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Pastor (Wattie) & Mrs (Tina) Wilson 


Some Scottish History 


(More detailed background to the Covananters)


For hundreds of years the Scots, when not fighting among themselves, fought off attacks by the English who were trying to take over and control Scotland. In 1603 the English found themselves without a monarch when the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Bolyn, died childless. The next in line to the English throne was one James Stuart son of Mary Stuart and her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnely, both of whom were descended from Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England (which also made her sister of Henry VIII).


James Stuart thus became the legitimate heir to the English throne. The irony of this was he was already James VI King of Scots. When informed of Elizabeth’s death he rode to London to claim his new throne and become James I of England in a bloodless takeover by a Scot, making him king of three disunited kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, Wales having been absorbed by England under Edward I (Longshanks) in the 13th century.


James as a Stuart was a strong believer in the divine right of kings to rule by God’s authority as an autocrat. As King of England he was head of the Church of England since Henry VIII had broken with Rome and declared himself head of the Church, but as king of Scotland James was not head of the church in Scotland. There followed a turbulent time for Scotland as he, followed by his heirs Charles I then Charles II tried to impose the Anglican system of church government, with its rule by priests and bishops, on the Scottish church and thus make himself head.


Those who remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church continued to be persecuted by the Presbyterians in Scotland as well as the Anglicans in England. Since the Pope was the head of the Church, the king could not be, and since Presbyterians owned no head but Christ, the Pope could not be head of the Church in their eyes.

Following the Scottish reformation, there was a minority Scottish Episcopal Church, (but they trace their roots to pre-Roman Catholic times) however the majority Church of Scotland had adopted the Presbyterian model where each congregation was ruled by a group of elders.


The Covenanters

In Scotland a national Covenant was signed pledging allegiance to King Charles I, but demanding that he honour his father’s promise to uphold the Presbyterian Church, a free Scottish Parliament and Scottish laws.  This was tantamount to a declaration of rebellion and Charles’s armies attacked Scotland. One of the early leaders of the Covenanters was my namesake, James Graham, Earl of Montrose. He had fought with the Scottish Covenanters in England in their civil war on the side of Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians but he did not want to get rid of the king, only to curb his power. The Covenanters turned on him and he was executed in Edinburgh. In the latter part of the covenanting times, known as ‘The Killing Times’ the Covenanters were forced into remote hills and glens especially in southern Scotland to conduct their services, known as conventicles, in the open air. The gatherings were small at the beginning but grew in size, often with several thousand attending. The ministers and many of the congregations had to live as outlaws with soldiers hunting them down. Those caught were taken to Edinburgh for trial. Many were sent to the colonies or forced to work as slaves on ships. Many were executed with ‘maiden’, an early form of guillotine often referred to as 'Edinburgh’s beheading machine'.  

Some British and Irish History


I had always been vaguely aware of an Irish connection in my paternal ancestry but was never given any details. On researching my ancestry I went back to my paternal great great grandparents who were Irish, and noted that my great great grandfather was a Graham married to an Armstrong. My great grandfather married an Atkinson. However, none of these is a native Irish name, so how did they get to Ireland? To understand this we need to have a very brief look at British and Irish history.


Irish Plantations

After the Reformation in the 16th century, most of mainland Britain was protestant whereas Ireland remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England started to settle Protestants in Ireland to Anglicise it and have a protestant influence in the country. Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, King James VI & I increased the process by giving lands in Ulster (in the north-east of Ireland) to Protestants from England and Scotland. The Scots were Presbyterians and the English members of the Church of England, later the Church of Ireland.


The native Irish Gaelic speakers were cruelly driven off their lands and the Planters were given large tracts of their land. Initially there were no Presbyterian Churches and the Scots, including some of their ministers joined the Church of Ireland. These Planters would have been relatively wealthy and brought with them a team of at least 20 families to work the land, but in succeeding generations as the land was divided between the sons of the family the plots of land became smaller and smaller and the families became increasingly poor.


Border Reivers

For 300 years between the 14th and early 17th centuries, with the wars between Scotland and England the border was never fixed, frequently moving north or south. This border area became a violent, lawless place with marauding bands fighting for whichever army they chose, or attacking and stealing from each other. They operated across the border or on the same side. These thieves, ‘reivers,’ owed no allegiance to Scotland or England but they were said to be ‘Scottish when they will and English at their pleasure.’


King James VI & I referred to this region as his ‘Middle Shire’ and set about trying to tame it. The reivers were

rounded up and some were hanged but many were given the option of deportation to Ireland as an alternative

(Hobson’s choice). They had to work the land as poor tenants or servants. So far as church allegiance was concerned these were Godless people and just as they owed no allegiance to Scotland or England, they owed no allegiance to any church. However, most became nominal members the most powerful in the north-east of Ireland, which was the Church of England (or Ireland) at that time.


My Ancestors

The Grahams and the Armstrongs were prominent reiver clans and both are registered with the Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh as Scottish clans. However, generally the Grahams operated on the English side, and the Armstrongs on the Scottish side of the current border. Using information from records and DNA analysis, the evidence suggests that my Irish ancestors were descended from the reivers. They had obviously opted for deportation rather than being hanged.

Images Relevant Maternal Family History

Durisdeer winter 4 red Durisdeer winter 5 red

Durisdeer in winter.

My Maternal great grandmother, Janet Wright, worked here as a dairy maid after she left school. She left at 19 years of age when she was pregnant out of wedlock.

Dalveen Pass 7 Dalveen Pass winter red

Dalveen Pass summer and winter

Enterkin Pass footpath 1

Path from Durisdeer Mill leading to Lowther Hills and Enterkin Pass

Golf Ball Lowther Hill from Dalveen Pass 3

Dalveen Pass and Lowther Hills in winter

Enterkin_pass_-_geograph.org.uk_-_590393 (1)

Enterkin Pass in the mist - Image by Callum Black from Geograph.org.uk

                             Click on image or text above for link

Wanlockhead Lochnell Mine red

Janet, my great grandmother, while working as a domestic servant in Wanlockhead, met and married a young lead miner, James McCall. When her (illegitimate) daughter, Isabella grew up she married a lead miner, John Watson, himself the son of a lead miner, Thomas Watson.  My grandparents, John and Isabella Watson moved to the coal mines in Blantyre when the lead mines closed.

Wanlockhead Lochnell Mine Galena red Wanlockhead mine red

Galena - Lead Ore

New Glencrief Mine

Lead Mines Wanlockhead

Balnamore Mill derelict red

Images Relevant Paternal Family History


My paternal great great grandparents were victims of the Irish famine of 1840 to 1851. John Graham and his wife Mary (nee Armstrong), and John Atkinson and his wife Sarah, were forced off the land. They eventually found work in Balnamore Mill, Co. Antrim.


Their children John Graham and Sarah Atkinson went to work in the mill too. They married as young adults and became my great grandparents.

Balnamore village ed red

                    Now derelict Balnamore Mill                                            Balnamore Village in more recent times

Reeling Room Balnamore Mill

The three images - courtesy Ballymoney Museum

monument for book Plaque Blantyre Disaster



My maternal and paternal grandparents arrived in Blantyre just after the tragic explosion which killed over 200 men and boys in 1877. Both grangfathers worked in the mines.

Monument to the men and boys killed in the explosion

Plaque on the monument

My father followed his father into the mine and worked as a labourer but due to recurring lung problems he left after a number of years and found work as a bricklayers' labourer building homes fit for heroes after the First World War.


My maternal grandparents' only surviving son, Uncle Tam, also followed his father into the mines and he continued to work as a miner all of his working life.

Colliers Every Wan

(In memory of the Blantyre Disaster,

22nd October 1877)


They came fae Erin this family o’ mine,

Tae Scotia’s fair land tae work underground.

Wi’ promise o’ plenty ringin’ in thur ears,

They fun’ only poverty, blood, sweat an’ tears.


Nothing hid changed at the end o’ the day,

Same bosses, same serfdom, same low pay.

The local Scotchmen didnae like them at aw’,

Fur they took aw’ thur joabs an’ thur hooses in the Raw.


Different religions didnae help them as well,

In fact it wis jist like livin’ in Hell.

Trouble in Pit, mair when they came hame,

Thur wir times when they wished they’d never came.


But aw’ this wid change wi’ the passage o’ time,

When fate took a hand doon there in that mine.

A build up o’ gas, a wee naked flame,

An’ maist o’ these colliers wid never go hame.


The horn oan the Pithead blew long an’ forlorn,

Tae signal bad news that fateful morn.

Folk came runnin’ fae aw’ o’er the toon,

Every wan tae a man, volunteered tae go doon.


Nae thought o’ danger, nor religion too,

They aw’ worked thegither wi’ a common view.

The fellowship o’ man was born that day,

In Blantir toon, how I wish it wid stay.


Two hundred and sixteen colliers lay dead,

Killed in pursuit o’ thur daily bread.

Men, boys an’ uncles, brithers an aw’,

Wid never return tae thur hoose in the Raw.

                                                  James Cornfield 2002

Reeling room Balnamore Mill from museum


Book cover shop Book cover shop

Click image above to view in Amazon.com

Click image above to view in Amazon.co.uk