On several occasions in the past, we have denounced revisionists who alter the presentation of history to suit their own purposes. Equally provocative is anything that tends to support the Divide and Conquer tactics originated by the Brits ages ago to separate the Irish into quarreling communities to keep them from uniting against the Crown. No less culpable are those who unwittingly propagate such hypothetical theories without first determining the accuracy of their content. Their intentions may not be as malicious, but the results are certainly no less damaging.
One recent example was televised by the Smithsonian Institute as a 2-part documentary entitled ‘Born Fighting’ narrated by Senator James Webb from his book of the same name. This documentary corroborates the Scots-Irish myth that the settlers who came to Ulster in the 1600s at the behest of the Crown were a different people than those they were sent to replace when, in fact, they were all Celts. This is not only verified by recent DNA studies, but by many authorities as far back as the scholar, Venerable Bede, who earned the title “The Father of English History”. In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede wrote of Scots who came from their original homeland in Ireland to a new domain in northwestern Britain in the 6th and 7th centuries and it started even earlier.
By the time Irish chieftain Fergus MacErc moved the seat of his clan from Antrim across the 12-mile stretch of the North Channel to Argyll in 498 AD, the Irish had been settling the northern part of the island of Britain for 100 years. Called Scotti by the Romans, they even gave their name to the country. And, at this point, it should be noted that our Celtic cousins in Alba are called Scots, not Scotch; Scotch is a very fine whiskey that they produce, but by extension, a Scotch-Irish drink would be as undesirable as the Scotch-Irish myth!
History and legend verify the close ties of the Irish on both sides of the Channel from local stories of Finn McCumhall and his Fianna hunting in Scotland’s valley of Glencoe to historic alliances between warriors such as the Irish who traveled to Scotland in support of William Wallace in 1300 and the Gallowglass of Edward, brother of The Bruce, who led a force to Ireland in 1318 to support Irish resistance against the Crown.
The differences that developed between the two branches of the Irish family arose after Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1535 and ecclesiastical ideas became linked to political maneuvering. The Celts in Scotland fought for the independence of their church from civil control. Isolation from the outlawed Roman clergy and the growing attraction of Protestant ideas led to provincial councils (1549-59) which acknowledged that new religious concepts were due to the corruption of morals and the profane lewdness of life in churchmen of all ranks. Thus a difference between the two branches of the great Celtic family was forged in that one remained Catholic while the other became Presbyterian, but they were still part of the same family with similar traits, personalities and conduct. Therefore, defining the two branches as alien is inaccurate and accrediting laudable qualities to one as opposed to the other re-enforces the concept of separate and unequal used to divide and conquer. Many can point to a close family member who has fallen away from the Church, but they are still family!
In the Smithsonian documentary, Webb shamelessly admits that the Scots took land from the Catholic Irish and offers no logical reason. He then notes that before the American Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Scots-Irish came to America. Since the entire pre-1600 population of Ulster was less than 40,000 and Professor Nicholas Canny’s highly-praised 2001 book Making Ireland British, documents only 20,000 settlers (English and Scottish) in Ulster by 1650, Webb’s hundreds of thousands must have included some of the ‘common’ Irish! The English Historical Review called Canny’s book, Awesome in the scope of its archival research.
Further, in the documentary’s account of the 1641 rising of the displaced Irish against the settlers, Webb refers to the massacre of decent Scottish settlers even though many serious English historians have denounced that account as provocative propaganda intended to inspire public support for an all out war against the original Irish Catholic population of the land they were trying to steal. He even uses illustrations from the British papers of the time showing Irish rebels cutting open the bellies of pregnant women and swinging infants against a wall to dash out their brains – all of which has been denounced by serious historians as utter fabrications.
The second part of the documentary attributes the shaping of America to the Scots-Irish. Here the bias of the production becomes more than just an innocent reiteration of prejudiced accounts from the past, for how can one mention immigration to America and include the Swedes, Germans, Jews, Italians and Scotch-Irish and omit all mention of the Irish Catholics who made up the largest immigration in our nation’s history. When he mentions the Revolutionary army of George Washington, he attributes the valor to the Scots-Irish with never a mention of the non-Ulster Irish from General John Sullivan who fired the first shot of the Revolution to Timothy Murphy who turned the tide at the Battle of Saratoga which turned the tide of the Revolution. Nor does he mention Wexford’s Commodore John Barry, the Father of the American Navy. As for the first to answer Washington’s call for volunteers, he mentions the Pennsylvania Regiment but claims they were all Scots-Irish forgetting that they were led by Generals William Thompson and John Shee, both from Co Meath and Lt Col Edward Hand of Co Offaly. He calls them one of the most effective combat outfits of the Revolution, but General Light Horse Henry Lee called them the Line of Ireland – not Scotland! Many influential Irish were also omitted including Stephen Moylan of Cork, Washington’s aide-de-camp; Thomas Lynch of Galway stock who was the youngest signatory to the Declaration of Independence and Charles Carroll of Co. Offaly stock who was the last surviving signatory. Dublin gave us Richard Montgomery and Richard Butler whose four brothers also served, and were noted for their bravery as the Fighting Butlers. At Yorktown, George Washington conferred on Richard Butler the honor of receiving Cornwallis’ sword of surrender. These and so many other non-Ulster Irish were critical to the shaping of America; how could one sanction a documentary on the Irish shaping of America without mentioning them?
Even among those who were there, it was the Irish who stood out. Major General Marquis de Chastellux wrote: On more than one occasion Congress owed their existence and America possibly her preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish. George Washington acknowledged America’s debt to the Irish in a letter thanking them for the part they played in winning America’s independence. He wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette that the people of Ireland need that critical moment to shake off the badges of slavery they have so long worn. You must know that in referring to Irish independence he was talking about the whole of Ireland not just Ulster. Even after the war, Lord Mountjoy told the British Parliament, America was lost through the action of her Irish immigrants. (not Scots-Irish!)
In truth, the Irish who supported Washington in founding America were both Catholic and Protestant for the old bigotry of religious divisions didn’t matter anymore. Washington’s Irish, who founded the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick (not St. Andrew) in 1771 never heard the term Scots-Irish. Predominantly Protestant, they elected as their first President Gen. Stephen Moylan, an Irish Catholic from Co Cork. The snobbish Scots-Irish label was invented in the mid-1800s by a few elitist Irish Protestants to distance themselves from the ragged Irish Catholics arriving en masse from Ireland’s Great Starvation. Even the Friendly Sons, which by that time had become the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Irish Immigrants (not Scots-Irish immigrants), chose to denounce the use of that term as divisive in their official History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick by Secretary John Campbell in 1892.
The documentary further insults by delving into the Civil War with no mention of the Irish of the 69th NY who were the first to answer Lincoln’s call; they even dwell on the horror of Antietam without the slightest reference to the Irish Brigade’s heroic turn of the battle at the sunken road; but then, they were just the common Irish!
Some may think such ignorance excusable, but we urge our Scottish cousins not to take such pompous elitist ravings as fact. We also ask our Irish brothers and sisters not to alienate themselves from our Scottish cousins because of the misguided rants of a few. The most laughable part of the production is when Senator Webb credits the development of country music to the influence of Scots-Irish tunes when we have seen our Irish reels danced by the Stony Mountain Cloggers and American country reels played by the Chieftains. Alan Lomax, renowned American collector of folk songs said it best when he noted the presence of the Irish by the songs our soldiers sang. He wrote, If soldier’s folk songs were the only evidence, it would seem that the armies that fought in the early American wars were composed entirely of Irishmen. (not Scots-Irish).
The saddest part of this whole scenario is that for generations the Irish (both Catholic and Presbyterian) were reduced to second-class citizenship in their own country by the Brits. How can we allow a few snobs to continue to segregate the Irish who held fast to their religion and relegate them to second-class citizenship in history? Our people were there, our people did the job and, by God, our people deserve the credit. We are all Irish – Catholic and Protestant – and it’s about time the barriers came down in spite of those who constantly rebuild them! How long must we hear this crap (Constantly Repeated Absurd Propaganda)?