A couple of years ago, when I deemed it absolutely necessary to cross the big pond and investigate my heritage that had been seeded in Northern Ireland, I had the good fortune of being introduced to a renowned historian who, through greater good fortune, has become a friend.
Dr. David Hume is all eat up, as my people like to say, with the history of those wily Scotch-Irish, and from his post in Belfast continues to research, write and lecture on what some see as an odd collection of humanity.
After all, the Scotch-Irish, historically, have allowed few rules of society, man or king. Especially king. Mostly, we make them up and call them the law as according to us.
Several months after I had spent a day in Belfast learning at the foot of a master of the history of my people, David wrote to ask if I would please consider endorsing a book he was writing.
Would I? Absolutely. I considered it quite a privilege. I have drawn both the admiration of many and the wrath of some because I adhere to the historically correct usage of “Scotch-Irish” rather than the newfangled (since the 1970s) use of Scots-Irish. As a result, in Northern Ireland, I am both loved and not. Same as here. But that’s another story for another day.
I gladly wrote the endorsement. Recently, I received a copy of David’s fine work entitled “Eagle’s Wings: The Journey of the Ulster Scots and the Scotch-Irish.” Now we all know that academicians and most historians can be dry in delivery and overly intellectual in their telling of facts. Happily, David is not that way. This book is quite engaging and, at times, I laughed out loud. He carries on in the finest tradition of Scotch-Irish storytelling.
For instance, the book is titled after the name of the emigrant ship, The Eagle Wing, which was named from Exodus 19:4: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle’s wings, and brought you unto myself.”
He writes that the Scotch-Irish — a name they gave themselves because they were a race comprised of marriages between Scotland transplants with the Irish — left Northern Ireland for America’s Appalachians to “avoid oppression, to shun persecution and to be enabled to worship God according to their consciences.”
As any who know us know, we are one stubborn bunch. Odd. “Quare” as we call each other but rarely ourselves. We are set in our ways, often to a point of unattractiveness. But this pronounced trait served well their new country land when the men lined up with enthusiasm to fight against the king in the Revolutionary War.
“A combination of strong faith, obstinacy and tenacity would lead them to achieve much during the revolution,” David writes in Eagle’s Wings.
And truly it did, for these immigrants were central to the colonies’ battles and wins in the Southern region. Without them, the British might well have been able to prevail despite the trouncing they had received in Gen. George Washington’s North.
For this much is true: No Scotch-Irish worth his upbringing ever backed down from a good fight.
He points out that President Andrew Jackson and his vice president, John Calhoun, both descended from this opinionated bunch of transplants and in typical Scotch-Irish style, “they fell out.”
I laughed out loud at that passage. Oh, I wish I could tell you the number of times I heard that as I was growing up, “They fell out with each other.” We tend not to be reasonable in accepting a view different from our own.
This all helps to explain why I don’t cotton to those who criticize my continued, stubborn — and correct, I staunchly believe — use of the term of Scotch-Irish. As a result, I just fall out with them.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including the forthcoming “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.