There had been considerable cross-Channel migration – from Scotland to Ulster – even in Tudor times, but the trickle became a flood in the first decade of the seventeenth century, when the Scottish King James (VI) became King James I of England. Indeed it was the success of two Ayreshire Scots in pioneering an Ulster Settlement in 1606 that inspired King James’ Virginia (Jamestown) settlement in the New World; and the Plantation of Ulster that began just a few short years later.
It is estimated that some ten thousand settlers followed James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery from the Scottish Lowlands into Antrim and Down, starting in May 1606. The countryside had largely been ravaged during Hugh O’Neill’s Nine Years War, though it was his relative Con O’Neill whose lands they came to possess. Montgomery, a Scottish Laird, had been a mercenary in the wars in Holland.
Hugh Montgomery (later to be knighted and so known in history as Sir Hugh) devised a plan to share the spoils with the same Con O’Neill! Con was languishing in Carrickfergus Castle, a prisoner of the lately-deceased Queen Elizabeth I, and likely for execution. In return for acquiring a Royal pardon and Con’s freedom, Hugh wanted half of O’Neill’s possessions. James Hamilton found out and intervened and as a result, won one third of all the lands for himself!
Hamilton from Dunlop in Ayrshire was an academic and had been a founder of Trinity College Dublin. His new territory included all the Lower Bann territories as well as a major part of Down, including Bangor, Comber (part), Killyleagh, Dundonald and some of the Ards Peninsula. Montgomery‘s lands included Newtownards, Donaghadee, Comber (part), Greyabbey and much of the Ards Peninsula.
Their successful transplantation of so many thousands of their people to the new lands was largely instrumental in the future economic regeneration of these regions, especially in their agricultural and economic development. This largely homogenous group established, once and for all, the Ulster-Scots tradition in our province.
… 18th Century famine …