Scots-Irish, Saint Patrick’s Day, and historical research

My family coat of arms

In March we find green decoration and clothing in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and Corn beef and cabbage on the menu in restaurants. And for those who live in Chicago, they dye the Chicago River green. Just so you know, the Irish do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day eating corned beef and cabbage. That’s an American thing.

By the way, not all Irish are Catholic. My ancestors came from Ireland in the 1840s. They came through the port of New Orleans and they were Presbyterian. More specifically, they were Scots-Irish. Presbyterian Scots who immigrated to Ireland centuries earlier after William of Orange (Protestant king of England) conquered Ireland. Irish lands were awarded to those Scots who fought for the crown.

From the study of World History we see monarchs of different faiths moved their people into the conquered country to spread their religious beliefs. And those beliefs take a variety of forms, which is why a great deal of immigrants, even today, come to America for religious freedom.

Scots-Irish Presbyterians were no exception. The Irish did not embrace the interlopers. They were passed over for better jobs. (Sound familiar) Many Scots-Irish left Ireland for a better life in America.  They believed America offered them the opportunity to break through class barriers.

 Any immigrant from Ireland who came to America however, be they protestant or catholic in the 1800s were spurned and considered less than human by some. Most could only get the least desirable jobs, at least in the colonized part of America. Many became law-enforcement or entered the military.

 Moving away from New York and other large cities gave them the opportunity to better provide for their families. In the book The Other Irish: the Scots-Irish Rascals who made America, by Karen F. Mc Carty traces the history of the Scots-Irish in America. I discovered they were often offered homestead opportunities in areas that had problems with the Natives or during the time of colonization by the French. The Irish were the barrier between the wilderness and civilized people. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Andrew Jackson were among some of the notable Scots-Irish who made a difference in America’s early history.

Pictured above is Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson.

During the Civil War, any Irish immigrant who got off the boat was offered citizenship, in exchange for fighting in the war. There were Irish units on both sides of the cause. New immigrants didn’t care about the reasons behind the war, only the reward of citizenship. Many died before they achieved their dream of a better life.

When I think of St. Patrick’s Day I don’t think of green beer and rabble rousing but a man who cared deeply about the Irish people and God. That same deep faith came with the Scots-Irish when they came to America.

As a writer, I find the faith element important in my stories. As a historical writer, I want it to reflect the time period of my setting. And as one of Scots-Irish descent, I want to honor my heritage by getting the facts right.

Although they claim everyone is Irish in St. Patrick’s Day, where do your ancestral roots lie?

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