Surnames in Ulster
The Scots in Ulster – The First Scottish Migrations to Ulster (1606–1641)
Landowners received lands in the Plantation of Ulster. Most were minor lairds, though others, such as Ludovic Stewart, Duke of Lennox and James Hamilton, Earl of Abercorn, were aristocrats and held important positions in the Scottish government. Many of the original grantees sold out early on. Some never even made it as far as Ireland. Others took their responsibilities seriously and built fortifications and introduced the required number of settlers to their estates. Brief outlines of the activities of two undertakers are given below.
Sir George Hamilton of Greenlaw was a younger son of Lord Claud Hamilton of Paisley, near Glasgow. In 1610 he and two of his older brothers, the Earl of Abercorn, and Sir Claud Hamilton of Shawfield, received grants of land in Strabane barony in north-west County Tyrone. Right from the start Sir George proved to be an energetic planter. He differed from most of the settlers who came to Ulster from Scotland in the early 17th century in that he was a Roman Catholic.
Sir Robert McClelland of Bombie was born about 1592 in Kirkcudbright in south-west Scotland. He was still a teenager when he was appointed the chief undertaker in the barony of Boylagh and Banagh in the west of County Donegal. These lands were mainly mountainous and Sir Robert showed little interest in developing them, selling out in 1616. He did not abandon his interest in Ulster, however, for within a couple of years he was leasing two estates in County Londonderry and had introduced over 200 settlers to these lands.
Many Scottish ministers came to Ulster in the early 17th century and played an important role in religious life in the province. Some were here for only a few years before returning to Scotland, while others spent most of their lives in Ireland. Among the Scottish bishops was George Montgomery, (left) brother of Sir Hugh Montgomery, who was bishop of the dioceses of Clogher, Derry and Raphoe, all at the same time.
The next bishop of Raphoe after Montgomery was Andrew Knox. He was minister in a number of parishes in Scotland before becoming Bishop of the Isles. Knox converted a former monastery in Rathmullan, County Donegal, to his own private house. He died in 1633 and was succeeded by John Leslie who lived to be 100 years old. Leslie built a large castle in Raphoe, the ruins of which can still be seen today. In 1621 James Spottiswood became bishop of Clogher. He rebuilt the cathedral and tried to establish a town at Clogher.
Dozens of Scottish ministers served in Ulster in the early seventeenth century. Archibald Adair was dean of Raphoe. In 1622 he was described as ‘an eloquent scholar and good preacher of God’s Word’. Men such as Robert Blair of Bangor and John Livingstone (right) of Killinchy were ministers with Presbyterian convictions. For a time they were tolerated within the Church of Ireland, but in the 1630s were forced out by less sympathetic bishops.
Most of the people who came to Ulster in the early 17th century were not lords and sirs, but ordinary folk who were hoping for a better life through farming or trade. They mainly came from places such as Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and Lanarkshire. Surnames associated with this area include Crawford, Cunningham, Hamilton and Montgomery. Other settlers came from the Borders area of south-east Scotland including the Armstrongs, Beattys, Elliotts, Grahams and Johnstons. Here are brief biographies of two men who lived quite close to each other near Strabane.
Hugh Hamilton of Lisdivin was from Priestfield in Blantyre near Glasgow. In the early stages of the Plantation, he, together with his brother William, moved to the Strabane area where he worked as a merchant. In 1615, he was granted the townland of Lisdivin by the Earl of Abercorn. His rent was to be either £6 in cash or a cask of French wine, one pound of good pepper, four pounds of loaf sugar and a box of marmalade.
Ultimately of Italian origin, the Algeo family lived in Paisley near Glasgow. Robert Algeo (gravestone left) came to Ulster in the early years of the Plantation and helped Sir George Hamilton of Greenlaw to manage his estates. In 1622 Robert Algeo prepared a report of Sir George’s estates for government officials investigating the Plantation. Robert Algeo was a Catholic, making him different from most of the Scots coming to Ulster.
The government wanted the settlers to live together in villages on each estate and not scattered here and there. It was thought that the settlers would be safer if they lived close to each other. However, in reality most of the settlers did not live like this. Most of the farmers preferred to live on their farms rather than in a village. They did not want to have to spend time each day walking several miles from a village to their farms, perhaps having to cross a river or boggy land.
One of the big changes brought about by the Plantation was the establishment of towns. In County Tyrone the Earl of Abercorn established a town at Strabane. Many of the landlords were not wealthy enough to establish a town and so founded a village on their lands instead. In County Armagh the Acheson family founded a village that was later to become Markethill.
Those granted land were required to build a fortification on their lands. The simplest type of fortress was known as a ‘bawn’ (from the Irish for ‘cow fort’). A bawn was a courtyard surrounded by strong walls and was usually square or rectangular. The most important of the new landlords were expected to build a strong castle as well as a bawn. Scottish settlers needed places to gather for public worship. Some times they repaired an existing church and on other occasions they built a completely new church.
In the early seventeenth century thousands of Scots moved to Ulster. Many of these men came as part of the Plantation of Ulster, an official settlement affecting six counties – Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. Others moved to Ulster as part of the privately sponsored settlements of Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton in north-east County Down or to north Antrim under Sir Randal McDonnell (later Earl of Antrim). Though Sir Randal was a Catholic Scot from the Highlands, he encouraged Lowland Protestant Scots to become farmers on his vast 333,000 acre estate.
In the early seventeenth century a number of ministers with Presbyterian convictions moved to Ulster from Scotland and were particularly active in counties Antrim and Down. In 1642 at Carrickfergus the first Irish presbytery was established and in the following decades the Presbyterian Church in Ireland began to emerge as a denomination, distinct from the Church of Ireland. This map shows the location of Presbyterian ministers in Ulster around 1660. In 1661 each of these men was expelled from his church for refusing to accept the episcopalian government of the Church of Ireland.
1606–1641: The surviving documents of the time are limited. This map shows where many of the first Scottish settlers in Ards and North Down lived.
Other Scots arrived during this period, and many more arrived in later years, right up to the present day.
Sources used for this map include:
- the beautiful Thomas Raven 1625 maps of the Hamilton estates, which are on display at North Down Museum; and
- The Scots in Ulster – their Denization and Naturalization (1954).
Additional sources you can consult include:
- the Hamilton Manuscripts 1603–1703 and the Montgomery Manuscripts 1603–1706; and
- the 1641 rent roll of the Savage estate, published in The Savage Family in Ulster (1888).
Common Ulster-Scots Surnames
The Scots in Ulster Surnames Map & Pocket Guide
Discover your roots. Learn the history. Visit the places.
A list of 16 famous Ulster-Scots.