Beyond the Borderlands of Scotia
It’s 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.
And among those sons and daughter of the US who’ve been able to boast of Scots-Irish origins have been many of the nation’s most legendary figures. Such as 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, Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain.
In addition to the US, people of Scots-Irish descent are 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 Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. While living Britons of Scots Irish lineage include composer and former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, much-praised Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh and Hollywood movie star Daniel Radcliffe. As well as all those Northern Irish men and women who identify as British, of which there are allegedly 37%.
To say nothing of your humble author who, while proud of his Scots Irishness, nonetheless maintains that there is no justification for claims of superiority on the part of any ethnic group, given we are each of us subject to sin from birth.
This is a concept which will hold great appeal to many of those of Scots-Irish origin, given their longstanding affiliation to that form of Christianity which is predicated on a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, and which has become known as Fundamentalism. All of which begs the question… just exactly who are the Scots-Irish?
Well, contrary to what might be believed, the Scots Irish are neither strictly Scottish nor Irish. In fact, their origins as a distinct group lie in what are known as the Ulster Plantations, which came into existence in 1609, in the wake of the Nine Years War, a bloody conflict fought largely in the province of Ulster, Ireland, between its chieftains and their Catholic allies, on one hand, and the forces of Elizabethan England on the other. The latter’s decisive victory led to the end of the Gaelic Clan system, and the colonization of Ulster by English and Scottish Protestants; hence, the Ulster Plantations.
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 it’s 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 “American”, 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 God, nation and family.
In time, their influence grew to the extent that they became part of America’s 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.
Thence, this remarkable little race made the voyage all the way from the borderlands of Scotland, where they existed as the lowliest and most oppressed of peoples to the highest political office in the world…an incredible testament of the resilience of the fighting Scots-Irish.
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