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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Irish, The Scots and the Scotch-Irish

Throughout the 1600s, the English government encouraged the move of lowland Scots, Welsh and the northern English–Protestants all—to “Ulster Plantation” in the north of Ireland, in the hopes of some influence and balance over the independent, Catholic Irish. In Scotland, Highlanders and Lowland Scots were also leery of each other, separated by many cultural ideas as well as religion over multiple centuries. Indeed, all British history is spattered with the blood of religious animosity—quite obvious in the Tudor period.
From "Free Printable"  here is today's United Kingdom.

Starting around 1718, large scale numbers of Scotch-Irish left northern Ireland for the new world. (At this time, they referred to themselves as Irish, but the term changed to Scotch-Irish when, a century later Catholic Irish Immigration began to surge, heightened during the famous Potato Famine in the 1840s.)  The Scotch-Irish Protestants settled well in North America, flourishing in their new freedoms and kept the traditions of strong work ethic and education. But few welcomed their Catholic peers from Scotland and Ireland with open arms. The Irish were one of the most poorly treated immigrant groups ‘welcomed’ to the new world, due in part to the earlier establishment of their Protestant countrymen.

Back home in 18th century Scotland, the north still held to its ways of clan society and the wearing of kilts until these practices were made illegal after the failed Jacobite Rebellion (the hope of putting a Catholic King back on the throne and disposing of the Protestant one) in 1745. Tartan was banned and families were forced off their own land, branded traitors to the English King. It wasn’t until 1782, almost 40 years later, that King George reinstated the right for Highlanders to wear Tartan—no doubt, a purely political move.   

Ironically, all Scots regiments serving in the British Army were outfitted in kilts throughout this time.

The Scotch Irish in America comprised 40% of the Continental Army. Not surprising, when their immigration numbers are estimated at 25-40,000 in the 18th century. Most welcomed the chance to fight against Britain, or more specifically the English King. Even so, many leaned toward the Tory side and moved to a more loyal Canada.

Around the turn of the 19th century, the continued policy of ‘The Scottish Clearances’ included both northern Catholics and lowland Protestants and flamed a surprising new alignment of nationalism between the two based on little more than hatred of the English.

Those early 19th century abuses sent a huge number of Gaelic speaking Catholics to the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia, mid-Atlantic America, and North Carolina in particular. Many settled north of Lake Ontario and made up the Glengarry district whose men formed one of the toughest British regiments to fight in the War of 1812.

Many North Americans don’t understand the significant influence of these two Celtic countries on our histories, or the unsettled religious history. An estimated 27 million Americans are descendants of those Protestant Scotch-Irish alone! Thankfully, the "new world" eventually allowed old animosities to fade enough that Catholics and Protestants today prefer to celebrate a combined Celtic heritage.

The Scotland of today is more united under the ideal of the independent Scot--represented by the Highlander, the wearing of Tartans, the kilt, and renewed interest in the Gaelic language, and as always, their hesitance to be ruled from beyond their border. (Ironically, it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's love of the land and its wild history that prompted a resurgence in the use of the kilt and tartan!)

In Northern Ireland (remember it is part of the United Kingdom and not the same as the country of Ireland!) those referred to in North America as the Scotch-Irish are called Ulster Irish, or more loosely, ‘the Orange’. Unfortunately, the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland became synonymous with the animosity between Catholics and Protestants. Those same Scotch-Irish and Irish who left for the new world found its ‘melting-pot’ mindset brought them more easily to reconciliation.

So that's just a wee bit of the Celtic history shared by many of us in the 'new world. I hope you've enjoyed it or learned something new. What's your tie to this particular emigration? If none, what surprises you most about their history?

For myself, I have yet to find any ancestry outside of Great Britain. It's not a big place geographically but bursts with fascinating history.


  1. I am working (at the paying job) today and will check in later. Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

  2. In my grandmother's family it had long been a mystery why the Hamiltons and Campbells and Buchanons were said to be Irish and yet had such Scottish names - but according to the records, they all came from Ulster, so I guess that explains it! Granted, then they all married Germans, and their children married Germans, etc. until my mom married a full-blooded Swede, so you might say it's a bit watered down in me.

  3. Hi Rachael!
    yes it's all rather muddied to begin with and then we Americanize and end up with Heinz 57 variety! Which is much nicer overall. Many very common names in the US don't sound Irish or Scottish but come from that lowland area. We don't all have to be MacSomething or McSomethings to qualify. I have a "postal book" (electronically) from Glasgow circa 1820 which is like a phone book - lists all the residents and all the businesses. the majority are not what we'd consider Scottish sounding! Thanks for commenting. I love your last name! Very Hearty!

  4. I think you have answered a long held question in my family history! My great-grandmother's maiden name was McElrea, and we were always told she was Scottish, but when I go searching for McElrea in Great Britain, they only turn up in Ireland. NOW I think I might know why that is! Thanks for the info!

  5. There used to be a correlation between the prefix Mac vs Mc to denote Scottish vs Irish vs Scotch-Irish. I assume that theory now has major holes in it. My Scotch-Irish ancestors were McConnells (the ones I know of) and they did come over before the Revolution... ahhh.just like the research supports.

    yay. I'm glad the post is helping some of us figure out this mystery!

  6. A very interesting post, Debra. I am of Ulster Irish and Scottish Highland roots as well as some English and Welsh. The stories of the British Isles and Ireland fascinate me.

    1. Janet, ahhh- we may well be related if we go back far enough... but I guess that's true for most of us. At least it's a good excuse when I feel 'at war with myself'.
      At least the Welsh had a better time of it given a mountain range made a good 'fence'!
      thanks for commenting, Janet!

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks Kay. I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

  8. On my mother's side, my family came from England in the 1800s to the United States. My father's side, my family came from Germany at the foot of the alps shortly before the American Revolution and fought in it. My DNA finds a strong Celtic match along with a strong Eastern European match and the Middle East. (I was really surprised about the Middle East, but makes sense if you know history!)

    I live in a very Catholic Irish area. They moved to this part of Indiana during the potato famine to build the Eerie Canal and work on the railroads. There is an original Irish Catholic church in Lagro, Indiana, where remnants of the canal can still be found. And the railroad still carries it's freight along side the canal it put out of use.

    "Many North Americans don’t understand the significant influence of these two Celtic countries on our histories, or the unsettled religious history. An estimated 27 million Americans are descendants of those Protestant Scotch-Irish alone! "

    You're so right! This is a great post and taught me some things I didn't know! Thanks for writing it!

    1. thanks Karla. how interesting that you did the DNA test. I have used that "Moors invaded Britain" argument to explain anything from my son's dark skin to my own curly hair!

      There is certainly a large portion of German and Dutch influence balancing out these Celts and the English, as far as settlements throughout the northeast and east coast.

      I enjoyed the research to write this post. I knew some- but there's so much more and I hope to check out the real family lines soon.

      One thing that surprises me is how very few people know that Northern Ireland is not part of Ireland 'politically'. I even saw maps that showed nor 'border' lines between the two. I don't think it was wishful thinking. Of course I don't think most students learn much history at all anymore so that's not helping either!

  9. My mother's mother always said her ancestry was Scotch-Irish and none of us ever had an inkling of what she meant. Now I begin to understand. They were definitely protestant. My grandmother's father fought in the Civil War and was from the area of the borders of North and South Carolina. Thank you for this informative article.

  10. Thanks Vera! It's not like something we are taught in school - not that I've ever heard of.
    Perhaps because there was so much trouble in Northern Ireland for far too many years?

    I'm glad it helped and I appreciate your comment!

  11. My Scots Irish ancestors, the Christy family, came over from Ireland per the genealogy search. But that was in the 1800s and with the clearances, who knows when they ended up in Ireland from Scotland. Thanks for the great article, Debra!

    1. The estimated number of Americans with Scotch-Irish ancestry is probably not stretched, is it. Thanks Carrie!


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