All the Maxwell families who live in Ireland or who ever have lived in Ireland, have their origins in Scotland. Many of these Maxwells forebears went there during the 17th century and have long forgotten their Scottish roots. This then, is a brief history of the Irish Maxwells.
Our story, quite naturally starts is Scotland. Since earliest times, the Maxwell family enjoyed a mobility accorded only to the nobility and merchant classes. Their castle at Caerlaverock on the Solway had its own port and one must assume that the early Maxwells travelled within the Irish Sea trading triangle that linked the east coast of Ireland with the north-west coast of England and the south-west of Scotland. From both the Galloway coast and the Clyde estuary, Maxwells are likely to have traded with the Celtic people on the Irish mainland.
However, the first substantial contact between the family and Ireland came
in 1315 when Maxwells in the army of Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert the
Bruce of Scotland, invaded Ireland. The Scots defeated Richard de Burgh, the
Red Earl of Ulster at Connor and Edward was crowned King of Ireland, on Mayday
1316 near Dundalk. The conquest of the Irish was short lived as the Irish under
their English leader John de Bermingham rose up to defeat Edward Bruce at Faughart
in October 1318, driving the Scots from their land and slaying the usurper King
on the battlefield.
This was Scotland's last deliberate attempt to rule Ireland and due to their constant wars with the English, the Irish people formed a sort of loose alliance with Scotland as they both suffered under English molestation. In the next two hundred years many Irish came to settle in the west of Scotland as Ireland came more and more under the English yoke. This one way traffic was reversed with the reformation. As staunch Catholic families went into hiding, others sort refuge in Ireland and settled there. There may have been Maxwells amongst them, but the nature of this migration ensures that no records exist of their flight.
The first Maxwell of any consequence who lived in Ireland was the Reverend Robert Maxwell, a younger son of Maxwell of Calderwood. He went to Ireland late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and lived within the English pale. When King James VI of Scotland came to the English throne in 1603, Robert Maxwell was made Dean of Armagh. From Robert, the Maxwells of Farnham, Finnebrogue, Ballyrolly and Killyleagh are all descended. But it was King James' accession to the English throne was to have a profound affect on the future of Ireland. As a solution to the constant troubles in Ireland and the high cost of maintaining a standing army, James decided to send farmers to settle there. These men were recruited from the crowded lowlands and borders of Scotland and were planted in the north of English dominated Ireland. At the time Ireland had a very small Protestant minority and it seemed more and more futile trying to convert the Catholic majority, so the prospect of an influx of Protestant lowland Scots, loyal to the king, was seen as a way of even up the balance in case of future unrest. In 1607, the Celtic Irish, Earl of Tyrone and The O'Donnell with over 100 other Irish chiefs quit Ulster, leaving Ireland forever making way for English landlords to buy up the lands and bring in tenant Scots Plantationers. There were a few Scots landlords who bought the vacated lands, but a vast majority went to the wealthier English. The Maxwell families of Monreith and Orchardton both had Irish estates as did the sons of Robert Maxwell, the now Dean of Armagh. Lesser branches of these houses were certainly amongst the settlers, but most of these Scots tenants were the younger sons of the small lowland and border Scots farmers.
In many respects the plantation of Ireland was a success, the ancient Celtic traditions were swept away and law was established in the land. A great deal of the open county was developed for agriculture. New Boroughs were created and Ulster was divided into shire lands, subject to Sheriffs and their courts. But the Irish were not so happy, having been free holders of the land they were now tenants-at-will and often as not, disposessed of the better land which went to the incomers. By 1640 there was thought to be over 100,000 Scots settles in Ireland. But the Scots had not always found things in Ulster any better than their situation in Scotland and some boarded ships for the British colonises that now began springing up on the east coast of American. These families, which had usually only been in Ireland for a single generation, now formed the backbone of the Scots-Irish colonists in the new world.
In 1637 King Charles I tried to force the Presbyterian Scottish church to align itself with the Anglican Church of England. This lead to an uprising in Scotland. Many Presbyterian families fled to join their relations in Ireland, stopping only to gather their wits before heading out over the Atlantic to the North American colonies. Hard on the heels of this calamity came the English civil war. Scots emigration had dropped off as civil unrest spread throughout southern Ireland and the word spread amongst the Scots that the American colonies had more to offer. By 1641 the Scots had been drawn into the civil war and the settlers in Ulster were under increasing pressure from the Catholic Irish. This pressure exploded into full blown rebellion in 1642 and thousands of Ulster Scots were slaughtered over the next eight years until Oliver Cromwell brought a vast English Army over the Irish sea and crushed the rebellion with little regard for which side the participants were on.
Cromwell brought a sour peace to Ireland and poor Scots began to migrate to Ireland again. But Ireland was now a divided country with both Catholics and Protestants set against each other. The restoration of the monarchy in1660 brought more misery to Scotland as once again the English church was forced upon the Presbytery. The Scots rebelled and took to signing the Covenant. These Covenanters were hunted down by the English and a great many fled Scotland either to Ulster, North America or the continent. Those that were captured were usually sold into slavery in the American and West-Indian colonies.
In Scotland the covenant was crushed at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679 and although the Scottish church was reformed, its was only for a short term. When King James VII & II fled into exile, he encouraged the Catholic Irish South to rise up again against the Protestant north but the new King William of Orange soundly defeated King James' rebel army at the Battle of the Boyne thus assuring the protestant North of Ireland to its Scottish settlers. In the last decade of the 17th century a further 50,000 Scot descend on Ulster.
But by this time the American colonies had become well established and travel across the North Atlantic, whilst still hazardous, was more plentiful. By 1717, the exodus of the Scots-Irish to North America has begun in earnest. Just one hundred years after the Plantation, Irish turmoil was driving the Scots out. Plagued by high rents and English import/export policies many Scots looked for a better life in America. By the time of the American Revolution over 250,000 Scots-Irish had taken the passage west. But this did not leave Ulster denuded of people as Ireland itself enjoyed a period of stability and began to prosper.
So what of the Maxwells of these times? Well there were a great many of them
in the original Plantation the vast majority coming from the Clyde valley around
Glasgow. Dumfries and Galloway Maxwells, usually from the small farms that were
once the great holding of the Lords Maxwell, were amongst these early settlers.
Maxwell covenanters were amongst those who fled to Ireland. But as many Maxwells
went into England at this time thus escaping the trouble of the northern Kingdom.
These settler families were able to travel backward and forward over the twenty
miles of water that divided Scotland from Ireland. Having family in Scotland
always gave them a safe haven in time of unrest in Ulster. This great movement
of people was in the main unrecorded, and only a few tenancy papers survive
to tell of the families that were settle on the Irish estates. Rebellion and
war has take account of many Irish papers that pointed to the Scots origins
of various families and much Scots-Irish family history is left only in the