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On the Trail of the Scots Irish
by Carl Halling
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It was in June 1949 that my British father, Patrick Clancy Halling, married my Canadian mother, Angela Jean Elizabeth Watt, who, by becoming Mrs Ann Halling, forsook her Scottish surname for a Scandinavian one.
In Ireland, the Watt surname is exclusive to Ulster, home province of my grandfather, James Watt, a carpenter and electrician from the little town of Castlederg in County Tyrone. It had been borne to Ulster by those Scottish and English planters who had been encouraged to settle there by the English in the early 1600s as a means of controlling the native Catholic population.
In Scotland, itís common in the Lowlands, especially in the counties of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, and as might be expected, itís closely related to the similar name of Watson. Both are septs of the Forbes and Buchanan clansÖ a sept being a family attached to a clan leader either through marriage or by being resident on his land, thereby forming part of larger, stronger extended clan.
The first Ulster Plantation came into existence in 1609, in the wake of the Nine Years War, a bloody conflict fought largely in Ulster between its chieftains and their Catholic allies, and the forces of Elizabethan England. The latterís decisive victory led to the end of the Gaelic Clan system, and the colonization of Ulster by English and Scottish Protestants, yet another tragic event in Irelandís melancholy history.
Many of these planters had been inhabitants of the Anglo-Scottish borderlands, and so, hailing from northern English counties such as Cumberland, Westmoreland, Northumberland, Yorkshire and Lancashire, and counties of the Scottish Lowlands, such as Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire and Wigtownshire.
According to many sources, Lowlanders are distinct from their Highland counterparts by being of Anglo-Saxon rather than Gaelic ancestry, although how true this is itís impossible to say. Certainly, the region straddling the Scottish Lowlands and Anglo-Scottish Borderlands is one traditionally perceived by Highlanders as Sassenach, which is the Gaelic term for a person of Anglo-Saxon origin.
Whatever the truth, the sensible view is that their bloodline contains a variety of kindred strains including - as well as Anglo-Saxon - Gaelic, Pictish, Norman and so on, depending on the exact region. Moreover, all Caucasian inhabitants of the British Isles partake of a fairly homogenous ancestry, which certain contemporary experts are claiming to be more Iberian than anything else. Again, this is open to conjecture.
These Ulster Scots emigrated to the US in the 1600s, and their descendants are to be found all throughout the country, but most famously perhaps in those regions which are culturally Southern, which is to say those states situated beneath the Mason-Dixon Line. Indeed most of the original European settlers of the Deep and Upland South are widely believed to have been of British, and especially English and Ulster-Scots, origin. Today, many of them describe themselves as merely ďAmericanĒ, while others continue to claim either English or Ulster-Scots ancestry.
In America, they are known as the Scots-Irish, although a far better name for them would be the British Irish, or Ulster British, given that they are mostly of Anglo-Scottish stock, with alleged soupcons of Irish, Flemish, French and German . However, Scots-Irish is the name by which they are most famous, so from this point on, they will be referred to exclusively as such.
In the early 1700s, some 50,000 Scots-Irish men and women left the ports of Belfast, Larne and Londonderry for the New World. They came as a fiercely independent people, complete with Bible and musket, and mostly as skilled workers, filled to the brim with the Protestant work ethic, and desperate for religious freedom.
Having had a negative experience of gentry-dominated societies in both Britain and Ireland, the freshly arrived Scots-Irish were understandably keen to steer clear of similar regimes in the US. So at first, they avoided Virginia, which had been settled during the English Civil War and its aftermath by Royalist Cavaliers of gentle birth, as well as the Carolinas, as all were under the sway of the plantation system and the Church of England; while Maryland had been established for the Catholic nobility.
Their first part of call was the Pennsylvanian backcountry, and from there, they moved further down into the Southern hinterland, to Virginia and the Carolinas; and following the war of independence, and together with fresh immigrants, they set about the population of Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, and so the rest of the South. At the same time, many remained in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, while others moved further west, so that parts of Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma went on to become culturally British, and specifically Scots-Irish. The same could be said of the southernmost parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
They formed the dominant culture of the Appalachian mountains from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and featured strongly among those who tamed the West in the wake of the American War of Independence.
In time, they largely forsook their Calvinist roots to adopt the fervid Evangelicalism for which they are renowned throughout the world, as they are for their unyielding allegiance to family, country and God.
In time, their influence grew to the extent that they became part of Americaís ruling elite, with no less than a third of all American presidents having ancestral links to Ulster, these reputedly including FDR, Truman, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes and Obama.
Itís estimated that some 27 million Americans are of Scots-Irish descent , making it one of the largest ethnic group in the country, although the vast majority of these would consider themselves simply to be ethnically American.
Of those sons and daughters of the US who have been able to boast Scots-Irish lineage have been many of the nationís most legendary and beloved figures including Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Kit Carson, Mark Twain, Henry James, Andrew W. Mellon, George S. Patton, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Jackson Pollock, Ava Gardner, Audie Murphy, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain.
In addition to the US, people of Scots-Irish descent are also to be found in all other parts of the Anglosphere, including Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, and of course Britain. Indeed, the people whence they directly emerged are still to be found in Ulster and other parts of the United Kingdom, and living Britons of Scots Irish descent include the moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Ian Paisley, the much-praised Shakespearan actor, Kenneth Branagh, and the writer, singer, songwriter and actor, Carl Halling, son of Angela Jean Elizabeth Watt.
While Iím enormously proud of my Scots-Irish ancestry, as a Christian, Iím yet aware that all peoples are equal in Godís sight, not least in terms of sinfulness, so that no nation has earned the right to look down on another on the basis of ethnic or religious origin. To do so and yet call oneself a Christian is to gravely shame the most sacred name in the universe.

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