Tag Archives: Plantation of Ulster.

Plantation of Ulster – History , Background & Documentaries

Plantation of Ulster


Ulster Plantation


The Plantation of Ulster (Irish: Plandáil Uladh; Ulster-Scots: Plantin o Ulster) was the organised colonisation (plantation) of Ulster – a province of Ireland – by people from Great Britain during the reign of King James I. Most of the colonists came from Scotland and England. Small private plantation by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while the official plantation began in 1609. An estimated half a million acres (2,000 km²) spanning counties Tyrconnell, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Coleraine and Armagh, was confiscated from Gaelic chiefs, most of whom had fled Ireland in the 1607 Flight of the Earls. Most of counties Antrim and Down were privately colonised. Colonising Ulster with loyal settlers was seen as a way to prevent further rebellion, as it had been the region most resistant to English control during the preceding century.


The Flight Of The Earls


King James wanted the Plantation to be “a civilising enterprise” that would settle Protestants in Ulster, a land that was mainly Gaelic-speaking and of the Catholic faith. The Lord Deputy of Ireland, Arthur Chichester, also saw the Plantation as a scheme to anglicise the Irish.]Accordingly, the colonists (or “British tenants”) were required to be English-speaking and Protestant. Some of the undertakers and colonists however were Catholic and it has been suggested that a significant number of the Scots spoke Gaelic.The Scottish colonists were mostly Presbyterian[6] and the English mostly members of the Church of England. The Plantation of Ulster was the biggest of the Plantations of Ireland.

Ulster before plantation

Prior to its conquest in the Nine Years War of the 1590s, Ulster had been the most Gaelic part of Ireland, a province existing largely outside English control. The area was underdeveloped by mainland European standards of the time, and it possessed few towns or villages.

Throughout the 16th century, Ulster was viewed by the English as being “underpopulated” and undeveloped.An early attempt at plantation of the north of Ireland in the 1570s on the east coast of Ulster by Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, had failed (see Plantations of Ireland).

Many of the Gaelic Irish lived by “creaghting” (seasonal migration with their cattle) and as such, permanent habitations were uncommon.The wars fought among Gaelic clans and between the Gaelic and English undoubtedly contributed to depopulation. By 1600 (before the worst atrocities of the Nine Years War) Ulster’s total adult population according to Perceval-Maxwell was only 25,000 to 40,000 people.

The 16th century English conquest of Ireland was made piece by piece starting in the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547) and only was completed after sustained warfare in the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603). During these wars the force of the semi-independent chieftains was broken.

The Nine Years War of 1594-1603 provided the immediate background to the Plantation. A confederation of northern Gaelic Chieftains, led by Hugh O’Neill, resisted the imposition of English government in Ulster. Following an extremely costly series of campaigns by the English, including massacre and use of ruthless scorched earth tactics, the Nine Years War ended in 1603 with the surrender of Hugh O’Neill’s and Hugh O’Donnell‘s forces at the Treaty of Mellifont.[20] The terms of surrender granted to the rebels were generous, with the principal condition that lands formerly contested by feudal right and Brehon law be held under English law.

However, when Hugh O’Neill and other rebel chieftains left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls (1607) to seek Spanish help for a new rebellion, Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester seized their lands and prepared to colonise the province in a plantation. This would have included large grants of land to native Irish lords who had sided with the English during the war, for example Niall Garve O’Donnell. However, the plan was interrupted by the rebellion in 1608 of Sir Cahir O’Doherty of Inishowen, who captured and burned the town of Derry. The brief rebellion was suppressed by Sir Richard Wingfield at the Battle of Kilmacrennan. After O’Doherty’s death his lands in Inishowen were granted out by the state, and eventually escheated to the Crown. This episode prompted Chichester to expand his plans to expropriate the legal titles of all native landowners in the province.

Planning the plantation

The Plantation of Ulster was presented to James I as a joint “British”, or English and Scottish, venture to ‘pacify’ and ‘civilise’ Ulster, with at least half the settlers to be Scots. James had been King of Scots before he also became King of England and needed to reward his subjects in Scotland with land in Ulster to assure them they were not being neglected now that he had moved his court to London. In addition, long-standing contact and settlement between Ulster and the west of Scotland meant that Scottish participation was a practical necessity.

Six counties were involved in the official plantation – Donegal, Coleraine, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh. In the two officially unplanted counties of Antrim and Down, substantial Presbyterian Scots settlement had been underway since at least 1606.

The plan for the plantation was determined by two factors. One was the wish to make sure the settlement could not be destroyed by rebellion as the first Munster Plantation had been in the Nine Years War. This meant that, rather than settling the planters in isolated pockets of land confiscated from Irish rebels, all of the land would be confiscated and then redistributed to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons.

What was more, the new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants and had to import workers from England and Scotland. The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster. The peasant Irish population was intended to be relocated to live near garrisons and Protestant churches. Moreover, the planters were barred from selling their lands to any Irishman and were required to build defences against any possible rebellion or invasion. The settlement was to be completed within three years. In this way, it was hoped that a defensible new community composed entirely of loyal British subjects would be created.

The second major influence on the Plantation was the negotiation among various interest groups on the British side. The principal landowners were to be “Undertakers”, wealthy men from England and Scotland who undertook to import tenants from their own estates. They were granted around 3000 acres (12 km²) each, on condition that they settle a minimum of 48 adult males (including at least 20 families), who had to be English-speaking and Protestant. Veterans of the Nine Years War (known as “Servitors”) led by Arthur Chichester successfully lobbied to be rewarded with land grants of their own.

Since these former officers did not have enough private capital to fund the colonisation, their involvement was subsidised by the twelve great guilds. Livery companies from the City of London were coerced into investing in the project, as were City of London guilds which were granted land on the west bank of the River Foyle, to build their own city (Londonderry near the older Derry) as well as lands in County Coleraine. They were known jointly as The Honourable The Irish Society. The final major recipient of lands was the Protestant Church of Ireland, which was granted all the churches and lands previously owned by the Roman Catholic Church. The British government intended that clerics from England and the Pale would convert the native population to Anglicanism.

Implementing the plantation

Scottish settlers had been migrating to Ulster for many centuries. Highland Gaelic Scottish mercenaries known as Gallowglass had been doing so since the 15th century and Presbyterian lowland Scots had been arriving since around 1600. From 1606 there was substantial lowland Scots settlement on disinhabited land in north Down, led by Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton. In 1607 Sir Randall MacDonnell settled 300 Presbyterian Scots families on his land in Antrim.

From 1609 onwards, “British” Protestant immigrants arrived in Ulster through direct importation by Undertakers to their estates and also by a spread to unpopulated areas, through ports such as Derry and Carrickfergus. In addition there was much internal movement of settlers who did not like the original land allotted to them.Some planters settled on uninhabited and unexploited land, often building up their farms and homes on overgrown terrain that has been variously described as “wilderness” and “virgin” ground.

By 1622, a survey found there were 6,402 “British” adult males on Plantation lands, of whom 3,100 were English and 3,700 Scottish – indicating a total adult planter population of around 12,000. However another 4,000 Scottish adult males had settled in unplanted Antrim and Down, giving a total settler population of about 19,000.

Despite the fact that the Plantation had decreed that the Irish population be displaced, this did not generally happen in practice. Firstly, some 300 native landowners who had taken the English side in the Nine Years War were rewarded with land grants.Secondly, the majority of the Gaelic Irish remained in their native areas, but were now only allowed worse land than before the plantation. They usually lived close to and even in the same townlands as the settlers and the land they had farmed previously.] The main reason for this was that Undertakers could not import enough English or Scottish tenants to fill their agricultural workforce and had to fall back on Irish tenants. However, in a few heavily populated lowland areas (such as parts of north Armagh) it is likely that some population displacement occurred.

However, the Plantation remained threatened by the attacks of bandits, known as “wood-kerne“, who were often Irish soldiers or dispossessed landowners. In 1609, Chichester had 1,300 former Gaelic soldiers deported from Ulster to serve in the Swedish Arm. As a result, military garrisons were established across Ulster and many of the Plantation towns, notably Derry, were fortified. The settlers were also required to maintain arms and attend an annual military ‘muster’.

There had been very few towns in Ulster before the Plantation. Most modern towns in the province can date their origins back to this period. Plantation towns generally have a single broad main street ending in a square – often known as a “diamond”] The Diamond, Donegal being an attractive example.

Success and failures

The plantation was a mixed success from the point of view of the settlers. About the time the Plantation of Ulster was planned, the Virginia Plantation at Jamestown in 1607 started. The London guilds planning to fund the Plantation of Ulster switched and backed the London Virginia Company instead. Many “British” Protestant settlers went to Virginia or New England in America rather than to Ulster.

By the 1630s, there were 20,000 adult male “British” settlers in Ulster, which meant that the total settler population could have been as high as 80,000. They formed local majorities of the population in the Finn and Foyle valleys (around modern Londonderry and east Donegal), in north Armagh and in east Tyrone. Moreover, the unofficial settlements in Antrim and Down were thriving. What was more, the settler population grew rapidly, as just under half of the planters were women.

The attempted conversion of the Irish to Protestantism was generally a failure. One problem was language difference. The Protestant clerics imported were usually all monoglot English speakers, whereas the native population were usually monoglot Gaelic speakers. However, ministers chosen to serve in the plantation were required to take a course in the Irish language before ordination, and nearly 10% of those who took up their preferments spoke it fluently. Nevertheless, conversion was rare, despite the fact that, after 1621, Gaelic Irish natives could be officially classed as “British” if they converted to Protestantism.

Of those Catholics who did convert to Protestantism, many made their choice for social and political reasons.

Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Ulster Plantation

Further information: Wars of the Three Kingdoms

By the 1630s it is suggested that the plantation was settling down with “tacit religious tolerance”, and in every county Old Irish were serving as royal officials and members of the Irish Parliament. However, in the 1640s, the Ulster Plantation was thrown into turmoil by civil wars that raged in Ireland, England and Scotland. The wars saw Irish rebellion against the planters, twelve years of bloody war, and ultimately the re-conquest of the province by the English parliamentary New Model Army that confirmed English and Protestant dominance in the province.

After 1630, Scottish migration to Ireland waned for a decade. In the 1630s, Presbyterians in Scotland staged a rebellion against Charles I for trying to impose Anglicanism. The same was attempted in Ireland, where most Scots colonists were Presbyterian. A large number of them returned to Scotland as a result. Charles I subsequently raised an army largely composed of Irish Catholics, and sent them to Ulster in preparation to invade Scotland. The English and Scottish parliaments then threatened to attack this army. In the midst of this, Gaelic Irish landowners in Ulster, led by Phelim O’Neill and Rory O’More, planned a rebellion to take over the administration in Ireland.

On 23 October 1641, the Ulster Catholics staged a rebellion. The mobilised natives turned on the “British” colonists, massacring about 4000 and expelling about 8,000 more. Marianne Elliott believes that “1641 destroyed the Ulster Plantation as a mixed settlement…” The initial leader of the rebellion, Phelim O’Neill, had actually been a beneficiary of the Plantation land grants. Most of his supporters’ families had been dispossessed and were likely motivated by the desire to recover their ancestral lands. Many colonists who survived rushed to the seaports and went back to Britain.

The massacres had a devastating and lasting impact on the Ulster Protestant population. A.T.Q. Stewart states that “The fear which it inspired survives in the Protestant subconscious as the memory of the Penal Laws or the Famine persists in the Catholic.” He also believed that “Here, if anywhere, the mentality of siege was born, as the warning bonfires blazed from hilltop to hilltop, and the beating drums summoned men to the defence of castles and walled towns crowded with refugees.”

In the summer of 1642, the Scottish Parliament sent some 10,000 soldiers to quell the Irish rebellion. In revenge for the massacres of Scottish colonists, the army committed many atrocities against the Catholic population. Based in Carrickfergus, the Scottish army fought against the rebels until 1650. In the northwest of Ulster, the colonists around Derry and east Donegal organised the Laggan Army in self-defence. The British forces fought an inconclusive war with the Ulster Irish led by Owen Roe O’Neill. All sides committed atrocities against civilians in this war, exacerbating the population displacement begun by the Plantation.

In addition to fighting the Ulster Irish, the “British” settlers fought each other in 1648-49 over the issues of the English Civil War. The Scottish Presbyterian army sided with the King and the Laggan Army sided with the English Parliament. In 1649-50, the New Model Army, along with some of the “British” colonists under Charles Coote, defeated both the Scottish forces and the Ulster Irish.

As a result, the English Parliamentarians or Cromwellians (after Oliver Cromwell) were generally hostile to Scottish Presbyterians after they re-conquered Ireland from the Catholic Confederates in 1649-53. The main beneficiaries of the postwar Cromwellian settlement were English Protestants like Sir Charles Coote, who had taken the Parliament’s side over the King or the Scottish Presbyterians. The Wars eliminated the last major Catholic landowners in Ulster.

Continued migration from Scotland to Ulster


Dawn of the Ulster Scots Part 1


Most of the Scottish planters came from southwest Scotland, but many also came from the unstable regions along the border with England. The plan was that moving Borderers (see Border Reivers) to Ireland (particularly to County Fermanagh) would both solve the Border problem and tie down Ulster. This was of particular concern to James VI of Scotland when he became King of England, since he knew Scottish instability could jeopardise his chances of ruling both kingdoms effectively.

Another wave of Scottish immigration to Ulster took place in the 1690s, when tens of thousands of Scots fled a famine (1696–1698) in the border region of Scotland. It was at this point that Scottish Presbyterians became the majority community in the province. Whereas in the 1660s, they made up some 20% of Ulster’s population (though 60% of its British population) by 1720 they were an absolute majority in Ulster.

Despite the fact that Scottish Presbyterians strongly supported the Williamites in the Williamite war in Ireland in the 1690s, they were excluded from power in the postwar settlement by the Anglican Protestant Ascendancy. During the 18th century, rising Scots resentment over religious, political and economic issues fueled their emigration to the American colonies, beginning in 1717 and continuing up to the 1770s. Scots-Irish from Ulster and Scotland, and British from the borders region comprised the most numerous group of immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland to the colonies in the years before the American Revolution. An estimated 150,000 left northern Ireland. They settled first mostly in Pennsylvania and western Virginia, from where they moved southwest into the backcountry of upland territories in the South, the Ozarks and the Appalachian Mountains.


Percentage of Catholics in each electoral division in Ulster. Based on census figures from 2001 (UK) and 2006 (ROI).
0-10% dark orange, 10-30% mid orange,
30-50% light orange, 50-70% light green,
70-90% mid green, 90-100% dark green

Ireland Protestants 1861–2011

The legacy of the Plantation remains disputed. According to one interpretation, it created a society segregated between native Catholics and settler Protestants in Ulster and created a Protestant and British concentration in north east Ireland. This argument therefore sees the Plantation as one of the long-term causes of the Partition of Ireland in 1921, as the north-east remained as part of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland.

However the densest Protestant settlement took place in the eastern counties of Antrim and Down, which were not part of the Plantation, whereas Donegal, in the west, was planted but did not become part of Northern Ireland.

Therefore, it is also argued that the Plantation itself was less important in the distinctiveness of the North East of Ireland than natural population flow between Ulster and Scotland. A.T.Q. Stewart concluded, “The distinctive Ulster-Scottish culture, isolated from the mainstream of Catholic and Gaelic culture, would appear to have been created not by the specific and artificial plantation of the early seventeenth century, but by the continuous natural influx of Scottish settlers both before and after that episode…”

The Plantation of Ulster is also widely seen as the origin of mutually antagonistic Catholic/Irish and Protestant/British identities in Ulster. Richard English has written that, “not all of those of British background in Ireland owe their Irish residence to the Plantations… yet the Plantation did produce a large British/English interest in Ireland, a significant body of Irish Protestants who were tied through religion and politics to English power.”

However, going on surnames, others have concluded that Protestant and Catholic are poor guides to whether people’s ancestors were settlers or natives of Ulster in the 17th century.

The settlers also left a legacy in terms of language. The Ulster Scots dialect originated through the speech of lowland Scots settlers evolving and being influenced by both Hiberno-English and Irish Gaelic.[ Seventeenth century English settlers also contributed dialect words that are still in current use in Ulster.


How to speak Belfast / Northern Ireland

How to speak Belfast / Northern Ireland

( Made me laugh)

Ulster English (also called Northern Hiberno-English or Northern Irish English) is a major variety of Hiberno-English, spoken in the province of Ulster: Northern Ireland and three counties of the Republic of Ireland. The dialect has been influenced by the Ulster Irish dialect and also by the Scots language, which was brought over by settlers during the Plantation of Ulster.

And if you are really interested see below for a lesson in Ulster speak!

Ulster Scots

The two major divisions of Ulster English are Ulster Scots English (spoken in much of northern County Antrim),[1][2] and mid Ulster English. Sometimes, a third, transitional dialect between Southern and Northern Ireland is designated, known as south Ulster


Phonetics are in IPA.


In the following chart, “UE” means Ulster English, including “MUE” or mid Ulster English (which may incorporate older, more traditional mid Ulster English or “TMUE”), as well as “USE” or Ulster Scots English. “SSIE” here refers to a mainstream, supraregional southern Irish English, used in the chart for the sake of comparison.

Pure vowels (Monophthongs)
UE SSIE Example words
/æ/ äː~a æ~a bath, trap, man
/ɑː/ ɑː~äː aː~äː blah, calm, father
conservative /ɒ/ ɒ~ɑ~ä ä bother, lot, top
divergent /ɒ/ ɒː(MUE)
ɒː cloth, loss, off
/ɔː/ all, bought, saw
/ɛ/ ɛ dress, met, bread
/ə/ ə about, syrup, arena
/ɪ/ ɪ̈(MUE)
e(unstressed, word-final)
ɪ hit, skim, tip
/iː/ i(ː)

beam, chic, fleet
/ɨ/ ɪ~ɪ̈~ə island, gamut, wasted
/ʌ/ ɞ~ʌ̈ ʊ~ʌ̈ bus, flood, young
/ʊ/ ʉ(MUE)
ʊ book, put, should
/uː/ food, glue, new
/aɪ/ ä(ː)e aɪ~äɪ~ɑɪ eye, five, try
ɐi~ɜi bright, dice, site
/aʊ/ ɐʏ~ɜʉ æʊ~ɛʊ now, ouch, scout

lame, rein, stain
/ɔɪ/ ɔɪ ɒɪ boy, choice, moist
/oʊ/ o(ː) goat, oh, show
R-coloured vowels
/ɑr/ ɑ(ː)ɻ ɑ(ː)ɹ~ä(ː)ɹ barn, car, park
/ɪər/ i(ː)ɚ i(ː)ɹ fear, peer, tier
/ɛər/ ɛ(ː)ɚ
e(ː)ɹ bare, bear, there
/ɜr/ ɚ(ː)

burn, first, learn
/ər/ ɚ doctor, martyr, parker
/ɔr/ ɔ(ː)ɚ ɒ(ː)ɹ for, horse, war
/ɔər/ o(ː)ɚ ɒ(ː)ɹ four, hoarse, wore
/ʊər/ u(ː)ɚ u(ː)ɹ moor, poor, tour

Other, less overarching features of some Ulster varieties include:

  • Vowels have phonemic vowel length, with one set of lexically long and one of lexically short phonemes. This may be variously influenced by the Scots system. It is considerably less phonemic than Received Pronunciation, and in vernacular Belfast speech vowel length may vary depending on stress.
  • /ɑ/ and /ɔː/ distinction in cot and body versus caught and bawdy is mostly preserved, except in Ulster Scots (which here follows Scottish speech) and traditional varieties.
  • /e/ may occur in such words as beat, decent, leave, Jesus, etc., though this feature is recessive.
  • Lagan Valley /ɛ/ before /k/ in take and make, etc.
  • /ɛ/ before velars, as in sack, bag, and bang, etc.
  • Merger of /a//aː/ in all monosyllables, e.g. Sam and psalm [saːm ~ sɑːm] (the phonetic quality varies).
  • /ʉ/ is possible before /r/ in floor, whore, door, board, etc.


  • Rhoticity, that is, retention of /r/ in all positions.
  • Palatalisation of /k, ɡ, ŋ/ in the environment of front vowels.
  • /l/ is not vocalised, except historically; usually “clear” as in Southern Hiberno-English, with some exceptions.
  • Unaspirated /p/, /k/ between vowels in words such as pepper and packet.
  • Voiced /d/ (or tapped [ɾ]) for /t/ between vowels in words such as butter and city. This is similar to North American and Australian English.
  • Dental [t̪] and [d̪] for /t/ and /d/ before /r/ in words such as butter or dry. Dental realisations of /n, l/ may occur as well, e.g. dinner, pillar. This feature, of Gaelic origin, is shared with Southern Hiberno-English.
  • /ʍ//w/ contrast in which–witch. This feature is recessive, particularly in vernacular Belfast speech.
  • Elision of /d/ in hand [hɑːn], candle [ˈkanl] and old [əʉl], etc.
  • Elision of /b, ɡ/ in sing [sɪŋ], thimble, finger etc.
  • /θ/ and /ð/ for th.
  • /x/ for gh is retained in proper names and a few dialect words or pronunciations, e.g. lough, trough and sheugh.

Grammar derived from Irish

The morphology and syntax of Irish is quite different from that of English, and it has influenced both Northern and Southern Hiberno-English to some degree.

Irish has separate forms for the second person singular () and the second person plural (sibh), (“thou” and “ye” respectively in archaic and some intimate, informal English). Ulster English mirrors Irish in that the singular “you” is distinguished from the plural “you”. This is normally done by using the words yous, yousuns or yis.[3] For example:

  • “Are yous not finished yet?”
  • “Did yousuns all go to see it?”
  • “What are yis up to?”

Irish lacks words that directly translate as “yes” or “no”, and instead repeats the verb in a question (positively or negatively) to answer. As such, Northern and Southern Hiberno-English use “yes” and “no” less frequently than other English dialects.[4][5] For example:

  • “Are you coming home soon?” “I am”
  • “Is your computer working?” “It’s not”

The absence of the verb “have” in Irish has influenced some grammar. The concept of “have” is expressed in Irish by the construction ag (“at”) (“me”) to create agam (“at me”). Hence, Ulster English speakers sometimes use the verb “have” followed by “with me/on me”.[6] For example:

  • “Do you have the book with you?”[clarification needed]
  • “Have you money for the bus on you?”


Much non-standard vocabulary found in Ulster English and many meanings of Standard English words peculiar to the dialect come from Scots and Irish. Some examples are shown in the table below. Many of these are also used in Southern Hiberno-English, especially in the northern half of the island.

Ulster English Standard English Type Notes
ach!, och!, ack! annoyance, regret, etc. interjection Pronounced akh or okh. Usually used to replace “ah!” and “oh!”. Ach is Irish for “but”, and can be used in the same context. Och is Irish and Scottish Gaelic for “alas”, and again can be used in the same context.[7] Cf. German, Dutch, Frisian ach and English agh, German and Dutch have both ach and och.
aul, oul old adjective Pronounced owl. From auld, an archaic form of old that is still used in Scots and Northern English dialects.
aye, auy yes adverb Used throughout Ireland, Scotland and parts of northern England.
General Scots and dialect/archaic English, first attested 1575.
bake mouth noun A different pronunciation and extended meaning of beak. Dutch bek is used as a rude word for mouth too
banjax to break/ruin/destroy,
a mess
Used throughout Ireland; origin unknown.[8]
blade girl noun Mainly used in Tyrone with different meanings depending on usage, but always refers to a female. “Look at thon blade” – “Look at that girl”; “Our blade” – “My sister/cousin” (Can also be used as a term of endearment in this form)
boak, boke to retch/vomit,
From Scots bowk.[9]
bog wetland/toilet noun From Irish bogach meaning “wetland”.
boreen a narrow road/lane/track noun From Irish bóithrín meaning “small road”.[10]
bout ye? how are you? greeting From the longer version “What about ye?” (“What about you?”), which is also used.[11][12]
bru unemployment benefits noun Pronounced broo. Shortened from welfare bureau.[13]
cat-melodeon awful adjective Probably a combination of cat and melodeon, referencing the sound of a screeching cat and badly-played melodeon tunes.[14]
The second part is pronounced mə-LOH-jin.
caul, coul cold adjective Pronounced kowl. From Scots cauld meaning “cold”.[15]
carlin’ old woman noun From Norse kerling meaning “woman” (especially an old woman).[16]
carnaptious[16] quarrelsome/irritable adjective From Scots.[17]
claggerd covered with something adhesive (usually dirt) adjective From Scots claggert meaning “besmeared”.[18]
cowp to tip over/to fall over verb From Scots.[19]
crack, craic banter/fun/gossip/news
(e.g. “What’s the crack?)
noun Crack is originally a Scots/Northern English word meaning something like “news”, “gossip” or “fun”. Originally spelt crack but the Gaelicized spelling craic started in the 1960s and is now common.[12]
craitur, craytur a term of endearment
(e.g. “The poor craitur”)
noun From the Hiberno-English pronunciation of creature where ea is realised /e/ (see above) and –ture as archaic /tər/ rather than the standard affricate /tʃər/.
culchie farmer/rural dweller noun Origin uncertain—either from Irish coillte meaning “woods”;[20] from Irish cúl a’ tí meaning “back of the house” (for it was common practise for country people to go in the back door of the house they were visiting);[21] or from the -culture in “agriculture”.
dander walk noun/verb From Scots or Northern English.
dead-on okay/no problem interjection
Origin uncertain.[12]
to soak/drench,
From Irish droch-aimsir meaning “bad weather” or “wet weather”[22] or the less likely Scots draik/drawk.[23]
eejit idiot noun From the Hiberno-English pronunciation of idiot.[24]
feck a mild form of fuck interjection Gained popularity following its frequent use in the 1990s comedy TV series Father Ted.
feg cigarette noun Pronounced fayg. From the English slang term fag.
fella man noun From English fellow; ultimately from Norse felagi.
fidget/waste time verb Via Scots fouter from Old French foutre.Perhaps from Irish fútar.[25]
fornenst in front of/facing adverb From Scots or Northern English.
to be cold
From Scots foundert/foondert/fundert which can mean “(to be) chilled”.[26]
geg, geggin’ joke, joking noun/verb From English gag.
glen valley noun From Irish gleann.
gob, gub mouth noun From Irish gob, which can mean “mouth”.
grub food
gutties, guddies running shoes noun From Scots, in which it is used to mean anything made of rubber. Note also the phrase “Give her the guttie” meaning “Step on it (accelerate)”.[27]
hallion a good-for-nothing noun From Scots hallion meaning “rascal”.[28]
hesp a scolding old woman noun Perhaps from Irish easpan.[29] Cf. Scots hesper: a hard thing to do; a difficult person to get on with.[30]
hoak, hoke to search for/to forage
(e.g. “Have a hoak for it”)
verb From Scots howk.[31]
hooley party noun Origin unknown; perhaps a variant of Irish céilí.[32]
houl hold verb Pronounced howl. From Scots/Northern English.
jap to splatter; to splash; (of a frying pan) emit tiny ‘sparks’ of hot fat verb From Scots jaup.[33]
jouk, juke to dodge/to go verb From Scots jouk meaning “to dodge”.[34]
to lament/to wail,
shrill (in terms of sound)
From Irish caoin meaning “lament”. Keening was a traditional practice done by woman at Irish funerals.
lock’a an unspecified amount
(e.g. “In a lock’a minutes”)
determiner From Irish loca meaning “a pile of” or “a wad of”, or simply an extended meaning of “lock” as in “a lock of hair”.
loch, lough lake/sea inlet noun Pronounced lokh. From Irish loch.
lug ear noun From Norse. Originally used to mean “an appendage” (cf. Norwegian lugg meaning “a tuft of hair”).
Used throughout Ireland.
malarky, malarkey nonsense noun Probably from Irish.
munya great/lovely/attractive adjective Origin unknown.[35]
oxter armpit/under-arm noun From Scots.[36] Dutch oksel = armpit
poke ice-cream noun From Scots poke meaning “bag” or “pouch”.
potcheen hooch/bootleg alcohol noun From Irish poitín.
quare, kwer very/considerable
(e.g. “A quare distance”)
A different pronunciation and extended meaning of “queer”.[37]
Used throughout Ireland.
scratch/scrape noun/verb From Irish scráib.[38] Cf. Northern English scrab and Dutch schrabben (to scrape).
to annoy/embarrass,
From Scots scunner/scunnert meaning “offended” or “fed up”.[39]
a small shallow ditch
(pronounced /ʃʌx/)
noun From Scots sheuch.[40]
to move quickly verb From Norse skjuta meaning “to shoot” (cf. Norwegian skutla meaning “to glide quickly”).
skite to splatter with force verb From Norse skjuta.
slew a great amount noun From Irish slua meaning “a crowd/multitude”.[41]
smidgen a very small piece noun From Irish smidean.
snig to snap-off/lop-off verb Origin unknown.[42] Cf. Scots sneg[43] < sneck.[44]
stoor dust noun From Old French estour.[45]
tae tea noun Pronounced tay, this is the Irish word for “tea”.
til to preposition From Norse til.
noun/adverb From Scots the day, the nicht, the morra.
thon that adjective From Scots; originally yon in archaic English, the th by analogy with this and that.[46]
thonder there (something distant but within sight) adjective From Scots; originally yonder in archaic English.
throughother disorganised and careless adjective Probably from Irish. However, it has parallels in both Goidelic (e.g. Irish trína chéile) and Germanic (e.g. Scots throuither,[47] Dutch door elkaar, door-een, German durcheinander).
wee little, but also used as a generic diminutive adjective From Middle English.
Used throughout the north of Ireland and in Scotland.
weean, wean child noun From Scots wee (small) + ane (one).[48]
wheeker excellent adjective From Scots wheech meaning “to snatch”. Onomatopoeic.[49]
wheen[50] a few/several determiner From Scots.[51] Usually used in the phrase “a wheen of…”
whisht be quiet (a command) interjection The Irish huist,[52] meaning “be quiet”, is an unlikely source since the word is known throughout England and Scotland where it derives from early Middle English whist[53] (cf. Middle English hust[54] and Scots wheesht[55]).
wojus awful/expression of surprise adjective Probably a variation of odious. Can also be used as an expression of surprise, usually to something negative. In this case it is most likely a shortened form of “Oh Jesus!”
Used throughout Ireland.
ye you (singular) pronoun From Middle English ye, but pronounced with a short e sound.
yous, yousuns you (plural) pronoun See grammar derived from Irish.

Furthermore, speakers of the dialect conjugate many verbs according to how they are formed in the most vernacular forms of Ulster Scots, e.g. driv instead of drove and driven as the past tense of drive, etc. (literary Scots drave, driven). Verbal syncretism is extremely widespread, as is the Northern subject rule.

Ulster Scots English

This region is heavily influenced by the historic presence of Ulster Scots and covers areas such as northern and eastern County Antrim, the Ards Peninsula in County Down, The Laggan district in County Donegal and northeastern County Londonderry. These districts are strongly Ulster Scots-influenced, and Scots pronunciation of words is often heard. People from here are often mistaken by outsiders as Scottish. This area includes the Glens of Antrim, where the last native Irish speakers of a dialect native to what is now Northern Ireland were to be found. It has been stated that, whilst in the written form, Gaelic of this area continued to use standardised Irish forms, the spoken dialect continued to the Scottish variant, and was in effect no different from the Gaelic of Argyll, or Galloway (both in Scotland).

In the 1830s, Ordnance Survey memoirs came to the following conclusion about the dialect of the inhabitants of Carnmoney, east Antrim:

Their accent is peculiarly, and among old people disagreeably, strong and broad.

The results of a BBC sociolinguistic survey can be found here.[56] East Donegal also has a strong Ulster Scots dialect (see below).

Mid Ulster English

The speech in southern and western County Donegal, southern County Tyrone, southern County Londonderry, northern County Fermanagh, north County Armagh, southwestern County Antrim and most of County Down form a geographical band across the province from east to west. On the whole, these areas have much more in common with the Derry accent in the west than inner-city Belfast except in the east. This accent is often claimed as being the “standard” Northern Irish dialect as it is the most widely used, and it is the dialect of famous Irish writer Séamus Heaney. Parts of the north of County Monaghan (an area centred on Monaghan Town and known as North Monaghan) would roughly fall into this category, but only to a certain extent. Bundoran, a town at the southern extremity of County Donegal, also has quite a western Ireland accent, as do parts of the south-west extremity of County Fermanagh.

Belfast and surroundings

The broad, working-class Belfast dialect is not limited to the city itself but also takes in neighbouring urban areas in the local vicinity (such as Lisburn, Carrickfergus and Newtownards), as well as towns whose inhabitants originally came from Belfast (such as Craigavon). It is generally perceived as being associated with economically disadvantaged areas, and with youth culture. This however is not the dialect used in the media (even those outlets which are based in Belfast). Features of the accent include several vowel shifts, including one from /æ/ to /ɛ/ before or after velars (/bɛɡ/ for bag). Nowadays, this shift largely only happens before /k/, so pack and peck are homophones as /pɛk/.

The Belfast dialect is now becoming more frequently heard in towns and villages whose inhabitants would have traditionally spoken with a distinctively rural accent. Examples of such areas are Moira, Ballyclare, Dromore and Ballynahinch. It could be said that many young people in these areas prefer to use the more cosmopolitan city accent, as opposed to the local variant that their parents or people in other areas would use.

Other phonological features include the following:

  • Two major realisations of /e/ are to be encountered: in open syllables a long monophthong near [ɛː], but in closed syllables an ingliding diphthong, perhaps most typically [eə], but ranging from [ɛə] to [iə]. Thus days [dɛːz] and daze [deəz] are not homophonous.
  • In Belfast, and in mid and south Ulster, the opposition between /ɔ/ and /ɒ/ is better maintained than in other parts of Ulster, though it is restricted to only a few environments, e.g., that of a following voiceless plosive. Thus stock [stɒk ~ stɑk ~ sta̠k] is distinct from stalk [stɔ(ː)k]. However, this is complicated by the fact that certain words belonging to the Standard Lexical Set THOUGHT have /ɒ/ rather than the expected /ɔ/. These typically include draw, fall, walk, and caught. Water often has /a/ (the TRAP vowel).
  • The /aʊ/ phoneme is pronounced [əʉ] in most of Ulster, but in Belfast it is extremely variable and is a sensitive social marker. Pronunciations with a relatively front first element, [ɛ̈] or fronter, are working class. Middle class speakers prefer back [ɑ] or even [ɔ]. The second element is [ʉ ~ y ~ ɨ], often with little or no rounding. How and now may receive special treatment in working-class Belfast speech, with an open first element [a ~ ɑ] and a second element ranging over [i ~ ʉ], a retroflex approximant [ɻ], and zero, i.e., there may be no second element.[57]

Some of the vocabulary used among young people in Ulster, such as the word “spide“, is of Belfast origin.

Derry City and surrounding

The accent of Derry City is actually that of western County Londonderry (including Dungiven and Limavady), northeastern County Donegal (including Inishowen), and northern and western County Tyrone (including Strabane). There is a higher incidence of palatalisation after /k/ and its voiced equivalent /ɡ/[58](e.g. /kʲɑɹ/ “kyar” for “car”), perhaps through influence from Southern Hiberno-English. However, the most noticeable difference is perhaps the intonation, which is unique to the Derry, Letterkenny and Strabane area. The accent of the Finn Valley and especially The Laggan district (centred on the town of Raphoe), both in East Donegal, together with the accent of neighbouring West Tyrone and the accent of the westernmost parts of County Londonderry (not including Derry City), are also quite Scottish sounding. A variety of Ulster Scots is spoken in these areas. This West Ulster variety of Ulster Scots is considered to be quite similar to the Scots spoken in Ayrshire in south-west Scotland.

South Ulster English

South Armagh, south Monaghan, south Fermanagh, south Donegal, north Leitrim, and north Cavan[59][60] natives speak their own distinct variety of English.[61] Areas such as southern and western County Armagh, central and southern County Monaghan (known locally as South Monaghan), northern County Cavan and the southern ‘strip’ of County Fermanagh are the hinterland of the larger Mid-Ulster dialect. The accent gradually shifts from village to village, forming part of the dialect continuum between areas to the North and Midlands (as it once did in Gaelic). This accent is also used in north County Louth (located in Leinster) and in part of the northern ‘strip’ of County Leitrim (in Connacht).