An ancient heritage being rediscovered
“The connection between West Scotland and North East Ireland is a constant factor in history”
Rathlin Island (the location of King Robert the Bruce's refuge from autumn 1306 –spring 1307) is almost a stepping stone between Ulster and Scotland. It's just 6 miles from Ballycastle in Co. Antrim, and just 16 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.
For centuries, the North Channel has been a busy route for boats and ships travelling between the two coastlines. At the narrowest point, just 13 miles separate Torr Head in County Antrim from the Mull of Kintyre, whereas just 18 miles separate Donaghadee in County Down from Portpatrick in Galloway. Donaghadee was developed as the main "port of entry" for Scottish settlers moving to Ulster when Hugh Montgomery arrived in May 1606, a position it maintained up until 1862. At this point, ships had become too large for Portpatrick's small harbour to cope with and the new cross-North Channel route became Larne–Stranraer. Today, more than 1.5 million people per year make the trip across the water by car ferry.
During 2006, the Ulster-Scots Agency marked the 400th anniversary of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement, branding it as "The Dawn of the Ulster-Scots". The Settlement was the first permanent, large-scale Scottish settlement in Ireland, and it was these settlers who would first be described (in 1640) as "Ulster Scots".
However, contacts across the North Channel have been ongoing for thousands of years. If the Settlement was (as the Agency explained during 2006), the point at which "the trickle became a flood", the story of King Robert the Bruce's Ulster links is one of the better known, and better recorded, examples of these important earlier connections.
In 2007, the Ulster-Scots Agency worked with The Robert The Bruce Commemoration Trust in telling the story of "Bruce 700: Rathlin – the Birthplace of Bannockburn".