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Scot-Irish, the Other Irish

Updated on March 14, 2018
Chuck profile image

Chuck enjoys celebrating holidays with his family. This has led to an interest in researching & writing about holidays & their traditions.

Two Traditions in Ireland

Patty Inglish's Hub, Orange on St. Patrick's Day, got me to thinking about the other Irish - the Scot-Irish of Northern Ireland and a comment I once read, which I think it was made by the Irish politician/journalist Conor Cruise O'Brien, about the two religious and cultural traditions of Ireland.

While the majority of the population of the Irish Republic is Roman Catholic there is also the Protestant majority in the North of Ireland in the six counties that chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is also the Church of Ireland which is a part of the world-wide Anglican Communion with members in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

I can easily relate to O'Brien's observation as I am a product of both cultures since, on my Father's side, my grandfather and his family were Catholics from Navan in County Meath in what is now the Republic of Ireland while my great-grand parents on my Father's side were Catholics from what is now the Ulster Province of Northern Ireland.

On my Mother's side my great-grandparents were Protestant Presbyterians from the northern part of what is now the Republic of Ireland (close to the Ulster border but south of that border) while my Mother's father's family were descendants of Scot Irish Presbyterians who had been a part of the mass migration of Scot-Irish to the U.S. that occurred in the decades immediately before and immediately after the American Revolution.

And, just to give my siblings and I representation from the Anglican Protestant tradition my Mother, as a teenager, had become a member of the Anglican Church (actually, she probably had other reasons, unknown to me, for converting as she did it before thinking of marriage, let alone future children).

A Confusion Over a Church

I remember my Father telling a story about an American Army chaplain stationed temporarily in Dublin, Ireland with American troops during World War I (at time when all of Ireland was still under British rule).

The Chaplin was an Irish-American Catholic priest who was passionate about his Irish heritage. The Chaplin's unit was probably a New York National Guard unit that consisted of mostly Irish-American troops.

So, for St. Patrick's Day the Chaplin rounded up all of the Irish in the unit and began leading them in his own impromptu parade to St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

It wasn't until they had almost reached the Cathedral that a lieutenant was able to get the Chaplin to listen to him and make him understand that St. Patrick's Cathedral, unlike its counterpart in New York City, was a Protestant, and not a Catholic, church. I think I also recall seeing a scene like this in an old World War I movie but don't have a clue to its name.

Today, of course the Catholic chaplain probably would have continued the march to St. Patrick's Cathedral and, more than likely, would have been invited in to celebrate Mass there.

But things were different in that era and the lieutenant did him a big favor in steering him clear of what would have been a very embarrassing situation in front of his men to say nothing of the wrath of his bishop when word got back home.

England first became involved with Ireland in 1169 when one of the parties in a dispute over who would be the High King of Ireland went to England and sought help from some Norman Lords in England.

The King of England, Henry II, was busy in France at the time defending his lands in France (in addition to being King of England, Henry was also the Duke of Normandy and lord of other lands in France). However, when Henry returned in 1171 he took over the operation in Ireland and began establishing Norman control over Ireland. The Norman lords and their followers were an independent lot and after a generation or two went native and joined the Irish in their fight against British rule.

The Irish and Norman nobility were also a practical lot who were concerned with maintaining their estates in Ireland. I discovered this years ago when, while doing some research, I discovered that every book I looked at, whether it was written from the British point of view or the Irish, people with my family name, Nugent, were always among the good guys.

Upon further inquiry I discovered that it was the practice of the nobility to always have at least two sons so that in every conflict one son would fight with the British and one with the Irish which would guarantee that one member of the family would be on the winning side thereby being able to keep the family lands - the other son then went into exile on the Continent which is why the name Nugent along with many other Irish names are found in so many places in the world.

With the rise of Protestantism and the English monarchy's embrace of it, a religious dimension was added to the mix. Beginning with King James I in the early 1600s, efforts were begun to crush Irish rebellion once and for all. Beginning with the Ulster area which was the center of the strongest resistance to British rule, James and his successors not only confiscated the lands of the Irish nobility in that area but also drove the peasants from the land. Title to the estates were given to British nobles and the Irish peasants replaced with Presbyterians (Calvinists) who were taken mostly from the Lowlands of Scotland and transported to the North of Ireland. This created a large religious divide in Ireland.

16th or 17th Century Irish Tenant Cottage

Renaissance Era Irish tenant cottage.   (Display provided by Croft Celtic Reenactment Organization for Fellowship & Trades at Arizona Renaissance Festival in Phoenix, AZ )
Renaissance Era Irish tenant cottage. (Display provided by Croft Celtic Reenactment Organization for Fellowship & Trades at Arizona Renaissance Festival in Phoenix, AZ ) | Source

Ireland Remained Divided

Despite continued wars and persecutions, the British were unable to colonize Ireland with non-Catholics beyond the northern counties.

Just as the potato famine a century led to the mass migration of predominantly Catholic Irish from the south of Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, similar economic forces resulted in the mass migration of mostly Protestant Irish to America in the eighteenth century.

In this case the cause of the migration was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rise in the demand for wool needed in cloth production. This resulted in the British landlords refusing to renew the leases of their tenant farmers in the North of Ireland in order to convert the land to pasture for sheep and wool production.

This mass migration of Protestant Irish from the North of Ireland occurred in the decades immediately before and immediately after the American Revolution and they became the first large group of Irish settlers in what is now the United States.

While John Kennedy is often acclaimed as the first American President of Irish descent, he is really the first President of Irish Catholic descent, having had all four of his grandparents being Irish born or of direct Irish ancestry. Actually Andrew Jackson was the first President of direct Irish descent having been born to parents both of whom had been born in Ireland - but they were Northern Irish Protestants.

Many other Presidents, including George Washington and Barack Obama, have some Irish ancestry in their background with most of it being Scot-Irish.

While these Irish Protestants of the eighteenth century migration originally identified themselves as Irish, they had moved up economically and socially by the time of the potato famine and the mass migration of the poor Irish Catholics. In an attempt to separate themselves from the new mass of Irish who were both poor and Catholic, these descendants of the early Irish migration began identifying themselves as Scot-Irish, a name which stuck.

As the later Irish began establishing themselves and forming fraternal and social organizations to help their members and preserve their heritage, so too, did the Scot-Irish began forming their own historical, cultural and social societies giving rise to two distinct Irish groups in the United States.

However, across the Atlantic, the Irish seeking to create a their own state continued to consider the nation to include the entire island despite the fact that, at the time of partition, the Protestant residents of the six counties in the north voted to remain with Britain. Under the Irish Constitution, residents of Northern Ireland are considered citizens of the Republic with the right to vote in Irish elections.

Also, according to many the orange in the Irish tri-color flag was put there in recognition of the north. Green, of course is the traditional color associated with Ireland and the flag under which the Fenian Army, of Irish American Civil War Veterans who invaded Canada in 1866 in a failed attempt to capture and ransom it for Irish independence, fought under a green banner with a gold harp in the center.

As to orange, this comes from the fact that King William III of Britain, who defeated a Catholic Irish force under the Catholic pretender James at the Battle of the Boyne ( ) in Ireland in 1690 thereby ensuring Protestant rule in England and preservation of the Protestant enclave in Northern Ireland, was also the Prince of Orange-Nasau in France (William married Mary, the heir to the British throne however, not wanting to be merely the Prince Consort to Mary, he demanded that they rule jointly before he would allow her to assume the British throne).

Since the time of the Battle of the Boyne, the Protestants in the North of Ireland have used Orange as their color. According to most authorities, the Irish flag deliberately included both Green and Orange separated by a White bar in an attempt to include the North in the Republic with the white between them representing a truce between the two factions. ( )

While the political divisions still exists in Ireland, in American both groups are starting to come together to celebrate their common Celtic Heritage which includes both Scotland (original home of the Scot-Irish) and Ireland, including both parts of Ireland.

© 2009 Chuck Nugent


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    • profile image

      Irish Tim. 

      8 years ago

      Are you saying the Scotch-Irish are Celts? I suppose so as historians paint with a broad brush. (Scotland WAS considered Celtic. I saw the movie.) AFAIK, "Scot-Irish" were Scots, French, Germans and English and other subjects whom the Crown rewarded with Irish land to control and punish the natives. No, my understanding of history..the Scot-Irish are not true Celts. I was born in these United States, never mind. Not going to bother. :) After all we are in the 21'st century. And all the Irish American Catholics I know are successful, happy and living good lives. Most have forgiven(or choose to ignore)the civil rights injustices in giving their families a good life.

      Now, I've no dog in this fight, And I've many Scot-Irish friends and colleagues. But it is not because of any shared heritage.

    • Auntie D profile image

      Auntie D 

      8 years ago from California

      Wow, I've learned quite a bit from this hub. My Mahaffey family who settled in PA and South Carolina possible fit in with the Highlands. Off to do more research.

    • Shinkicker profile image


      9 years ago from Scotland

      Great Hub Chuck

      I'm really interested in Irish history and your Hub was really well written

      Cheers mate

    • Steve Macleod profile image

      Steve Macleod 

      10 years ago from Scotland, UK

      It is very easy for one side of any argument to dominate in a comments thread.

      I myself am born and bred in the Highlands of Scotland and I am Protestant, as are the overwhelming majority of the people in this part of the world. I don't say this out of religious intolerance, simply as fact. Indeed, I think you would be hard pushed to find a less intolerant part of the world when it comes to religious persuasion.

      For every single Catholic story, I daresay I could find a Protestant one. In any case, I am not interested in doing so - I will continue to attend my Church and I daresay my Catholic friends will do the same.

      Ancient history is just that. Catholics persecuted Protestants and Protestants persecuted Catholics. Let's move on....

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      10 years ago from Ontario

      Yeah Teresa, the Fenian raids in 1866 were to pressure Britain into granting independence to Ireland. It was one of the reasons that brought about Canadian Confederation in 1867.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      10 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Excellent hub. My maternal grandmother was of Scottish descent, a Macdonald no less, and both sides of my family were either Presbyterian or Scots. So growing up in Belfast had its own mysteries. . . add to that the fact that the men in my family tend to all marry catholics, and we have a merry mix.

      I agree with Sufi (always do);: Cromwell was a butcher.

      I didn't know the Fenians had invaded Canada in 1866! Thanks for a very informative and well-written hub.

    • Sufidreamer profile image


      10 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Hi Mike - we get Guinness in cans here, so I have a few in the fridge. Looking forward to St Patrick's day. I have a bottle of Irish, too!

      A very good book - there is a good chance that you have a drop of Norwegian Viking blood mixed in with the Celtic!

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      10 years ago from Ontario

      Ah whiskey, my favorite. :-)

      Not that I drink much though.

      Thanks Sufi, Amazon has 'The Sea Kingdoms'.  It's got real good Editorial and Customer Reviews.  I didn't know that "the names of the rivers Danube, Rhine, and Rhone are all of Celtic origin."  I just may have to get that book.  Thanks again.

      Can you no get more Guinness in Greece?

    • Sufidreamer profile image


      10 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Never knew about about the Highlanders taken into slavery - a fate worse than death for folk used to total freedom. We never learned a lot about Irish and Scottish history in England - maybe because of embarrassment, but the cynical side of me wonders if it was to try to curtail the growing Scottish independence movement. The only reason that I know about these things is because I lived in Scotland and Ireland for many years, and my sister married a Catholic from Derry. The Anglicisation went on in Wales and Ireland, too - luckily they managed to keep the culture alive.

      Nothing wrong with lamenting - the ability to be maudlin once in a while is your Highland blood talking. That's why they drink so much whisky! It is good that there are guys like you keeping the history alive - the biggest crime would be to forget it. If you manage to find a book called 'The Sea Kingdoms' by Alistair Moffat, it is a great account of Celtic History.

      A couple of weeks to St Patricks, so I hope that I do not drink the Guinness before then - far too tempting :)

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      10 years ago from Ontario

      Oh I see Sufi, you meant in 1969.  Makes sense now.  For sure Cromwell was a butcher.  His army killed everyone on Rathlin Island, just off the northern Irish coast and they were mostly women, children and old men.  They were MacDonells.  I think I did see that film on Culloden Sufi.  It was a BBC production wasn't it.  Highland culture basically ended after Culloden.  Not many know that over 1,000 Highlanders were taken to Barbados and South Carolina in chains as slaves after the battle.  The movie North and South just touches on it.  If I can remember correctly Patrick Swayze, as the Southern Gent refers to them as Highlands not Highlanders.  He says something along this line "well we can't get the Highlands to do the work." :-)

      For anyone of Highland extraction that happens to stumble upon this hub and are wondering why you didn't grow up as a Catholic you may want to read this.

      This is also very good.

      I'll probably eventually get around to just putting it on my own web site.  It's too much for a hub anyway.  I'll let you know if I do Chuck and Sufi.

      They have made some good in roads to peace.  I wouldn't want to stir up any hostilities with my lamenting Highland crap when St. Patrick's Day should be a day of celebration.


    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Sufidreamer, Mike - thanks for the great comments and additional information. When I wrote this I decided to keep it a general overview and hoped that it would spark a conversation with information and you two have done a great job with that.

      Mike, when you decide to publish the Hub you proposed in your comments, email me directly and I will add a link to it from this Hub.


    • Sufidreamer profile image


      10 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Sorry Mike - I should have made that clear - I was referring to the British Army in 1969. The Catholic Population thought that the British sense of fair play would sort the situation out. The rest is history :(

      When I lived in the Republic, towards the end of the troubles (at the time of Omagh and the Good Friday Agreement), it was a time of hope. Still a little way to go, but I never thought that I would see the day when Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley would sit at the same table. I liked living there, and I never had any problems with being English - their hatred was directed against the British aristocracy and politicians, not the people. Cromwell was a butcher.

      I would still be very interested in the Hub, Mike - I am no apologist for the clearances, and like to look at every side of a story. You should visit the Highlands - very sad, but your roots are there. We used to get a lot of Scottish-Canadians staying for the summer, and they had some fascinating family history. Visit Culloden - I felt guilt there, but mainly sadness that a lot of young men died.

      Don't know if you saw this film - it is very powerful.

      A sad history, but the future is very bright for Ireland and Scotland.

      Happy St Patrick's Day to everybody - I have a few cans of Guinness on ice :)

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      10 years ago from Ontario

      Sufi I'd be writing about times before Wolf Tone, prior to the forced conversions to Presbyterianism and the forced speaking of English in the Scottish Highlands.  That's what the 1715 and 1746 Risings were about, the later basically ending Catholic Highland Celtic culture as it was.  A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a forum that asked the question "Is Scotland Germanic?"  To say it made my blood boil is an understatement.  They basically shut down the forum to clear anything that was not suppose to be told.  It didn't fit with their re-write of history.  And to see Chucky Boy sporting my ancestor's colors is kind of humiliating, to say the least.  I think it would be sad to visit Locharber and Glengarry now seeing "we don't live there anymore".  I think I'll pass on that hub. 

      It's funny you mention Wolf Tone though Sufi seeing he wanted to unite the Catholics and Presbyterians to form a republic against English domination.  See his statue was erected in the south of Ireland in County Cork and he was buried near Dublin.  The people of Northern Ireland would do well to read up on Wolf Tone.  I don't know why you say "the Catholics welcomed the British Army" in Wolfe Tone's time.  There is so much involved, each historical era of the British Isles should be studied on it's own keeping in mind what came before.  Here's just two paragraphs from the Wolfe Tone wikipedia to give a perspective of what was happening then.

      "It is important to note the use of the word 'united'. This was what particularly alarmed the British aristocracy in Westminster as they saw the Catholic population as the greatest threat to their power in Ireland. Catholics had additional concerns of their own, these usually being having to pay the tithe bill to the Anglican Church of Ireland and the rent necessary to lease land from the Protestant Ascendancy.  Eighteenth century Ireland was a sectarian state, ruled by a small Anglican minority, over both a majority Catholic population (most of whose ancestors had been dispossessed of land and political power in the 17th century Plantations of Ireland), as well to the exclusion of Presbyterian and dissenting Christians from high political office. This was in part also an ethnic division, the Catholics and Presbyterians being descended from native Irish, Normans, 'Old English', and Scottish settlers, and the "Protestants" (Church of Ireland) more often from English settlers. It is important to note, however, that in this era and place, "Protestant" referred specifically to the state sanctioned church, rather than to what today would be broadly referred to as "Protestantism"; many of what would be today called "Protestants" (but not Episcopalian/Anglican/Church of Ireland) would have then referred to themselves as "dissenters".

      Existing sectarian animosity did threaten to undermine the United Irishmen movement: two secret societies in Ulster fought against each other, the Peep O'Day Boys, who were made up mostly of Protestants, and the Defenders, who were made up of Catholics. These two groups clashed frequently from 1785 and sectarian violence worsened in the county Armagh area from the mid 1790s. Sectarianism was deliberately fostered to undermine Wolfe Tone's movement, as it suggested that Ireland couldn't be united and that religious prejudices were too strong. In addition, the militant Protestant groups, including the newly founded Orange Order, could be mobilised against the United Irishmen by the British authorities. However these groups were largely based in Ulster, and the underlying reason for their conflicts was the growing demand for rented land, not religion per se."

      On a lighter note, seeing this hub will be in the St. Patrick's Day Hub Mob I'd like to say long live the Republic of Ireland.


    • earnestshub profile image


      10 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      This hub sure is extensive. I have not read all the links yet, but will do so. A very good read, thank you.

    • Sufidreamer profile image


      10 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      I would like to read that, Mike - the history of Ireland is such a complex tangle. Wolfe Tone was a Presbyterian, and the Catholics welcomed the British Army with applause, only to be sadly let down.

      Let me know when it is finished!

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      10 years ago from Ontario

      Nice hub Chuck.  Although it should be noted that the Presbyterian plantations in Northern Ireland in the 1600s under King James I from the lowlands of Scotland were mostly Germanic people that were "planted" in the lowlands of Scotland in the 1200s.  So basically the 'Scot-Irish' are Germanic not Celtic. 

      Knowing this and the historic connection between Ireland and Scotland long before the Anglos, Saxons, Jutes and Normans even got to the British Isles there could very well be an indigenous land claim for Northern Ireland and most of Scotland under a United Nation mandate.  I say Scotland too because most of the original Celtic peoples of Scotland were dispersed throughout the world before and after the Highland Clearances.  The historic Gaelic overkingdom of DalRiata which consisted of Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland is just one of the many ways to prove this.  Clan Donald, particularly MacDonells of both Ireland and Scotland is more proof.  I myself am of Highland Scot MacDonell of Glengarry stock and Catholic as well.

      I personally believe that the main point of contention in Northern Ireland is that in July they still don their aprons and march through Catholic neighborhoods celebrating the Battle of the Boyne that happened over 300 years ago.  It seems like they are still trying to antagonize.  I mean let's face it the Boyne River is now in the Republic of Ireland.  There have been some good inroads to peace in Northern Ireland lately.  Ending the July marches, especially through Catholic neighborhoods would go a long way for lasting peace.  We don't even see the July marches here in Canada any more. Keep in mind the Republic of Ireland would know doubt win an indigenous land claim for Northern Ireland under a United Nations mandate if they chose to pursue it.

      I feel I should write a hub myself from a Highland Catholic Scot perspective to submit for the St. Patrick's Day Hub Mob.  My father made sure that we had a green shirt to wear on St. Patrick's Day as well.  If I wrote a hub it would be correcting a lot of historical perspectives.  Does anybody think I should?


    • jkfrancis profile image


      10 years ago

      Chuck - another interseting hub!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You always seem find the unique and interesting bits of history. Enjoy reading them and learning frm them. Keep up the writing.

    • Sufidreamer profile image


      10 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Great Hub, Chuck - I lived in the Republic and in Scotland, and am glad that peace is making progress. There is bitter history on both sides, but hope never fully died.

      Thanks for that - an interesting read.

    • RVilleneuve profile image


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Very nice hub. As an scot-irish gal (who married french canadian) and a history buff, I really enjoyed it!


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