Scottish Diaspora to Ulster

Graveyard memorials, texts and symbols in Ulster, North America and Australia

Mortuary monuments signal multiple identities through symbol, text and location within burial grounds. Some features of funerary material culture reflect subconscious cultural norms, whilst others represent active decisions made by those close to the deceased. In a new cultural context, such as a colonial one, some of the accepted cultural behaviours and assumptions are made conscious by encountering other cultural norms. New dynamics are thus created within both the colonisers and the colonised.

The Scots in Ulster, America and Australia used family burial areas to indicate cultural and political affiliations that shifted over time and space. Building on the mortuary traditions in Scotland, memorialisation in Ulster can be examined within that particular colonial context. Special attention can be paid to the heraldic and mortality symbol stones of West Ulster where fieldwork has revealed new data from a variety of social and religious groups, both incomers and indigenous.

The identities and the strategies for displaying and reinforcing them in Ulster can be contrasted with developments in North America in the 18th century. The Ulster Scots who migrated there found themselves in yet different relationships with other colonising communities and the colonial power itself. In the 19th century, further migrations from Ulster to Australia were within a different cultural and political context. Identities shifted in various colonial situations, with differing 'others' against which the Ulster Scots wished to be defined.


Analysis of North American data collected in 2006 shows that some memorials do display close similarities with Ulster stones (in terms of text, symbol and form), but most do not. Earlier Pennsylvanian monuments have more similarities with Ulster than those later examples in North Carolina, where indigenous evolution of forms is apparent. The remembering and identity that lasts into North Carolina is associated with Scotland, not Ulster.

Remembering was more important in Ulster than in North America, or Australia. More Ulster data was collected in July 2006, and Australia was added in September 2006, and further augmented in 2014. A comparative analysis of Ulster, Pennsylvania and New South Wales memorials was an invited presentation at the ESRC Seminar Series on Scotland’s Diasporas in Comparative International Perspective, November 2016, and is due to be published in N J Evans (ed) Diasporic Deaths (Edinburgh University Press).


Thanks to funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) more work was undertaken in 2007. Learn more at the Diasporas, migration and identities website.


  • H Mytum 2009 'Scotland, Ireland, America: the construction of identities in mortuary monuments by the Ulster Scots in the 17th and 18th centuries'. In A Horning (ed.) Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World, Dublin, Wordwell and Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group, 235-252.
  • H Mytum 2009 'Archaeological perspectives on external mortuary monuments of Plantation Ireland'. In C. Rynne and J, Lyttleton (eds.) Plantation Ireland: settlement and material culture, c. 1550 - c.1700, Four Courts Press, Dublin.
  • H Mytum 2009 Folk art in context of time and space. In S Clerkin (ed.) Inscribed Histories. Monaghan, Monaghan County Council, 62-73.
  • H Mytum 2009 Mortality Symbols in Action: Protestant and Catholic memorials in early 18th century West Ulster. Historical Archaeology1, 160-182
  • H Mytum 2006 The Wheeled cross headstones of West Ulster: towards a definition of the type. Church Archaeology10, 39-56
  • H Mytum 2006 Popular attitudes to memory, the body, and social identity: the rise of external commemoration in Britain, Ireland, and New England. Post-medieval Archaeology40,1, 96-110
  • H Mytum 2004 Monuments and Burial Grounds of the Historic Period. Kluwer Academic/Plenum, New York

Back to: Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology