Celebrating the identity, heritage, & culture of Ulster & the Ulster-Scots (a.k.a. "Scots-Irish") people worldwide!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Most Priceless Heritage

From their earliest arrival in America 350 years ago the Scots-Irish left a lasting legacy, a heritage that was firmly grounded in freedom and democracy. The pioneering instinct of this proud race from Ulster and Scotland opened up America from the Atlantic coastline to the Pacific shore---"Sea to Shining Sea." The history of the United States is interwoven with the outstanding personalities from the Scots-Irish diaspora and the distinctive characteristics of a people who pushed the frontiers to new horizons. This comprehensive study of the Scots-Irish in America by Northern Ireland author Billy Kennedy has created a much greater awareness of the accomplishments and the durability of the hardy settlers and their families who moved to the 'New World' during the 18th century and created a civilization out of a wilderness. President James Buchanan, son of a Co. Tyrone man, said: "My Ulster blood is my most priceless heritage." This is a sentiment echoed by many, many people in the United States today!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Stonewall' Plaque in Ulster

The Battle of King's Mountain

Who were these men whose courage and fighting skill won a key battle in the fight for independence? They were an unique group of the first and second generation Americans. Although their numbers were made up of Englishmen, Welshmen, Irishmen, Germans, Scots, and French Huguenots, the vast majority were Ulster Scots, or Scots-Irish as they referred to today. Their history is the story of a people molded by oppression, poverty and religious fevor into hardened patriots undaunted by adversity.
The story begins in the lowlands of western Scotland in 1610 when James 1 of England offered land to Scots willing to relocate to northern Ireland and take the Oath of Supremacy recognizing James as head of the Church of England, a royal plot to dilute the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland by moving the protestant Scots to the area. The relocation plan was known as the Plantation. James found many willing pawns and six counties of northern Ireland were settled by the people known from that time forward as Ulster Scots.
From the outset, Ulster Scots were a distinct and separate part of the population. They were set apart by their language, dress and, most of all, by their fervent adherence to Calvinistic Presbyterianism. They believed wholeheartedly in the worth and equality of each individual. The discrimination they encountered in Ireland solidified their clannish ways, their sense of personal honor and their fierce distrust of the governmental authority.
In 1703, a law was passed which required any office holder in Ireland to accept the sacraments of the Church of England. Although the Catholic Church was recognized as a legitimate religion, the Presbyterian faith had no such standings and ministers were expelled from their pulpits, forbidden to preach, marry or bury parishioners, or teach the faith. The alienation of the Ulster Scots was profound.
Life in Ireland gradually became untenable. Years of drought devastated the economy, wiping out businesses and farmers. The land the Ulster Scots had settled on belonged to Anglican English and Irish landlords. The farmers paid rent to the “lairds” who capriciously raised rents in bad times as well as good. The finial insult to the devout Presbyterians was the legal obligation to tithe to despised Church of England.
Drought was the final straw. Beginning in 1717 and continuing until 1775, five separate waves of emigration carried Ulster Scots to the shores of the American colonies. The arrivals who emigrated between 1740-41 left Ireland to escape a famine that killed nearly 40,000 of their countrymen. These emigrants, in particular, were the people who arrived in Pennsylvania, and kept moving through the Valley of Virginia to the western borders of Virginia and the Carolinas. In all, by the early 1780’s, two hundred and fifty thousand Ulster Scots had crossed the Atlantic to America.
They came in family groups and individually. In several instances, entire congregations came together. Some, too poor to afford passage, indentured themselves as servants to new world masters for seven years.
They were among the first people to settle the western frontier of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas. They arrived on the east coast with few resources, but a terrible hunger for land to call their own. They were willing to risk their meager resources and their very lives for a better place to live.
They brought with them a deep distrust of authority, a thorough dislike of the British and a passion for a life where they could freely worship as they wished, own their own property and be free of the hated tithe to the Church of England. For this freedom, they were willing to risk the hardship of making a home in the wilderness, fending off hostile Indians and the isolation of frontier living.
The Ulster Scots influence on the frontier culture touched every facet of the new society. Their independence and their strict Calvinistic morals were the foundation of their “a man’s word is his bond” code of honor. Their language melted in to American English so completely that, to this day, especially in the southern states, we use Ulster Scots phrases every day. When you hear “y’all”, “younguns”, “nekkid”, “might could”, “wider women”, “I’m fixin to”, “critter”, “in ya go”, or a stranger calls you “Honey”, you are hearing the echos of Ulster Scots.
They brought the beautiful, haunting melodies of Scotland and Ireland with them, changing the lyrics to fit new occasions. They also brought the ancient skill of whisky distilling to the new world.
The Border Scot term for Presbyterians was “redneck” ,and it didn’t take long in the colonies for the meaning to morph into a hardworking, fiercely proud individual who was easily drawn into fight.
The Ulster Scots settlers lives were hard and filled with privation. Their homes were constantly in jeopardy from attacks by the Indian tribes the British incited against them during the Revolution, and, yet, time after time, they responded to the call to fight for independence.
It is no wonder that these proud and hardy people were quick to see the advantages of America becoming an independent nation. They had experienced the tyranny of kings and the loss of religious liberty. They instinctively understood the value of freedom. And they were willing to fight for it. General George Washington said: “If defeated everywhere I will make my stand for liberty among the Scots-Irish in my native Virginia”.
Major Ferguson might have lived to old age if he had not dismissed the Over-mountain Men as “barbarians …. and mongrels”. His contempt for them as adversaries was not only his undoing, it proved to be the catalyst that set the American patriots on the track for victory and independence.
Note: The Battle of King’s Mountain was the only battle in the American Revolution where no roster was kept of the participants. The Over-mountain Men joined the fight, fought the battle and most went home afterward.. It is almost certain that there were men among those patriots who had descendants in Giles County today. If any reader knows of an ancestor who fought in this battle on October 7, 1780, please send the information to the Research Office of Thursday afternoons from 12 noon to 5:00p.m. so that another piece of our history can be preserved.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ulster Day

A belated happy Ulster Day to everyone