Antrim and Down
County Antrim is only 13 miles from Scotland (between Torr Head and the Mull of Kintyre). County Down is only 18 miles from Scotland (between Donaghadee and Portpatrick). The close proximity of these two counties to Scotland has created a special relationship over thousands of years, with many migrations in both directions.
The Earldom of Ulster
County Antrim and County Down were essentially the majority of the Anglo-Norman Earldom of Ulster, founded by Hugh de Lacy in 1205. Walter de Burgh succeeded de Lacy and became the first Earl of Ulster in 1264. Walter was succeeded by his eldest son, Richard Og de Burgh “The Red Earl”.
Richard de Burgh’s daughter Elizabeth became the second wife of King Robert the Bruce in 1302. Through this marriage, Robert the Bruce may have been able to claim the title “Earl of Ulster” for himself (as Bruce’s father had done when he married the daughter of the Earl of Carrick), but there is no evidence that he ever did so.
After Bruce had killed his rival Comyn in Dumfries on 10th February 1306, he fled Scotland for Rathlin Island, just off the coast of North Antrim. He sought refuge on Rathlin from autumn 1306 until spring 1307 where, legend has it, he was inspired by the determined spider in the cave.
Bruce’s father in law, the Red Earl, was the most powerful Earl in Ireland and he sided with the English King Edward I in the wars which eventually led to the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. Bruce defeated the English at Bannockburn and won Scottish independence.
The Settlement and Plantation
The Plantation of Ulster is often seen as a defining moment in Irish history, an event which saw the arrival of Scots and English en masse into Ulster.
However, Antrim and Down were not part of the Plantation of Ulster. They didn’t need to be, because by the time the Plantation began in September 1610, Antrim and Down already had a large Scottish population.
On the BBC’s Plantation of Ulster web site, Dr Mary O’Dowd from Queens University Belfast says:
“… Antrim and Down were excluded from the Ulster Plantation, because it was felt that Hamilton and Montgomery had done such a good job, there was no need to include them in the government-sponsored Plantation …”