Northern Ireland
Home Up

 

 

Ulster Province - Northern Ireland

 

Northern Ireland is a unique land consisting of 9  counties, six of which were the home of our ancesters. It is not possible for us to understand, much less explain, the complex culture that existed there in the 1600's or for that matter still exists there today. We can only give you a simplistic overview of all that has transpired in that area, relative to the Scotch Irish and to our Doak ancestors. There were three major cultures of peoples that were involved.

1.    The Native Irish - Of Celtic Origins far back in history - Roman Catholic  
2.    The Scots - Both Highland and Lowland Scots - Catholic and Protestant  
3.    The English and Their Kings - Highly Organized Society  
   

The Irish were a vigorous, unruly culture. They were fiercely independent, and divided into small groups that were responsible to a tribal leader. They did not have a central governmental authority and generally lived off the land without having permanent villages or farms.  Each tribe would scavenge for its needs by attacking neighbors and looting and destroying what little material goods and food was available. Starvation was an on-going problem. While the land itself was capable of producing what the people needed, there was no means of guarding what one produced. So no one tried. It was a lawless society. People lived from day to day in mud huts with straw roofs and earthen floors that could be quickly and cheaply rebuilt after being raided.  For the ordinary people, nothing was built that they could not afford to lose the next day. Those under the protection of a Chieftain lived under the protection of a Castle or fort from which they sallied forth to do raiding and do battle.

In England the opposite was true. The English had a well organized culture, under a strong central figure, a King/Queen. They had a system of currency and a police and military that was capable of protecting the material things that people were capable of producing. They had sturdy, permanent homes, schools, ships, churches and aggressive businessmen and politicians.

So the English Monarchs eventually tired of trying to govern the Irish and took drastic steps to turn Ireland into a productive and stable country. The steps taken were extremely harsh for the native Irish in Ulster Province. In 1595 the English commander Lord Mountjoy started a successful campaign to destroy all the crops, cattle and houses that he could find. The Irish were either killed or starved to death and those that remained alive were banished to other countries and other parts of Ireland.  The province of Ulster lay empty and destroyed as the year 1600 arrived.

The project started by King James in the early 1600's was called the Plantation of Ulster. The province of Ulster comprised about a third of Ireland, being mainly in the north (see Map above). The province  contained within it a number of counties including such familiar names as Donegal, Antrim, Derry, Tyrone, Down, Armagh, Cavan, Fermanagh and Tyrone. The entire province of Ulster had been made nearly empty by the English removal of the native Irish. English businesses moved in and bought the land and then about 1610, started giving out 100 year leases on parcels of land to the Presbyterian Scotch who were being encourage by the King to migrate to Ireland. All settlers had to be Protestant and none could be native Irish. The project met with some success in 1615 and surged again in the mid 1600's. The Scots DID cultivate the land and establish business and the land prospered. Many new generations, born in Ireland, came to pass. The Scotch tended to marry within their own culture, so the Scotch culture remained distinct and separate from the native Irish. Religion also played a part in keeping the Scotch and Irish cultures separate and distinct - The Irish being Roman Catholic and the Scotch being Presbyterian.

Without getting into all the gory details, suffice it to say that there were continuing wars and battles over religion in the region - that continue on even to this date. In 1689, King James II, seeking to re-impose the Catholic religion on the Ulster population and to secure his own future as the King of England, took his Catholic army (consisting mainly of native Irish troops) to Londonderry to capture the city. He was dismayed when he got there to find that the Presbyterians had barred the gates of the city against him. A siege ensued that lasted for many months, resulting in the loss of 8000 men on the Irish side and 4000 within the walls of Londonderry. The seige of Londonderry did not succeed and Londonderry was saved. So this was a victory for the Presbyterians of Ulster, but things did not get better for them for too long. In the early 1700's a combination of misfortunes befell them leading eventually to a mass migration of about half of the entire population of Ulster to the American colonies. The migration started in 1714 and continued in volume up through 1750.  The migration in 1714 was caused by the following:

Religious persecution - Presbyterians were being told to join the Anglican Church or they could not hold public office. 

Weather -  A serious drought hit them for 5 years starting about 1714.

Economics - England imposed severe restrictions on the export of linen and wool from Ireland to Europe. The people of Northern Ireland could sell their goods ONLY to English customers. This was done by the Linen Industry in England to protect the European markets of English merchants from Irish  competition.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of the linen industry to the people of Ulster.  It was a cottage industry, and most households made their living at it.  Each family planted and sowed the flax crops. Then they processed the flax into linen thread and then into some of the finest linen cloth available anywhere in the world. The Linen Industrial organization in England was very powerful and maintained full control of each family. The looms were large, complicated devices and were loaned to the household for as long as the owners stayed "in line".  Without a loom the household could not make a living. It is reported that when the migration started, the immigrants took the looms apart and took only the key metal parts with them on the ship, to be reassembled into new looms in America.  That venture never was a great success and the linen industry never did flourish in America. There were too many other way to make a living or to get rich.

 

Most families in Northern Ireland Made a living from Linen

 
 

 
     
     

In addition, the land holders in Ulster were also being hit by exorbitant rent hikes from their English landlords as the 100 year leases issued in 1610 ran out.

A Smallpox plague was also upon them.

So that is how it was in Ireland at the time the migration in 1714 started. The head of our Doak family (Robert) was a flax weaver and farmer (as were MOST of the people of Ulster). He was undoubtedly affected by the conditions described above. He and all the Scotch Irish people that went to America in those years did so out of necessity. The uncertainties of the sea journey and the unknowns in a far-a-way land were more desirable than living with the deplorable conditions that existed for them in Ireland. Their toughness, their talent for work and their religious commitment served them well in their new home as history has since proven.