A Narrow Sea - Episode 32

A Narrow Sea - Episode 32

Scots ‘are coming over here daily’
Written by Dr Jonathan Bardon

The last decade of the seventeenth century and the first years of the next saw a new surge of Presbyterian Scots coming into Ulster.

Even before the Jacobites – the supporters of King James - had been defeated, it was observed that large numbers of these Scots followed King William’s army ‘as Victuallers…and purchased most of the vast preys which were taken by the Army in the Campaign and drove incredible numbers of cattel into Ulster’.

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Edward Synge, estimated that 50,000 Scots families came to Ulster between 1689 and 1715. This was certainly an exaggeration; but the true figure was high, probably around 40,000 persons.

The Catholic Bishop of Clogher, Hugh MacMahon, wrote in 1714: Although all Ireland is suffering, this province is worse off than the others, because of the fact that from the neighbouring country of Scotland, Calvinists are coming over here daily in large groups of families, occupying the towns and villages, seizing the farms in the richer parts of the country and expelling the natives.

There was some truth in this observation.

It is quite wrong to conclude that in the Plantation of Ulster the native Irish were left only with the poor land - but by the end of the seventeenth century the colonists, English as well as Scots, were concentrating in the more fertile lands such as the Clogher, Lagan, Bush and Foyle river valleys.

Earlier, estate owners, short of tenants, had been willing to let farms to the Catholic Irish. Now that prospective British tenants were more abundant, they preferred to lease the good land to their co-religionists.

The Catholic Irish in many parts of the north were not expelled but they often had little choice but to rent farms on land previously described as ‘waste’ – bogland and hillsides which in the past had been used only for summer grazing.

Clergy of the Established Church, the Church of Ireland, were particularly alarmed by this flood of Scots immigrants. In several parts of Ulster Presbyterians formed overwhelming majorities – Jonathan Swift was unhappy at Kilroot not just because he was thwarted in love but also because he had almost no Anglicans living in his parish.

Ulster Presbyterians now threatened the privileges of the Established Church, making inroads on congregations too often neglected by worldly or absentee clergy.

Presbyterianism was particularly well organised and disciplined. Congregations grouped into ‘presbyteries’ - a presbytery being a governing body of ordained elders and ministers which supervised the affairs of congregations through regular visitations.

There were five presbyteries in 1689 and seven by 1691. From 1691 ministers and selected elders began to meet annually as the ‘Synod of Ulster’.

Discipline was strict: ministers and elders could punish offences such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, slander, failure to pay debts and Sabbath-breaking. Dr Edward Walkington, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor indignantly complained that: They openly hold their sessions and provincial synods for regulating of all matters of ecclesiastical concern.

William King, Archbishop of Dublin and himself the son of Scots settlers, insisted that Ulster Presbyterians were very different from other Protestants in Ireland - They are a people embodied under their lay elders, presbyteries and synods…and will be just so far the King’s subjects as their lay elders and presbyteries will allow them.

At this time all the states of Europe were confessional states, each with only one official religion – Protestant, Catholic or Islamic. Louis XIV went so far as to expel Protestants, the Huguenots, from France in 1685. Many, including those with surnames such as Morrow and Molyneux found refuge in Ulster. Meanwhile, the Islamic Turkish Empire, which then ruled the Balkans, put the rest of Europe to shame by its tolerant approach to Christian and Jewish minorities.

In central and western Europe realms were either Catholic or Protestant. Indeed in nearly all Protestant realms only one variety of Protestantism was established. The Church of Scotland had finally become Presbyterian in 1690 – yet the Church of England was Anglican with the monarch as head of the church. And London insisted that the established church in Ireland must also be Anglican. Here Catholics formed a large majority and they suffered greatly from their refusal to conform.

Beginning in 1695, the Irish Parliament enacted a series of statutes to deprive Catholics of many of the rights they had previously enjoyed. By 1728 Catholics could not vote, be members of Parliament, hold public office, buy land, lease farms for more than 31 years, run schools or send their children abroad to be educated, be members of the legal profession, carry arms, or own a horse worth more than £5. Archbishop King gave this blunt explanation: The Irish may justly blame themselves…since it is apparent that the necessity was brought about by them, that either they or we must be ruined.

King, however, was also determined that what for him were the arrogant pretensions of the Presbyterians must be curbed. In 1704 he made sure that appropriate clauses were included in the ‘Act To Prevent the Further Growth of Popery’.


Scotland and Ulster

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