Friday, March 18, 2011

Senator John McCain

 John McCain with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Senator John McCain descends from a McCain family that emigrated from Ulster to the American Colonies in the early 1700s.  His family first appears in tax records in 1722 in the Donegal  township in the Pennsylvania Colony.  The McCain family are not typical Ulster Scots, in that they are of Highland Scottish origins and migrated from mid Argyll to east Donegal, to the St Johnston area, before the Plantation of Ulster which began in 1608.

There was a large movement of Highland Gaels to east Donegal beginning in the late summer of 1569.  The exact year the McCain family settled in Donegal is not known, but they last appear in mid Argyll in 1570.  These Highland Gaels were called Redshanks in those days and the group that settled in the Laggan district in eastern Donegal were associated with Clan Chaimbeul alliances and high level marriages to the Ó Dónaill clan there.  There are Scots-Irish from Derry, Donegal, Tyrone, and Antrim origins, that are of Highland Scottish origins, usually from mid Argyll, the Lennox district around Loch Lomond, or the southern Hebrides.

Senator McCain’s family settled in Mississippi in the 1830s and are known there as the Teoc McCains.  Teoc is the small community in Carroll County, Mississippi that grew up around the plantation of this branch of the McCain family. Teoc is a Choctaw Indian word, a shortened form of Teoc Tillila which means Tall Pines. Their patriarch, William Alexander McCain, named his plantation Waverly, but the Choctaw name stuck and the area is called Teoc to this day.

Senator McCain’s second cousin is the author Elizabeth Spencer. In her memoir Landscapes of the Heart she writes of her days spent at Teoc and her McCain kin. She has a fascinating bit of oral history relating to the McCain family. It is a romantic story of the McCains as  Highland Scots, being supporters of Mary Queen of Scots and leaving Scotland after her downfall in 1568.

During the course of the McCain Family DNA Project, DNA results and primary sources located provided support to the family's oral history.   The historical McCains are linked to Mary Queen of Scots' primary supporter and military commander, Giolla Easpuig Caimbeul, the 5th Earl of Argyll.   The McCains lived on his lands and were captains and tacksmen for the Earl.  It was the Earl that arranged the migration of Redshanks to the St Johnston area to accompany his cousin, Fionnual Ní Dhónaill (née Mhic Dhónaill) who was the wife of Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill.  Fionnula Ní Dhónaill is better remembered by her nickname, Iníon Dubh.  She became a major player in Irish history and was the mother of Aodh Ruadh Ó Dónaill.   In Ulster Senator McCain's family first appear in written records living on the lands of Iníon Dubh. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

John Wayne, Scots-Irish Icon

In one interview in the early 1950's John Wayne described himself as 'just a Scotch-Irish little boy.' John Wayne, or as he was known before his fame, Marion Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa. His family emigrated from County Antrim, Ireland, in 1799. The Morrison family, like many Scots-Irish families in Counties Antrim and Donegal, were of Hebridean origin.  The Morrisons were Scottish Gaels that came to Antrim from the outer Hebrides.  Scottish Highlanders and Hebrideans were called Redshanks circa 1520 through the 1600s and many of them migrated to Ulster in the 1500s and 1600s.  They also emigrated to the Colonies very early and became part of the Scots-Irish society there.

John Wayne's immigrant ancestor was Robert Morrison born in 1782, son of John Morrison. The Morrison family were active in the United Irishmen movement and their decision to emigrate was brought about by a British warrant issued for the arrest of Robert Morrison.

Robert Morrison and his mother arrived in New York City, in 1799. Like so many Scots-Irish the Morrison family had a tradition of being strong willed, opinionated, and carried a well developed sense of right and wrong.  Following the path of other Ulster settlers, the Morrisons pulled up stakes many times and followed the frontier west. The first wave of Ulster settlers headed west and south and people the Southern Uplands and the hill country of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Morrison were part of a second wave of Scots-Irish that moved along the rivers west into Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Iowa. They became the Mid West Scots-Irish.

John Wayne is arguably the most famous and most successful actor in history, quite an accomplishment for a Scots-Irish boy from Winterset, Iowa. He was a complex man, his family very Presbyterian, yet John Wayne often described himself as a 'cardiac Catholic.' He lived his life as a Christian with noticeable Presbyterian focus and drive, yet his wife Pilar was Roman Catholic, as were all his children. John Wayne himself converted to the Catholic Church officially just days before he passed away.

John and Pilar Wayne

John Wayne's childhood home in Winterset, Iowa

Oklahoma In the War Between The States

The plight of the Indian tribes in Oklahoma during the War Between the States is outlined on a website on the link below.

The Scots-Irish had a complex relationship with the Indian tribes, one of adversaries, but also one of shared values and traditional warrior based society.  As the Scots-Irish followed the frontier there was intermarriage between Scots-Irish and Indian families and alliances and shared kinships.  The Indian Nations in eastern Oklahoma sided with the Confederacy during the war and like the Scots-Irish of the Southern hill country and Uplands, suffered as a result of being on the losing side of that tragic event.  It is nonetheless, and interesting chapter in Scots-Irish history.  In Oklahoma today the Scots-Irish and Indians celebrate and remember their brave ancestors that participated in the war.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Donagheady Family History Book

This book tells the story of the parish of Donagheady and its families over three centuries. Donagheady occupies the most northerly portion of County Tyrone. It is a large parish, stretching from the River Foyle to the Sperrins. In the period covered by this study Donagheady experienced massive changes with the result that the parish in 1900 was a very different place from the one it had been in 1600. Through the Plantation and subsequent waves of migration in the seventeenth century, especially from Scotland, the character of much of the parish was transformed.

The creation and disintegration of the estate system in Donagheady is also charted in this volume and the fate and fortunes of the landowning families and their tenants is explored. The histories of the main religious denominations are covered, as well as the nature of rural society itself. Other chapters in this book examine the impact of the Great Famine on the parish, the development of the village of Dunnamanagh, attempts to improve educational provision, the rise and decline of rural industries, and the relationship between Donagheady and the wider world.

William Roulston is from the townland of Gortavea in the parish of Donagheady, and was raised on a farm that has been in his family’s possession since 1830. He is the Research Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation. His other books include The parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong: their place in history (2000), Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors (2005), and Restoration Strabane, 1660-1714 (2007).

This work is highly recommended by The Scots-Irish blog.

It can be ordered online from: The Ulster Heritage Book Shop

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Bonnie Blue Flag

It may be news to many outside of Dixie, but there is a flag that has long been associated with people of Ulster ancestry in the New World. This flag is the lone star flag, which dates to 11 September, 1810. After the American Revolutionary War, Spain regained control of the territory of West Florida, which is located today in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and the panhandle of Florida.

above West Florida
Anglo-Celtic settlers flooded into this area and most of these families were of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry, with the majority being of Ulster ancestry. These people are described as Anglo-Celts by some historians, but are know in popular history as the Scots-Irish. They resented rule from Spain and took action to remove themselves from it.

On 11 September, 1810 a troop of West Florida dragoons set out for Baton Rouge (Red Stick) to join republican militia to launch an attack on the Spanish fort there. The Scots-Irish forces overcame the Spanish garrison in Baton Rouge and unfurled the flag of the Republic of West Florida. Alas, politics being what they are, the Republic was only to exist for 90 days before the growing United States gobbled it up. 
The flag was a single white star on a blue field. The flag unfurled in 1810 was made by Melissa Johnson, wife of Major Isaac Johnson, the commander of the West Florida Dragoons. The flag is called by two names commonly, the Bonnie Blue Flag and the Lone Star Flag. It saw use in the 1820s and 1830s as the Scots-Irish pushed into Texas and beyond. The state of Texas incorporates the Lone Star into its state flag of course.
On January 9, 1861 the convention of the People of Mississippi adopted an Ordinance of Secession. With this announcement the Bonnie Blue flag was raised over the capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi. Harry Macarthy was so inspired that he wrote a song entitled "The Bonnie Blue Flag" which became the second most popular patriotic song of the Confederacy.

the Bonnie Blue Flag

 The Lone Star/Bonnie Blue flag has been in constant use from 1810. It is frequently seen today across the US South and beyond.  The Bonnie Blue flag today is as popular as ever and still conveys the same spirit as the original lone star flag and it is part of Scots-Irish heritage.

American Rifleman

(above, H David Wright's 'American Rifleman.'
Born in Rosine, Kentucky and raised in Middle Tennessee, David Wright's highly acclaimed art uniquely captures the scenic beauty of the area and its rich historical heritage. His depictions of rural country landscapes and memorable moments in American history have earned him countless awards and placements in prestigious museums and private collections.
Professionally trained and with advanced study in Europe, David has been painting for more than 40 years. He now ranks among America's premier artists, including acknowledgment in Who's Who in American Art. His scholarship and deep historical sensitivities are evident in his works on the American frontier, America's Civil War, hunters, settlers, and American Indians.
His painting above, American Rifleman, captures the very heart and soul of the Ulster settler on the frontier. Information on H David Wright and more of his artwork can be found on his website:

Corn Bread, Scots-Irish Icon

In the 18th Century when many thousands of Ulster's sons and daughters came to New World to settle on the frontier, they brought with them their folkways, music, etc., and also their foods and methods of food preparation. Many of the cooking styles and foods became in time quintessentially 'American.' Foremost among these would be the humble and incredibly delicious cornbread.

The Ulster settlers brought with them a tradition of cooking flat oat breads on a griddle, something that had been done for several thousands years in Ulster. Now, in the New World these Ulster settlers quickly adapted to the new foods available to them. In the Ulster settlements oats and wheat quickly gave way to corn and the traditional griddle cooked oatcake gave way to one made of corn. This trait of adaptation and borrowing from other cultures they were exposed to was one of the reasons for success the Ulstermen had on the frontier.

Griddle cooked cornbread quickly became the bread of the Scotch-Irish communities and the bread followed them west as they conquered the nation. This wonderfully simple food is still commonly found in those areas where the Scotch-Irish settled and it is to this day a staple on the supper table of the descendants of these Ulster folk, especially in the American South.

The bread is simplicity itself, a little cornmeal, an egg, some leavening, a pinch of salt, and enough buttermilk to make a batter. This is poured onto a cast iron hot skillet with bacon grease or oil in it. In the past the bread was cooked in a skillet next to the fireplace or anyplace where coals were available. When Dutch ovens came into use, the cooking of cornbread was often done in them. Later still, when ovens became a common kitchen appliance, the cornbread recipes were adapted for the modern oven, where it came into its present day form.

The cooking of cornbread in the South is an art as well as a science. Many families have special cast iron skillets, often that have been in the family for generations, in which the cornbread, also called a corn pone, is cooked. Many women have wooden bowls and spoons handed down in from past generations, in which the batter is made. It is served with butter with a meal and can also be served after a meal with honey or sorghum syrup, as sweet.

Cornbread is a wonderful food, simple, tasty, and also part of a many thousand year cultural continuum, from Ulster.

Barry R McCain

The State of the Ozarks

the beautiful Ouachita Mountains

One very important part of the Ulster story is found in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and Arkansas, and the Ouachita Mountains in central Arkansas. Both areas were settled by the descendants of the 18th Century Ulster Migration which began in 1718. The hardy Ulster folk followed the frontier south and west and by the early 1800s began to settle the hills and mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. In this culturally conservative environment they thrived and created the basis for the unique people and society of the Ozarks.

The Ozarks and Ouachitas existed in a state of cultural isolation well into the 20th Century. To this day the upland areas of Arkansas and Missouri retain a wealth of traditions and folklore brought there by the sons and daughters of Ulster. The area is noted for its music, food, Christian faith, and a society in which the extended family and clan are still important parts of daily life. The people of the Ozarks and Ouachitas have a profound appreciation for the beauty of their land and tend to measure time by the seasons.

A good place to read about the Ozarks and Ouachitas is the State of the Ozarks website and online magazine.

Virginia Scots-Irish Festival on 9 April

Lexington’s Fifth Annual Scots/Irish Festival Set April 9
The Sheep Dog Trials are back this year at the 5th Annual Scots Irish Heritage Festival!!

Lexington, VA- Lexington’s Fifth Annual Scots/Irish Heritage Festival will be held Sat., April 9th, from 10am to 5pm on the Maury River Middle School campus. Weather permitting, the event will be held outside but will be moved indoors in the case of inclement weather. The goal of the event is to present the culture of the Scots/Irish, and the lasting impact they made on the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

The festival will start with a parade at 10am. Attraction are scheduled throughout the day and will include Highland games demonstrations, Medieval Reenactments, living history presentations, vintage British Cars (weather permitting), music, entertainment, traditional food items, craft demonstrations and a variety of other vendors that represent the culture and its importance to the Valley. “The biggest news this year is that we are bringing back sheepdog demonstrations, a huge crowd favorite,” said John Morman of Celtic Tides.

The Highland games demonstration will display events that take part in Highland Festivals. The Highland games are believed to be one way Celtic societies used to determine the worthiness of their future leaders and a “safe” means for men to stay in shape.

Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Highland Pipes and Drums, Shenandoah Valley Pipes and Drums and Warpipe will give pipe and drum performances. Mary Smith of Richmond, Carl Peterson of Kutztown, PA. and Cranruach of Lexington will perform traditional Scots/ Irish/Welsh and Breton music on a variety of instruments.

The event is primarily sponsored by the Lexington Lions Club and The Chamber of Commerce, serving Lexington Buena Vista and Rockbridge County. Other confirmed sponsors are VMI and Bath Fitter; additional sponsors may be added later.

Admission for the event is $5 dollars for adults, $3 for children (ages 6-16) and no fee for children under six. Proceeds from the event will go to the Lexington Lions Club's project at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, where a complete vision Center is being installed.

For more information about the event visit or contact The Chamber of Commerce, serving Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County at (540) 463-5375 or by email to

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sorghum Syrup and the Scots-Irish

Sorghum Syrup has been a mainstay of Scots-Irish kitchens since the mid 1800s. The article below explores this Scots-Irish treat.

In Southern Appalachia, sweetnin' refers to sugar in its various forms, including white sugar, brown sugar, honey, and sorghum syrup. For almost a century following the introduction of sugar sorghum to the United States in 1857, sweet sorghum -- popularly known in the region as "sorghum molasses" -- was the sweetnin' of choice.
Although cane sugar and molasses were widely available in Colonial times, these were store-bought items, and relatively expensive compared to current prices. Backcountry settlers had a strong preference for making their own anything and everything, and so for decades sweetnin' meant honey, maple syrup, and maple sugar. Sugar-sorghum culture was eagerly adopted and in nearly every community there was at least one farm engaged in its production.

Racine, WV -- syrup boiler on left, cane grinder or "gin" on right. Library of Congress.
Sorghum cane was harvested in late summer or early fall. The equipment for making sorghum molasses typically consisted of a mule-powered press or "gin" for squeezing juice from the cane and a boiler for reducing the juice to a molasses-like state. As the juice was simmered to reduce moisture content, in went through a series of pans or kettles. A greenish residue developed on top of the syrup and was skimmed off. At the end of the run of pans or kettles, the syrup was poured or ladled into buckets. After it was cool, it was put into crocks or Mason jars for long-term storage.

Breathitt County, Kentucky -- home-built sorghum syrup boiler. Library of Congress.

Anderson County, Tennessee. Mule-powered cane grinding operation. National Archives.
National Sweet Sorghum Producers
Georgia: Blairsville Sorghum Festival
Kentucky: Sweet Sorghum -- The Old Fashioned Way
Tennessee: Tipton-Haynes Sorghum and Scutching Festival
Virginia: Whitetop Mountain Sorghum Molasses Festival
West Virginia: Morgan County Sorghum Festival
Appalachian Stack Cake
Shoo-Fly Pie

I am an ex-urbanite who escaped the city life and has lived for the past 28 years in a rural, mountainous area of Virginia that in colonial and early-American times was part of the "Backcountry." This is the true melting pot of the U.S.A., its culture and traditions dominated by "born fighting" Scotch-Irish immigrants and enhanced by German, Highland Scot, Dutch, Welsh, and yeoman English settlers. Having absorbed and inculcated the history, values and views of the Backcountry, I would like to share insights, information, and viewpoints from the place where America began. - - Jay Henderson

Wednesday, 2 March 2011, Texas Independence Day

John Wayne, who was Scots-Irish himself, is seen her playing Scots-Irishman Davy Crockett.  During the siege of the Alamo the weather turned cold and Davy Crockett wore his famous coonskin cap.

The Texas Declaration of Independence was produced, literally, overnight on 2 March 1836 was adopted. It reason that the measure was done with such urgency was while it was being prepared, the Alamo in San Antonio was under siege by Santa Anna's army of Mexico.

Immediately upon the assemblage of the Convention of 1836 on 1 March, a committee of five of its delegates were appointed to draft the document. The committee, consisting of George Campbell Childress, Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney, prepared the declaration in record time. It was briefly reviewed, then adopted by the delegates of the convention the following day and Texas became a free and independent republic.

the Alamo siege

The Texas Declaration of Independence was produced, literally, overnight on 2 March 1836 was adopted. It reason that the measure was done with such urgency was while it was being prepared, the Alamo in San Antonio was under siege by Santa Anna's army of Mexico.

Immediately upon the assemblage of the Convention of 1836 on 1 March, a committee of five of its delegates were appointed to draft the document. The committee, consisting of George Campbell Childress, Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney, prepared the declaration in record time. It was briefly reviewed, then adopted by the delegates of the convention the following day and Texas became a free and independent republic.

Sam Houston
The Anglo-Celtic settlers in Texas at this time had very large percentage of Scots-Irish among them. Many leaders of Texas independence were of Scots-Irish ancestry: James Bowie, Sam Houston, Judge Jesse Grimes, David Crockett, David Burnet, Robert Cochran and others. Sam Houston, was the head of Texas Republic's army and it first president. His great grandfather immigrated from Ireland in 1735.

Historian T R Fehrenbach wrote in his Lone Star history of Texas, “The Anglo-Celts had not crossed the sea to become servile tenants.”

Dougie MacLean - The Gael

To set the stage for this blog... Dougie MacLean's The Gael.