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Ireland XO's recent e-mail about Irish emigrartion to Scotland made me think... what about those of us whose roots are in Scotland and whose ancestors came to Ireland??  With the Ulster records so few and far between, I have not been able to find out exactly where my ancestors landed when they came from Scotland, likely mid to late 1600's.  They were well established in Armagh by 1760.  I can only assume they went to Belfast, or Antrim at large, but when?  Are there any historical records telling us when waves of immigration happened?  How can I find out where they were between their landing in Ireland and their presence in Armagh when my known ancestor was born?  This is my big stumbling block in this part of my family research.  I do believe they came from Ayrshire - in around Kilbirnie Parish or neighbouring parishses.  Surname BLAIR.  They were all called William, or Joseph, or James, or  Alexander - and my ancestor called his boys William, Joseph, James and Alexander.  Not clues there, unfortunately!!    If anyone has some answers or suggestions for my dilema, please be in touch.

Sher, Ontario, Canada


Thursday 2nd September 2021, 01:08PM

Message Board Replies

  • Sher,

    There are some general accounts of how and when Scots came to Ulster in the 1600s. If you would like a detailed description, I can recommend Philip Robinson’s “The Plantation of Ulster”. It covers 1600 – 1670.

    According to that volume (pages 115 & 175) the main ports in use then by the settlers were Carlingford, Strangford, Donaghadee, Bangor, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Londonderry, though there were various “creeks” that were used too. Belfast was not a significant port in the early 1600s (Carrickfergus was still the principal town and port in Ulster then) and Belfast was just a muddy river crossing with a small population and no decent harbour.

    There were many complaints about Scottish pedlars coming to Ireland in the 1600s and using unguarded creeks to sell smuggled goods and to export stolen corn.

    There was a big wave of Scots migration in the period 1610-1625 which was the main Plantation. Then in the 1640s a 10,000 strong Scottish army was disbanded at Carrickfergus (after the 1641 uprising). Many of them chose to stay in Ireland.  Many Scots fled Ireland in the 1640s, and went back to Scotland, due to the uprising but then returned when things had calmed down. There was also a huge wave of migration in the 1690s due to famine in Scotland. Some estimates are that 200,000 Scots settled in Ireland in the 1600s. That would be about 20% of the entire Scottish population at the time. 

    I looked in the Muster Rolls for Co Armagh (c 1630). Edited by R.J. Hunter. There were no Blairs listed then at all, so I’d say that your ancestors arrived post 1630. 

    During the main Plantation period, some tenants accompanied their landlords in Scotland and so you can see where they came from, from that. (However there was internal migration, and later waves of migrants, all of which muddy the water somewhat).


    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Thursday 2nd September 2021, 06:00PM
  • Well, that was an enlightening post.  Thank you so much for it.  I will go to the URL you posted and see what else I can learn.  Years ago I accessed the list of planted people and there were no BLAIRs among them, so I have assumed that they just came on their own.  With that list of ports I will do a broad search and see what I can find out that may help me.  My ancestral Grandmother (5 greats) was a HEUSTON, and I'm told that Londonderry was a centre for that name, but Heaven only knows where he  met her.  His parents (or people I believe to be his parents) lived at Richhill and environs in Armagh, as did he and his wife, but because of their attachment to the Quaker church I believe they went to Richhill/Kilmore from Mullaghbrack in about 1807 when the Quaker meeting house was constructed at Richhill.  They were weavers and worked for the Richardson's and likely did so in Mullaghbrack as the Richardson's owned most of that parish too and were the leading lights in the Quaker religion of that area for many years.  Unfortunately, my family never paid their subscription and therefore are never mentioned in the Quaker records, other than the fact they were delinquent with their dues!!

    Thanks again for your reply to my post - it will give me something to research this winter as I stay in out of the cold damp weather that the Farmer's Almanac says we will get this year in this part of the country.



    Friday 3rd September 2021, 04:15PM
  • Sher,

    There’s no comprehensive list of names of people who arrived in the Plantation (or in the later waves of migration).  The names of the Undertakers are known as are some of their bigger sub-tenants but the average labourer/small farmer/ tradesman was not recorded. And as I say, there were additional waves all through the 1600s.  No-one was really keeping any records in those days. 

    You are lucky that some of your family were Quakers. They have pretty good records compared with most other denominations and you can often get back further with a Quaker family than any other.

    MacLysaght’s “The Surnames of Ireland” says of Blair: “A Scottish territorial name very numerous in north Ulster.” But you probably knew that anyway.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Friday 3rd September 2021, 05:01PM
  • last time I was in Scotland (pre COVID) I bought a little book about the BLAIR clan - certainly didn't pertain to any of my people and had them originating almost into the highlands, and we were not a highland family, for sure.  Blair-Athol Castle was sighted, but I'm afraid there must have been two BLAIR families, as we were not likely that posh.  Most of the Ayrshire BLAIRs were Presbyterian clergymen, and I can accept that we all fell off the wagon once in Ireland.  But I did find out that BLAIR means something like a meadow or plain.  There's also the old story that they came from France, original name de Blais(e), but of that story I've found no evidence.

    Anyway, Elwyn, thanks for the advice and suggestions.  This family will take me quite some time, I think, to piece their origins and travels into a comprehensive story.



    Saturday 4th September 2021, 02:04PM
  • Sher,

    A high percentage of the settlers in Ireland in the early 1600s were Scots from the lowlands and southern uplands (ie the Borders). Not many came from the highlands.  (At that period, even though the king was himself Scottish born (King James I of England and VI of Scotland), Highlanders - many of whom were Catholic - weren’t seen as being all that certain to be loyal to a Protestant king, and so weren’t encouraged to settle in Ireland, for fear they might side with the Irish in any local uprising or if there were an invasion by Spain or France).

    Re Blair Castle, in Blair Atholl, that Blair comes from the gaelic word "blàr" meaning a ”wide, open space used to grow crops or to hold farm animals.” So the castle is not named after a person or a family named Blair but a geographic feature. (Which fits what you discovered when you were in Scotland). There were never any Blairs living at Blair castle! So you are relieved of the responsibility of being descended from aristocracy. I don't think any Blairs get their name from Blair castle. It may come from other blàrs, or indeed from other completely different roots too. I am not an expert on surnames and would hesitate to say just what all the possible origins are.

    Looking at the 1901 census of Scotland there were 6252 people named Blair, spread across pretty well every county in Scotland. 1901 Irish census has 2916 Blairs. So definitely more than 2 families at play here, I should think. Good luck with your research anyway.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Saturday 4th September 2021, 05:36PM