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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Language Lesson - Scotch-Irish

I have done a couple of language lessons in the past.   This time I've selected a term that I am not particularly fond of and will explain why.  I've had more than one person mention the term "Scotch-Irish" to me in reference to my Maxwell's but also my McGuire's.  These "discussions" have mainly shown up on message boards online.  I've remained rather silent about my perception about this term, until now.

Whenever I've heard the term in the past, I always thought, "...but I am Irish".  I was never very understanding of why "Scotch" was included as I never deemed myself to be Scottish.  Just as an aside, it does appear that my ancestor, James Maxwell b. 1786, was probably from Scotland.

So why do I bother to bring up this term now?  I'd like to educate anyone who is interested in understanding this terminology.  I was intrigued recently as to why the term struck me as a catch all phrase and felt rather off putting.  The feeling was not unjustified as I will explain.  

The term Scotch-Irish and Scot-Irish or even Scots-Irish seem to be used interchangeably.   Scotch-Irish actually refers to Irish Presbyterians and other Protestant dissenters from Ulster Province who immigrated to North America during the colonial years.  Most of the Scotch Irish were descended from Scottish and English families who had been transplanted to Ireland during the 17th century.   This was known as the Plantation of Ulster.  Many of these "Ulster Scots", as they are referred to in Britain, immigrated to America in the early 19th century.  It was their descendants who immigrated from Ireland by the way.

The term Scotch-Irish is an American term that is not used in England, Ireland, or Scotland.   The term has led to much confusion among those who deem themselves Scotch-Irish.  I think I can clear this up by reminding anyone who thinks of themselves as Scotch-Irish that this group of people were not Roman Catholic.  If you are Catholic and/or your Irish immigrant ancestors were, then you are highly likely not Scotch-Irish.  The more I read about this term, the more I realize that my McGuire's and Maguire's were not Scotch-Irish.  My Maxwell's, while they may have been part of the "Plantation", may be "Ulster Scots".  That's a big maybe on the Maxwell side by the way.

So where did the word "Scots-Irish" come from?  Well it appears to be a misinterpretation of Scotch-Irish.  Scotch-Irish was coined in 1744 and generally refers to those living in Appalachian region of the U.S.  This term came into play in the U.S. when the mass Irish immigrations occurred in the 1840s-50s.  To differentiate the Protestant Irish in the Appalachian region, they were named Scotch-Irish since the masses of recent Irish immigrants were, in fact, Irish Catholics.  The term Scots-Irish/Scot-Irish does not show up until around 1972 and appears to be a mispronunciation of its predecessor.

Why dislike the Scotch-Irish term?  It really is a misnomer.  People seem to use, or misuse, this term when they come across a surname that could be Irish or Scottish.  I have also seen the Protestant Irish in Northern Ireland referred to as Scot-Irish. I am betting they would not like to hear that since they consider themselves Irish.

I stay away from using these terms as I don't think I identify with the use of them since my ancestors were Roman Catholic.  I actually cringe now when I see Scots-Irish written and used.  I did have a discussion online with someone about the term.   She found it very confusing.  Ultimately, she indicated that there were probably prejudices that went along with the use of these terms.  I agree.

So, whatever you think of the term Scotch-Irish, bear in mind that it is misused and misunderstood by many and those labeled as such may not be fond of it.

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