James Hamilton & Hugh Montgomery
The Founding Fathers Of The Ulster-Scots
James Hamilton (1559 - 1644) and Hugh Montgomery (1560 - 1636) were born in Ayrshire and grew up only five miles away from each other. Hamilton was the son of Rev. Hans Hamilton, minister of Dunlop, and was one of the founders of Trinity College in Dublin. Montgomery was the son of the Fifth Laird of Braidstane, near Beith, and had fought for a Scottish Regiment in the wars in Holland.
1) Why Were They Interested in Ulster?
The Lowlands of Scotland were overpopulated, so the east of Ulster presented a major business opportunity. Hamilton and Montgomery knew if they could acquire lands in Ulster they could settle them with Scottish tenants and draw a lucrative income. However all previous settlement projects - both in Ulster and in Scotland - had failed.
2) How did the Land become available to the Scots?
An Irish chieftain, Con O’Neill, claimed the title to the lands of Lower Clandeboye,
Upper Clandeboye and The Great Ardes, and lived in a Norman castle called Castle Reagh. However the O’Neill lands were “...all waste and desolate...” and depopulated due to the failed settlements and subsequent English/Gaelic wars of the late 1500s.
Around Christmas 1602, Con O’Neill was imprisoned in Carrickfergus Castle for “...levying war against the Queen...” and was destined to be executed. Fortunately for him, Queen Elizabeth I died in March 1603 and her nearest relative, King James VI of Scotland, succeeded her and became King James 1 of England in July of that year. The new Scottish king had many friends and associates, including James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery.
Con’s wife Ellis saw an opportunity. She suggested a plan to Hugh Montgomery - if he could free Con from prison and gain him a Royal Pardon from his friend the King, the O’Neills would give Montgomery half of their wasted lands as a reward. Montgomery accepted the offer and began to plan an elaborate jailbreak from Carrickfergus Castle.
3) The Carrickfergus Castle Jailbreak - Hugh Montgomery Frees Con O’Neill
In July 1604 Hugh sent Thomas Montgomery, a boat owner from Ayrshire, to help Con escape. Thomas romanced Annas Dobbin, the jailer’s daughter, and sprung Con from his cell. Thomas and Con sailed across the North Channel, close to the Montgomery castles of Ardrossan, Eglinton, Brodick and Skelmorlie. They landed at Largs and travelled on to Hugh’s home at Braidstane Castle, where they celebrated Con’s new freedom and finalised their deal.
However, James Hamilton discovered the plan and intervened. He convinced the King
to divide the lands into three portions, not two, with one third each for O’Neill, Montgomery and Hamilton. The King agreed and the new deal was finalised in April 1606. Con was freed, pardoned and returned to Castle Reagh to a hero’s welcome.
James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery - once childhood neighbours, now bitter rivals - began the settlement project in earnest and the first wave of Lowland Scots settlers began to arrive on the east coast of Ulster in May 1606.
4) What Did the First Settlers Find When they Arrived?
The sea crossing was simple - Donaghadee and Portpatrick are only 20 miles apart, whereas Ayr and Campbeltown are around 35 miles apart. On most days it is easy to see the coastline opposite with the naked eye.
The east of Ulster was in a terrible condition, with no stone buildings left standing except for a number of ruined abbeys, and depopulated. Yet because the lands had been unfarmed since around 1572 (when Sir Brian O’Neill, Con’s grandfather, adopted his “scorched earth” policy) the soil was fallow. It was fertile and full of nutrients, ripe for planting and harvesting.
The settlers set about restoring and rebuilding, and thanks to two consecutive bumper harvests in 1606 and 1607, as well as two mild winters, the Settlement took hold. The stream of emigrants from Scotland continued (most of whom sailed across from Portpatrick to Donaghadee) and the new Ulster-Scots community flourished.
5) Which Areas of Ulster did the Scots Settle in 1606?
The County Down Epicentre
From Ballymacarrett (in East Belfast) to Ballyhalbert (on the Ards Peninsula), from Drumbeg (near Lisburn) to Donaghadee, and from Killyleagh (on the coast of Strangford Lough) to Crawfordsburn, this map shows the immediate Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement area, which took up most of the north of County Down.
It is important to remember that the settlers moved beyond this immediate area soon after they arrived in 1606. Today’s local council boundaries have been included.
In 1625, mainly due to boundary disputes with Montgomery, Hamilton commissioned the London cartographer Thomas Raven to map all of the Hamilton Estates. The original volume of all 76 Hamilton Raven Maps is on public display at North Down Heritage Centre, Bangor.
6) Where Did Hamilton & Montgomery Live?
Bangor & Killyleagh : Newtownards & Greyabbey
James Hamilton’s first home was in Bangor, on the site of the present Town Hall and North Down Heritage Centre. He later moved to Killyleagh Castle. Hugh Montgomery restored and extended the Newtownards Priory building in1607 and lived there for a time - he then built a castle nearby. The Montgomeries later moved to Mount Alexander near Comber and Rosemount near Greyabbey. Hugh Montgomery also established the Donaghadee to Portpatrick trading route, building the harbours and parish churches in each town. By 1613, only seven years after the first settlers arrived, Newtownards was granted Borough status with the right to return two members to Parliament - an amazing regeneration for the former war-ravaged lands. King James I made Montgomery the First Viscount of the Great Ardes on 3rd May 1622, and made Hamilton the First Viscount Clandeboye the following day.
7) Did the Settlement Expand?
The Scots Settle Across All Of Ulster
The Settlement quickly grew and some of the new Scottish settlers moved on to other parts of Ulster. For example Ballygally Castle (in County Antrim) was built by James Shaw, Hugh Montgomery’s brother in law.
Montgomery eventually bought Portpatrick from the Adair family of Kilhilt and Stranraer, who in turn bought the area around Ballymena. The Adairs built a castle there and renamed the area as Kinhiltstown for a while. Hugh’s brother George was made Bishop of Derry, Raphoe and Clogher and brought communities of Scottish settlers into Co. Londonderry, Co. Tyrone and Co. Donegal, around Raphoe and Donegal Town. The Co. Londonderry villages of Eglinton and Greysteel are named after the 6th Earl of Eglinton in Ayrshire, head of the Montgomery clan and a prominent Covenanter. Montgomeries also founded settlements near Clones in Co Monaghan.
James Hamilton’s brother John established Newtownhamilton and Hamiltonsbawn
in Co. Armagh. James acquired land near Coleraine for a time. He bought lands in
County Cavan and relocated some of his Co. Down settlers to these new areas. He also bought lands in Co. Roscommon, Co. Meath and Co. Wexford.
8) A Worldwide Impact
Hamilton and Montgomery showed that Settlement could work. Their project was an unprecedented success, and it provided the momentum for King James’ plantations which were to follow - Virginia in 1607, the west of Ulster in 1610, and Nova Scotia in 1621 . In fact, Montgomery’s son married the daughter of Sir William Alexander (the man tasked with planting Nova Scotia) and they made their home at Comber in County Down.
9) Do Any Original Records of the Settlement Exist?
The Hamilton & Montgomery Manuscripts
The Hamilton Manuscripts and The Montgomery Manuscripts were compiled by the two families during the 17th century and were most recently published as large bound volumes (in 1867 and 1869 respectively) containing around 800 pages of detailed history of the Settlement. The Ulster-Scots Agency has now republished these manuscripts as digital, facsimile, text- searchable PDF “eBooks” (shown below) which can be ordered directly from the Ulster-Scots Agency, price £10.00.
10) Does Anything Remain from the Settlement today?
400 Years Of Ulster-Scots Built Heritage
There are dozens of locations across Ulster and Scotland where you can see evidence of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement. For example, whilst the new settlers were theologically Presbyterian, there was no Presbytery of Ulster until 1642, so they worshipped in parish churches. There are 15 churches still in existence which were either restored or built at the time. For a full list of sites, you can order the “Hamilton & Montgomery Heritage Trail” large format foldout leaflet directly from the Ulster Scots Agency.
The Ulster-Scots Agency is interested in further research into this element of the story. If you have any new information which could improve this page on the web site, please contact us.