Ulster Protestants
Total population
Total ambiguous
Regions with significant populations
Northern Ireland827,500[1] (Self-identified)
(Northern Irish Protestants)
Republic of Ireland201,400[2] (Self-identified)
(Irish Anglicans)
(Irish Presbyterians)
(Irish Methodists)
(Other Irish Protestants)
Ulster English, Ulster Scots, Ulster Irish
(mostly Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Pentecostalism, and Methodism)
Related ethnic groups
Ulster Scots, Anglo-Irish people, Irish people, Scottish people, English people, Scotch-Irish Americans, Scotch-Irish Canadians

Ulster Protestants are an ethnoreligious group[3][4][5][6][7] in the Irish province of Ulster, where they make up about 43.5% of the population. Most Ulster Protestants are descendants of settlers who arrived from Britain in the early 17th century Ulster Plantation. This was the settlement of the Gaelic, Catholic province of Ulster by Scots and English speaking Protestants, mostly from the Scottish Lowlands and Northern England.[8] Many more Scottish Protestant migrants arrived in Ulster in the late 17th century. Those who came from Scotland were mostly Presbyterians, while those from England were mostly Anglicans (see Church of Ireland). There is also a small Methodist community and the Methodist Church in Ireland dates to John Wesley's visit to Ulster in 1752.[9] Although most Ulster Protestants descend from Lowland Scottish people (some of whose descendants consider themselves Ulster Scots), many descend from English, and to a lesser extent, from Irish, Welsh and Huguenots.[10][11]

Since the 17th century, sectarian and political divisions between Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics have played a major role in the history of Ulster, and of Ireland as a whole. It has led to bouts of violence and political upheaval, notably in the Irish Confederate Wars, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, the Williamite War, the Armagh disturbances, Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Irish revolutionary period, and the Troubles. Today, the vast majority of Ulster Protestants live in Northern Ireland, which was created in 1921 to have an Ulster Protestant majority, and in the east of County Donegal. Politically, most are unionists, who have an Ulster British identity and want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.


Further information: Protestantism in Ireland

Changes in distribution of Irish Protestants, 1861–2011

The Ulster Protestant community emerged during the Plantation of Ulster. This was the colonisation of Ulster with loyal English-speaking Protestants from Great Britain under the reign of King James. Those involved in planning the plantation saw it as a means of controlling, anglicising,[12] and "civilising" Ulster.[13] The province was almost wholly Gaelic, Catholic and rural, and had been the region most resistant to English control. The plantation was also meant to sever Gaelic Ulster's links with the Gaelic Highlands of Scotland.[14]

Most of the land colonised was confiscated from the native Irish. Begun privately in 1606, the plantation became government-sponsored in 1609, with much land for settlement being allocated to the Livery Companies of the City of London. By 1622 there was a total settler population of about 19,000,[15] and by the 1630s it is estimated there were up to 50,000.[16]

The native Irish reaction to the plantation was generally hostile,[17] as Irish Catholics lost their land and became marginalized.[18] In 1641 there was an uprising by Irish Catholics in Ulster who wanted an end to anti-Catholic discrimination, greater Irish self-governance, and to undo the plantations. Some rebels attacked, expelled or massacred Protestant settlers during the rebellion, most notably the Portadown massacre. Some settlers massacred Catholics in kind. It is estimated that up to 12,000 Ulster Protestants were killed or died of illness after being driven from their homes.[19] The rebellion had a lasting psychological impact on the Ulster Protestant community and they commemorated its anniversary for two centuries.[20] In the war that followed, a Scottish Covenanter army invaded and re-captured eastern Ulster from the rebels, while a Protestant settler army held northwestern Ulster. These Protestant armies retreated from central Ulster after the Irish Confederate victory at Benburb. Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–52), Catholicism was repressed and most Catholic-owned land was confiscated.

Another influx of an estimated 20,000 Scottish Protestants, mainly to the coastal counties of Antrim, Down and Londonderry, was a result of the seven ill years of famines in Scotland in the 1690s.[21] This migration decisively changed the population of Ulster, giving it a Protestant majority.[16] While Presbyterians of Scottish descent and origin had already become the majority of Ulster Protestants by the 1660s, when Protestants still made up only a third of the population, they had become an absolute majority in the province by the 1720s.[22]

There were tensions between the two main groups of Ulster Protestants; Scottish Protestant migrants to Ulster were mostly Presbyterian[23] and English Protestants mostly Anglican. The Penal Laws discriminated against both Catholics and Presbyterians, in an attempt to force them to accept the state religion, the Anglican Church of Ireland. Repression of Presbyterians by Anglicans intensified after the Glorious Revolution, especially after the Test Act of 1703, and was one reason for heavy onward emigration to British America by Ulster Presbyterians during the 18th century; emigration was particularly heavy to the Thirteen Colonies, where they became known as the Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish.[24] Between 1717 and 1775, an estimated 200,000 migrated to what became the United States.[25] Some Presbyterians also returned to Scotland during this period, where the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was the state religion. These Penal Laws are partly what led Ulster Presbyterians to become founders and members of the United Irishmen, a republican movement which launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Repression of Presbyterians largely ended after the rebellion, with the relaxation of the Penal Laws.[26]

The Kingdom of Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in 1801. As Belfast became industrialised in the 19th century, it attracted yet more Protestant immigrants from Scotland.[27] After the partition of Ireland in 1920, the new government of Northern Ireland launched a campaign to entice Irish unionists/Protestants from the Irish Free State to relocate to Northern Ireland, with inducements of state jobs and housing, and large numbers accepted.[28]

Present day

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

The vast majority of Ulster Protestants live in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Most tend to support the Union with Great Britain,[29] and are referred to as unionists. Unionism is an ideology that (in Ulster) has been divided by some into two camps; Ulster British, who are attached to the United Kingdom and identify primarily as British; and Ulster loyalists, whose politics are primarily ethnic, prioritising their Ulster Protestantism above their British identity.[30][31][32] The Loyal Orders, which include the Orange Order, Royal Black Institution and Apprentice Boys of Derry, are exclusively Protestant fraternal organisations which originated in Ulster and still have most of their membership there.

At the time of the partition of Ireland about 70,000 Ulster Protestants lived in the three counties of Ulster that are now in the Republic of Ireland, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal, although their numbers have significantly declined in the intervening century. They now make up around a fifth of the Republic's Protestant population.[33] Unlike Protestants in the rest of the Republic, some retain a strong sense of Britishness, and a small number have difficulty identifying with the independent Irish state.[34][35][36] Ulster Protestants also share common religious, political and social ties with some protestants in counties that border Ulster, particularly County Leitrim that hosts a number of Orange Halls.[37] Sir Jim Kilfedder, Ulster Unionist MP, and Gordon Wilson were both Leitrim Protestants.

Ulster Protestants are also found in diaspora communities, particularly in Scotland, England, and in some other areas of Ireland such as Dublin.

Most Ulster Protestants speak Ulster English, and some on the north-east coast and in East Donegal speak with the Ulster Scots dialects.[38][39][40] A very small number have also learned the Irish language as a second language.[41][42]

See also


  1. ^ "Census 2021 main statistics for Northern Ireland (phase 1)". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. 7 September 2022. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  2. ^ "8. Religion" (PDF). Central Statistics Office. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  3. ^ Hunt, Stephen (13 May 2016). "Chapter 7: Christians and Gays in Northern Ireland". Contemporary Christianity and LGBT Sexualities. ISBN 9781317160922. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  4. ^ Byrne, Sean (2000). Social Conflicts and Collective Identities. p. 94. ISBN 9780742500518. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  5. ^ It's never too late for 'us' to meet 'them': prior intergroup friendships moderate the impact of later intergroup friendships in educational settings. Medical Sciences Division, University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 6 May 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  6. ^ Ó Lúing, Seán (1953). Art Ó Griofa. Dublin: Sairséal agus Dill. p. 217.
  7. ^ NI Curriculum, Teachers' Notes, p. 54
  8. ^ "'Sheep stealers from the north of England': the Riding Clans in Ulster by Robert Bell". History Ireland. 24 January 2013.
  9. ^ "The Methodist Church in Ireland: History". Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  10. ^ "Ulster blood, English heart – I am what I am". nuzhound.com. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  11. ^ "The Huguenots in Lisburn". Culture Northern Ireland. 2 May 2006. Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  12. ^ According to the Lord Deputy Chichester, the plantation would 'separate the Irish by themselves...[so they would], in heart in tongue and every way else become English', Padraig Lenihan, Consolidating Conquest, Ireland, 1603–1727, p43
  13. ^ Jonathan Bardon (2011). The Plantation of Ulster. Gill & Macmillan. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-7171-4738-0. To King James the Plantation of Ulster would be a civilising enterprise which would 'establish the true religion of Christ among men...almost lost in superstition'. In short, he intended his grandiose scheme would bring the enlightenment of the Reformation to one of the most remote and benighted provinces in his kingdom. Yet some of the most determined planters were, in fact, Catholics.
  14. ^ Ellis, Steven (2014). The Making of the British Isles: The State of Britain and Ireland, 1450-1660. Routledge. p. 296.
  15. ^ Canny, Making Ireland British, p. 211
  16. ^ a b "From Catastrophe to Baby Boom – Population Change in Early Modern Ireland 1641-1741". The Irish Story.
  17. ^ The Plantation of Ulster: Reaction of the natives. BBC History.
  18. ^ Bartlett, Thomas. Ireland: A History. Cambridge University Press, 2010. p.104
  19. ^ "The Plantation of Ulster: 1641 rebellion". BBC History.
  20. ^ Lenihan, Pádraig. Battle of the Boyne. Tempus, 2003. ISBN 0-7524-2597-8 pp. 257–258
  21. ^ K. J. Cullen, Famine in Scotland: The “Ill Years” of the 1690s (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), ISBN 0748638873, pp. 178-9.
  22. ^ Karen Cullen, Famine in Scotland: The 'Ill Years' of the 1690s, pp. 176-179
  23. ^ Edmund Curtis, p. 198.
  24. ^ "The Irish at Home and Abroad: Scots-Irish in Colonial America / Magazine / Irish Ancestors / The Irish Times". irishtimes.com. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  25. ^ Fischer, David Hackett, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America Oxford University Press, USA (14 March 1989), p. 606; Parke S. Rouse, Jr., The Great Wagon Road, Dietz Press, 2004, p. 32, and Leyburn, James G., The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, Univ of NC Press, 1962, p. 180.
  26. ^ James Connolly. "James Connolly: July the 12th (1913)". marxists.org.
  27. ^ "The Scots in Victorian and Edwardian Belfast". euppublishing.com.
  28. ^ "Protestant population decline". The Irish Times. 22 September 2014.
  29. ^ Byrne, Kevin; O'Malley, Eoin (2013). "The Two Types of Ulster Unionism: Testing an Ethnic Explanation for the Unionist/Loyalist Divide" (PDF). Irish Political Studies. 28 (1): 130–139. doi:10.1080/07907184.2012.732573. S2CID 49524032. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  30. ^ Smithey, Lee A. (22 August 2011). Unionists, Loyalists, and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland. ISBN 9780199875382.
  31. ^ "People - Political Science - Trinity College Dublin" (PDF). www.tcd.ie.
  32. ^ White, Andrew (2007). "Is contemporary Ulster unionism in crisis? Changes in unionist identity during the Northern Ireland Peace Process". Irish Journal of Sociology. 16 (1): 118–135. doi:10.1177/079160350701600107. S2CID 157581193.
  33. ^ Darach MacDonald (18 May 2012). "Frontier Post". darachmac.blogspot.dk.
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  35. ^ "Living behind the Emerald". Independent.ie.
  36. ^ "Orange County, Irish-style..." Independent.ie.
  37. ^ "Leitrim Lodge takes part in Orange Order March". Leitrim Observer – via www.leitrimobserver.ie.
  38. ^ Gregg R.J. (1972) "The Scotch-Irish Dialect Boundaries in Ulster" in Wakelin M. F., Patterns in the Folk Speech of The British Isles, London
  39. ^ C. Macafee (2001) "Lowland Sources of Ulster Scots" in J.M. Kirk & D.P. Ó Baoill, Languages Links: The Languages of Scotland and Ireland, Cló Ollscoil na Banríona, Belfast, p121
  40. ^ J. Harris (1985) Phonological Variation and Change: Studies in Hiberno English, Cambridge, p15
  41. ^ Ervine, Linda (9 November 2015). "Linda Ervine: I realised Irish belonged to me - a Protestant - and I fell in love with it". The Irish News.
  42. ^ Geoghegan, Peter. "Protestants go for Gaelic in Northern Ireland". www.aljazeera.com.