module 02

Putting the Ulster Scot Centre Stage

This Module will explore a number of historical events or themes that will help us understand the fundamental reflexes of the Ulster-Scots community at the Home Rule period. We have presented them in the form of "constellations". Click on any "frame" below to begin your journey. If you would like to look at the "questions" section first, scroll down below the constellations.

Module 02


  • 1594

    The Nine Years War breaks out in Ulster

  • 1603

    Elizabeth I dies and is succeeded by James VI of Scotland who becomes James I of England; the surrender of the Earl of Tyrone brings the Nine Years War to an end

  • 1606

    Scots brought over to settle land in County Down acquired by two Scottish lairds, Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton

  • 1607

    Flight of the Earls; their lands are “escheated” to the Crown

  • 1609

    The Ulster Plantation begins in six “escheated” counties in Ulster: Donegal, Coleraine (now Londonderry), Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan

  • 1611

    King James version of the Bible published

  • 1625

    Six Mile Water Revival

  • 1636

    Presbyterian ministers in Ulster removed from Church of Ireland parishes

  • 1638

    The National Covenant read out in Edinburgh

  • 1639

    The ‘Black Oath’ imposed on Presbyterians over 16 in Ulster

  • 1641

    Rebellion breaks out in Ulster

  • 1642

    Scottish army arrives in Ulster; first Presbytery meets in Carrickfergus

  • 1643

    Solemn League and Covenant signed by Presbyterians in Scotland and later in Ulster

  • 1660

    Restoration of the monarchy in England; Charles II proclaimed King

  • 1684

    Persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland

  • 1688

    The Glorious Revolution; beginning of the “Williamite Wars”

  • 1689

    The Siege of Londonderry

  • 1690

    The Battle of the Boyne

  • 1704

    The Test Act

  • 1717

    First wave of Ulster Presbyterian emigration to America

  • 1775

    Beginning of the American War of Independence

  • 1782

    Marriage Act recognises legality of marriages of Presbyterians performed by Presbyterian ministers

  • 1789

    French Revolution

  • 1791

    Creation of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast

  • 1795

    Battle of the Diamond and creation of the Orange Order

  • 1798

    United Irishmen’s rising

  • 1800

    Act of Union abolishes the Irish Parliament and creates the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

  • 1823

    Catholic Association founded by Daniel O’Connell

  • 1829

    Catholic Emancipation Act permits Catholics to sit in Parliament

  • 1834

    The Presbyterian minister, Rev. Henry Cooke, addresses a meeting of Conservatives in Hillsborough, calling for the formation of a united pro-union front between Presbyterians and members of the Church of Ireland

  • 1840

    Foundation of the Repeal Association by O’Connell

    General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland formed

  • 1844

    Marriage Act recognises legality of marriages between Presbyterians and members of the Church of Ireland

  • 1845

    Potato blight; beginning of the Great Famine

  • 1850

    General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland declares in favour of Tenant Right

  • 1859

    A religious Revival sweeps through Presbyterian areas in Ulster

  • 1869

    Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland

  • 1870

    Home Government Association founded by Isaac Butt

    Gladstone’s First Land Act

  • 1879

    The Irish National Land League founded

  • 1881

    Gladstone’s Second Land Act

  • 1886

    Gladstone introduces the First Home Rule Bill in the Commons

Glossary learning resources
learning activity

Key Questions

We saw in Module 1 that people visiting Ulster often thought that it was remarkably different from the rest of Ireland. The reason given for this difference was the strength of the Scottish influence that they felt in some areas.

But, when they talked about the people, how did they refer to them?

The following are examples from what the authors said: “the descendants of Scotchmen” (Gamble); “the Scotch settlers” (Glassford); “Albanaigh/Scots” (Mac Gabhann); “the Ulsterman” (T.C.); “the Scot in Ulster” (Harrison); “the Scotch-Irish” (Macloskie). 

What is striking is that none of them uses the expression “Ulster Scots.” 

This is odd, because this term had existed since the 17th century. Sir George Radcliffe, a friend and advisor to the Lord Lieutenant, Thomas Wentworth, was the first to talk about “the Ulster Scots” as a group as early as 1640.

However, the term “Ulster Scot” did not come into general use until the final decades of the 19th century. Indeed, it is precisely during the Home Rule period that “Ulster Scot” becomes the standard way of referring to this community. 

The reason for this is that it is at this time that the figure of the “Ulster Scot” emerges clearly in the popular imagination, with a particular set of characteristics and, more importantly, a distinct history. 

An indication of the popularity of the term at the Home Rule period is the way in which those hostile to the political choices of the Ulster Scots used the term in their attacks.

One of the best examples of this is to be found in an article published in July 1912, at the very height of the crisis around the third Home Rule Bill. The article appeared in The Irish Review, a “monthly magazine of literature, art and science” published in Dublin. (1) The author of the article, although he signs himself “An Ulster Scot,” is clearly sympathetic to the nationalist cause. He states that “Ulster Scot” is now “the favourite [term] adopted by the Anti-Irish Ulsterman”:

"In my youth the Unionists of the North-east corner of Ulster were contented with the name “Ulstermen,” “North-of-Ireland” men, or even “Scotch-Irish,” but... “Ulster Scots” now appears to be the favourite term."

The author goes on to say something of the particular significance that this term had taken on in the area of politics and identity:

"I had a discussion with a typical Ulster Unionist the other day, in which he refused to label himself as Irish, Scotch, English, or Welsh, or anything else but an “Ulster Scot.” His family has resided in Ireland for an unknown period, probably from the beginning of the 17th century, anyway so long that no record exists of from what part of Scotland, or in what epoch his ancestors migrated; but in his estimation he was still an alien in Ireland!" (p. 229)

So, it is clear that, if the term “Ulster Scot” had become the standard way of referring to this group it is because it denotes what Benedict Anderson has called an “imagined community.” That is to say that, by the Home Rule period, the community had begun to do just that – to imagine itself as a distinct community. 

They do that by piecing together what one author at the time called a “distinct and connected history of this people,” and using that to project a recognisable image of the “Ulster Scot” into the collective imagination.

(1) An Ulster Scot, “The denial of North-east Ulster,” The Irish Review, July 1912, Vol. 2 N° 17, p. 228.

During the fifty years Home Rule dominated politics in Ireland, issues of cultural identity took on greater and greater political importance.

The Irish Revival was creating a clear image of “the Gael” who was seen as the embodiment of an independent Irish nation, and whose roots went back thousands of years.

However, a majority of unionists saw themselves as “British” and considered this separatist Irish identity as exclusive and as celebrating what was to them an alien culture.

In reaction to this, certain sections of the unionist community began to focus their attention on the “Ulster Scot,” a figure who emerges at this time as an alternative to that of the Gael.

The Ulster Scots, it was argued, had their own history, one that spanned Scotland, Ulster and America. An understanding of that history, which had not been attempted until this period, was to play an increasingly important role in the way people belonging to this Ulster-Scots community imagined themselves as a group.

Whereas the Irish revival underlined the separateness of Irish culture, the Ulster Scots reminded people of the many links that existed between Ireland and Great Britain. Their story focused particular attention on the historical links that had existed for centuries between Ulster and Lowland Scotland, in particular since the Plantation at the beginning of the 17th century.

Many areas of Counties Down, Antrim, Londonderry and Donegal had large populations whose origins lay in the Lowlands of Scotland. This shared Scottish culture continued to connect large parts of Ulster into the neighbouring island. It therefore challenged Irish nationalism’s insistence on demanding a separate, independent Ireland with a stand-alone Irish culture.

Irish culture often laid great emphasis on what D.P. Moran, writing in 1899, called its “absorbing power,” i.e. its capacity to assimilate foreigners of every origin: “The foundation of Ireland is the Gael, and the Gael must be the element that absorbs. On no other basis, can an Irish nation be reared.” The future Irish nation, centred on the Gael, was to be both politically and culturally independent of Great Britain.

Irish nationalism saw the people of Scots origin in Ulster simply as Irish. At best, the cultural tradition of the Scots in Ulster was seen as a sub-category of an all-embracing Irish culture that covered the island as a whole.

This vision clearly did not appeal to many in the Ulster-Scots community.

It is as if it was only when they felt that their way of life might be under threat by an Irish identity that seemed to be trying to absorb them that they felt the need to give their own identity a sharper form.

They needed an image that was instantly recognisable, one they could identify with and that could be used for political purposes, in the same way as the idea of “the Gael” was being used to promote Irish independence.

That figure that was to emerge was the Ulster Scot.

The Ulster Scot had a harder time explaining who he was and where he came from than the Gael.

For those promoting the Celtic Irishman, things were relatively simple.

For a start, geography was on their side. They were able to show a map of Ireland and say – “That’s where we’re from. This is Ireland. It’s an island out on its own, ‘surrounded by water,’ separate from the islands around it.”

The idea that geography determined cultural and political identity was very attractive. It was easy to understand because it was easy to imagine.

The problem was, Irish unionists didn’t agree. They felt that Ireland could not be looked at in isolation because it was part of a larger group of islands, an archipelago that placed Ireland and Great Britain within a complex network of inter-connections including things like family ties, cultural bonds and political identity.

Of course, a part of them was Irish. But that was far from the whole story. Other parts of their identity were just as important and they were tied in to places outside Ireland.

Nonetheless, geography was a major problem for the Ulster Scot. What could he show when he held up a map?

Bits of Ulster + bits of Lowland Scotland + bits of the United States.

But he couldn’t draw a line round these and say: “That’s my space. It belongs to me.”

The bottom line was that it was far easier to IMAGINE Ireland than it was to IMAGINE Ulster-Scots territory.

The same problem applied to history.

The Gael could point to his map of the island of Ireland and say: “My history is the history of the Island of Ireland. Full stop.”

But the Ulster Scot had to say: “Well, my history starts on the Borders between England and Scotland. But it also involves whole areas of the Scottish Lowlands. Then, a bit later, my ancestors went over to settle in the province of Ulster. But, later still, some of them started moving again and sailed over to the east coast of North America. And, before you know it, they’re pushing the American frontier further and further west...”

That was a great story. But, at the time of the Home Rule crisis was beginning, that story hadn’t been fully written. The reason for this was quite simple. Up until then, the history of the Ulster Scot had been written into several national histories – those of Scotland, Ireland and America.

  • When the Ulster Scots appeared in Ireland, whatever they did there became a sub-plot of Irish history.

  • When they appeared in Scottish history, they were re-cast as Scots who had returned to the fold.

  • When the same Ulster Scots showed up in America, they were seen as just an extra in the bigger picture of United States history.

In other words, the Ulster Scots always seemed to end up playing second fiddle – wherever they went!

Rather than being seen as a prime mover, the Ulster Scot was seen as following in somebody else’s footsteps, always condemned to operate on the margins of history.

There had never been a focus on a specific ULSTER-SCOTS history.

That’s what was to change during the Home Rule period.

In nationalist Ireland the work of organisations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Gaelic League helped to create a clear idea of what “Irishness” was taken to mean at the end of the 19th century. All of this activity in the various areas of sport, language learning and literature created a very powerful and easily recognisable image of what the “Gael” represented in the popular imagination.

The image of the Ulster Scot did not come about in the same way. Rather, the Ulster Scot emerged from a variety of disparate sources whose interaction was much more loosely conceived.

  • One obvious source was the body of Presbyterian Church histories that were being written at this period. This included not only histories of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland by people like Rev. Hamilton or Rev. Latimer, for example, but also histories of given presbyteries such as Rev. A. G. Lecky’s history of the Laggan Presbytery in Donegal, or even histories of individual congregations, such as J.W. Kernohan’s History of the Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O’Crilly. All of these contributed, sometimes indirectly, to the strengthening and embedding of the image of the Ulster Scot in the popular imagination.

  • Then, there were the novels and the poetry written by people like Thomas Given, W.G. Lyttle or Archibald McIlroy. These people were producing material in Ulster-Scots about the Ulster-Scots community for an audience in Ulster and in the Ulster-Scots diaspora. Although much of their writing is not explicitly political, the fact that it was being produced during the Home Rule period proves that a demand for such material clearly existed.

  • On top of that, there were the more overtly political writings that emerged during the period by people like the Scot, John Harrison, or Rev. James Woodburn, focusing on the history and contemporary position of the Ulster Scot. This material was specifically designed to contribute to the on-going debate on Home Rule and to offer a radically different perspective to the growing body of material promoting an “Irish Ireland.”

  • Outside the Ulster context, there was also a lot of history writing being produced by the Scotch-Irish community in America. Publishing in New York and Boston, authors such as Charles A. Hanna or Henry Jones Ford contributed a great deal to the construction of our image of the Ulster Scot by showing how these Ulster-Scots settlers had crossed the Atlantic to become the “Scotch-Irish.” This work was closely linked in to that of structures like the Scotch-Irish Society of America. The story of Ulster-Scot emigration to North America is vitally important because it allows the Ulster Scot to be imagined on a global scale.

Thanks to these various strands coming together at this period, the Ulster Scots found themselves centre stage for the very first time. At last, they could see coherence and pattern in a distinct and separate narrative about themselves. This newly-asserted sense of belonging to a distinct community was to be put to use by those organising resistance to Home Rule.

Next module

Home rule - an Ulster-Scots Perspective

Module 02



As part of their campaign against Home Rule, many Ulster unionists chose to appeal to the sense of Scottishness that was such a fundamental part of Ulster identity.

If they decided to focus attention on this “Scottish dimension,” they were doing so for one simple reason: they knew that they could tap into a cultural background that was shared by a large section of the Ulster population and that could be put to effective use to further their political cause.

Module 2 will explore that cultural background by identifying a number of events or themes that are of particular importance if we are to understand the fundamental reflexes of the Ulster-Scots community over the centuries and especially at the Home Rule period.

It identifies a number of “frames” that will help de-code the choices the unionist politicians were making in their publications and speeches when they were trying to appeal to an Ulster-Scots audience.

Each frame focuses on an event or a theme across the culture, calling exclusively on work in circulation in the late 19th and early 20th century, and using sources from Ulster, Britain and North America. The idea is to try and get to what a particular event or theme meant to the Ulster Scot at this particular period. The reason for this is that historical events (like 1798) or certain concepts (like “loyalty”) could mean something to an Ulster-Scots audience that was sometimes quite different from what other sections of the Irish or British public might understand.

In other words, rather than proposing a “History of the Ulster Scot from A to Z,” the idea is to go for a series of individual entries that highlight the particular “angle” the Ulster Scot takes on this or that historical event.

By identifying and thinking about these frames, and by being sensitive to this imaginary, it will be easier to understand the effect of the “buttons” that the speakers and writers were pushing when they were putting forward their arguments during their campaign against Home Rule.

The idea, therefore, is to look into the mindset of the community at a particular point in time.

"Constellations and Pathways"

Just as there is no set chronology to follow in this Module, so there is no prescribed “pathway” through the material on offer. Everyone is free to choose which route they want to take.

Each frame can be read on its own. So, you can start with any frame you choose. And then move on to any other one that takes your fancy.

However, as you read through any given entry, the text will indicate links to other frames that you may wish to follow up.

Alternatively, you may choose to take a look at the “Constellations”. Here, the different frames have been arranged together in groups that bring together a number of frames that have obvious interconnections. Thus, for example, the theme of “Emigration” is tied in to “the Frontier” and also to “the Empire.”

Whichever route you choose, one of the things to do at every stage is to imagine how a given event or theme could be “applied” to the Home Rule debate. When we come to Module 3, we will see how the writers and speakers take the material that we have identified here and use it as a sounding board for some of their arguments. In the meantime, Module 2 can be used to get people thinking about the various “angles” that allow history and culture to be mobilised for a specific political purpose.


Here you will find information about how the Ulster Scot appears so sharply at this period and why this happened when it did. Although you may choose to skip this section and go straight to the frames, it may be useful to understand something of the underlying cultural dynamics of the period.

If you do decide to take a look, you will see that, again, you are free to move around the section in whichever order you choose.

Finally, it is important to remember that the people who were writing the books and articles or delivering the speeches were products of their age. The way they thought, the way they express their arguments, the attitudes that underpin some of their declarations are coloured by the prejudices of the period and do not always necessarily correspond to notions of what is “appropriate” today. Bear this in mind when you go through the following material.