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Origins of Ulster-Scots

Ulster is separated from Scotland by the narrow North Channel, which at one point is only 12 miles (19 kilometres) wide. Historically, this channel has been a link rather than a barrier, and from the earliest times to the present it has witnessed and carried a constant stream of traffic of people and ideas between the two coasts. Geography and history have combined to produce a strong Ulster-Scots community in Ulster. 

The most significant migration to have occurred between these areas was the successful Plantation of Ulster in the first half of the seventeenth century. Its consequences have been enduring.

These hardy and determined Scots settlers brought many innovations to Ulster including urbanisation, new agricultural practices and livestock, new building styles and techniques, language and culture. Their arrival also brought new surnames, a new religion and, of course, a change in politico-historical allegiance. As a result, Ulster would go on to have a radically different blend of peoples and traditions than the rest of Ireland.

Key Dates


Edward Bruce, brother of Robert The Bruce, King of Scots, invades Ireland on a mission to become King of Ireland


Henry VIII breaks with Rome and founds the Church of England


The Scottish Reformation takes place, establishing the Church of Scotland


The Union of Crowns happens, and King James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of England too


James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery begin sanctioned settlements of Scots in Ulster, which proved successful


The beginning of the official Plantation of Ulster, which saw huge numbers of Scots settling in Ireland

We have produced many resources for you to learn more about the origins and history of Ulster-Scots. To read these, check out our Publications page.

Genealogy & Family History

If you’re interested in researching your family history but are not sure where to start or are at a dead end, we can help. We have a genealogist in our organisation who has much experience helping individuals with ancestry queries. 

If this is something that would interest you, feel free to check out our Genealogy page for more information.

Ulster-Scot Spotlight

Below are three Ulster-Scots who made important contributions during their lifetimes

astronaut neil armstrong
Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. The Armstrongs originally were Border Reivers who settled for a while in Fermanagh before migrating to America.
us president william mckinley
William McKinley
McKinley is descended from James MacKinlay who came from Perthshire, Scotland who joined the army of King William III of Orange in 1690, and after the Battle of the Boyne decided to stay in Ireland.
sir hans sloane
Hans Sloane
Sloane introduced milk chocolate to England, and helped create the British Museum. Born in County Down, his mother came to Ulster from Scotland with James Hamilton's family.
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