Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Greetings

St. Patrick's Day is one of those mindless sort of holidays. Wear the traditional green and salute your Irish heritage, right? A few years ago, my husband made the observation that we really ought to be wearing orange instead of green, to reflect our heritage. Orange is the symbol of Irish Protestants while green represents Irish Catholics. Most of us in the rural South come from Scotch-Irish ancestry with strong Presbyterian roots that branched off into Baptist and Methodist faiths and later others, once upon American soil. The Irish Catholic heritage in the U.S. is primarily from migrations during the 1800s following the potato famines in Ireland, and with the majority of the migrations to the large urban areas in the northeast (think New York and Boston).

The Scotch-Irish (or Scots-Irish) were Scots who migrated from Scotland across the narrow channel to Northern Ireland, encouraged by the English crown to 'plant' themselves among the 'wild Irish' people. With the promise of better land and a better life (a recurring theme in early Scotch-Irish migration), Scots left their native country in droves during the 1600s. It was a win-win situation, at least at first. The pesky Irish were a constant thorn in England's side. England couldn't devote its full attention in its wars with Spain and France - both Catholic countries - when Ireland, also Catholic, was attacking it from the rear.

What a brilliant idea, then, to transplant the Scots, who were also trouble-makers for the English along its border with Scotland, to Ireland. The native Irish were thus pushed out of Northern Ireland by the English and replanted with the Scots, who by their natural aggressive and possessive nature, fought with the Irish to keep their new lands, keeping the Irish occupied within their own boundaries for a few years. What may have seemed to be a brilliant idea at the time had serious consequences for generations to come, and many of us recall the violence and terrorism that plagued Northern Ireland up until just recent times.

The transplanted Scots did not intermarry with the Irish or in any way assimilate with them, even after several generations. The Scots' Presbyterian faith was strong and played a huge role in preventing the merging of the two peoples. For the generations born on Irish soil, they were neither Scots nor Irish, but Scots-Irish. In the early 1700s, migration of these Scots-Irish began into the American colonies, primarily into Pennsylvania where the Quaker authorities were tolerant of all religious faiths. Ultimately, the Scots-Irish made their way down into Virginia and the Carolinas when those lands opened up for settlement.

If you've ever asked an older relative about their ancestry, they may have replied that they were of Irish heritage. And in most cases, that would be a half-truth, a history handed down through the generations that "their people" came here from Ireland. This is the case with my grandfather, Luke Robinson, who indicated in the 1966 book "Itawamba-A History" by Forrest Reed, that the Robinsons were Irish. The other half of the story is our Scottish heritage and its Orange Protestant background.

So wear your green today, but most of us might want to consider adding some orange too.


Janice Tracy said...

Mona, your article so beautifully explains our Scotch-Irish heritage. And thank you for posting it today on St. Patrick's Day.

Ken Dulaney said...

What a great post Mona! I absolutely love it. Thank you for clearly and eloquently reminding us of the different influences on Irish culture. From the Normans to the Spanish, French, and ultimately the English, Ireland has been influenced throughout the ages by almost every empire around them.

Brilliantly done and I cannot thank you enough.

Don Dulaney said...

Well aint you somethin. I had no Idea. I will wear Orange from now on. Oh flitter. What am I going to do with all the green stuff I got. AH!! Historical Society!!