The True Origin of the Scotch-Irish
One question that comes up often is – When did the Scotch-Irish race begin?
I hope to provide an answer at least a bit more complete than is typical given.
From the 13th to 18th century, Irish (and later Scotch-Irish) chieftains or landowners hired elite bands of mercenaries skilled in the use of heavy, hand-held weapons to supplement their regular forces. The earliest mercenaries were known as gallogladh in Gaelic, which is often anglicized as Gallowglass.
Later warriors were known as Redshanks. Some say this was because of the red legs gained from wearing kilt-like clothing, legs which would become suntanned, or in some cases simply reddish in color from wading in cold streams or being scratched by vegetation. Others say it was from the wearing of reddish deer-hide leggings. Either way, the Redshanks were a bit less formal than the Gallowglass, and often consisted of men looking for any kind of work, even mercenary work.
The Gallowglass seem to have been more of an elite group of fighters similar to the Knights Templar, Ninja, or Samurai organizations. They had very specific rules to follow, including the number of troops in each group, the type of weaponry to be used, and the number and nature of the support staff.
The word gallogladh is usually said to mean “foreign warriors.” These imposing mercenaries wore distinctive long coats of padded cotton or chain mail and conical shaped helmets, which set them apart from ordinary Irish warriors. Many of them settled in Ireland and became the forefront of the Irish war machine with their Claymore, a two-handed sword, and their Sparth, or battle axe.
The Gallowglass originated in the Hebrides (a group of island just off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands) and were of mixed Celtic and Viking origin. Clan Donald was one of the principal providers and leaders of Gallowglass Warriors, not only in Ireland, but also for King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during his Thirty Year Wars, and in a few other areas of Europe.
Some of the other families involved were the MacSweeneys, MacSheehys, MacDowells, MacRorys, and the MacCabes.
I always like to note how nothing happens in a vacuum. Gustavus was known as the “Father of Modern Warfare” and it is likely that some of his tactics were learned from the very Gallowglass Warriors that he employed to help fight his battles. It is also very likely that the Gallowglass learned some of their tactics from the Knights Templar.
Knights Templar are thought to have taken refuge in Scotland, landing on the Isle of Mull in 1313. This would have been well within the kingdom of the Rulers of the Isles, the “Sons of Somerled,” and well within the eventual homeland of the Gallowglass.
The following year, a few Templars are said to have been led by Angus Og MacDonald – essentially the leader of the Western Isles, and great grandson of the famous Somerled – into the Battle of Bannock Burn, when Robert Bruce’s troops freed Scotland.
Angus was married to Agnes O’Cahan, daughter of the O’Cahan chief of Dungiven, an Irish community located near Londonderry, thus linking the Scottish Island and Highland families with the Bann River Valley – the hotspot of Scotch-Irish settlement in Ulster.
Words with gall in them usually denote some type of Viking background. The Hebrides were often called Innes Gall, or islands of the foreigners. Thus foreign warrior really meant Viking warrior, or at least Viking-influenced warrior. DNA research has shown many Highland and Island clans to have considerable Viking bloodlines.
Galway Bay in Ireland and Galloway in Scotland are also named after their Viking backgrounds. The Galloway area of Scotland is where many Scotch-Irish moved, escaping violence and persecution in Ireland, in the mid to late 1600s. The distance between Ireland and Scotland is not that great to prevent escape from either country to the other, when religious, economic or political reasons would warrant it.
Thus many Scotch-Irish families have mixed histories in both countries over several centuries.
That Knights Templar were in Scotland is proven in many ways. Over 500 pieces of property were recorded as belonging to the Templars. Templar graves dot the landscape from the Isle of Skye to Paisley Abbey, two places where Clan Donald had a dramatic presence.
Also, on a small island, just off the coast from Caisteal Uisdean, on the Isle of Skye Trotternish Peninsula, are said to be the graves of two Crusaders knights. It was the Crusaders who originally made up the Knights Templar. Not far away was located the chapel and headquarters of the Bishop of the Isles for about 1,000 years until it was moved in 1498.
It is most likely that Gallowglass Warriors fought with tactics learned from Vikings, Celts, and Templars and were, therefore, the very best, toughest fighting men around, at the time. No wonder they were invited to Ireland!
The fighting typically took place only in the summertime, when fields were dry. This was especially true for the Redshanks. During the winter, Irish families were required to house mercenaries, and in many cases these Scots, from the Hebrides, married Irish women. It is not generally accepted that the word Scotch-Irish means a combination of Scottish and Irish blood, though in many cases it actually was.
The marriage of Angus Og MacDonald and Agnes O’Cahan or O’Cathan, was of particular importance in bringing the races of Scots and Irish Celts back together. Both had originated from Celts who were escaping persecution in Europe. Both groups of Celts were attacked by, and intermarried with Vikings. They were and are essentially the same people.
Scotland got its name from Irish Celts called scotti, meaning invaders or wanderers. Their scotti-land became Scotland. The Wild Scots of the Hebrides and Highlands were often referred to as the Irish, and their language was often called Irish, by lowland or English writers.
So the Scotch-Irish, in their earliest form, were the same people just moving back and forth in an area that was once part of a kingdom known as Dalriada, made up of Irish folks, many of whom settled in Scotland and the Isles. Therefore, it could be said that the Scotch-Irish race traced back even to Dalriada.
In the case of Angus and Agnes, her agreement with him was that 140 Irish were to marry 140 Scots to help bring peace to the two regions of the old Dalriada. This means there were at least 141 recorded marriages between the Celtic/Vikings of Northern Ireland and the Celtic/Vikings of Scotland. Of course there were many more, including those of Gallowglass Warriors to local Irish women.
Many “Irish” family names ended up in Scotland as these dowry marriages spread out across Ulster and the Highlands.
One of the most important marriages in connecting Ulster with Scotland was that of the grandson of Angus, Jon Mor, to the Bissett heiress of Antrim. This enabled Clan Donald to create what became known as Clan Donald South, led by the McDonnell family that eventually produced the great Sorley Boy McDonnell as their leader.
The son of Angus, Good King John, married Margaret, great granddaughter of King Robert the Bruce, and this connected two of the most important families and monarchies in Scotland, the Stewart kings and the MacDonald Lords of the Isles.
The daughter of Robert Bruce, also named Margaret, married the High Steward of Scotland, and their son became Robert II, the first Stewart king. He was born at Paisley Abbey, and his son, Robert III is buried there. Also buried at the Abbey was John, the last official Lord of the Isles. His brother, Hugh of Sleat, first “chief” of Clan Donald, died at the Abbey but was buried on North Uist at a place called Sand or Clachan Shanda.
Scotch-Irish history is so very tightly associated with the powers of Scotland and of Northern Ireland, through Bruce; through Robert II and his daughter, Margaret, who married Good King John of Islay; through the Lordship of the Isles; and through the Antrim kingdom of the McDonnells.
King John had another son that was the progenitor of the McDonalds of Keppoch. American President Andrew Jackson’s ancestor, Richard Jackson, was a caretaker of horses for the Keppoch McDonalds, when he married Mary McRandall. One of the main sources for the McRandall name was from the Keppoch McDonald chiefs who sometimes used this name as their patrynomic. Richard and Mary moved to Coleraine, Northern Ireland, smack in the middle of the Bann River Valley, where the Scotch-Irish were so entrenched, and not far from Dungiven and Londonderry.
While there were many Scots in Ireland, some date the beginning of the Scotch-Irish race to the Plantation of Ulster beginning about 1607-1610. However, these people were simply moving into an area where the path to Scotch-Irishness had already been laid centuries before. There is often heated argument about this but the facts are available in many places to show this to be true.
The Bann Valley is a small 25 mile or so radius of communities, some in Antrim County and some in Londonderry County, that surround the Bann River. One of the bigger towns is Coleraine and it was here that the Jackson family dominated local politics. In the early 1700s they were forced to raise rents on their tenants because of pressure from creditors in England. This was a major catalyst, if not THE main event, that began the immigration of the so-called Scotch-Irish from Ulster to America.
The first known Scotch-Irish immigrant to America was a reverend from Macosquin, which is just below Coleraine.
In addition to Jon Mor, who founded Clan Donald South, and another son who was the Keppoch progenitor, Good King John of Islay also had a son named Donald who followed him as Lord of the Isles and led Clan Donald North from various Hebrides islands.
Donald had a son, Alexander, Lord of the Isles, Earl of Ross, Sheriff or Justiciar of the Highlands, and father of Hugh (Uisdean MacDonald) of Sleat, from whom I descend, and for whom I am named – Mhic Uisdean equalling the more modern McQuiston. The McQuiston Church, of Belfast, N.I. holds the record for the largest Presbyterian congregation in the history of Ireland.
Hugh of Sleat’s son, Donald Gallach, married into the Irish branch of the family, once again, being wed to Sorley Boy McDonnell’s aunt.
Donald had a son, Alexander, who took our direct line and family name to Ireland, in 1565, to help Sorley fight against the English. Sorley fought them until he was 80 years old and it appears Alexander helped him until he was about 86, dying while leading 100 Gallowglass Warriors. Many other Scots came in 1565 to aid Sorley Boy.
The great McDonnell/McDonald family, along with many other clans from the Scottish/Irish mix, made up the first Scots in Ireland, the first to be actually be called “Scotch-Irish.”
Back on April 14, 1573, Queen Elizabeth of England issued a manifesto containing the oldest known reference to the words Scotch-Irish. She wrote, . . . Sorley Boy, and others, who are of the Scotch-Irish race . . . - those “others” included Hugh of Sleat’s grandson and a few great grandsons . . . my ancestors.
I feel Scotch-Irish is likely to be just a contraction of Scottish-Irish and I have some potential proof.
In a Lord of the Isle book I purchased in Scotland, the author cites an English diplomat, Ralph Sadler, who, in about 1558, when speaking of Mary Queen of Scots and her attempted alliance with Sorley’s brother, James McDonnell, called James and his people the “Scottish Irishie.”
This was fifteen years before Elizabeth used Scotch-Irish.
Since there was tremendous activity between the English, the Scottish government, and this rogue faction of Scottish Irish - the McDonnells of Antrim - my guess is that a term, somewhere between Scottish-Irish and Scotch-Irish was used over and over again when speaking of these people. It just wasn’t recorded a lot - but it was recorded at least twice!
This is one more proof that it was the McDonald Clan who was first officially known as Scotch-Irish. My own family was absolutely part of this bunch of Wild Scots.
Some people like to say Scotch-Irish is an Americanism. Some like to say it should be Scots-Irish, instead. Some like to say the Scotch-Irish were principally lowlanders.
The first “Scotch-Irish” were Highland Scots blending into and remolding the character of the average Northern Irelander, principally through Clan Donald. This is why probably half of the Scotch-Irish people carry Mc names like McCormick or McQuiston, etc. a prefix originating in the Highlands and Islands, not in the lowlands. This is why both Queen Elizabeth and Ralph Sadler, two contemporaries of James and Sorley Boy McDonnell, called them, and their people the Scottish Irishie or Scotch-Irish.
Again, there is no evidence to the contrary. Most detractors of this theory don’t start counting Scotch-Irish history until the early 1600s, hundreds of years after this unique race actually began, and many years after the term Scotch-Irish was first known to be used.
The Gall-Gael race, that gave birth to Somerled, was half Viking (Gall) - half Celt (Gael) and permeated both Ireland and Scotland. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The Scotch-Irish of course!!
I found a Scottish book from 1729, which uses the term Scotch-Irish in a translation of a Latin book from 1521, where the term Scotos Hibernicos is translated as Scotch-Irish – a people who are said by the 1521 author to have already been long established in Ireland at least back in the 800’s, if not earlier.
This means that as early as 1521 there was a distinct race known (as translated from Latin) as Scotch-Irish. This was 52 years before Queen Elizbeth’s usage. So it would certainly seem that the term Scotch-Irish was used with familiarity as early as the 1500s, and the race is said to have been formed or have originated long before that date.
At the very least, the term was being used in Scotland before most Scotch-Irish came to America. There is no early usage of the word or term Scots-Irish to be found, and the Scotch-Irish Society of America is so against changing history by using Scots-Irish, they won’t even allow an article in their journal that uses the term Scots-Irish. However, they mistakenly adhere to the belief that the Scotch-Irish began only with the Ulster Plantation.
Scotch is so obviously a contraction of the word Scottish, or perhaps an early alternate spelling. It had nothing to do with alcohol in its original usage, anymore than Irish did, just because of Irish Whiskey. Like I’ve said before, taking the ch off Scotch, to make Scot, would be like taking the h of Irish to make Iris.
I’m reminded of the newer definition for “gay”. We wouldn’t want to change the words of the song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling to read anything but “all the world seems bright and gay,” just because the word has an alternative meaning, today. Would we?
So why change the age-old word Scotch to Scots, just because Scotch also refers to a drink, now? In saying this, I still think Senator James Webb’s book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, is one of the best books ever written on our race and follows my own research very closely.
Scotch-Irish, as a term for a race, is as old as the hills. It is a very race, once led by Clan Donald, and defended for century upon century. It is the very race that became the stereotypical American, that led and won the war for American independence.
The Scotch-Irish made up the majority of those who stayed with Washington at Valley Forge and he is quoted as saying, “If defeated elsewhere, I’ll make my last stand with the Scotch-Irish.”
At Guilford Courthouse it was the Scotch-Irish who decimated 1/4 of the most crack British troops, leading directly to Cornwallis’ surrender a few months later. It was also the Scotch-Irish who fought the first real battle of the Revolution at nearby Alamance in 1771.
It was only about a week or two quick sail from one end of Clan Donald lands to the other, from Caithness to Dungiven. This race was simply the Sons of Somerled, the Children of Conn (of the Hundred Fights) - one of the greatest, most romantic, freedom-loving races to ever set foot on Mother Earth.