Large-scale emigration from Ulster to America began in the early 1700s and it is reckoned that by the end of the 18th century as many as 250,000 Ulster-Scots had crossed the Atlantic, leaving an indelible impression on their new home.
There were both economic and religious reasons for Ulster-Scots emigration. Most of the Scots settlers and their descendants in Ulster were Presbyterians, who suffered religious persecution over many decades. For instance, the Test Act required holders of public office to prove that they had taken communion in an Anglican church – which Presbyterians would not do.
Economic factors were also central to the rise of emigration. Economic depressions, a succession of droughts and poor landlord-tenant relations forced many Ulster-Scots to North America. Once they arrived their influence on their new home was extraordinary.
It was Ulster-Scots (known in America as the Scotch-Irish) who pushed back America’s western boundaries, settling large areas of the South. They played a key role in the Wars of Independence and the Declaration of Independence. The latter was first printed by an Ulster Scot, John Dunlap of Strabane.
The music and songs the Ulster-Scots brought with them to America had a major influence on the development of country music. Perhaps most strikingly, there are at least 14 US presidents with Ulster-Scots connections, including Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S Grant and Woodrow Wilson. Other famous Americans with Ulster-Scots roots are the Confederate Army hero, Stonewall Jackson, Davy Crockett, Mark Twain and Neil Armstrong.
Since the 1760s, when Ulster-Scots first settled in Nova Scotia, hundreds of thousands have left the shores of Ulster for Canada, making a huge contribution to their adopted home.