The Most Important Event in Ulster-Scots History

Catherine Lynagh finds out more about the Hamilton and Montgomery Settlement

2006 is the 400th anniversary of the Hamilton and Montgomery Ulster-Scots settlement in Co Down and it is being marked by commemorative events across the county.

The Ulster-Scots Agency’s recently launched two new public information leaflets on Hamilton & Montgomery and dedicated a website to raise local awareness of this important period in history.

Scots James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery received land in counties Down and Antrim as a reward for rescuing local chieftain Con O’Neill. Around 400 years ago they settled over 10,000 Scots in these areas who successfully worked the land and brought with them their language, religious beliefs and customs.

‘The Hamilton and Montgomery settlement really is the ‘Dawn of The Ulster-Scots,’ says Agency Chairman Mark Thompson.

‘Before the Plantation of Ulster, even before the Flight of the Earls, 10,000 Scots were progressively settled in counties Down and Antrim around this time 400 years ago. They came and made a significant contribution. Their descendents, and even those of Hamilton and Montgomery themselves, still remain here to this day.’

Mr Thompson said that the Agency felt that this important part of the Ulster-Scots story should be explained and has just published two new public information leaflets to distribute to councils and libraries.

‘One of the leaflets details the fascinating Hamilton & Montgomery story and the other is a heritage trail which details local places of interest connected with Hamilton and Montgomery across five council areas,’ added Mr Thompson.

Local places such as Castleward, Clandeboye Estate, North Down Heritage Centre and the Priory, Newtownards, are all listed among the 36 suites in Ulster, Scotland, London and Holland as having Hamilton & Montgomery connections.

The Agency hopes that the leaflets and the website will help encourage local tourism while explaining the origins of Ulster-Scots.

World champions Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band and Scots folk group ‘Beggars Row’, headlined a recent festival event in Donaghadee to commemorate the landing of the early settlers.

In terms of Irish history, the period from 1603 – 1610 is perhaps the most influential, as it includes the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the Flight of the Earls in 1607 and the Plantation of (the west of) Ulster in 1610. Many claim that this era has defined Ireland’s history right up to the present day. However the story of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of 1606 is largely overlooked.

Most histories of Ireland and Scotland don’t mention it at all, and in most histories of Ulster it is only given a few sentences. Yet it was the foundational event of the era, and the single most important event in Ulster-Scots history. Everything that followed was built on the achievements of Hamilton and Montgomery.

Royal-approved settlements in Ireland had been attempted a number of times during the 1500s, and had failed. The same was the case in Scotland. So when James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery made their proposal for a private, self-financed settlement of Co Antrim and Co Down to the recently-crowned King James I, perhaps the King expected their scheme to fail too.

Yet it was an amazing success and the thousands of settlers they brought over absolutely transformed the region, arguably providing the King with the encouragement to proceed with the Plantation of Virginia at Jamestown in 1607 and the blueprint for the Plantation of (the rest of) Ulster in 1610 and the Plantation of Nova Scotia in 1621.

Hamilton was from Dunlop in Ayrshire, was an academic and had been a founder of Trinity College in Dublin. His new territory included the entire River Bann and the area around Coleraine, as well as a major part of Co Down which took in Bangor, part of Comber, Killyleagh, Dundonald and some of the Ards Peninsula.

Montgomery was the Sixth Laird of Braidstane and had been a mercenary in the wars in Holland. His new territory included Newtownards, Donaghadee, part of Comber, Greyabbey and a large portion of the Ards Peninsula. Hamilton and Montgomery can rightly be called ‘The Founding Fathers of the Ulster Scots’.