A Rich Experience at the Roots: Clan Hannay Ulster Scots Tour 2023

by Keith Hanna, Clan Genealogist

Gloriously sunny weather for two days at the end of May, 2023 greeted a coach group of 25 hardy souls on our first Clan Hannay Ulster Tour in 25 years, this time to County Down in Northern Ireland. We took the opportunity of the immediate aftermath of our Annual Gathering in Sorbie to catch the ferry to Ireland in order to learn about the Scots in this, the closest county in Ulster to Galloway, with its longstanding historical links back to Scotland and many sites of interest to Hannays and Hannas.

The BBC even interviewed us at the 1690s settlement of Hanna’s Close near Kilkeel on the second day! You can read the result here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-65780636.


Clan Constable David Hannah

Clan Constable David Hannah at Hanna’s Close, being interviewed by the BBC

Our tour took us to the north coast of County Down to see where the ill-fated Eagle’s Wing expedition set sail from Groomsport for New England in 1636 with over a hundred Scots, and then to Donaghadee, the main port of arrival for the Scots who settled in Ulster in the 17th century, only 20 miles from Portpatrick in Wigtownshire. From there we went past Stormont, the site of Northern Ireland’s government, and Ballynahinch, where many Ulster Scots fought the British during the 1798 United Irish Rebellion. We saw the Mourne Mountains sweeping down to the sea at Newcastle, Co. Down, as our journey wound its way round to the fishing and farming village of Kilkeel in the Kingdom of Mourne, where the highest concentration of the Hanna surname in the world exists.

The Schomberg Society perform for our one-off Ulster Scots Dinner

The Schomberg Society perform on the Lambeg drum with fife accompaniment in the Kilmorey Arms Hotel for our one-off Ulster Scots Dinner

The Kilmorey Arms Hotel, where we stayed, hosted an excellent dinner with local fayre from sea and land. Over 50 people from Ireland joined us for our unique Ulster Scots Dinner and Town Hall Meeting in the evening, and the local Ulster Scots’ Schomberg Society entertained us with Scottish derived singing, highland dancing and local Lambeg drumming (the latter a challenge to the ears of our youngest and oldest travellers).

Our second day took us to Hanna’s Close near Kilkeel, a clachan (cluster) of houses that originates from the 17th century and is now holiday cottages marking the spot where Scots first appeared in this area of southern County Down. We had an informative talk from Maynard Hanna on the Close, and the last remaining occupant of the clachan, Norma Fisher (nee Hanna), told stories of what it was like in the old days. Afterwards, the BBC and local newspapers interviewed us for their local radio, TV and news bulletins (see link above).

James Donaldson and Roberta Heaney of the Schomberg Society in Kilkeel then greeted us at the statue of Robert Hill Hanna V.C. (a Canadian WW1 soldier born in the region) and took as to Reivers House, where we had an interactive

Clan Hannay Genealogist, Keith Hanna with Norma Fisher (nee Hanna)

Clan Hannay Genealogist, Keith Hanna with Norma Fisher (nee Hanna) at Hanna’s Close, Kilkeel

presentation on Ulster Scots’ customs, language and culture. Hearing how Scottish dialect words have been preserved in Ireland and are being used still today was very interesting.

Following this talk, we drove on to view Narrow Water Castle on Carlingford Lough, through the city of Newry and back around to the Orange Museum in Belfast. There we heard of the organisation that has preserved Ulster Scots identity and the legacy of the impact of King William III (William of Orange from the Netherlands) of Britain, and of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that is still the bedrock of modern Britain’s freedoms and its constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy—the oldest continuous democracy in the world.

All in all, a packed agenda, but one that educated a number of people from the UK and overseas of this unique, Scottish-derived culture and history that delivered hundreds of thousands of people into the American colonies, the USA and Canada over the last 300 years—such that 25% of the American population is of Scots-Irish descent today. The adventure reconfirmed to us how the Hannas of Ulster have continued to make an impact on Ireland, the UK and the world.,

To learn more about Hanna Families in Ulster and Ireland and to connect with the Clan Hannay sub-group that discusses this topic, check out our new Facebook group.