Scots Irish Cultural Influences
by Alister McReynolds
Alister is a historian and educationalist who is a noted authority on the subject of the Scots Irish/Ulster Scots history and culture. He has taught in the secondary school and community college sectors for over thirty years. For the last thirteen years he has worked as Principal and Chief Executive of Lisburn Institute of Further and Higher Education. Mr McReynolds is an Honorary Member of City and Guilds of London and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His recent work entitled ‘Northern Ireland – The American Connection’ has just been published in the United States on behalf of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. During the past fifteen years Alister McReynolds has spoken at several colleges, universities and learned societies in the United States.
In a number of significant ways the cultural values developed by the Scots Irish during their time in Ulster shaped their cultural influence in the United States. This experience created a set of influences that were somewhat distinct from that brought to the shores of the New World by those Scots who travelled directly from their homeland to America. When these hardy travelling people moved the short distance from Scotland to Ulster they exchanged a society that was still largely feudal for a more individualistic way of life. This developed the self-confidence and 'can do' individualism of the Scots Irish which greatly enhanced their mastery of the American frontier.
In Ulster the Scots Irish also became more commercially aware than their 'cousins' back in Scotland as a result of their extensive involvement in the Ulster linen industry. This was an undertaking that required skills in production, processing and marketing. These were areas of generic skills which would prove to be crucial in building the business of America. Out of all of this grew a social and political philosophy that was all about individual rights and the forms of Government that emerged from the Scottish enlightenment.
The Scots Irish shared with the Scots a belief in the importance of education and a wariness of all 'rulers' particularly those associated with ecclesiastical forms of Government. Counterbalancing these 'civilised' views were the cultural attitudes that arose out of the well-documented ruthlessness of the Scots Irish particularly when they were provoked. This capacity was demonstrated early in America’s history during The Seven Years War and in Pontiac’s War. This was a cultural influence that might well be disapproved of today but which was arguably intrinsic to the advancement of Western society in America.
In terms of the non-material cultural influence of the Scots Irish it was they who gave Appalachia the roots of its language, its 'Jack tales' and its country music. Throughout America the Scots Irish brought an enduring influence in the importance afforded to the family, to individualism and to public service.
In cultural terms probably the core legacy however has been the influence of evangelical Presbyterianism. This church/religious movement had developed in a unique way in Ulster that was quite distinct from that of Scotland due largely to the particular pressures faced by the Scots settlers in Ulster. Many commentators believe that these religious ideas as they were formulated in Ulster underlie the culture of much of the United States, most particularly in the Bible Belt. Specifically these particular influences cluster around the concepts of predestination and the strengthening ability of men to directly build their own covenant with God.
Overall the cultural influence of the Scots Irish in America, even when it seems to be almost imperceptible is in fact inestimable in terms of its total impact.