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Ultimate Land Grants and Muster Rolls in Ulster

A brief historical review and understanding of the events which led up to a movement of individuals from Scotland and England to Ulster, Ireland, during the early 17th century may help reseachers find their own ancestry.


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This article presents a brief historical review of the events which led up to a movement of individuals from Scotland and England to Ulster, Ireland, during the early 17th century. In understanding migrations during this period of time, researchers are more likely to find the names of some of their own ancestors recorded in the land grant and muster roll records, likened to "putting the man on the land."

Back in the early 1500s, the Native Catholic Irish rebelled against King Henry VIII of England when he tried to introduce the Reformation into Ireland. While Queen Elizabeth was Queen of England in 1573, she sent the Earl of Essex over to Ireland to put down the rebellion in Ulster. Although the Earl of Essex lost, the revolt was finally put down, and King James I, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth to the throne in 1603, accepted the surrender of the O'Neills. Although there was great cruelty on both sides, it was through English devastation of villages and inhabitants that laid waste to Munster and Ulster! Gaelic control ended there, and it was not until 1914 that Ireland became free with its own government.

After Hugh O'Neill, Hugh O'Donnell and Conor Maguire sailed to Europe from Lough Swilly, County Donegal, which was known as the "Flight of the Earls" in 1607, King James I declared them traitors and took over their land. In 1608, Sir Cahir O'Doherty, the last Gaelic Overlord, rebelled and destroyed Derry. After he was killed in Donegal, the rebellion collapsed, and his lands were confiscated.

From that time England was "boss," and the rebellion gave a pretext for confiscation of land in the six counties of Ulster which were Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone. James I, formerly James VI of Scotland, as the first Stuart king was expanding his empire. In addition to Ulster, he also reached out toward North America, where a fort appeared at Jamestown, Virginia. (Jamestown was named after King James I, and Virginia had already been named for the "virgin" Queen Elizabeth I.) "As the Protestant colony grew, Gaelic-speaking Catholics were pushed back toward the Shannon, as the Indians of America were pushed back toward the Alleghenies" (Joseph Judge, "The Trevail of Ireland," National Geographic, April 1991, p. 439).

Actually, the plan of King James I was to "grant" the land to those individuals who had been loyal to the Crown. Former soldiers could get free land, and Loyalists could purchase rights to the land. However, a new plan enabled "undertakers' to become owners of land. They were a type of real estate broker who could buy lands from the Crown and lease them out to be farmed. By 1642, these new "Lords" owned three million, out of the entire three and a half million acres of the Province of Ulster. The entire population of Ulster was 100,000, of which only 10,000 were either English or "Scot." (Queen Elizabeth originally named those from Scotland the "Scotch-Irish," which is historically and genealogically correct. However, some now seem to feel that since this group was made up of Protestant folks from Scotland who replaced some of the Catholic folks in Ireland, and usually did not intermarry, the "Scotch-Irish" designation is not appropriate! In addition to that, there are those who say, " I am a Scot who drinks my Scotch!")

Last but not least, I can definitely recommend two "free" Internet resources. Many family names are represented, and this is where I found information about my Scotch-Irish Family (Ulster-Scot) ancestors of long ago: (1) Lands Grants in the Prescinct of Liffer Barony of Raphoe and County of Donegal 1608 A.D at, and (2) Muster Rolls, Donegal 1631: Ulster Ancestry at

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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