Immigrants from the North of Ireland

Immigrants from the North of Ireland | The Great Migration from Ulster to America
The Roots of Ulsters Strong Links with the White House | An Ulster-American Story
Ulster-Scots and the Birth of America | Ulster Sails West | Blood Ties

This is about a group of immigrants from the north of Ireland in the 18th Century who came to be known as the Scotch-Irish, which is a completely American term and very misleading--since very few of the people in this migration had any Irish blood at all. To understand who these people really were, a brief history lesson is needed. Over a period of several centuries, there was almost constant war between England and Scotland. The battles took place in the border counties of both countries and the people who lived there, whether English or Scottish, were living in a war zone. This made their lives quite different than anywhere else in the British Isles; they had much more in common with each other than with the rest of England or the rest of Scotland. The men were very warrior-like and often away at battle. They lived with constant economic oppression because soldiers trampled their crops, rustlers stole their livestock, taxes were high, and wages were low. The border kept changing; sometimes both countries claimed the border counties at once. Eventually, many of these went to the north of Ireland during the great Plantation period of the 17th century, settling in the province of Ulster. In the period between 1717 and 1775, these descendants of people from the English and Scottish Border lands (also known as “borderers”) came into the port at Philadelphia in great numbers. They came from the Ulster counties of Donegal, Derry, Down, Armagh, Antrim, and Tyrone.. A few native Irish came with them, but most of the people in this migration were of English or Scottish extraction who had been in Ireland at least four generations. When they arrived, their behavior, dress, and speech patterns were so very different from those people (mostly Quakers) already living in Pennsylvania that they were rejected, ridiculed, and called "Scotch-Irish"--a derogatory term used to be certain nobody would think they were English!

The reason for this migration was much different than previous immigrants. The yearning for religious freedom was there, but for the most part it involved the pursuit of material betterment. They were not the poorest of the poor (those people didn't have enough money to migrate) but they were mostly from the economic lower class. They were farmers and semi-skilled craftsmen. They were of mixed religious backgrounds. The largest number were Presbyterian, but there were Anglicans and other Protestant Denominations represented as well. In spite of their poverty, they were a very proud people--and this was a source of further irritation to their neighbors. They settled in the "back- country" of Pennsylvania and, when the roads to the south began to open, they left and went down into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. They continued to follow this pattern of living in the "back country" for years, going first into the Carolinas, then into Tennessee and Kentucky, then further west to Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma (If this was the migratory pattern of your ancestors, they may have been Scotch-Irish).

Family life was different for these immigrants from the north of Ireland . They lived mostly in nuclear families, but the extended family was much more extended than for most other people. The family extended out for 4 generations and connected one nuclear family to another and one generation to the next. This group was somewhat like a Highland clan. “Clans” tended to live and move together. This was the way in the borderlands of England and Scotland and it continued to be the way in the north of Ireland as well as in the back country of America. These descendants of “Borderers” had large families just like the Puritans. The age at marriage was much younger than in any of the groups of British immigrants. The average age for men was 21 and for women 19. Weddings were wild affairs, full of ritual, and costly. Sometimes brides were abducted, usually (but not always) willingly. First cousins often married to "keep it in the clan". There was a shortage of clergy in the back country and sometimes couples got tired of waiting. Premarital pregnancies were common. But they were not thought to be scandalous. They often made a joke of it! Family life was very different. Men were warriors and women were workers. For generations these men had to be warriors in the old countries of Scotland, England and Ireland. The pattern didn't change just because they migrated to America. The most important possessions for a man were his gun and his horse. In any society where the men go off to war, the women do much more heavy labor at home. This was true for these Scotch-Irish as well. In these families, the women labored in the fields right beside their husbands. Families were male dominant; women and children were supposed to obey. These families also had a strange mix of love and violence in their homes. And feuds between extended families sometimes occurred.

They brought their Borderers child-naming practices with them. There was a pattern but they were the least likely group to follow it. The pattern in this male dominant society was for the two eldest sons to be named after their grandfathers and the third son after his father. They also used Biblical names (John the most common), Teutonic names (Richard or Robert the most common), names of Border saints, such as Andrew, Patrick, or David, Celtic names, such as Ewan/Owen, Barry, or Roy, names from other cultures, such as Ronald or Archibald, names of Scottish Kings, such as Alexander, Charles, or James, names of brave border warriors, such as Wallace, Bruce, Perry, or Howard, place names, such as Ross, Clyde, Carlisle, Tyne or Derry. Sometimes they made up names or feminized family names and gave them to their daughters (i.e. Hoyt=Hoyette). The most common names for girls were the same as in all 3 of the other groups of English immigrants--Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah. There were also some naming taboos: they did not use Scottish Highlander names, such as Douglas, Donald, Kenneth, Ian, or Stewart; they did not use Irish Gaelic names, such as Sean, Kathleen, Maureen, or Sheila.

Child-rearing practices in the back country were very different. Scotch-Irish parents were highly indulgent and permissive. Socialization began at birth. Children, especially boys, were taught to exercise their wills. They doted on their male children, who were reared to have fierce pride, stubborn independence, and a warrior's courage. Girls were taught the domestic virtues of patience, industry, sacrifice, and devotion to others. Men shared in the care of their children from infancy. Corporal punishment was often used.


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