Thursday, September 29, 2016

William Greider: "They call themselves Scotch-Irish, with the emphasis on Scotch" - The Washington Post, 1979


I just keep stumbling over reference after reference to the term ‘Scotch-Irish’. A few posts ago I mentioned David McClure’s diary of his time in Pennsylvania. Well here are more McClures, again in Pennsylvania, in an article by William Greider:

... I do not wish to reawaken dead religious prejudice but I am teasing my way toward a serious proposition - the idea that a solution to Northern Ireland's terrible bitter division, Orange against Green, does perhaps lie in America, where we have the space and the democratic experience to work past history's unresolvable arguments…

Sixty years ago or so, when my mother was a girl in Pennsylvania, she used to see the Orange and the Green fighting in the streets of the small river towns on St. Patrick's Day. Her family was McClure, farmers, Protestant, long settled in that region. The Catholics were miners and mill workers, mostly, and relatively new to America. What were they fighting about on the streets of Monongahela, Pa.? The pope I suppose and John Knox's Presbyterian reformation...

I don't claim that American Catholics and Protestants have completely forgiven one another for their heresies, but at least we are no longer brawling in the streets. This is progress, especially when one compares it with our Irish cousins in Londonderry and Belfast. Surely, the Protestant Irish of America have an obligation, as much as the Catholic Irish, for settling this archaic struggle...

Much like Adam Douglass’ book The Irish Emigrant, the writer here is suggesting that America has a role to play in resolving Ireland’s divisions. I agree with that, but not by parachuting in envoys and money and the occasional Presidential stop-over.

Presbyterian minister and author Tim Keller is just one of many commentators who have observed that 'politics is downstream from culture', and that, therefore, culture is where all change truly begins. I have certainly become culturally more settled and self-aware through my appreciation of the role that my forebears played in developing the United States. Growing up in the 1970s, the dominant narrative was how bad, terrible, and always terrible and hopeless Ulster had been. But then I began to read, and found a very different story, of people who could think and write and travel and build and create and achieve.

To put it bluntly, if more Ulster Prods - especially the lower and working classes, the kind of people who might make the cut in an Ulster edition of Hillbilly Elegy - knew more of this then I think they’d be more confident and optimistic as to their own past, present and future. Our ancestors did amazing things. They believed in freedoms and liberties which are being rapidly eroded by various forms of legislation and the self-censorship of the ‘groupthink’ which social media is an enforcer for. Our future generations can be, to coin a phrase, great again (pun intended), with a little pride and some encouragement.

• Here is the full article.
• William Greider has a sound take on the US Presidential election
• He also writes for Rolling Stone

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph, 1890-1900 - "the most in-depth look at the dawn of the recording industry ever issued."


They were Grammy-nominated in 2005 for 'Lost Sounds'; this year Archeophone Records have done another superb and ground-breaking job on this book and CD collection. Over 4 hours of music and a 408 page book, with Ira D Sankey singing 'My Ain Countrie'. Can I wait till Christmas?...

Before the 20th century, the “sacred” songs of Protestant camp meetings and revivals were as catchy, memorable and personal as the pop songs of that or any other time. Bringing you more recordings from the 1890s than any other historical album to date, Waxing the Gospel is a landmark collection of 102 tracks on three CDs in a 408-page beautifully illustrated hardback book. Commercial recordings go back to 1890 and feature pioneer artists Emile Berliner, Thomas Bott, J. W. Myers, Len Spencer, Steve Porter, and J. J. Fisher—as well as stunning instrumental performances by Baldwin’s Cadet Band, Holding’s Parlor Orchestra, and the U. S. Marine Band. Celebrity recordings by star evangelists include Ira D. Sankey, Dwight L. Moody, and Prof. John R. Sweney. And vernacular recordings taken in the field are by historic evangelical figures such as Winfield Weeden singing his original songs, and the “Golden Minstrel” of the Salvation Army, Edward Taylor, who accompanies himself on the guitar. It’s a great listen, a fascinating story, a book for the coffee table, and a resource you’ll want to have nearby.

As their own blog says:

Moody and Sankey “started the fire” . . . they were the Beatles of the 1870s, preaching and singing their saving word to millions in Great Britain and America. They and their compeers gave birth to a type of hymn called “gospel songs,” which were as popular in the late Victorian era among the masses as anything put out today by Rihanna or Beyonce. People embraced the gospel songs as personal anthems, stories of self-realization and awakening. They were so much part of the fabric of American culture that when the early industry started dabbling with a sacred repertoire, these were the pieces the record companies turned to. But as our extensive essay lays out, it didn’t happen immediately. At first the thought was, “Everybody has the hymnals and can sing the gospel hymns themselves, so why would they want records of them?” The story here is of how quickly our ancestors made the infant phonograph a tool of reiteration and remembering.


There's a dark and a troubled side of life...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Adam Douglass (1790–1849), the 1798 Rebellion and frontier Virginia – 'the first Irish-American novel'.

Adam Douglass was born in Belfast on 1 November 1790. His father, William Douglas (1746–1832), was born in Killinchy, and married Margaret Walker there in 1763. William was said to have been a ‘captain in the Irish Rebellion’ of 1798, under the leadership of his Killyleagh neighbour Archibald Rowan Hamilton. Both sets of grandparents were Scottish. 

In the summer of 1798, after the failure of the Rebellion, young Adam, accompanied by his uncle who was also called Adam, fled to America. Young Adam eventually returned to Ireland and signed up with the army, and fought at Waterloo in 1815 "where he was twice wounded and had his horse shot from under him”. He went back to America where he settled at New Market in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, among many Ulster families, and became a teacher and surveyor.

He wrote a two volume book - The Irish Emigrant: An Historic Tale Founded on Fact - which was published by John T Sharrocks at the town of Winchester, Virginia, in 1817. Winchester was the ‘gateway to Appalachia’, whose "inhabitants are a spurious race of mortals known by the appellation of Scotch-Irish." It has been called ‘the first Irish-American novel’. 

The story begins in County Antrim, goes to America, and ends up back in Ulster again. In the pics below you’ll see an extract which has the lead character returning to Ulster disguised in “the insignia of an Orange Man”. To have that reference this early is fairly significant. It's useful to point out that at this time, King George III had been the British monarch who had 'lost' America in 1776; his son Ernest Augustus was the top Orangeman in Ireland from 1817 until 1836, so this might well have 'chimed' with an informed Ulster-American audience at the time.

The thrust of the book seems to be to try to communicate to an American readership that the 1798 Rebellion was justified and that the peoples of Ireland could indeed co-operate and get along with one another, and no better place to do that than frontier America. Bear in mind that this is 30 years before the Potato Famine. This book, although ‘poorly constructed’, ‘melodramatic’ and ‘contains numerous awkward phrasings’ is none the less pretty important. 

Adam Douglass must have later moved north west, into Kentucky, for when he died he was buried in the Baptist cemetery of Old Goshen at Laconia, Indiana, just on the other side of the Ohio River. His wife, Nancy Pennebaker, was the sister of Isaac Pennebaker, a senator from Virginia. Nancy was from New Market so she and Adam Douglas may well have me there. She died six years earlier than Adam and was also buried at Old Goshen.

(PS: as an aside, when in Staunton during the summer, which is in the same Shenandoah Valley, I got talking to a shop assistant. She was about my age, caught the accent and we got talking. She said something like ‘it’s still very Scotch-Irish round here even after nearly 300 years. I’m Irish Catholic from New York, been living here for about 10 years, and there’s almost none of us around here even today”. She wasn’t making a loaded sectarian point, just a simple demographic one.)

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Carrowdore, May Crommelin (1849–1930) and 'Orange Lily' (1880)


Just beside the village of Carrowdore is Carrowdore Castle. It was built by the Huguenot Crommelin family. Our Wilson homestead was a tenant property within the estate at a time; local tradition says that one of the Wilson girls was a maid in the Castle and when a Crommelin child fell gravely ill, the Wilson girl stayed at the Castle for months to nurse the child back to full health. As a thank-you, Mr Crommelin allowed the Wilsons to live in the house rent-free for the rest of their days. Dozens of children were reared in the wee house at Ballyrawer / Ballyraer, including my grandfather William Wilson and all of his siblings. When I was wee I used to visit them, and nip off to play in the ‘plantin’ across the road from the house, when it was still wide open to the public. My brother built a house nearby a few years ago, where he still lives.

Even though the Crommelins lived in the castle as gentry and our lot lived in a wee cottage merely as tenants, both families ended up being buried up at Church Hill alongside each other, and eventually to be joined by Louis MacNeice.

Maria Henrietta de la Cherois-Crommelin (1848–1930), known as May Crommelin, was born at the Castle. She moved to London when she was about 30 and became a writer. One of her first novels was set in Ulster. Entitled Orange Lily (published 1880), it tells the tale of Ballyboley Orange Lodge and a small girl called Lily. There is a smattering of Ulster-Scots vocabulary throughout the dialogue; a New York edition is now available online here.

A number of the chapters are introduced by extracts from Robert Burns poems. There are references to ‘broad words’ and ‘Ballyboley dialect’. It’s easy to criticise how light the Ulster-Scots actually is. But, put yourself in her shoes - how do you convince a London publishing house that local vernacular is going to sell to a broad readership - not far into chapter one she writes that they “spoke as broad as their Scotch ancestors did”.

I think this one is interesting because of its range of cultural references too - country dances, fiddle players, the Orange lodge, the ‘broad words’, farm and community life.

May Crommelin was far from successful as a writer and the critics have not been kind to her. However, as a daughter of the Ards who attempted to give some voice to the local folk in her surrounding area, I think she deserves some credit. 

Comber and Kircubbin, Carrowdore and Kentucky - a tune from the 1840s... or earlier?

MacNeice Comber


The renowned poet Louis MacNeice was buried at Christ Church, Carrowdore - or as the locals call it, Church Hill. Many generations of my Wilson and Kerr ancestors lie there, just a few yards away. Our Wilson homesteads lie in the low ground below the church. Here is MacNeice’s modest plot.

In 2010, Faber & Faber pubished the Selected Letters of Louis MacNeice, edited by Professor Jonathan Allison, an Ulsterman who is now Professor of English at the University of Kentucky. I have never met Professor Allison but he seems to return to Belfast from time to time.

There is an interesting footnote here, in Imagined Differences, which reproduces an Ards Peninsula song called The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber, (sometimes called The Bold Orange Heroes of Comber) which Dr Allison recalled from his Bangor childhood. It is a song which has long intrigued me, as its tune is so unlike other Orange songs which I grew up with. The phraseology of the song title can be found in local newspapers from the 1870s, it describes the period of Daniel O’Connell’s “monster meetings” of the early 1840s. So the words are old. 

I first heard the song in the late 70s or early 80s from one of those old Ulster loyalist LPs which were so common back then during the Troubles, but the lyrics were more strident and sectarian than the original Ards Peninsula version, with the storyline relocated to Portadown rather than Greyabbey. It has been recorded by a range of artists - Jackie O’Brien and the Pikemen around 1968 (see here), and by Liam Andrews for the BBC in 1952 (see here). Cathal O’Boyle has commented on the lyrical structure of the song (see here).

The melody sounds very old. It’s still part of the flute band repertoire today, you’ll see clips on YouTube, but played to a stiffer rhythm which kills a lot of the mood. However, played on a mandolin, which of course is tuned the same as a fiddle, it sounds haunting, in D minor, and positively Appalachian. If the song does indeed date from the 1840s, it is perhaps a glimpse of a tune from a time even earlier than that. Perhaps the type of tune which was exported to New England, Pennsylvania and Appalachia…  and beyond.

• Ards version of The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber is here on YouTube
• Later Portadown version of The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber is here on YouTube 

The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber
On the twelfth of July last as Greyabbey town we passed
to Kircubbin where we did assemble
the rebels they did pray for a curse on us that day
and their hearts within them did tremble

As we passed down Shuttle Row, that's a rebel place you know
thinking we were useless lumber,
they swore they'd break our drum if we up to them did come
but we're the bright Orange heroes of Comber.

O'Connell he does boast of his great big rebel host
He says they are ten thousand in number.
But half of them, you'll find they are both lame and blind
but we're the bright Orange heroes of Comber.

So here's a loyal toast may all base traitors roast!
Confound the foes of the Orange Order!
For we'll give blow for blow while swift Boyne waters flow
for we're the bright Orange heroes of Comber

<< I'll try to upload an audio clip of the tune here >>


In the late Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald's much-debated 1989 book Cracker Culture, they wrote that a tune called ‘The Battle of the Boyne’ travelled to the USA where it became ‘Buffalo Gal’ or ‘Nashville Gal’ (see here).

I’m not knowledgable enough to know if any overtly Orange tunes made their way to America. The timelines don’t really fit. The demographics don’t really fit either. Orangeism only developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s, just as the massive wave of 1700s Ulster-Scots migration to America was slowing down. It was in Canada where, in the later 1800s, a large Orange publishing output emerged, such as this from 1876. But this section from the classic Gone With The Wind shows that there was at least a degree of awareness, with one tune featuring:

"... Gerald had come to America from Ireland when he was twenty-one. He had come hastily, as many a better and worse Irishman before and since, with the clothes he had on his back, two shillings above his passage money and a price on his head that he felt was larger than his misdeed warranted. There was no Orangeman this side of hell worth a hundred pounds to the British government or to the devil himself; but if the government felt so strongly about the death of an English absentee landlord's rent agent, it was time for Gerald O'Hara to be leaving and leaving suddenly. True, he had called the rent agent "a bastard of an Orangeman," but that, according to Gerald's way of looking at it, did not give the man any right to insult him by whistling the opening bars of "The Boyne Water."

The Battle of the Boyne had been fought more than a hundred years before, but, to the O'Haras and their neighbors, it might have been yesterday when their hopes and their dreams, as well as their lands and wealth, went off in the same cloud of dust that enveloped a frightened and fleeing Stuart prince, leaving William of Orange and his hated troops with their orange cockades to cut down the Irish adherents of the Stuarts ..."

Rory Fitzpatrick famously complained in God's Frontiersmen that the lead characters in Gone With The Wind should have been emigrant Ulster-Scots Presbyterians rather than emigrant Irish Catholics, which would have been a more realistic portrayal of life in the American South at that time. Regardless, this world-famous 1936 novel refers to Orangemen. But what if there was an earlier one, say from 1817, published in Winchester, Virginia, which did as well?... that will be the subject of a future post.

P.S.: To bring this post full circle, Louis MacNeice’s father, Rev Frederick MacNeice (1866–1942), was an Orangeman, yet one who rejected the Ulster Covenant of 1912. It’s the complexities and overlaps which make this place so interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

David Childers, a North Carolina man: "My people were from back up in the hills ... Scotch-Irish savages"

This is a really good video, filmed for Our State magazine, the official publication for North Carolina. I subscribe to the digital edition having seen it when on holiday back in July.

The interview here is done by Bob Crawford, the bass player with the wonderful Avett Brothers who are from Concord in North Carolina - a town so-named because it was the agreed location for the 'county seat' between the German Lutherans and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Bob Crawford and David Childers have a side-project band called The Overmountain Men, where they put stories from American history into song (interview here). As Childers says: "“My people were from back up in the hills, where the Overmountain Men came from. Scotch-Irish savages.”

This interesting book from 1940, a historical travelogue, traces the Crawfords from Scotland to Ulster, then across to New England in 1718, and then onward into the rest of America.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How good is good enough?

It’s a question that most religious people ask themselves at some point. 500 years ago it was the question that tortured a German monk called Martin Luther. He put it differently: "What good works can proceed out of a heart like mine; how can I, with works like these, stand before a holy Judge?”.

31 October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day that, driven by conviction, he took a hammer and went to the Facebook of its day, the local church door in the town of Wittenberg, and nailed up his ’95 Theses’ for all to consider. He didn’t want to start a new church, just to fix the old one. He didn’t know that somebody would copy the 95 Theses, print them, and cause them to ‘go viral’. He had no idea what a ‘Reformation’ was or would become. His motivation, right at the top of the page, was clearly stated. It wasn't political or revolutionary, it was almost a plea – “out of love for the truth and from the desire to make it plain”. 

Luther had found that he could never be good enough. Nobody could ever be good enough. Despite the claims of the Church to be able to forgive sin, the Bible said otherwise. Yet, in the most mind-boggling plot-twist, it turned out that the perfect standard that Luther’s dusty old monastery library Bible scrolls said that God requires, He had in fact already provided. Jesus Christ is not just a good moral example. He is Mediator-Advocate-Substitute.

I’ve had the privilege of working on some materials which have just been published to help tell Luther’s story - I did a wee bit of writing but mostly graphic design. The whole thing was planned, masterminded, researched, written and project-managed by Robert Campbell, a man uniquely placed to make it all happen - and the outcome has been praised by none less than Dr Carl Trueman.

I can be a bit authenticity-obsessive (you might have noticed that if you are a regular reader here) and so I even managed to locate some (supposedly) 16th century nails from Germany on eBay, for the main project image.

You can read the five booklets free at SAM 5736

SAM 5701 SAM 5702 Luther A2 Poster AW

Rev Jonathan Boucher, c. 1770: – "the Scotch-Irish as it used to be called"

 “there is no dialect in America… unless some scanty remains of the croaking, guttural idioms of the Dutch, still observable in New York; the Scotch-Irish as it used to be called, in some of the back settlers of the Middle States …"
– Boucher’s Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1832.

The Glossary was published posthumously. Boucher (1738–1804) was an Anglican clergyman, a close friend of George Washington, and lived in America from 1768–75.
His Wikipedia entry is here.

Further south, down in the Carolinas, this famous quote from another Anglican clergyman, Charles Woodmason, appeared in 1767:

This is a very fruitful fine spot, through which the dividing line between North and South Carolina runs — The heads of P.D. River, Lynch’s Creek, and many other creeks take their rise in this quarter, so that finer body of land is no where to be seen, but it is occupied by a set of the most lowest vilest crew breathing Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland — They have built a meeting house and have a pastor a Scots man among them — A good sort of man — He once was of the Church of England, and solicited for orders, but was refused — whereon he went to Pennsylvania, and got ordained by the Presbytery there, who allow him a stipend to preach to these people, who (in his breast) he heartily contemns — They will no suffer him to use the Lord’s Prayer. He wants to introduce Watts’ Psalms in place of the barbarous Scotch version — but they will not admit it 

 Further early uses of the term Scotch-Irish can be found here

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Diary of Reverend David McClure, Pennsylvania, 1774

David McClure

Rev David McClure (1748–1820) was a Presbyterian missionary to the Native American Indians, but due to the effects of war he ended up in western Pennsylvania. He was also on the staff of Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. Some of the family’s ancestry appears in this book. The McClures are said to have fled from Scotland to Ulster “in times of persecution”, so therefore the mid 1600s, where they were caught up in the Siege of Derry of 1688–9. They left Ulster around 1729 and sailed to Boston where they founded a Presbyterian church called Federal Street Church.

"The congregation began as a group of Scots-Irish Calvinists gathered in a converted barn on Long Lane in Boston on November 15, 1729. The inhospitable residents of Boston dubbed them derogatorily as “The Church of the Presbyterian Strangers,” and the name stuck. "Their first house of worship was a barn, which sufficed until they were able, in 1744, to build a neat wooden edifice.’ (Wikipedia)


David was born in Newport, Rhode Island and died at East Windsor, Connecticut. His diary was published and is online here.

The diary is a treasure trove, once again slaying the claim that ‘Scotch-Irish’ was an unknown term to the early Ulster emigrants in America but was ‘retro-fitted’ to their story in the late 1800s.


"The people are mainly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. On this journey we overtook several families moving from the older settlements in the East to the West. Iremember one in particular, a family of about twelve. The man carried a gun and an axe on his shoulders. The wife had the rimof a spinning wheel in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. The little boys and girls each carried a bundle according to their age. Two poor horses were loaded with some of the bare necessities of life. On top of the baggage of one was a sort of wicker cage in which a baby lay, rocked to sleep by the motion of the horse. A cow was one of the company, and she was destined to bear her part of the family belongings. A bed cord was wrapped around her horns and a bag of meal was on her back. This family was not only patient, but cheerful; pleased at the prospect of finding a happy home in one of the valleys which stretched from the mountains westward on to Pittsburgh."

"The inhabitants of this country, many miles around, are Scotch Irish. They are presbyterians, & generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the christian religion, civil, hospitable & curteous to strangers. This description of people are removing almost daily into this country. Great numbers, within a few years, have come from Ireland."

The inhabitants west of the Appalachian mountains are chiefly Scotch Irish presbyterians. They are either natives of the North of Ireland, or the descendents of such & removed here from the middle Colonies. There are some Germans, English & Scotch. The presbyterians are generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the christian religion. The young people are taught by their parents & school masters, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, & almost every family has the Westminster Confession of Faith, which they carefully study. Mr. Eurie, lives in a small neighbourhood of german quakers, with whom he can have little or no religious society, as the most of them are very ignorant & bigoted."

"Not able this day to preach, (being Sabbath) having been badly poisoned in the face, by some poisonous weeds. The people of this settlement are almost all of scotch irish descent. Immigrants from the North of Ireland, or descendents of such. They are presbyterians, well instructed in the principles of religion, & a number of them very exemplary and pious. The line between religious & irreligious characters is more discrimenating here, as well as over the mountains, than it is in New England, where the forms of religion are established by law, and where the irreligious are not much respected or promoted to Office in society."

“CARLISLE. Passed through this place, in which are two presbyterian churches, & one small episcopal Society. The people principally scotch-irish."


Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots were also among the frontier Pennsylvania community:

"Dined at Dr. Rogers, with a Scotch minister, who has lately arrived, with a company from the Isle of Sky, with the intention of making a settlement up the North River. His name, I think, is McClellan. Heard Mr. Treat preach in the afternoon, & in the evening, Mr. McClellan. He preached in the Erse language, to his companions, who appeared in the Scotch plaid dress, & attended with great decency.


Interestingly McClure also uses the term ‘Scotch and Irish” but to refer to one group of people, not two. Here’s an example where he contrasts them with the German settlers:

"It is strange that there should be so wide a difference in point of hospitality, between the Germans & the Scotch and Irish of this country. The former will put themselves to no trouble to oblige you, & expect a reward for every service, the latter, we found cheerfully shewing us any kindness which we needed, without any other reward, except the satisfaction of obliging a stranger."


"Call the Smithsonian, I've made a discovery"

Monday, September 19, 2016

Greater Appalachia comes to Ulster

(Update: ‘ultra runner’ Karl Meltzer has just set a new record for completing the Appalachian Trail, in under 46 days, fuelled by sweets and beer and bacon. Story here)


Generally speaking, Appalachia is thought of as being much smaller than its actual area - the purple, yellow and red areas on the map below, from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Yet it pushes both further south and west, and also up into the north east.

Greater Appalachia map ARC Map

In the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, they have an annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival each year, which was just last weekend. Yet the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking route (I’ve only done a few of its 2200 miles) carries on even further, right up through New York State into New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. 

The highest peaks in the Appalachian mountains are in the northern area (Mount Washington in NH ia 6,288 feet; Mount Katahdin in Maine is 5268 feet) and in the south central area (Great Smoky Mountains are over 6000 feet). Mount Mitchell, again in the south central area, is the highest of all, at  6,684 feet.

25 million people live here, about 40% of which are classified as rural dwellers.

Over the past few years the Appalachian Trail has been extended, up into eastern coastal Canada, into Ulster and Scotland, passing through Greenland and Iceland on the way, and from Scotland into Scandinavia. The International Appalachian Trail website is here. What they’ve done is to include the existing Ulster Way, and a walking route through Donegal. 

Surely this now needs to be properly branded and signposted and advertised. North Carolinian Joe Norman walked the Ulster section in 2013.

NB: The AGM of the International Appalachian Trail will be held at the Ulster-American Folk Park on 22nd September (Thursday of this week) - see here.

Appalachian Trail map Static1 squarespace
International Appalachian Trail - Ulster section mapIAT map

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"A Call from the Trenches to the Shirkers" – Ballywalter, 20-11-1915

This poem appeared in the Newtownards Chronicle. With thanks to Mark Anderson for permission to post it here. It featured in the book The Great War and Its Legacy; A History of Loughries True Blues LOL 1948 which I had the privilege of designing with Mark, an which was launched at the Somme Heritage Centre in the spring of this year. Loughries is a rural area on the peninsula side of Newtownards. 10 men from the lodge served in the Great War, the two men on the cove, Samuel Hutchinson and William Lowry, both survived. Some copies might still be available

A Call from the Trenches to the Shirkers  Poem  Anonymous Ballywalter  NC 20 11 1915

Loughries Cover HR

Friday, September 16, 2016

Music matters?

The 1792 Belfast Harp Festival is rightly held in high regard by musicians and scholars alike and is acknowledged as a moment of enormous significance in the recognition and preservation of Irish traditional music. 

Conversely, the Ulster-Scots song tradition, which first started to appear in print in 1793 (and potentially in newspapers earlier than this) is pretty much ignored. Scores of poetry books printed from that date onwards include easily 100 or maybe even up to 200 songs. Many give the names of the tunes they were to be sung to. Why is this not seen as important? Maybe only some music matters. Maybe some people discard their heritage too casually.

(The example below, about the 1798 Rebellion, was printed in 1811 – just 13 years after the Battle of Ballynahinch. It was written Francis Boyle of Granshaw, who lived just 13 miles from the battlefield and well within the community that it affected. He was about 60 years old in 1798.) 

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Commemorative plaque for the Harp Festival in Donegall Street, Belfast. SAM 0187

The Mecklenburg Declaration and the Mecklenburg Resolves

The original documents were lost in a fire in 1800, which has led some scholars to question the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration of 20 May 1775. However in 1838 a similar document called the Mecklenburg Resolves was found, dated 31 May 1775. Other scholars have had no such qualms. Others mounted a campaign in support of the Resolves and proposed a state-wide celebration on 31 May each year. The Mecklenburg Declaration also featured in the Proceedings of the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA in 1895.

As historic as this is (or might be) the wording is not as emotive as that found in the earlier Fincastle Resolutions - a document about which there is no debate, and a document authored by an Ulsterman. Indeed, when you read it, it could ONLY have been written by an Ulsterman :).

01583u LRWheel255

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Mecklenburg Declaration and Francis Cummings - 'the finest specimen of manly person in the crowd of fine-looking Scotch-Irishmen there'

A few weeks ago I posted here about the Fincastle Resolutions of 20 January 1775, said to be “… the earliest statement of armed resistance to the British Crown in the American Colonies …" which were writted by County Donegal-born Presbyterian Minister Rev Charles Cummings.

A few months after Fincastle, a similar but more famous Declaration was published at Mecklenburg in North Carolina, on 20 May 1775, and again among an overwhelmingly Ulster-Scots community. Present that day was a Rev Francis Cummings, who would later be a tutor to future President and son of Carrickfergus, Andrew Jackson, who, when the Mecklenburg Declaration was read aloud in Charlotte, North Carolina, was just a boy of 8 living 20 miles away at Waxhaw.

Here are two clippings from Sketches of Some of the Settlers of Upper Georgia, by George R Gilmer (1923).

Mecklenburg 2

Rev Francis Demaris Cummings sounds like the classic dashing hero. He was '...born near Shippenburg, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1752. In his 19th year his parents moved to Mecklenburg County, and young Cummings exchanged his former life for the classic halls of the Queen's Museum in Charlotte, where he was an eye-witness of the Mecklenburg Convention of May, 1775, concerning which he furnished a certificate, and also gave some account in a published sermon. He graduated at Queen's Museum about 1776, and spent several years teaching. Among his pupils in Bethel, York County, South Carolina, was Andrew Jackson, afterwards President...'

His parents are thought to have been Charles and Rebecca (McNickle) Cummings.

Mecklenburg 1

A dramatic account of Cummings' preaching, dated 1802, can be found in Foote's Sketches of North Carolina, on p404. The ministers who preached at Spartanburg that day were called Kennedy, Williamson, Gilleland, Wilson, Simpson, M'Elhinney and of course Cummings. (link here)

Cummings died in Greensborough, Georgia, in 1831.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Winchester, Virginia, 1755: "The inhabitants are a spurious race of mortals known by the appellation of Scotch-Irish."

Spooktacular Halloween Fest 2007

A few days ago Hillary Clinton said that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are ‘a basket of deplorables’. I suspect this will come back to haunt her. It plays very firmly into the ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ view of the world. And not dissimilar to being called, 261 years ago, ‘a spurious race of mortals’. 

That quote has two different sources:

• one is in a 1755 letter by Col. John Banister of Petersburg to Robert Bolling of Chellowe, Buckingham County, Virginia. You can read it all here. (the letter also says that the Scotch-Irish referred to the Blue Ridge Mountains as ‘Blue Ledge’. According to Chambers Scots Dictionary, ‘ledge’ in Scots means ‘parapet’ or ‘top’).

• The second source is from Scotsman Lord Adam Gordon in 1760, using exactly the same form of words about the inhabitants of Winchester. It is quoted in Essays in Scotch-Irish History, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation (first edition 1969, back in print again - click here to buy), in the essay 'Education in the American Colonies' by Esmond Wright M.P., then the Professor of Modern History at Glasgow University. Previously he had studied at the University of Virginia, where he became an authority on Colonial and Revolutionary America. Wright provides a stout defence of the historical veracity of the term ‘Scotch-Irish’ - he also says that none less than Thomas Jefferson even used the term of himself. (the quote also appears in The Story of Winchester, published in 1925, attributed to Gordon.)


Winchester is a pretty, historic, town. We drove past it in July, having picked up some literature about it in the Virginia Welcome Center, on Interstate 66. We turned south at Front Royal, down into Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive. Had we turned north, about half an hour along the road we would have arrived in Winchester.

Winchester was the birthplace, and final resting place, of country singing legend Patsy Cline (1932–1963), full name Virginia Patterson Hensley - her mother’s Patterson line likely to be Scotch-Irish. My late mother was a big Patsy Cline fan. In her last few months when she was housebound on Sunday mornings I would skip the mission hall service and take my old 1920s L-4 Gibson guitar up with me to see her,  and play familiar hymns and songs that she loved and would sing along to. Times that are too precious to have filmed or photographed, her voice weakened by old age and injury, yet still holding fast to simple profound Gospel truths. Old songs like this one:


Patsy Cline died in a plane crash and was buried at Shenandoah Memorial Park, less than three miles from Winchester’s Opequon Presbyterian Church which dates back to 1736, a congregation which first gathered in a log cabin under the oversight of Donegal (Pennsylvania) Presbytery. The building there today was built in 1897, but there’s a gravestone from 1742 in the adjacent cemetery. The name on the stone is John Wilson, who buried his wife and ’two childer' with ‘IRLAND’ chiselled into it - and is thought to be the earliest settler gravestone in the Valley of Virginia.

The stone crumbled under the unskilled hands of the husband, who brought it from the hill side on the west and inscribed the letters himself as a memorial to his young wife. Tradition says he was the school master. (source here)

My mother’s folk are all Wilsons. It’s a small transatlantic world.

In the same cemetery stands this stone:

To the memory of
Samuel Glass
and his wife
Mary Gamble
Emigrants from Banbridge
County Down, Ireland
A.D. 1735
Their Children
Were all born in Ireland
And came with them.


There is another, intriguing, connection with Winchester. It concerns an Ulster-Scot whose roots were at Killinchy in County Down, who fled to America as a boy after the 1798 Rebellion. He eventually settled at Winchester and became, in his day, an author of some importance. More about him soon...

What a ‘spurious race of mortals’. What a ‘basket of deplorables’ they were … and still are.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

David Ramsay, the 'Father of American History' (1749–1817) and 'another eminent Scotch-Irishman of this era'

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So it turns out that the Father of American History is, as some might say, ‘one of ours’.

David Ramsey (1749–1817; Wikipedia entry here) was the son of James Ramsay and Jane Montgomery  - as the Oxford DNB describes them, ‘Protestant Irish immigrant farmers’. Some genealogy websites suggest they were from Donegal. It has also been suggested that Jane was a cousin of General Richard Montgomery.

The Archives of Maryland says that James Ramsay served as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly for York County. David had two older brothers: William became a Presbyterian minister and Nathaniel a high-ranking politician. The family lived in ‘East Drumore’ township - apparently in a ‘whitewashed stone hut’.

Here is an old 1800s bio:

"David Ramsay was born in Lancaster county Pennsylvania on the 2d day of April 1749. He was the youngest child of James Ramsay a respectable farmer who had emigrated from Ireland at an early age and by the cultivation of his farm with his own hands provided the means of subsistence and education for a numerous family. He was a man of intelligence and piety and early sowed the seeds of knowledge and religion in the minds of his children. He lived to reap the fruit of his labours and to see his offspring grow up around him ornaments of society and props of his declining years. The early impressions which the care of this excellent parent made on the mind of Dr Ramsay were never erased either by the progress of time the bustle of business or the cares of the world. He constantly entertained and expressed the highest veneration for the sacred volume and in his last will written by his own hand five months before his death when committing his soul to his maker he takes occasion to call the bible the best of books. It was connected with all his tenderest recollections it had been the companion of his childhood and through his whole life his guide and friend and comforter … Dr Ramsay had the misfortune to lose an amiable and excellent mother very early in life but that loss was in some measure repairedby his father who took uncommon pains to give him the best education that could be then obtained in this country...

In Rupp’s History of Lancaster County (1844), which gives a similar account of the Ramsays, there is a reference to a 1717 community of Ulster emigrants ‘on the banks of the Octorara Creek, by a party of what are now known as the Scotch-Irish. They had many difficulties to encounter...'

He had served in the South Carolina legislature during the War of Independence, and later as a surgeon on the battlefields; his second wife was Frances Witherspoon (the daughter of Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon); he was held prisoner for a year.

Astoundingly, in the absence of John Hancock, Ramsay served as Chairman of the Continental Congress and eventually became President of the South Carolina State Senate. It was Hancock who in 1775 had signed off on Congress’ famous address To The People of Ireland (full text online here), which was printed in Strabane-born John Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet newspaper on 28 July that same year. Here is the concluding section –

Accept our most grateful acknowledgments for the friendly disposition you have always strewn towards us. We know that you are not without your grievances. We sympathize with you in your distress, and are pleased to find that the design of subjugating us, has persuaded administration to dispense to Ireland, some vagrant rays of ministerial sunshine. Even the tender mercies of government have long been cruel towards you. In the rich pastures of Ireland, many hungry parricides have fed, and grown strong to labour in its destruction … we should be unworthy that ancestry from which we derive our descent, should we submit, with folded arms, to military butchery and depredation, to gratify the lordly ambition, or sate the avarice of a British Ministry. In defence of our persons and properties, under actual violation, we have taken up arms; When that violence shall be removed, and hostilities cease on the part of the aggressors, they shall cease on our part also. For the atchievement of this happy event, we confide in the good offices of our fellow-subjects beyond the Atlantic. ()f their friendly disposition, we do not yet despond; aware, as they must be, that they have nothing more to expect from the same common enemy, than the humble favour of being last devoured.

In 1785 Ramsay wrote the two volume set History of the Revolution of South Carolina (online here) the first book in the USA to be granted copyright. Writing his own family experience into the context, on page 4 he says

...the assembly of the colony appropriated a large fund for bounties to foreign protestants who should settle in the interior parts. In consequence of this encouragement many arrived from Europe, particularly from Ireland. Great numbers also migrated from Virginia, Pennsylvania and other northern provinces...

In 1789 Ramsay published his History of the American Revolution. On page 23 he writes

This deterred great numbers, especially of the Presbyterian denomination who had emigrated from Ireland from settling within the limits of the governments, and fomented spirit of discord...


NB: It is in Wayland F Dunaway’s 1944 book The Scotch-irish in Colonial Pennsylvania where Ramsay is described as 'another eminent Scotch-Irishman of this era’.

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

When the Wall Street Journal writes this about a brand, it’s time to pay attention

“Everybody likes to tout that they’re original and authentic,” said Joe Baker, Ole Smoky’s co-founder. “The reality is that we are.” ... The Smokies have been a haven for illicit moonshine production since at least the 18th century, when a wave of Scots-Irish immigrants brought over traditions of making whiskey by fermenting corn and other grains...


It looks as old as the hills, but it’s only been around for 6 years – and that’s probably because of its founder. Joe Baker was a criminal lawyer living in east Tennessee where his ancestors had been among the earliest white settlers. When the state of Tennessee opened up its distilling laws in 2010, Baker established Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. Here’s the story on

Moonshine is in Baker’s blood. His roots date back to the earliest settlers of Eastern Tennessee. The forested Smoky Mountains were a canopy for Baker’s ancestors and other moonshine distillers, many of them immigrants from Scotland and Ireland who settled there for its familiar terrain...


I had seen some of their advertising before we went to the USA in July, so, knowing we were going to be near Gatlinburg, we visited their new distillery and retail outlet at Pigeon Forge. Pics of our visit are below. The quality of the branding is so strong that you just know that it's more than a facade, more than just an image. It's the best retail 'brand experience' I've ever encountered. Absolutely spectacular.

It’s now the most-visited distillery in America with sales approaching $50m per year. Joe Baker has gone on to set up the Yee Haw Brewing Company, and a new line of Ole Smoky Whiskeys, the result of a merger with Davy Crockett Tennessee Whiskey. 

As it says on their jars, Shine Responsibly. And I had to buy a t-shirt.

I sent an email to Ole Smoky a few days after we got home. I had an idea for them. I hope it got forwarded to Joe Baker. Joe, feel free to get in touch!

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

The original Hillbilly Elegy? 'The Mountain Whites of The South - by a Scotch-Irishman' 1893

The Mountain Whites of The South - by a Scotch-Irishman is a booklet I picked up a good few years ago. Published anonymously in 1893, as you'll see from the images below (if the resolution is okay) it is an appeal to the churches and also the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA to launch a $400,000 educational and relief aid programme into Appalachia - that must surely equate to many tens of millions in todays money. The booklet is just 40 pages long but is packed with information.

The chapters are:
1. Evidences of Scotch-Irish Descent
2. How They Came to the Mountains
3. Their Claims for Aid
4. What is Being Done for their Evangelization
5. How to Benefit Them
6. An Appeal to the Scotch-Irish Society

It is a compilation of a series of articles which had appeared in the Presbyterian Banner newspaper. You can read an online version here

As Dr John Hall said in his introduction: "I write as one of the Scotch-Irish, and under the impulse of deep pity for those whose condition your correspondent describes".

It is interesting that the writer says that:

"I believe these whites of the mountains are largely of Scotch-Irish descent ... I sought for some histories that would treat of the subject in the libraries of Pittsburgh and Allegheny. I could find none. I applied, through a friend, to the Congressional Library in Washington DC. I was informed there was no work in which their origin was treated of in that library, and the learned librarian expressed the opinion that there was no book which contained any account of their origin".

I was a bit cheeky a few posts ago in referring to retired ex-pat Ulster Presbyterian ministers reminiscing in their twilight years. Well here they are, seeking to draw attention to the plight of the poor. That's what 'social justice' used to mean.

P.S.: All of this raises an interesting question - when was the first American-published history of the Scotch-Irish?  Here is one from 1858.

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Monday, September 05, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance

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You’d have to have been living on the moon all summer (or at least, completely detached from the growing resurgence of Scotch-Irish awareness in the USA as the election looms) to have missed the excitement that has followed the release of this new book - already a New York Times bestseller, topping the sales charts. (conversely, I noticed that when visiting July, Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irishness seemed to be less visible - in bookstores, museums and heritage centres - than on previous trips in 1997 and 2002)

The timing has been impeccable, picking up on the Trump question, and all of the political head-scratching as to how Trump could have happened as a phenomenon. This book predates Trump, and his name doesnt appear once in its pages. Yet the smart commentators see a deeper cultural underbelly, one which has been brewing for decades.

In a later post I am going to suggest that this has in fact been growing for at least a century as can be seen through publications pleading with the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA and the Presbyterian church to launch a massive aid and education programme into Appalachia. There is no evidence that they ever did so. More to follow. Meanwhile here are author JD Vance’s own words :

"Two generations ago my grandparents were dirt-poor and in love. They got married and moved north to Ohio from the Appalachian hills of eastern Kentucky in the hope of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (me) graduated from one of the finest educational institutions in the world, Yale Law School. But to understand me, you must understand thatI am a Scots-Irish hillbilly at heart.

“I may be white, but I do not identify with the WASPs of the Northeast. Instead, I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty is the family tradition — their ancestors were day laborers in the Southern slave economy, sharecroppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and mill workers during more recent times. Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends and family.

The Scots-Irish are one of the most distinctive subgroups in America. As one observer noted, “In traveling across America, the Scots-Irish have consistently blown my mind as far and away the most persistent and unchanging regional subculture in the country. Their family structures, religion and politics, and social lives all remain unchanged compared to the wholesale abandonment of tradition that’s occurred nearly everywhere else.”1 This distinctive embrace of cultural tradition comes along with many good traits—an intense sense of loyalty, a fierce dedication to family and country—but also many bad ones. We do not like outsiders or people who are different from us, whether the difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk. To understand me, you must understand that I am a Scots-Irish hillbilly at heart.

If ethnicity is one side of the coin, then geography is the other. When the first wave of Scots-Irish immigrants landed in the New World in the eighteenth century, they were deeply attracted to the Appalachian Mountains. This region is admittedly huge—stretching from Alabama to Georgia in the South to Ohio to parts of New York in the North—but the culture of Greater Appalachia is remarkably cohesive. My family, from the hills of eastern Kentucky, describe themselves as hillbillies, but Hank Williams, Jr.—born in Louisiana and an Alabama resident—also identified himself as one in his rural white anthem “A Country Boy Can Survive.” It was Greater Appalachia’s political reorientation from Democrat to Republican that redefined American politics after Nixon. And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery.”

I am fortunate to have travelled through Appalachia three times. When the kids are grown up and moved out I might even relocate there for a time. These people are not just JD Vance's people, they are our people too.


I don’t buy into the Trump = Scotch-Irish theory. No ‘people group’ behaves in a single way. There are plenty of Scotch-Irish who oppose him, indeed the whole point of President Barack Obama’s recent speech was that Trump does not exhibit classic Scotch-Irish values. So, American commentators need to learn some nuance. But the rise of Scotch-Irishness as a concept, representing a set of values, is what is so interesting here.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

"heritage doesn't matter"


Friday, September 02, 2016

Grave of Dr Robert Murray, born in County Down, died in Virginia

Typical. We drove past this area when in Virginia back in July. This doctor, buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia, was the father of the tobacco millionaire Robert Wallace Murray who came to Belfast to set up his firm. Information from

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