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Friday, October 26, 2012

Rerun Friday - Scotch-Irish

Back on January 27, 2011, I posted about the "Scotch-Irish".  My post back then seems a little confusing even to me so I've rewritten it.  I want to be as clear as possible with this terminology.  So......here's my updated "Language Lesson" on the term Scotch-Irish with some other terms thrown in.


I'm just not fond of the term Scotch-Irish.  I see it used as a catch all phrase for any surname that could be considered Irish or Scottish.  It is especially common in the United States where so many people have no idea of their surname origins.  On many an occasion, people have asked me if my McGuire surname is Scottish.  My response to them is that I really don't think so.  It's a pretty definite Irish name.  The name is found around the world, however, and even in Scotland.  So is it Scotch-Irish?

The term Scotch-Irish is an American term that is not used in England, Ireland, or Scotland. 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, had descendants who immigrated to America in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  They immigrated from Ireland and mainly to the Appallachian region of the U.S.

Much confusion stems from the use of this term even 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 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 term "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 the 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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