The Tales of a Blair Family    


The following page provides short summaries of very complex religious and political events in the history of Scotland and northern Ireland.  It would take volumes to describe these events in detail.  It should also be noted that history has a way of changing depending on the viewpoint of the recorder.  This is particularly true regarding the History of northern Ireland.

Why Did Our Scottish Ancestors Emigrate to Ireland?

To answer this question we must go back to the one deciding event that changed history in both Scotland and Ireland to such a degree that the after effects are still being felt today in Northern Ireland.  This event was "The Protestant Reformation."

The Reformation:

On October 31, 1517, a headstrong German monk named Martin Luther denounced what he considered the abuses of the church hierarchy in Rome.  Luther than established Protestantism in Europe, a movement based on his systematic disagreements with the Catholic church.  Thousands of Europeans joined the new movement, including King Henry VIII, who in 1534 devised his own form of Protestantism which he referred to as the Church of England, or the Anglican Church (Episcopalian) and made himself its head.  For a man with six wives the new church served his life-style much better than did his former Catholic religion.

Scotland and the Reformation:

John Knox Another offshoot of the Reformation was built on the teachings of John Calvin and his followers were called Calvinists or Puritans. One of these Calvinists was a Scot named John Knox.  The Knoxians, as they were originally called, were opposed to any rigid hierarchy within Christian churches and also advocated militant opposition of irreligious or immoral government leaders.  John Knox and another Scot, Thomas Cartwright, were the chief exponents of the Scottish Reformation and the architects of Presbyterianism.  In 1557, the First Covenant, renouncing the Catholic church, was drawn up by a group of Scottish nobles.  Because of this Covenant and a later one, adherents to the Presbyterian faith were sometime referred to Covenanters.  The new religion gained wide support by the people because of its emphasis on equality and education.  t favored an independent, elected community--instead of bishops and priests appointed by the monarch.  Presbyterians developed a system of presbyters (Greek for "elder") popularly elected by the members of the congregation.  Thus, the church administration was not permitted to stray from the control of the faithful as a whole.  Also, because of their emphasis on Bible study, literacy among the common citizen was stressed.  Thus, the Scots who later migrated to Ulster (northern Ireland) and later to America had an astonishingly high rate of literacy.

In 1587, Mary Queen of Scots (a Catholic), was beheaded on order of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I who feared Mary was plotting to overthrow her.  Mary’s son, King James VI, succeeded her to the throne.  When Elizabeth (a Protestant) died in 1603, she named her cousin, the same James VI, as her successor also, thereby making him the ruler of both Scotland and England.  He chose to rule the two kingdoms separately and thus became James I of England as well as James VI of Scotland.  The two realms--which had warred against one another for so many centuries--now had one leader.  James ruled his Scottish realm from a distance, leaving the work of governing to the local governments.  He had only visited Scotland once before his death in 1625.  His successor was his son Charles I, who knew little of the northern Kingdom’s traditions.  He was uncomfortable with the independence of Presbyterianism and sought to make the Church of Scotland similar to the Church of England.  Charles tried to introduce an Anglican prayer book into Presbyterian church services.  Riots erupted over this and a group of Presbyterian nobles, merchants, and ministers drew up the National Covenant.  Their demands led to armed conflict between the Covenanters and the King’s troops.  Rebellions brewed over religious issues for decades to follow.  In 1690 King William agreed to a law that finally established the Church of Scotland under a Presbyterian system.

The Situation in Ireland:

At the same time that the Reformation introduced a new form of belief to Scotland, Ireland moved along a different course.  Fierce descendants of the first Celtic lords still ruled the nation and had no intention of supporting the English’s attempts to introduce their protestant supporters onto their soil and in essence declared themselves champions of the one true faith--Catholicism.  Queen Mary I, herself a Catholic who had burned more than 300 protestants at the stake, loathed Ireland’s Catholics.  She attempted during her reign to confiscate the lands of rebellious chieftains following her father’s policy of declaring all land to belong to the crown and then leasing it to chosen tenants.  This clashed with the traditional Irish view of land belonging to a clan as a whole.  Many revolts ensued during her reign and that of her sister Elizabeth’s, but because of the Irish clans' inability to come together against a common foe these revolts had little effect and gradually the power of the great chieftains was broken.  By the end of the century only Ulster (northern Ireland) retained a measure of independence.

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It was in Ulster that the O’Neill clan, allied with the O’Donnell clan, finally defeated the English in a series of battles, but in 1602, the British fleet finally crushed even these strong Irish Chieftains.  The fight had lasted eight long years and by the end the country was so dreadfully wasted that children were killed and eaten for food.  The sufferings inflicted by the war had been so great that there was no further punishment and most Catholics were left in possession of their estates.  O’Neill himself was granted a pardon.  The final act in the drama came four years later, when O’Neill and the new O’Donnell chief became unsuccessfully involved in fresh conspiracies against the English crown resulting in their flight from Ireland and the seizing of their Ulsterian lands by James I (also James VI of Scotland).

James wanted to populate conquered Celtic territory with English settlers who would support the English crown, fend off vengeful raiders, and generate farm profits that could be sent back to England.  James left the native Irish to inhabit bogs and forests and turned over the choicer lands to Protestants, both English and Scottish.  The low cost attracted many settlers, a 1000 pounds could secure an estate and a noble title for its owner.  From 1608 to 1697, 200,000 people departed the fertile soil of lowland Scotland and crossed the North Channel to northern Ireland. There they found productive farmland and took advantage of it.  They bred livestock, cultivated crops and developed a flourishing textile industry.  Ulster promised to be a haven of free worship for Presbyterians, who outnumbered the English six to one.  But they did not live happily ever after in their new adopted homeland.


The Massacre of 1641

From the very beginning of their tenure in northern Ireland it was apparent that the Irish Catholics viewed their new Scottish neighbors with hostility.  What was to follow was one of the gravest events in Irish history, the turning-point on which all later controversies between England and Ireland hinge. Forty volumes of depositions are preserved in the library of Trinity College, which tell the tale.

The Irish were in a very bad humor and in such a humor all that was needed was opportunity.  The opportunity presented itself as the English were otherwise engaged with a near civil war on their own soil.  Ireland for a time had no Viceroy and no army.  The Lord Justices, Parsons, and Borlase, were unpopular even among the English settlers and had no influence.  Eight thousand Catholic soldiers, having been collected with the view of fighting Calvinists in Scotland, had been recently disbanded and now were far more willing to undertake the same fight at home.

At the beginning of October, 1641, the leading Catholic clergy and laity met at a Franciscan Abbey in Westmeath, to discuss what course of action was to be taken against the Protestant settlers.  Some advocated banishment while others felt extermination was the answer because a banished man may come back with a sword in his hand--wiser and safer to destroy them while they could.  Most were against the more violent approach, but in Ulster another meeting was taking place.  At this meeting were Sir Philip, Lord Maguyre of Fermanagh, Philip O’Reilly, a lawyer; Hugh McMahon and his brother Elmer the Vicar-General, afterwards Bishop of Clogher; Roger Moore, one of the Moore’s of Leax; and a friar of Dundalk.

The Bishop of Clogher was the brain of the enterprise, and in large directed the course which was to be pursued.  They had decided to act independently of the more temperate minded and aimed for full eviction of the settlers, by any means.  The original plan was to attack only the English settlers and leave the Scots unmolested but this did not happen.

The end of October was chosen as the time to put their plan into action.  Rents and taxes were paid in Ireland on November 1 which meant that the rents would still be in the hands of the tenants and their crops would be housed.  The high winds at the fall of the year made communication with England difficult and in 1641 these winds were exceptionally wild.  They felt that a blow struck simultaneously and fiercely over the whole North, without a note of warning, might crush the settlers and their religion at once and forever.  Priests were used to spread the word and organize the assault.  The order relayed by the priests was that on the same day, the Irish people were to rise and dispose of the settlers and their families.  No distinct directions were probably given about killing them but rather to drive them from their houses: strip them--man, woman and child--of their property, strip them even of their clothes on their backs, to take such chances of life as the elements would allow, in the late autumn amidst sleet and rain, without food or covering.  The plan also included an assault and seizure of Dublin Castle as it held arms for nine thousand men in its cellars.  News of this part of the plan leaked out and was ultimately stopped but the attack on the settlers went ahead as planned.

On the morning of October 23, 1641 there appeared, before the houses of the settlers and their tenants, gangs of armed Irish, who demanded instant possession, on being admitted, ejected the entire families, and stripped most of them to the skin.  Many resisted and were killed; many, the young vigorous men especially, who could save their own lives by flight, sought shelter for their women and little ones in the houses of their Irish neighbors, with whom they had lived in intimacy.  The priests, however, had so charmed the Irish, and laid such bloody impressions on Carrickfergus Castlethem, as it was held a mortal sin to give relief or protection to the settlers.  These helpless ones were often betrayed or murdered by their hosts, although there were many exceptions, as in the case of the Blair and Crawford families who were saved by the brave warning of a dear Irish servant girl.  (Thousands are alive today because of that one act of kindness!)  Naked men flying for their lives, carried the alarm to Derry, Coleraine and Carrickfergus, and the inhabitants there had time to close their gates.

Within the next two weeks, with the exception of the places mentioned above, every town, village, fort or private house belonging to a Protestant in six northern counties and in Down and Monaghan was in the hands of the Irish insurgents, while the roads were covered with bands of miserable, fugitives dragging themselves either toward Dublin, or Derry, or Carrickfergus.  In the wildest of remembered winters the shivering fugitives were goaded along the highways stark naked and foodless.  If some found a few rags to throw about them, they were instantly torn away.  If others, in modesty, twisted straw ropes round their waists, the straw was set on fire.  Many were buried alive.  Those who died first were never buried, but were left to be devoured by dogs, and rats and swine.  Some were driven into rivers and drowned, some hanged, some mutilated, some ripped with knives.  The priests told the people "that Protestants were worse than dogs, they were devils and served the devil, and the killing of them was a meritorious act."  They flung babies into boiling pots, or tossed them into the ditches to the pigs.  They put out grown men’s eyes, turned them adrift to wander, and starved them to death.  The towns could not hold the numbers which flocked into them, and the plague came to add to the general horrors.  In Coleraine, in four months, six thousand are said to have died of the pestilence alone.

Rallying from their first surprise, the Protestants gathered into bodies and made fight; and from that moment the conduct of the rebellion fell entirely into the hands of the most violent. With the aid of forces sent by Scotland the rebellion was eventually quelled six months later and the equally bloody reprisals commenced.  The property of every Catholic landowner became subject to confiscation.  All who were accused of plotting against the English crown were executed while others were banished.  It is impossible to ascertain the actual number of deaths that occurred on both sides of the revolt. Estimates range from 30,000 to roughly one-third of Ireland’s 1.5 million inhabitants.


The Hearts of Steel

Land in Ireland was not owned by individuals the way we know it to be in America.  The Crown was the sole owner of all lands, which was divided into large holdings, often of several thousand acres and title given to nobles as a reward for some service they may have provided to the crown.  These lands were again divided by the nobles and leased to smaller holders.  Often there were several layers of leasing and subletting between the nobles and the men who actually worked the land.  The nobles and larger landholders profited from the collecting of rents and the labors of the smaller leaseholders who actually worked the land.  Often the landlords did not even live in the country.

In the early 1770’s one such absentee landlord, Lord Donegal, had become enormously wealthy on the fruits of other men’s labors but still found his income to be unequal to his yet more enormous expenditures.  Many of his Antrim leases having come due at about the same time, he decided to use the event as an opportunity to add to his coffers and demanded a outrageous and unprecedented fine for their renewal-- a hundred thousand pounds.  The tenants, all Protestants, offered the interest of the money in addition to the rent, but it could not be.  Speculative Belfast capitalists paid the fine, and took the lands over the heads of the tenants to sublet.  A precedent so tempting and so lucrative was naturally followed.  Other landlords finding the trade so profitable began to serve their tenants with notices to quit until all at once thousands were driven from their homes.  The sturdy Scots, who in five generations had reclaimed Antrim from the wilderness, saw the farms which they and their fathers had made valuable let by auction to the highest bidder; and when they refused to submit themselves to robbery, saw them let to others, and let in many instances to Catholics who would promise anything to recover their hold upon the soil.

The farmers and peasants combined to defend themselves.  Where law was the servant of oppression, force was their one resource.  They called themselves "Hearts of Steel" and were sometimes referred to as "Steelboys."  Their object was to protect themselves from universal robbery.  Their resistance was not against the Government--it was against the landlords and the landlords’ agents, and nothing else.  They made a petition to the government but a corrupt Parliament (many landlords themselves) saw their demands as an invasion of the rights of landlords and reported that the increase of rents demanded was not exorbitant.

Unjust laws provoke and compel resistance.  Violence followed and the Hearts of Steel destroyed cattle and farmsteads of the intruding tenants.  They attacked gentlemen’s houses and lawyers’ offices chiefly in search of deeds and leases; of theft they were never accused. One of their number being confined at Belfast, a large body of Steelboys, accompanied by many thousands of peasants, who neither before nor after took any part in the insurrection, marched upon that town and succeeded in obtaining his surrender.  Soldiers were soon sent to the disturbed districts and several boys were tried at Carrickfergus, but by the supposed partiality of the juries they were acquitted. The trials were then moved out of the offenders home turf and still the feelings were so strong that they were acquitted.  Eventually, however, as the insurrection subsided and after some fierce conflicts with the soldiers many insurgents were taken, tried and executed.

In the two years which followed the Antrim evictions, thirty thousand Protestants left Ulster for a land where there was no legal robbery, and where those who sowed the seed could reap the harvest--America.  They went with bitterness in their hearts, cursing and detesting the aristocratic system.  They were soon heard of again.  The ejected tenants of Lord Donegal formed a large part of the revolutionary armies which severed the New World from the British forever. See Samuel Blair, A "Hearts of Steel" man.

The Rebellion of 1798.


How Linen is Made From Flax

The field in front of the Ulster farmstead was planted in spring with flax, the source of linen, a major product of Irish farms.  In summer, the long-stemmed plants were pulled up, bundled and soaked in a pond for several weeks so the outer covering rots away, producing a famously disgusting stench.

The Ulster farmer dried the flax stems on low stone walls around his house.  Dried bundles of dingy, gray stems were "scutched" in a wooden apparatus to break up the unwanted pith binding the desired fibers and then drawn through a "hackle," a forest of sharp metal points, to comb out the pith.  The result was a long tress of soft, golden fibers that could have graced the head of any flaxen-haired girl.  Women on the farm would have spun the fibers into thread and stored it until an itinerant weaver came to turn it into linen.


The Edmonstones

The Edmonstone family has a long pedigree as landowners, and servants of the Kings of Scotland.  In 1445 they were granted the lands of Duntreagh in Stirlingshire, and to this day the family still reside at the Duntreagh Castle in Scotland.

At some date, shortly before 1607, William Edmonstone, together with his brother James, came over to Ulster to join Sir Hugh Montgomery in the Newtownards area.  In August 1607 they were granted lands in that area.  Then on May 26, 1609, William Edmonstone leased part of the "Tough of Braidenisland", comprising the parish of Templecorran, some 2,870 acres, from John Dalway.  Shortly afterwards William made over the townland of Bentra to his brother James.  William died in 1626 and was succeeded by his son Archibald; there is evidence that about this time Redhall House, perhaps already a building of some age, was substanitally remodelled and enlarged.

The Edmonstone family were responsible for shaping the community of Ballycarry.  They brought over Edward Brice, the first Presbyterian minister in Ireland, and it was doubtless their money and organization that re-built the old parish church for him in 1622.  As staunch Presbyterians the family were actively involved in the local congregation and were generous benefactors to it.

It is said that the estate was well settled with tenants, both farmers and tradesmen.  They built flour mills for local convenience which were one of the keys to local prosperity.

It must be borne in mind, however, that the main estates of the Edmonstone family lay at Duntreagh in Scotland.  Thus the owners of Redhall had dual interests, which at times must have been difficult to reconcile.  Finally, Sir Archibald Edmonstone decided that he would have to choose between the two and , as he lived chiefly in Scotland and the great bulk of his activities and concerns were there, he sold the Ballycarry estate to Richard Ker in 1779 for the sum of $25,000 guineas.

One curious enigma remains, The Edmonstones were by far the most prominent family in the community for 175 years, yet no monument or inscription marks their graves.  It is known that the family burying ground was in what was once the north aisle of the old Templecorran church, and that in the eighteenth century the family erected an enclosed vault there.   However, it fell to the Fletcher family of Mount Pleasant, Carrickfergus, which inherited the vault after the last of the Edmonstones went to live in Scotland, to erect a memorial stone.  It is sad that this monument refers only to the Fletcher family and not to their kinsfolk, the Lairds of Duntreagh, who were for so long the occupants of Redhall and the landlords of Ballycarry. Article from "The Templecorran Project," An historic Guide to Ballycarry Old Cemetery: by David Hume & John W. Nelson