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The Scottish Migration to Northern Ireland

by Phil Norfleet

Although there had always been some movement of peoples back and forth across the twelve mile North Channel between Scotland and the northeastern Irish coast, the principal movement of people from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Northern Ireland Province of Ulster did not occur until the seventeenth century. This migration, estimated to include well over 100,000 Scottish Protestants, mainly took place during the 90-year period from 1607-1697.

Link to Map of Old Irish Provinces and Counties

The migration had been planned and encouraged by the first man to rule over both Scotland and England; he was James I of England and James VI of Scotland. King James, a wily and pragmatic monarch, brought the Protestants to "His Majesty’s Plantation of Ulster" to form a buffer zone and strengthen royal control of the North of Ireland from the generally hostile (to English rule!), native Irish Roman Catholic population.

The pretext or opportunity for the planting of a Protestant colony in Ireland came in September 1607, when the Roman Catholic Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, in fear of King James, fled the country and took refuge in Catholic France. This event, known in Irish history as the "Flight of the Earls," resulted in the lands of these noblemen being forfeited (escheated) to the English Crown. These "escheated" lands amounted to approximately six of the nine counties of Ulster, i. e., the counties of Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Coleraine (later renamed Londonderry) and Donegal.

At first, King James attempted to bring over large numbers of English Protestants as well as Scots; however, few English could be persuaded to migrate. Conversely, due to the poor economic conditions in Scotland at the time, many Lowland Scots were eager to make the relatively short distance move.

I wish to emphasize that it was the Lowland Scots who migrated, not the Highlanders! Migration of the Highlanders was deemed unwise by both King James and his principal minister of the time, Sir Francis Bacon. This was because the Highlanders were considered too wild and unruly, possibly even more wild and unruly than the native Catholic Irish! Historian James G. Leyburn, of Washington and Lee University, writes:

"King James had been explicit, by his limitation of grants to Scots from ‘the inward parts of Scotland’ (that is, the Lowlands), to exclude all Highlanders from the Plantation. The records show clearly the parts of the Lowlands from which most of the early settlers in Ulster derived. Galloway, that region of the southwest which included the shires of Ayre, Dumfries, Renfrew, Dumbarton, and Lanark, provided the greatest number, for the obvious reason that it was closest to Ulster. The counties around Edinburgh (the Lothians and Berwick) came next in order, while a much smaller contingent came from the district lying between Aberdeen and Inverness in the northeast." [1]

The fact that the Scotch-Irish were Lowlanders is an important one because, as we shall soon see, Margaret Campbell Pilcher contends that the ancestors of both White David and Black David Campbell had come from Inverary, in the Highland Shire of Argyle. I consider this to be highly unlikely; even today, few Campbells live in Argyle. The name is probably used as a place of origin, by many Campbell families, because Inverary is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyle, titular head of Clan Campbell. I consider it much more probable that the Campbell ancestors of White David and Black David came from the Lowlands, most likely from the Shire of Ayre, which lies close to Ulster and has many families with the Campbell surname.

The Plantation of Ulster proved to be a real economic success. Prior to the Protestant migration, Ireland had been a very poor, primitive country. Professor Leyburn writes the following, concerning that part of Ireland which lay beyond the English Pale [2] in the late sixteenth century:

" … Beyond the Pale lay most of Ireland, whose peasants spoke no English and lived a wretchedly poor agricultural life under their chieftains. Their culture, like their background and poverty, made them resemble the Highlanders of Scotland, and civilized Englishmen regarded them, as they did the Highlanders, as little better than savages."

However, after a century of Protestant ascendancy, much of Ireland, particularly Ulster, had become economically prosperous. Indeed, the success was so great that the English became concerned. Professor Leyburn writes:

"The English Parliament began to grow alarmed by the competition of Irish goods with English ones and to impose restrictive measures that caused great distress in Ulster." [3]

Accordingly laws were passed to protect English trade at Irish expense. Compounding the plight of the Ulster Protestants, in addition to economic pressures, the High Church Tories came to power with the succession of Queen Ann (1703) to the Throne. The so-called "Test Act" was passed which, although stated to be directed at Roman Catholics, also adversely affected the adherents of the Presbyterian Faith as well. As most of the Scotch-Irish were Presbyterians, they felt that they were being severely persecuted by the English from both the economic and religious standpoints. By about the year 1717, conditions had reached such a point that many Ulster Protestants began a new migration; this time to the American Colonies. It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million Scotch-Irish emigrated to America between the years 1717 and 1775! [4]

In my essay entitled Scotch-Irish Migration to Virginia, we will see that it was during this period that the families of both Black David and White David Campbell came to America. Probably they first arrived in the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania Colony and then moved southward along the "Great Wagon Road" to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.


1.  James G. Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish A Social History (1962), page 94.

2. The "Pale" was that portion of Ireland around Dublin that had been under English direct control since the Middle Ages. The Irish outside the Pale were considered to be savage barbarians! From this belief we get the frequently used phrase "beyond the Pale."

3.  Leyburn, pages 157-158.

4.  Leyburn, page 157.