The Dawn of the Ulster-Scots
2006 will be a big year for Ulster-Scots. It’s the 400th anniversary of one of the most important events in Ulster-Scots history - the Hamilton and Montgomery Settlement of 1606 - yet like much of our history, its a story that hardly anyone knows about. The Ulster-Scots Agency aims to change that. Here’s a summary of the story:
Before the Plantation of Ulster, two Ayrshire Scots - James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery - pioneered a massive migration from the Lowlands of Scotland to County Antrim and County Down. Starting in May 1606, over ten thousand mainly Presbyterian Lowland Scots made the short voyage across the North Channel, transforming barren Ulster into an industrial powerhouse. Their success inspired King James VI of Scotland and 1 of England's Virginia Plantation of 1607 and his Ulster Plantation of 1610. Their achievement was “The Dawn of the Ulster-Scots”.
The lands they came to had been devastated and depopulated by the wars of the late 1500s. Records say that Antrim and Down were “wasted”. The owner of the lands, Con O’Neill, had been imprisoned in Carrickfergus Castle by the late Queen Elizabeth 1 and was probably destined for execution. So Hugh Montgomery hatched an elaborate plan to both free O’Neill and to gain a Royal pardon for him from the newly-crowned King James 1 (formerly King James VI of Scotland) - and Montgomery’s payment was to be half of O’Neill’s lands. However James Hamilton found out and intervened in the negotiations - and won one third of the lands for himself.
Hamilton was from Dunlop in Ayrshire, was an academic and had been a founder of Trinity College in Dublin. His new territory included the entire River Bann and the area around Coleraine, as well as a major part of County Down which took in Bangor, part of Comber, Killyleagh, Dundonald and some of the Ards Peninsula. Montgomery was the Sixth Laird of Braidstane and had been a mercenary in the wars in Holland. His new territory included Newtownards, Donaghadee, part of Comber, Greyabbey and a large portion of the Ards Peninsula. Hamilton and Montgomery can rightly be called “The Founding Fathers of the Ulster Scots”.
The thousands of settlers they brought over absolutely transformed the region. The success of their settlement in Antrim and Down must have reassured King James VI & 1 of his Plantation in Virginia (at Jamestown) in 1607, and without doubt inspired the Plantation of the rest of Ulster which started in 1610.
As our American cousins head towards their own “Jamestown 400” celebrations in 2007, it is right that Ulster-Scots celebrate the success of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of 1606. The Agency will be co-ordinating a series of events, publications and initiatives during the New Year, so watch this space – and contact us to ask how you can get involved!
(This article was originally published in The Ulster-Scot, December 2005)