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This name is one of the sixty most common names in Ireland and one of the ten most common in Ulster. Stewart is among the first five names in County Antrim and the name is common too in Counties Down, Derry, Donegal and Tyrone. This name was brought to Ulster in large numbers by settlers from Scotland in the 17th century. It is estimated that 90 percent of Stewarts are to be found in Ulster.

Where Does the Last Name Stewart Come From?

Stewart surname is derived from the Old English stigweard, meaning a ‘steward’ or ‘keeper of the house’. As every Bishop and Landlord had his ‘steward’, this surname soon spread throughout Scotland. Furthermore, the title of ‘Steward’ of the royal household was applied to the person responsible for the collection of taxes and administration of justice. This person was second only in importance to the King of Scotland.

Indeed the royal line of Clan Stewart traces their descent from Walter Fitz Alan, who was granted lands in Renfrew and in Paisley in Ayrshire, and made High Steward of Scotland in the reign of David I (1124 to 1153). Walter’s grandson, Walter, was the first to adopt the title ‘Steward’ as a surname. Robert Stewart, later Robert II, became the first King of Scotland, from 1371-1389, who belonged to the House of Stewart. Clan Stewart, based in the Lowlands of Scotland, eventually divided into separate clans: the Stewarts of Appin, of Atholl, of Bute and of Galloway. The French spelt the name as Stuart and through the fame of Mary Queen of Scots, who was brought up in France, this spelling became popular.

Movement of Scottish settlers to Ulster began in earnest from 1605 in a private enterprise colonisation of counties Antrim and Down when Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton acquired title to large estates in north Down and Sir Randall MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim, to large tracts of land in north Antrim. Stewarts of Bute had settled in MacDonnell territory near Ballintoy on the north Antrim coast from ca.1560.

Further impetus came in 1609 when James I adopted the policy to encourage Scottish settlers to settle on the forfeited estates of the Gaelic chiefs in counties Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Londonderry (then known as Coleraine) and Tyrone.

Settlers came to Ulster, by and large, in three waves: with the granting of the initial leases in the period 1605 to 1625; after 1652 and Cromwell’s crushing of the Irish rebellion; and finally in the fifteen years after 1690 and the Glorious Revolution. It is estimated by 1715, when migration to Ulster had virtually stopped, the Scottish population of Ulster stood at 200,000.

In the initial granting of leases in Ulster in 1610/1611, ten of the principal Scottish planters (sixty-one in total) were Stewarts, and they acquired extensive estates of land in Counties Cavan, Donegal and Tyrone. Many of the settlers farming on these Scottish estates in Ulster would also have been called Stewart as it was a feature of 17th century Scotland for tenants to take on their landlord’s surname.

Stewarts Who Have Marked their Surname in History

Stewarts fought on both sides during the Siege of Derry of 1689. Twenty-one Stewarts were recorded as ‘defenders’ of Derry and two Stewarts served with the ‘Jacobite Army’. Indeed descendants of the Stewart family of Ballintoy, County Antrim fought in both armies.

This surname history has been researched and written by Brian Mitchell. Brian has been involved in local, family and emigration research in Derry and North West Ireland since 1982. The database whose construction he supervised, containing one million records (dating from 1628 to 1930) extracted from the major civil and church registers of County Derry, can now be accessed at www.derry.rootsireland.ie. Brian can be contacted by email at genealogy@derrystrabane.com

Parish(es) Antrim Down Derry Donegal Tyrone
Category (ies) Surname