JUST over a decade ago there were controversies and court cases caused by Rangers fans singing the Famine Song. This was a disgraceful ditty, popularised among Ulster Loyalist Protestants during the marching season, the words of which are frankly too disgusting to print in any newspaper.

It contains the lines aimed at Catholics – always presumed to be Celtic FC supporters – of Irish ancestry which state “the famine is over, why don’t they go home”.

If only those who sang or still sing this song knew the history of An Gorta Mor, the great potato famine of the 1840s which affected all of Ireland, and caused people of all faiths to flee quite literally for their lives. Better still, if only they knew about the long tradition of Ulster Protestants emigrating to Scotland to get away from the poverty and destitution, not to mention occasional other famines, which at various times in history have hit the province of Ulster’s original six counties as hard as any of the other 26 counties.

In a very real sense, Protestant Ulster was the creation of Scots, and particularly one Scotsman. The Protestant people of modern-day Northern Ireland are largely descended from Scots who immigrated to Ulster in the early 17th century at the instigation of King James VI and I.

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It was he who organised the Plantation of Ulster, the colonisation of the north of Ireland after the first Nine Years’ War between England and the Irish lords. James’s plan was quite simple – he confiscated the lands of the Irish Gaelic lords and gave them to people from Scotland and northern England. All the colonists had to do was to be able to speak English so that Gaelic-speakers could be driven out, and adhere to Presbyterianism, though some of the English – they were very much in a minority – were allowed to keep their other Christian faiths.

It was ruthless and brutal and if British historians were to be honest, a form of genocide. It is a myth that the Scottish immigrants to Ulster immediately took command of the Province – it took many decades before that could be said – but the links forged at that time between the Scots and the people who became known as the Ulster-Scots were strong and continue to this day.

There are many people who think that bigotry and sectarianism in Scotland were imported from Ireland with the arrival of Catholics and Protestants in the 19th and 20th centuries. That’s just not fully true, as there were plenty purely-Scottish Presbyterians opposed to the Catholic Irish influx before, during and after the Great Famine. For various reasons, including the suppression of Irish Protestant demands for home rule, many of the Ulster-Scots had indeed come back to Scotland from the late 18th century onwards in what some historians refer to as the “invisible immigration.”

That is an apt description. You will find vast tracts of literary outpourings and research on Catholic immigration to Scotland from Ireland, but few on Protestant Irish immigration. But as Professor Sir Tom Devine, the best historian to comment on Scottish emigration and immigration, has conclusively shown, “for Irish Presbyterians, Scotland in the early 19th century was not a strange land”.

He and several other historians have shown how Irish Presbyterian immigration from Ulster to Scotland really began in the 1790s. As the historian Geraldine Vaughan of the Sorbonne in Paris wrote: “During the 1790s large numbers of Irish weavers originating from Ulster’s predominantly Protestant counties, Antrim, Down, Armagh and Londonderry, emigrated to the west of Scotland to teach the native workforce their skills in the trade. Until the late 1830s, Irish Protestant workers came to work in the textile manufacturers mainly because of the rise in real wages in the skilled trades in Scotland at that time. Shipbuilding, mining and metal manufacture were popular with Protestant migrants from the 1830s onwards. Even though the stream of Protestant migration from Ulster slowed down in the second half of the 19th century, it remained nonetheless a regular component of the total Irish emigration.

“The generally accepted estimate of the proportion of Protestants amongst Irish migrants to Scotland was around 25% overall; however, some more recent research on the subject has demonstrated that they represented more like a third of the total of Irish migration in the second half of the 19th century.”

So in the space of a century or so, tens of thousands of Irish Protestants moved from Ulster to Scotland. They assimilated into communities much easier than Irish Catholics – they didn’t need to build new churches, after all. It may seem strange to modern readers, but there was also a definite difference in job recruitment policies – many factories openly stated that while “Irishmen” were welcome, Catholics need not apply.

They did keep their own traditions such as the Orange Order and its culture of marches, but these were not always popular in Scotland. Readers may recall the recent case of an Orange walk in Glasgow having to be diverted from a Catholic church after a priest was spat on. Vaughan found newspaper accounts of many walk-related court cases and disturbances and one of them in 1857 involved Orange bands “playing loudly past the priest’s house” in Coatbridge. Plus ca change …

The industrialisation of Scotland in the latter half of the 19th century has been shown by Tom Devine to have involved many Irish Protestant immigrants.

He proved that between 1876 and 1881, 83% of the immigrants from Ireland into Scotland came from Ulster, the majority of them from the four main Protestant counties.

At the start of the 20th century, a last wave of Irish Protestant immigration took place as the shipyards on the River Clyde developed. Harland and Wolff opened in Govan in 1912, and many date sectarianism in Glasgow to then.

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In fact it had been around for years, and sadly for both clubs, Celtic and Rangers became the most visible identifiers of the obnoxious tribalism in the city which I personally believe was exacerbated by mostly political issues – Home Rule for Ireland, and eventually the Easter Rising and the creation of the Irish Free State.

(A brief side note: Celtic and Rangers are called the Old Firm because they used to be the best of friends. Indeed it was Rangers who gave Celtic their first match, losing 2-5 on Glasgow Green. Both clubs encouraged each other in those early years because they both had common foes, the “snob” club Queen’s Park FC and the club named as Celtic’s “deadly enemy” in newspaper reports – Clyde FC).

Football apart, the two sides of the religious divide in Scotland both had common cause in trying to promote trade unionism and workers’ rights and were partially successful until the Great Depression. I have to agree with Tom Devine that after the Protestant Ascendancy movement in the 1930s failed in its bigoted aims, sectarianism began to decrease and certainly did so after the Second World War. It has decreased in recent years but is still a blight on Scottish society, but to blame it on Irish Catholics and Irish Protestant immigrants is simplistic to say the least.

THIS history of migration into Scotland is going to leave aside for another day the biggest single group of immigrants into this land – people from England. Some time in the future I will show as best I can how English people have successfully made their homes in Scotland over centuries and are still welcome here, though as a history writer I will have to mention some who let down the name and honour of the great country of England, our younger relative on this island of Great Britain.

I have also decided for a very good reason – I know too many of them and want to get my account exactly correct or my spaghetti carbonara will be spoiled – to treat the immigrant people from Italy to their own separate Back In The Day, because they absolutely deserve their own story.

The immigration of large numbers of people from European Union countries such as Poland and the Baltic states is too recent to put into historical context – Lithuania is an exception to that as I will show in a future column – except to say that they are very welcome. So, too, is the influx of people of Asian birth and extraction, the vast majority of whom were either born here or came to Scotland some time after the Second World War. Their history remains to be researched and written and I am not able to do so at present.

Instead, and looking at the long-term, I take my stance from Tom Devine and concentrate on a heritage that has greatly enhanced Scotland – the Jewish community.

Here’s a surprising fact. Unlike most other countries in Europe, there is very little evidence of any Jewish immigration to Scotland before the 17th century.

In fact there is virtually no written evidence at all of any Jewish presence in Scotland for the first eight centuries of this nation’s history. It is known that in 1180, Bishop Jocelin or Jocelyn of Glasgow forbade churchmen to “ledge their benefices for money borrowed from Jews”, but he had strong connections with England where anti-Jewish riots and massacres had taken place, so probably did not want to encourage Jewish refugees.

We have to look to an Englishman to see the first “official” Jew in Scotland. Oliver Cromwell had conquered Scotland in 1651, and the laws of his “Commonwealth” were applied here. That included the right of Jews to practise their faith, and in Scotland, one Paulus Scialitti Rabin, an immigrant lecturer in Hebrew and other languages, is recorded as having done so in 1655. The first Scottish Jew is generally accepted to have been David Brown, a hatter from Manchester who set up trade in Edinburgh in 1691 and went “native”, to be followed by many Jewish individuals, one of whom loaned the town council £1000.

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The city of Glasgow was the first to host a sizeable Jewish community. During the mid-19th century period of mass migration from Eastern Europe to the USA, many Jews came to Glasgow to embark on the transatlantic voyages but many of them stayed because there was a welcoming Jewish community growing in Glasgow. Some just liked the look of the place and became determined to stay. I once knew a Jewish man called Harold Lien whose father had done exactly that – he was on his way to the USA but stopped off in Glasgow and wrote down his name as “A. Lien” after copying it from a passenger manifest. He then became entranced with the city and stayed in the dear green place.

By the first years of the 20th century, around 10,000 Jews had settled in Scotland, of whom 90% were in Glasgow. They had their own synagogues and schools, and had set up shops and businesses mainly in the city centre around the Gorbals area.

Most Jews in Glasgow who came from Eastern Europe had trades of their own and were no threat to the working classes of the city. Indeed they played their part in trade unionism and politics and developed some well-known businesses.

While anti-Semitism was always around, Glasgow’s Jews also do not seem to have suffered the sort of outrageous behaviour that Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts tried in London.

Glasgow’s Jews prospered, even if their numbers declined after the Second World War, and they remain a small but vital presence in Scotland.