History and Heritage

The Ulster Scots in Mid and East Antrim

Photograph of girl doing Scottish dancing

For millennia, people have been travelling back and forth the short sea journey between Ulster and Scotland.

From the First King of Scotland to Robert the Bruce and the Battle of the Boyne, the histories of our countries are woven tightly together.

The term Ulster-Scots refers specifically to the people who migrated from the Lowlands of Scotland to Ulster, bringing with them their industry, language, music, religion and simple hope of a new beginning.

Centuries later and their influence on the history and culture of Mid and East Antrim still beats with a strong heart.

Interested in learning more about Ulster-Scots in Northern Ireland? Then visit the Ulster-Scots Agency website.

The First King of Scotland

Around AD501, in the time of St Patrick, Fergus the first King of Scotland was returning home to seek a cure for his leprosy. However his ship hit a rock – or carraig in Gaelic – and he drowned.

Ever since the spot has been known as Carrickfergus – the rock of Fergus. He was buried on the slopes of Knockagh Hill, from where you can still admire the views over Belfast Lough and beyond, even spotting the Scottish Islands on a clear day.

Robert the Bruce

In 1315, Robert the Bruce set his sights on Ireland. Having just won Scottish independence at Bannockburn, he sent 6000 men, led by his brother Edward, to land at Olderfleet Castle at Larne Lough in a bold attempt to form a
Scottish-Irish alliance that could take control of all Ireland. The Bruce army won a major battle against the Anglo-Normans at Mounthill then laid siege to Carrickfergus. In September 1316, Robert the Bruce joined his brother at Carrickfergus with extra men. However, after a three-year campaign, Edward was killed and the Bruces returned to Scotland.

The first Presbyterians in Ulster

In the early 17th Century, the east Antrim area was a favoured destination for Scottish settlers. In 1613, the Rev. Edward Brice was appointed the first Presbyterian minister of Templecorran, an Early Christian ecclesiastical site which stands in ruin to this day. Visitors are welcome to explore the site and the graveyard, although little architectural detail remains. Look out however for the 12 musket loops in the walls – suggesting this place of
worship was also a place of refuge in case of attack. 

The first official Presbytery in Ireland was established at St Nicholas’ Church in Carrickfergus. It was formed in 1642 when ten ministers arrived in the town alongside a Scottish Army, sent to protect Ulster-Scots communities during the Irish Rebellion.

William of Orange

The Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary were crowned joint monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1689 after Parliament ruled that the Catholic James II had fled his throne. Unwilling to relinquish his crown without a fight, James came to Ireland - accompanied by French troops - to try and raise an army.

William responded by landing in Carrickfergus on 14 June 1690. Thousands of people were said to have gathered at the quayside to greet him. From Carrickfergus, William marched to the Battle of the Boyne where he defeated James and confirmed the Protestant succession on the throne of England. The arrival of William in Carrickfergus is commemorated every June with a colourful reenactment event at the Castle.

Emigrants and Presidents

William of Orange’s reign ended in 1702 and his sister-in-law Anne ascended the throne. An act was passed the year after which required all office bearers to observe the sacraments of the Church of Ireland. As many Ulster-Scots were Presbyterians, they could not carry out their duties as magistrates and civil servants unless they took these sacraments.

Furthermore, Presbyterian ministers could no longer officiate at baptisms, marriages or burials. Alienated because of their faith, Presbyterian Ulster-Scots began to emigrate in enormous numbers. During the 1700s, it is believed over 250,000 Ulster-Scots left for America.

Emigrant Ulster-Scots had great influence in the USA as well, amongst them being Andrew Jackson and Chester Alan Arthur –the seventh and 21st presidents of the USA respectively. Their homesteads have become tourist attractions in Carrickfergus and Cullybackey, where their journeys from whitewashed cottage to the White House are told in detail.