People all across the world have Northern Irish roots thanks to years of immigration and emigration.
7600 – 7900 BC
Mountsandel Wood is the earliest known settlement of man in Ireland dating to between 7600 and 7900BC.
Flint tools were found here, indicating that Stone Age hunters camped here to fish salmon in the natural weir. The earthen fort is thought to date back to Norman times.
Prehistoric enclosure with a dolmen in the centre is a beautiful example of a 'henge' monument – a late Neolithic ceremonial or assembly site dating back to about 2700BC, and is the largest known in Ireland.
668 BC – 450 AD
As one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites, the legendary Emain Macha, home of the famous Red Branch Knights and Ulster Cycle of tales is a place where myth and reality meet.
It is a large earthwork on top of a drumlin and is thought to be the site of a pagan sanctuary.
The foundation of Emain Macha is dated in the Irish annals from 668 BC (in the Annals of the Four Masters) to 307 BC (in the Annals of Tigernach and Innisfallen. The period of activity at Emain Macha is stated as being between 630 years in the Annals of Clonmacnoise to about 1000 years according to the Annals of Ulster. The Tain and death of Cú Chulainn are dated to 19 BC in the Annals of Tigernach and the fall of the last king of Emain Macha is recorded at the battle of Achad Lethderg as occurring between 324 and 332 AD in various sources. A few sources raise the the possibility of some royal association with Navan up to about 450 AD.
Patrick was reportedly born in northern Roman Britain around AD 387, yet more than 1,600 years later a multitude of historical associations, myths, legends and stories about him still abound in the land that he converted and loved. Early medieval tradition credits him with being the first bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, and they regard him as the founder of Christianity in Ireland.
John de Courcy
In 1177, John de Courcy invaded Ulster and for about the next 150 years a succession of Norman knights consolidated and extended the earldom. The Earls of Ulster did not just have to contend with battles with Irish kings - in 1210, King John arrived in Carrickfergus to defeat Hugh de Lacy, and de Lacy was only able to return in 1223 with the help of Áed Méith Ua Néill, king of Tír Eóghain.
At times of crisis, Normans were able to fall back to their main castles of Carrickfergus and Dundrum. Perhaps partly to make amends for the churches that they had burnt during their campaigns, the Normans founded a number of new abbeys such as Inch and Grey Abbeys, and granted Down to the church, renaming it Downpatrick.
Hamilton and Montgomery Plantation
Scots James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery received land in counties Down and Antrim as a reward for rescuing local chieftain Con O’Neill. Over 400 years ago they settled over 10,000 Scots in these areas who successfully worked the land and brought with them their language, religious beliefs and customs.
‘The Hamilton and Montgomery settlement really is the ‘Dawn of The Ulster-Scots.’ Hamilton’s tenants built towns like Bangor, where he built his first house on the site of Bangor Castle, Groomsport, Holywood, Dundonald and Killyleagh. Montgomery restored the ruined Newtownards Priory and his tenants built towns like Newtownards, Greyabbey and Donaghadee. The Ulster Scots Trail covers a number of attractions including: Grey Abbey House, Mount Stewart, Castle Ward and North Down Museum
To find out more about the Ulster Scots, visit:
Flight of the Earls
Creating deep connections between Northern Ireland and mainland Europe, ‘The Flight of the Earls’ refers to when two of the most powerful chieftains, the Earl of Tyrone and the Earl of Tyrconnell left Ireland, with many of their supporters in tow. This was following The Nine Years’ War (1594-1603) between England and Ireland.
They hoped to sail to Spain, to ask for help from the Spanish King to drive the English out of Ireland. However, storms meant the Earls never reached Spain. Instead, they landed in France and ended up in Rome. They never returned to Ireland. The Hill of the O'Neill and Ranfurly Arts & Visitor Centre is full of information to discover about this fascinating time in Northern Ireland's history.
King James I granted Bushmills, County Antrim the first licence to distil whiskey in the British Isles.
What to visit: The Bushmills Distillery takes you through the 400 year old distillery process.
Plantation of Ulster
King James I planted thousands of people into Northern Ireland from Scotland and England, hoping they would be obedient to him and his government. However, many Irish people resented the King interfering in their land.
The new, growing population brought new customs and a new religion - Protestantism. English language became more prevalent and Ulster-Scots was also developed during this time.
What to visit: Visit Monea Castle in County Fermanagh or Dunluce Castle, for examples of castles built during the Plantation or Springhill House in Moneymore, or Bellaghy Bawn, for examples of Plantation Houses.
The Walled City of Derry~Londonderry is a prime example of a Plantation settlement. This Historic Walls survive from this period and you can find out more by visiting St.Columb’s Cathedral, the largest church built in the Plantation counties and The Guildhall with its Plantation exhibition.
The Siege of Derry
This was the first major event in the Williamite / Jacobite War in Ireland. While the gates of the old walled city were initially closed in December 1688, the siege didn't begin in earnest until April the following year. The siege lasted nearly three and a half months, ending on 30 July 1689 when relief ships bringing an English army sailed down Lough Foyle. The siege is commemorated yearly in August by the Apprentice Boys of Derry and also exhibited at The Siege Museum.
1688 – 1691
The Glorious Revolution
Orangeism celebrates and commemorates the Glorious Revolution and the building blocks of Constitutional Democracy that were secured at this time. The Glorious Revolution may have been a political revolution at Westminster but it was secured in Ireland through war. The Siege of Londonderry, the Battles of Newtownbutler, the Boyne and Aughrim have a significant place in the traditions of the Institution. For more information visit the Museum of Orange Heritage.
1718 - Onwards
Large-scale migration of Ulster-Scots to America. This included the ancestors of more than a few American Presidents.
The father of the 7th American President, Andrew Jackson, emigrated from Co Antrim
What to visit: The Andrew Jackson Cottage and US Rangers Centre, a traditional thatched farmhouse built in the 1750’s, standing near the site of the original Jackson homestead.
The great grandfather of the 18th American President, Ulysses Simpson Grant, emigrated from Dungannon.
What to visit: The Grant Ancestral Homestead in Tyrone houses an exhibition on the life of the two term President.
The grandfather of the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, emigrated from Strabane, in County Tyrone.
What to visit: The Wilson Ancestral Home
Gray’s Printing Press
Woodrow Wilson’s grandfather, James Wilson, learned his trade at Gray’s Printing Press, near Strabane. On July 4th 1776 the original Declaration of Independence was signed. The signed Declaration was taken to John Dunlap. A native of Strabane, County Tyrone, Dunlap is remembered as the first printer of the Declaration of Independence, Now a National Trust property, visitors can see demonstrations of the historic printing press on selected dates.
The father of the 21st President, Chester Alan Arthur, emigrated from Cullybackey, outside of Ballymena.
What to visit: Arthur Cottage and Interpretative Centre preserves the lifestyle of the family in the 1700s, alongside it is an Interpretive Centre relating to the President’s life.
Emigration to Australia began, after the disruption of the Napoleonic wars. Significantly further away than North America, it was less popular. Thank to government backed schemes, however, it was a popular destination for workhouse inmates and convicts.
What to visit: The Crumlin Road Gaol (photo credit to Crumlin Road Gaol) in Belfast explores the story of local prisoners emigrating to Australia.
The Great Famine in Ulster led to a huge number emigrating to America.
What to visit: The Ulster American Folk Park is an immersive park, where you can experience first-hand the emigration of the Irish to America.
Future New Zealand Prime Minister, William F Massey was born in Limavady, County Londonderry. John Balance, Prime Minster of New Zealand from 1891-1893, was also born in Glenavy, County Antrim.
What to visit: Ballance House is where you can discover the history of the Balance family, the Ulster New Zealand Trust and other connections to New Zealand.
More recent figureheads:
Thomas Andrews Jr (Born 1873)
Businessman and shipbuilder. He was managing director and head of the drafting department of the shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland. As the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic, he was travelling on board that vessel during her maiden voyage when the ship hit an iceberg on 15 April 1912, and he died in the disaster. What to visit: Titanic Belfast
CS Lewis (Born 1898)
Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.
Lewis wrote more than 30 books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis’s most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.
(Photo courtesy of Bradley Quinn)
Seamus Heaney was born at Mossbawn on 13 April 1939, near the village of Bellaghy, the eldest of 9 children. He gained a first class honours degree in English Language and Literature from Queen's University, Belfast (QUB) in 1961 and it was during this period that his first poems were published in student magazines.
He went on to qualify as a teacher, taking up a post in St Thomas's Secondary School in Belfast before being appointed Lecturer in English at St Joseph's College of Education.
In 1966 his first collection of poems, Death of a Naturalist, was published and in the same year he was appointed to the faculty of QUB as a lecturer in English. He was subsequently a professor at both Harvard University and Oxford University.
He wrote and published poetry, plays, essays and translations throughout his life and in 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, sealing his reputation as one of Ireland's literary greats.
(Photo Courtesy of Mid-Ulster District Council)
What to visit: Seamus Heaney Homeplace