A Narrow Sea - Episode 18
Colonising County Antrim
Written by Dr Jonathan Bardon
Sir Randal MacDonnell, Lord of The Glynns (Glens) and The Route, Catholic and Gaelic-speaking though he was, made vigorous attempts to encourage Protestant Lowland Scots (speaking their own Lowland Scots dialect (or language?) to settle on his estates. This was primarily to forge good relations with King James – after all MacDonnell had in the past fought against the Crown with Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Red Hugh O’Donnell, Lord of Tír Conaill.
Sir Randal also had another reason. Much of Ulster was in a ruinous condition as a result of the scorched earth policy so ruthlessly and successfully pursued by English army commanders, and the MacDonnell lands were no exception. One patent stated in 1604 that ‘the whole region of the county Antrim’ was ‘wasted by rebellion’.
Sir Randal was desperately low on ready cash and, in short, his estates sorely needed more inhabitants capable of bringing the land into full production and, crucially, capable also of paying rent. There is little doubt that the early success of Sir Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton, lairds from Ayrshire, in settling Lowland Scots in County Down, encouraged Randal MacDonnell to seek new tenants on the other side of the North Channel. A supply was immediately available: Lowlanders who had been planted on Kintyre (a peninsula on the west coast of Scotland) by the Earl of Argyll at King James’s behest. These settlers had then been forced to take flight from Kintyre after ferocious attacks in 1607 by Angus MacDonald of Dunyveg, the former lord of the territory and, incidentally, Sir Randal’s cousin! The Kintyre refugees gratefully signed leases to become tenants on MacDonnell lands in the Glens of Antrim and brought their own cattle with them.
Other Lowland Scots (speaking their own Lowland Scots language) followed those driven out of Kintyre – in addition, more Gaelic-speaking Islanders also joined their Hebridean relatives in the Glens. Between 1609 and 1626 Sir Randal allotted lands, ranging between 150 and 300 acres each, to twenty-five Lowland Scots on long leases, many of them for 101 years and one for 301 years! These men, in turn, sublet farms to their relatives, neighbours and Scottish tenants. John Shaw of Greenock leased a large estate at Ballygalley and the castle he built there in 1625 is still in use as part of a hotel. Protestant Lowlanders were particularly attracted to the fertile lands of the Route – families like the Boyds from Ayrshire and Largyan in Bute, the Hunters of Hunterston in Ayrshire, the Crawfords, some from Kilbirnie in Argyll, and Stevensons from the Lothians and Ayrshire.
Sir Randal made a futile attempt to recover lost lands in Kintyre and the Isles in 1607 but he lost out to the Earl of Argyll, the powerful head of the Campbell clan. Argyll obtained a ruling from the Scottish Lords of the Council to eject the native Gaelic speaking inhabitants of Kintyre and a great many also took refuge in the Glens of Antrim. Muster rolls and later surveys indicate where these Hebridean Scots settled. Leading families included: the McAuleys in Glenarm and Carnlough and about Cushendall; the McCormicks in Glenshesk, Glenmakeeran and Carnlough; the Magills in Glenarm and Carnlough; the McKays in Glencloy, Glenarm and Glendun; the McNeills in Glenmakeeran, Cushendun and Carnlough; the McAllisters in Glenaan and Glenariff; and a Highland branch of the Stewarts, originally of Norman origin, favoured Ballintoy.
Meanwhile, Lowland Scots proved themselves vigorous colonisers in other parts of County Antrim. William Edmonston of Duntreath in Stirlingshire had originally crossed to Ireland with Sir Hugh Montgomery. In 1609 he moved from Down to Antrim where he bought 2,870 acres at Broadisland in the barony of Belfast near Carrickfergus. Here he built two ‘slated houses’. Clearly William decided his future lay in Ireland because he mortgaged his Duntreath estates in Scotland for fifteen years.
Another Lowland Scot, William Adair, who settled in the barony of Toome, came from Kinhilt in Wigtonshire. Like Edmonston, he was prepared to lose most of his lands in Scotland to make a success of his venture in Antrim. In 1620 he was forced to sell some of his Wigtonshire land to Sir Hugh Montgomery and he was put to the horn (that is, taken to court in Scotland) for debt. Ballymena owes its early development largely to Adair.
English army officers, veterans of the Elizabethan conquest of Ulster, acquired estates in the Lagan valley and on the north side of Belfast Lough. The largest proprietor was Sir Arthur Chichester, appointed Lord Deputy in 1605. Others included: Chichester’s kinsmen Faithful Fortescue and Henry Upton; Sir Moses Hill; Sir Fulke Conway and his agent Major George Rawdon in Killultagh; Captain Hugh Clotworthy at Massereene; and Captain Roger Langford at Muckamore. On several of these estates Scots made up at least half of the British tenants brought in.
Chichester ordered the firing of more than a million bricks to build a town at Belfast but the duties of his office, as King James’s chief governor in Ireland, weighed heavily on his shoulders – no more so when, in September 1607, he got news of the ‘Flight of the Earls’ from Lough Swilly.