galloway and a great part of Strathclyde," and that thus harassed by the insatiable Northmen, many of the inhabitants "resolved on emigrating to Wales. Under Constantin, their chief, they accordingly took their departure. . . . The Strathclyde kingdom was, of course, greatly weakened by the departure of their best warriors, and it continued to be oppressed both by the Scots and the Anglo-Saxon princes." "And with the retreating emigrants," says Robertson, "the last semblance of independence departed from the Britons of the North" (Scotland Under Her Early Kings,' Vol. I., p. 54). But in 944 we find the Danes, Ronald and his sons, in possession of Galloway, and continuing in possession till the end of the century, when the Danes are displaced by the Norwegians, who remain in occupancy till the end of the next century (see Sir Herbert Maxwell's "History of Dumfries and Galloway," p. 48; Skene's "Celtic Scotland," and the "Annals of the Four Masters"). "From the end of the ninth century," says Rait, "Norse settlements continued for 300 years. The districts of Dumfriesshire and Galloway, all of the Western islands, the West coast of the Firth of Clyde northwards, and the coasts from Caithness and Sutherland to the Moray Firth were deeply affected by the influx of a Scandinavian population" (Rait's "Scotland," p. 7). As was inevitable, these Northmen left their mark deep on Galloway and Strathclyde, and added a strong Teutonic ingredient to the population. "It is plain," says Sir Herbert Maxwell, "from the place names of Norse origin scattered through the stewartry and the shire that there was a permanent Scandinavian settlement there" ("History of Dumfries and Galloway," p. 88).

"A sure and certain test of a colonisation of this description," says Robertson, "is afforded by the topography of the districts occupied, the 'caster' and 'by' invariably marking the presence of the Northmen not only as a dominant, but as an actually occupying class." He then proceeds to give clear evidence of such colonisation by the Northmen in the South-West of Scotland. Sir Herbert Maxwell also refers to "the remains of Scandinavian occupation preserved in the place-names of the South-West. Many hills," he says, "bear the title 'fell'—the Norse 'fjall'—as in 'Fell a' Barhullian' in Glasserton parish, or disguised as a suffix, as in 'Criffel.' The well-known test syllable, 'by,' a village, farm, or dwelling, so characteristic of Danish rather than of Norse occupation, takes the place in southern districts which 'bolstadr' holds in northern. 'Lockerby,' the dwelling of Locard or Lockhart; Canonby and Middleby in Dumfriesshire, Busby, Sorby, and Corsby in Wigtonshire are instances in point. 'Vik,' a creek, or small bay, gives the name to Southwick (sand-vik = sandbay), and 'n'es,' a cape, appears in Sinniness (south point), and Borness (burgh or fort point). Pastoral occupation is implied in Fairgirth (sheep-fold). . . . Tinwald, like Dingwall in the North, is the Assembly-field, and Mouswald the Mossfield" (Maxwell's "Dumfries and Galloway," pp. 44, 45). A Norwegian writer, quoted by Mackerlie, states that "the language of the Lowlands of Scotland is so much like that of Scandinavia that the Scottish seamen wrecked on the coasts of Jutland and Norway have been able to converse without difficulty in their mother-tongue with the people there."

In short, nothing in Scottish history is more certain than that a very large infusion of Danish and Norse blood has been given to the people of Galloway and Strathclyde. In view of the repeated devastation and depopulation of the country by war and by emigration of the natives, and the large influx and colonisation by Scandinavians, that infusion must have been very large indeed.


(5) But we have to notice in the next place the greatest revolution of all in the history of this region, and of nearly all Scotland, the revolution caused by the influx of Saxons and Normans.

"Through the troubles in England consequent on the Danish and Norman invasions," says Dr. Hume Brown, a "succession of Saxon settlers crossed the Tweed in search of the peace they could not find at home. In itself this immigration must have powerfully affected the course of Scottish history; but under the Saxon Margaret and her sons the southern influence was directed and concentrated with a deliberate persistence that eventually reduced the Celtic element to a subsidiary place in the development of the Scottish nation." And here it is most important to take note of and to carry in our memory the emphatic statement of Dr. Hume Brown with regard to the district under consideration when the Saxon and Norman colonisation began. "From all we know of Strathclyde and Galloway previous to the time of the Saxonised and Normanised kings" (Dr. Brown says) "extensive districts must have consisted of waste land" ("History of Scotland," Cambridge Historical Series, pp. 50, 89).

The movement which began under Malcolm II. (1005-1034) went on on a still larger scale in the time of Malcolm Canmore (1057-1093). He had long resided as an exile at the Court of Edward the Confessor, and had become thoroughly English in sentiment and sympathy. It was in his time that the Norman Conquest took place, and had a profound influence on the history of Scotland—an influence which appears not only in the copious inflow of Englishmen into Scotland, but in the gradual transformation of Scottish society and Scottish institutions. "The form in which the Conquest was first felt in Scotland," says Dr. Hill Burton, "was by a steady migration of the Saxon people northward. They found in Scotland people of their own race, and made a marked addition to the predominance of the Saxon and Teutonic elements" (Hill Burton's "History of Scotland," Vol. I., p. 373).

On the death of their king at Hastings, Edgar the Atheling had been chosen by the English people to succeed him, but he and his mother and two sisters, driven from England by the Conqueror, took refuge at the Court of Malcolm Canmore. And not only the Royal family, but "many of the Saxons fled into Scotland," says Cunningham, "to escape from their Norman masters. . . . From this period," he adds, "we find a stream of Saxon and Norman settlers pouring into Scotland. They came not as conquerors, and yet they came to possess the land. With amazing rapidity, sometimes by Royal grants, and sometimes by advantageous marriages, they acquired the most fertile districts from the Tweed to the Pentland Firth; and almost every noble family in Scotland now traces from them its descent. The strangers brought with them English civilisation" (Cunningham's "Church History of Scotland," Vol. I., p. 105). Edgar's sister, Margaret, who became Malcolm's queen, was an able and ambitious, as well as an intensely religious woman after the Roman fashion, bent on the predominance of the English interest and of the English, that is, of the Roman Church. In 1070 Malcolm, her husband, made a raid into England, harried Cumberland, and carried back with him to Scotland as captives large numbers of young people of both sexes. "So great was the number of these captives," says the chronicler, Symeon of Durham, "that for many years they were to be found in every Scottish village, nay, in every Scottish hovel. In consequence, Scotland became filled with menservants and maidservants of English parentage; so much so that even at the present day," says Symeon, writing in 1120, "not only is not the smallest village, but not even is the humblest house to be found without them." "And besides the Saxons, many of the Norman nobility, dissatisfied with the rule of the Conqueror, retired to Scotland, where they were encouraged by every mark of distinction that could be heaped upon them" (Paterson's "History of the County of Ayr," Vol. I., p. 18). After referring to Symeon's testimony, Dr. Macewen adds that "in the next half-century there arrived with the monks a stream of settlers engaged in trade and agriculture, who frequented the towns or markets which were usually established in the vicinity of monasteries. According to another chronicler, William of Newburgh, all the inhabitants of Scottish towns and burghs were Englishmen" ("History of the Church in Scotland," Vol. I, pp. 172, 173). It is certainly not going too far to say, as Mr. Andrew Lang does, that "the long reign of Malcolm Can-more intensified the sway of English ideas, and increased the prepotency of the English element" (Article on "Scotland" in "Encyclop. Brit.").

And the policy of Malcolm was followed by his successors. Of his son Edgar (1097-1107) we are informed that "he welcomed the stream of settlers who poured into Scotland in ever-increasing volume," while Edgar's brother, Alexander I. (1107-1124) "did his utmost to Anglicise both Church and State to the north of the Forth."

It was, however, by David I. (1124-1153), who has been called "the maker of Scotland," that more was done in the way of Anglicising, Teutonising, and revolutionising that country than by any of his predecessors. And now it is by Norman rather than by Saxon agency and influence that the revolution is effected. Instead of describing in my own words the change that was now wrought, I think it better here, for obvious reasons, to put before you the statements of Dr. Hume Brown in his "History of Scotland." "When during the reign of David the Eastern Lowlands became the heart of his dominions," he says, "the future course of Scotland may be said to have been determined; it was then finally assured that the Teutonic races were to be the predominating force in fashioning the destinies of the country." "It was during David's reign that the Norman element attained such a predominance as to become the great formative influence in the Scottish kingdom." "The dominating fact of the period is the extensive assignment of lands within the bounds of Scotland to men of Norman, Saxon, or Danish extraction. Wherever these strangers settled they formed centres of force, compelling acceptance of the new order in Church and State by the reluctant natives. . . . This gradual apportionment of lands by successive kings had begun at least in the reign of Malcolm Canmore; but it was David who performed it on a scale which converted it into a revolution." As examples of what was done Dr. Hume Brown notices the grant of Annandale to de Bruce, of Cunningham in Ayrshire to de Moreville, and of Renfrew, with part of Kyle, to Fitzalan; but these are only specimens of a colonisation which took place on a most extensive scale. Referring to Strathclyde, Lothian, and the East country north of the Forth, Dr. Hume Brown proceeds—"In the case of these three districts, the revolution was at once rapid and far-reaching. Following the example of his fellows elsewhere, the Southern baron planted a castle on the most advantageous site on his new estate. With him he brought a body of retainers, by whose aid he at once secured his own position, and wrought such changes in his neighborhood as were consistent with the conditions on which the fief had been granted. In the vill or town which grew up beside his castle were found not only his own people, but natives of the neighbourhood who, by the feudal law, went to the lord with the lands on which they resided. ... In the East country to the north of the Forth a change in nomenclature is a significant indication of the breach that was made with the old order" ("History of Scotland," Vol. I., pp. 88, 89, 90). "Of the nation itself, it may be said," Dr. Brown adds, "that the Teutonic element had now the preponderating influence in directing its affairs. The most valuable parts of the country were in the hands of men of Norman and Saxon descent, and the towns owed their prosperity to the same people" (p. 131).