Celts in America

Having just celebrated Independence Day here in the U.S., I have been thinking about the number of Celtic peoples who helped form our early republic. Scots, Ulster Scot-Irish and Irish waves have recently been documented. Those of you who read or are watching “The Outlanders” on Netflix are seeing a depiction of Scottish settlements in the South. As that storyline tells us, war with England and the breaking up of clans in the early 1700s caused many, especially Lowland Scots to emigrate. The Clearances followed: Highlanders were forced off their land. Some came directly to America. Many were “planted” in the northernmost province of Ireland. These became the Ulster Scot-Irish: my ancestors. The Irish, too, were oppressed and came many came way before the Irish Famine.

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Here are the general statistics and an opening commentary of an article “Scottish and Scots-Irish Celts Founders of the United States of America” by Cecilia Fábos-Becker:

“You may not realize that more than half of ALL Americans today have many Scots, Scots-Irish, Anglo-Scots or Irish/Anglo-Irish ancestors. You may not realize that our American Independence was born of the pain and oppression the majority of our founding peoples experienced, for centuries, here in America as in these well as in Ireland and Scotland. In fact, our U.S. Constitution, and the very government we live under, arose as a direct result of the abuse these Celtic ancestors received, primarily under English rule.”

While my own maternal grandparents did not come to America until 1900, there were five waves of Scot-Irish arriving before the American Revolution. Last month, I spent a week in Londonderry (Derry). Ireland, a city built as a plantation, i.e. Scots brought into Ireland to curb the power of native Catholics and provide what was assumed would be loyal subjects to the English king. Even the name of Derry/Londonderry speaks to the play of religious differences as Kings of England imposed their religion on Celtic peoples. The teeter totter effect of power shifting from Catholic to High Church Protestant and back again throughout the British Islands sent many to flee from persecution in search of religious freedom. These folks fiercely valued liberty and were willing to work and fight for it.

I remember a concert by Orla Fallon, one of the Celtic Women, where she ad libbed about the Irish coming to America during the Irish Famine and how they brought their music with them. However, the story goes back so much further. Think of the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, written during the Civil War by an Irish American to a then familiar Irish tune “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye”. Bluegrass connections to Celtic music appear from Nova Scotia south to Dixie, but especially in Appalachia.

And, Davy Crocker, “King of the Wild Frontier” was just one of the many explorers and settlers of Irish descent.

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. Forty-eight were born in the colonies, many with Celtic parents or grandparents. Three were Irish born, one an Ulster Scot from the north of Ireland. Two were Scots and one was Welch.

While most of us think of JFK as the first Irish American president, he actually was the first Catholic Irish American. Including JFK, twenty- three of our forty-five claim some degree of Irish or Scot-Irish heritage. Thirty-three have ancestral connection to Scotland. This includes those Ulster Scots claimed by Ireland.

Since Kennedy, three more presidents are known to have Celtic heritage: Clinton, Obama, and Trump. More on their Celtic homesites in next week’s blog.

Jeanne CraneComment