Twelve Lairds in Bombie

Author: John A Oliver

Date: 1996

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 4 Spring 1996

In the last issue of ‘Ullans’ we published a short story rich in the Magilligan dialect of Ulster-Scots. “The Glaur” was taken from John A Oliver’s book‘Girl, Name Forgotten … stories from seven centuries of family history’ (Littlewood Press, 1991). As promised, we bring another abstract from Dr Oliver’s book. This particular episode takes the reader back to the plantation period of the early 1600s, when several thousand Scots settlers settled on Haberdashers’ Company lands in north Londonderry under Sir Robert McClelland of Kircudbrightshire. As an appendix to this story, we have added a copy of an original manuscript of Sir Robert McClelland in 1614, promising land to a David Cunningham in Co Londonderry. The last document is written in typical Ulster-Scots of the early 1600s.

Sir Robert McClelland was young, vigorous, brash, impatient, impetuous and given to sudden outbursts of violent behaviour. Still, he was highly intelligent and had all the attractiveness that goes with animal energy. So they came and listened.

“I was talking to the King last week. I was at the Court on other business and the King sent for me. He is worried about his scheme for settling Ulster — it’s going, but only at half speed. He has found Undertakers for the land but they are not keeping their part of the bargain — they are not taking over nearly enough English and Scottish farmers and workers. And the English that do go, don’t like it and soon creep back to England again. He wants more Scots to go. He’s angry above all about the London Company of Haberdashers who have let him down. He wants me to take over their lands around Limavady and settle you men on them.”

“What do you think? Ought I to sign up? If I did sign and agree to pay a thousand pounds a year in rent, would you come with me? and work the land?”

“I want each one of you to speak your mind and not hide behind another man’s back. As it says in the Good Book: Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words.”

“So we’ll start nearest home with John McClelland of Bombie”.

“We’ll do nothing of the sort”, interrupted Sir William Maxwell of Gribdae brutally. “You’re at your foxy tricks already. You know what your brother is going to say; you know he will back you up; you’ve probably told him on the quiet what to say. I’m the most senior laird in this room, by far, and I claim the right to speak first. And I happen to be your nearest neighbour so I know your tricky devices even when you talk from the Bible”.

“All right, William Maxwell. Have your say”.

“In my opinion this is the daftest idea I ever heard of. Here we all are, all twelve of us, settled on our lands here in The Stewartry, among our friends. No need to move. And if we did have to move, Ireland would be the last place we should be thinking of going to — a melancholy mass of mountains and bogs. It rains all the time. The Irish do nothing but fight, and if they can’t find anybody to fight, then they fight each other. In no time they would be murdering us in our beds.”

“The whole idea is madness. I’m advising you not to touch it. I’m twice your age Robert McClelland and I tell you instead to tarry in Jericho, young man, until your beard be grown”.

“Who is this that darkeneth council without knowledge? Everything that Sir William Maxwell has said is based on rumour, gossip and prejudice” pronounced the formidable William McClelland of Overlawe. “I’m a practical man. I go by the facts. I have travelled to Ulster and back again three times over and I live to tell the tale. I’ve never been shipwrecked or robbed. I’m related to Hugh Montgomery, Laird of Braidstane. Montgomery and Hamilton of Dunlop have been settled in County Down for years now — at places known as Clandeboye and Ards. I’ve taken brood mares over to them and I have got good money for them — a lot better money that I would get here. I’ve seen with my own eyes how they live. There’s not a mountain or a bog in sight. The land is good — far better than anything in Galloway. And it is well wooded and the rivers are alive with fish. The weather is so mild they can sow by the end of March, the season is that early. There is a lot of wee harbours and the Scots settlers can be back and forward to Portpatrick in a day.”

“Those are the facts. I’m in favour of Robert signing for us all”.

“I can go further than that” added John McClelland of Orchardton lying further away overlooking Auchencairn Bay.

“I know the Stewarts of Ayrshire who were hunted out by fellow Scots and were driven to Kintyre and Islay. Talk about melancholy mountain and bog! You should just see those places! But McDonnell Lord of the Isles owns half of County Antrim already and it suits him well to ferry Scots farmers over there so as to strengthen his grip. He’s a Papist of course and used to take over nothing but Papists. But latterly he has come to his senses. He finds that Scots Protestants suit him far better and so he took the Stewarts and a lot of others from Kintyre and Islay. He used to favour soldiers who could do a bit of farming but now he knows he’s a lot better off with farmers who can do a bit of soldiering, like us. They’re well settled in now at places like Ballintoy and Dunluce and Portballintrae — it’s not new. That lot have been there for a couple of generations now. And I know for a fact that they have a dozen Ministers of the Kirk with them — men like Reverend John Craig, Archibald Adair, Thomas Bruce, George Montgomery brother of Hugh. We’d be among our own folk if we went. Our faith would be secure for we’re a stiff-necked people. My voice is for taking up the offer, Robert McClelland”.

“My wife says …” Eddie Forrester of Culdoach began weakly and falteringly.

“Oh keep quiet Eddie”. “Leave the women out of this”. “We don’t want to hear the lamentations of Eddie’s woman”.

“We do. That’s just what we want” said Sir Robert McClelland firmly. “I know Eddie’s woman and she understands a lot more than you think.”

“We’ll all be in the same boat so far as help goes” put in Alec Mickle at once. Like William Fullerton I’d need to take some men with me if I’m to take on a hundred acres of arable. There are a couple of young men at Billies who are itching to go. They’re the best ploughmen in the whole of Galloway, I do believe. But there’s a big family of them and there’ll never be room for them all to make a living. They’ve been at my brother and me for a loan. They’re drawn by the talk they hear of empty land over there. The Father — Andrew Oliver — is a great reader and talker and he has been telling them about wide open spaces at Limavady waiting to be ploughed up. So these boys want us to lend them enough to buy a couple of horses and ploughs. They’re decent hard-working lads”.

“I know the family” interjected Sir Robert McClelland.

“The Father is a bit of a dreamer but the Mother is a splendid woman — she must have been a beauty in her day. I can remember, when we were small, my own Father having them in to the castle for an evening’s chat now and again. He found Andrew Oliver an education to talk to. I suppose he was sweet on the wife, Amy, now that I come to think of it. I agree, Alec, they’re just the sort of young men you need to have with you”.

“Down where I live at the shore, sea-fishing is a hard life” said William McClelland of Mulloch on the Solway Coast. “I could do better at the eels — the eels on the River Bann are the fattest in Europe and the Londoners are mad about the slimy things but I have a few merks put by me, enough to buy the gear and then I would be on the pig’s back selling eels to the moneyed Londoners”.

“I had an Edinburgh Merchant talking to me the other day” said John Ewart, another Kirkcudbright Townsman. “He was trying to sell me something I didn’t want and couldn’t afford even if I did want it. It seems the Edinburgh men are vexed at not getting in on this settlement. They saw themselves making a fortune but the King would have none of it. He told them to their faces that they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves to the Ulster countryside. What sort of a figure would some fop or dandy from the Royal Mile cut when faced with a gallowglass on a dark night in Margymonaghan? The King had it out with them, straight and heavy. He thought that men like us could look after ourselves a lot better, so he did”.

“Maybe you’ll let me speak, now that you’ve all put your big arguments” interjected John McClelland of Bombie modestly. “My word is simple. I’m a King’s man through and through. Our King Jamie is King of the three Kingdoms. Now that he has settled Scotland and England he wants to settle Ireland! What’s good enough for the King is good enough for me. That’s all I have to say”.

“I’ll say the same but I lift my eyes further and higher” added Sir Herbert Maxwell of Kirkconnell by Ringford. “The world is changing. The New World of America is opening up. Ulster is opening up and needs people. The Indies are opening up to trade. We are in a new age and I want to be part of it. I want to go to Ulster, make good there and then push on to the American Colonies, I have set my heart on the new world. So I throw my voice in support of Robert McClelland if he makes his mind to accept the offer and if he can manage to pay the thousand a year rent — and I admit that’s a lot of money for him to pay”.

“My wife says …”

“Not again Eddie”. “No more rhymes or fairy tales”.

“What do you say yourself?” “Do you advise Sir Robert to sign the bit of paper or do you not?” “Speak like a man, speak for yourself, Eddie”.

“My wife has only the one eye, you know, but she can see more with the one eye than I can see with two”.

“Look” she said “I can tell you what you don’t know. Sir Robert McClelland made up his mind long ago. He has signed the paper. He’s taken the land. He’s agreed to pay the rent. The rent is three hundred and fifty pounds ten shillings a year for fifty-one years. And, what’s more, you’re all wasting your time. You’re a lot of sheep. And you, Eddie Forrester, you’re the wettest lamb of all”.

“We sail next Monday, on the morning tide”.

John A Oliver


Sir Robert McClelland was a distinguished Scottish laird who had become the agent for the Haberdashers and Clothworkers Company in north Derry. Documents written by himself or his Scottish aides are very different from those written at the same time by English planters. In our selected piece, typical Scots spellings and orthographic forms (such as spelling quh— for ‘wh—’) abound.

1 I Sir Robert McClellane of Bomby knight be thir presentis dois faithfullie promeiss to my gud freynd David Cunynghame of Heurt his airis and assignayis to set to thame ane sufficient Laice of twell scoir aikeris of land that I haif of the Happerdaschers portioun of Londary and that for
5 the space of one and fiftie yeirs lyand within the Countie of Culraine in ony pairt of the said Happerdaschers proportioun now pertenying to me exceptand and reservand the stone hous and mannis his toun village and mylne and toun lands lyand thairto that the said Sir Robert pleiss chois best quhilk twell scoir akeris of land sall ly all and togidder guid arrabill
10 and pastuirabill Payand thairfoir yeirlie for ilk aiker the sowme of tuell penis sterling money and that for all uther rent and dewtie can be askit be me the said Sir Robert or his foirsaids and gif thair be not peit and turff within the said xij scoir aiker of land I the said Sir Robert promissis that David Cuningham and his foirsaids shall haif sufficient peit and
15 turff yeirlie in the nixt adjacent moss thairto with ane sufficient way for carrying thame to thair houssis As also gif it salhappin me the said Sir Robert and my foirsaids to obtene ane Laice of the teithis of these Landis the said Sir Robert and my foirsaids promissis faithfullie that the said David his foirsaids shall haife ane sufficient richt thairoff of the
20 cheapest rent that only uther my friends sall haiff possesseurs of these landis As also I the said Sir Robert binds me and my foirsaids for the guidwill and favour I beir to the said David Cunynghame to gif hym and his foirsaids ane hundreth aikers of the said twell scoir aikers frie in a coppyhold gif he pleis to accept thairof payand thairfor yeirlie for ilk
25 aiker of the said hundreth a grote sterling money and sall gif hym and thame a sufficient richt thairoff. And further I the said David obleis me and my foirsaidis to cum to the said Sir Robertis mylnnes nixt adjacent thairto and pey the multouris thairto as utheris his freyndis and coppyholderis dois and to keip his courtis and giff obedience thairto as becummis
30 being haldin within the said proportioun and farther I obleys me to build ane sufficient and strang hous of the Ingliss forme or ellis with stone gif I can haif thame esily As also I bind me and my foirsaidis to serve the said Sir Robert and his foirsaids in all his and thair lesum effair quhen I and my foirsaidis guidlie may without harme to our selffis. In Witnes
35 heiroff I haiff signet seillit and subscrywit this samin with my hand at Newtoun the twentie ane day of October Befoir Mr William and John Schawis and William and Thomas McLellans my servandis.

Bombye (L.S.)

William Schau.

Jhone Schaw, witnes.

Thomas Mccelland, witnes.

Notes: — ‘by’.
thir — ‘these’.
dois — ‘does, do’.
2.gud — ‘good’.
airis — ‘heirs’.
3.ane — one, an, a’.
twell — ‘twelve’.
aikeris — ‘acres’. Note the usual ‘-is’ plural ending.
4.Happerdaschers — ‘Haberdaschers’. Note the sch spelling for ‘sh’.
5.Culraine — ‘Coleraine’ Co Londonderry was known as Co Coleraine before the plantation.
7.exceptand — ‘excepting’. Note the ‘-and’ endings for present participles.
8.mylne — ‘mill’.
9.quhilk — which’.
sall — ‘shall’.
togidder — ‘together’.
10.ilk — ‘each’.
11.askit — ‘asked’. Note the ‘-it’ past tense endings on regular verbs.
12.gif — ‘if’.
15.moss — ‘peat bog’.
17.foirsaids — ‘representatives’.
19.richt — ‘right’.
23.hundreth — ‘hundred’.
25.grote — ‘a groat (13s 4d)’.
28.multouris — ‘multure’ (the proportion of meal ground at the mill provided to the miller).
31.strang — ‘strong’.
Ingliss — ‘English’.
37.servandis — ‘servants’.


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