Sunday, 22 January 2012

Border Reivers; The ancestors of many Ulster Scots

Anyone who lives in Ulster will be very familiar with surnames such as Armstrong, Irving, Murray, Kerr, Maxwell, Johnstone, Carruthers, Potts, Elliott, Burns, Douglas, Bell, Crozier, Scott & Graham. These are all Border Reiver family names.

Many Ulster-Scots (Scots-Irish) are descended from these Border Reivers;  lawless clans from the border between Scotland & England, where a lifestyle of raiding and marauding was the only way to survive. They started off as subsistence farmers but owing to their geographical position they were frequently harassed by passing armies who, at the very least, would require provisioning, often without payment,  but who were more often hell bent on destroying everything before them and causing as much damage and misery as they could. Crops were destroyed, homesteads burnt and the people murdered or dispersed.

It is no coincidence that these people, having had their crops regularly destroyed and their livestock stolen, looked for other means of sustaining themselves and their families... They took to reiving.

Raiding parties in battle

a short excerpt from Born Fighting on the Reivers 

For over 400 years between the 13th & 17th centuries, warring families from both sides of the lawless border valleys would carry out deadly raids on each other. These skilled warrior horsemen would live a life of looting, arson, murder & rustling.  The life of the Border Reiver was not necessarily ruled by his allegiance to the English or Scottish Crowns, but more likely by his allegiance to a family surname. The history of the Border Reivers has many similarities to that of  the American Wild West. It produced its share of outlaws and broken men, corrupt officials, greed, misery and struggle for survival.

Reiver map of the Scottish - English border

Reiver re-enactors

In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He immediately set about unifying the two countries and started by bringing the Reivers under control. Many Reiver families were faced with the choice of hanging or accept exile across the Irish sea to the wild badlands of Ulster as part of James' Plantation project to bring the Irish natives under control.

ballads of the Border Reivers

In Ulster the Border Reiver family names were found in particularly concentrated numbers in county Fermanagh. Are you descended from the Border Reivers? Have a look a this list of the major family names from the Border Reivers website.

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