From Highlands to Emerald Isles: An Exploration of Scots-Irish Roots

Family History
3 August 2023
by Ancestry® Team

Scots-Irish, Scotch-Irish, Scot-Irish, or Irish-Scot? Technically speaking, the answer is Ulster Scots—but what you call yourself likely depends on your current location. Scots-Irish people have a fascinating history dating back to the 16th century, when the Plantation of Ulster, King of Scotland James VI’s campaign to bring the Protestant faith to Ireland, was established. 

Today, Scots-Irish culture has a stronghold across areas of North America, Ireland, Scotland, England, and elsewhere. 

What Does It Mean to Be Scots-Irish?

We know that Scots-Irish people can trace their heritage back to 16th-century Ulster, but how has this small ethnic group made such a far-flung impact? Initially, Irish people mainly operated the plantation. Then, when Stuart King James VI of Scotland was crowned king of England, he united England and Scotland. 

A wave of workers (primarily from the south and west of Scotland and the Borders) migrated to Ulster. In the 18th century, there was a second surge of Scots-Irish immigrants—this time from Ireland to North America. In fact, one of the largest immigrant populations in pre-revolution America was Scots-Irish, with many settling in the Appalachian Mountains, where their ancestors still have a stronghold today.   

Scots-Irish Surnames

Scots-Irish surnames have Scottish and Irish origins, but they also include English and Welsh influences. Here are some popular examples:

Scotch-Irish farmer, 1912, Wikimedia Commons
Scotch-Irish farmer, 1912, Wikimedia Commons

Why Were the Irish Called Scots?

The Romans referred to Ireland as Scotia, as seen in historical documents dating back to AD 312. The Scotti people moved from Ireland to Argyll in Scotland around AD 500, and the country became widely known as Scotland by the 12th century.   

Are the Scots and Irish Related?

Yes, they are related. Many Scottish and Irish people consider the two countries to be sister nations. 

Foremost, Scots and Irish people have Celtic roots, along with the Bretons, Cornish, Manx, and Welsh. Plus, due to their close proximity to each other, migration between the two nations goes back millennia and continues long after colonial times have ended. Furthermore, one of the two native languages in Scotland—Scots Gaelic—and Irish have shared Celtic origins.

Trace Your Scots-Irish Lineage With Ancestry®

Scots-Irish history is a vibrant mosaic of culture, community, politics, and economics woven together over centuries. If you have Scots-Irish heritage, this intricate connection is a fascinating backdrop to your own family history.

Keen to demystify the story of your ancestors? With more than 50% of North Americans tracing their lineage back to England, Scotland, and Ireland, there’s a good chance you’ve got some Scots-Irish blood. Start your Ancestry free trial today to find out.