Scots-Irish are a group of Irish people with Scottish ancestry.
Considering the proximity between the two nations, and the British Isles in general, it’s no surprise that through a myriad of reasons, both Scottish and Irish people eventually blended together to forma sub-group of Scots-Irish people which blended aspects of the Irish and Scottish cultures to create something altogether unique.
What is Scots-Irish?
What are the Three Crucial Religions?
To fully understand the history of Scots-Irish people, it’s important to know about the three branches of Christianity that have played a role; the Catholic, Presbyterian, and Anglican faiths.
The majority of Irish people, even today, follow a branch of Christianity called Catholicism. This is an ideology based heavily on ancient traditions and rule by the Pope from the Vatican City in Rome, Italy.
Presbyterianism, from the Church of Scotland, is focused on rule by the community’s Elders. It was created as a reaction to Martin Luther’s Reformation in Germany. It didn’t want to abandon Catholicism completely but recognised that change, in Luther and other’s eyes, was needed.
And finally, Anglicanism, from the Church of England, is based on rule by Bishops who sit under the King and God.
These three religions have all played a significant role in the formation and history of the Scots-Irish.
Why Did the Scots Come to Ireland?
Throughout most of history, Scotland and Ireland have had close connections. Geographically, being so close to one another enabled them to make connections that would have been difficult to make with other countries.
In fact, some historians even believe that the first people to settle in Ireland came from Scotland. This would have been a thousand or so years before Christianity. Initially, the Scottish settled in the town now called Larne, because it had plentiful supplies of flint.
Because metal had not been harnessed yet, a sharp stone like flint was incredibly useful for cutting and hunting.
Many centuries later, the King of England was a man with two titles, James I of England and James VI of Scotland.
During his time on the Throne, Ulster was heavily Irish, Catholic and spoke Gaelic. As a presbyterian, James felt it was his duty to convert Ireland to his own religion. So, he exiled several Gaelic lords who wouldn’t convert to his form of Christianity and “planted” a group of willing Presbyterians to inhabit the land. The people he sent were not Lords or the Nobility, but tradesmen and farmers. In some cases they came to be known as “Planters”.
This strategic move was made in a bid to encourage Presbyterianism to grow and flourish in Ireland, and in some cases it worked. County Doire (or in English Derry), became Ireland’s first majority Protestant region and part of the legacy nowadays is that it’s known as both Derry and Londonderry.
King James sold this move to Ireland as a commercial opportunity to encourage Scottish people to move. However, many scholars claim this was the catalyst for many of the Anglo-Irish conflicts that would flare up in centuries to come.
Naturally, over decades and centuries this initial “planter” group eventually grew, assimilated and became part of the Irish, and eventually Northern Irish culture on the island of Ireland.
The resulting Scots-Irish culture is a blend of primarily conservative Scottish and Irish traditions. Scots-Irish culture heavily focuses on loyalty, family, self-sustainability, and strength. It’s a culture that almost cherry-picked the parts of both Scottish and Irish culture, blended them together, and left it to evolve for centuries.
Why did the Scots-Irish people Flee to America?
As mentioned, many of the Scots-Irish people lived in Ireland and developed a culture on the Emerald Isle; most were either Presbyterian or Protestant. However, Charles I would eventually take the throne, and he was Anglican.
Being their King, he wanted the Scots-Irish to convert to the Church of England. Naturally, they did not like that and disagreed with the idea that the King was any authority in matters of what God wanted for the world.
During this time, during the beginnings of what was known as the “New World”, the fledgling United States of America was a place where people could flee home to practice religions that went against what the King’s order decreed.
So many fled to America, which, back then, was still a small colony that the English hadn’t even fully colonised yet. Hence why many Scots-Irish live in America today.
They had a choice between converting to Anglicanism or starting a new life in a new land, and they chose the latter.
Are Scots Irish considered ‘Irish-American’?
This is highly subjective, and we are the first to recognise that cultural heritage tags are very personal.
However, the majority of the Irish-American diaspora which exists today usually stems from the late 18th and early 19th century waves of Irish immigrants who travelled the Atlantic Ocean in a bid to escape the Great Famine and destitution on the island of Ireland. This wave of people were primarily Catholic Irish.
Unknown to many, the original exodus of Scots-Irish occurred several centuries before the Potato Famine. The Scots-Irish fled Ireland not because of a famine, but because they wanted to practice their form of Christianity in peace.
Scots-Irish in America Today
When asked about their ethnic heritage, only 0.7% of Americans describe themselves as Scots-Irish. And only 0.3% say they are purely Scots-Irish (the other 0.4% would say they are Scots-Irish and something else).
However, some researchers believe the actual numbers are much higher than people expect. According to some studies, 27,000,000, 10% of the US population, have some form of Scots-Irish ancestry!
The regions that likely have the highest concentration of people with Scots-Irish ancestry are Appalachia, which ranges from Southern New York to north Alabama. And the Ozarks, which cover parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Either way, the Scots-Irish traditions live on across both sides of the Atlantic today!