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Who Were the Scotch-Irish?

An article that may change your ethnic identification.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Melissa Slate
Word Count: 454 (approx.)
Labels: Immigration 
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Before 1603, England had tried to control the island of Ireland. The countrymen of this resilient land had valiantly rebelled against attempts of the English government to infiltrate Ireland. The English saw Ireland as a drain on their financial resources. In addition, England proper was increasingly Protestant while Ireland was vastly Catholic. In the late 1500s England sent a large army to Ireland to staunch the Irish uprising; in the process, Ireland's homes and crops were destroyed, leaving the Island virtually decimated. Especially hard hit was an area of the Northern Kingdom called Ulster, which was composed of nine counties. The Irish were finally forced to submit to English rule.

During the same time period, an area of Scotland that lay about 30 miles away from Ulster was itself experiencing hard times. Enterprising land barons began acquiring lands in Ulster and started settling them with Scottish immigrants. The colonies became successful and more immigrants soon followed.

In 1607 King James I, who had also been King of Scotland, took control of over three million acres of Ulster land. With the ascension of his son to the throne unrest followed, as he tried to force the Scots to adopt English religious beliefs. The Irish of the lower South begin fighting the Scots to the North, and with the pressures against their religious beliefs from England, the Scots begin immigrating to America by the early 1770s. By 1776, the Scotch-Irish were the second largest ethnic group in America behind the English.

Therefore, as you may now have guessed, the term Scotch-Irish (or Scots-Irish) is largely American in Nature. This term is used to differentiate immigrants that arrived to America from the Northern part of Ireland. These immigrants were largely of Scottish descent, not Irish and they were largely Protestant, not Catholic. In fact, most true southern Irish immigrants did not arrive in America until around the 1840s.

The Scotch-Irish settled in vast numbers in Pennsylvania and later in the Shenandoah Valley. They were a large influence in the settlement and culture of Appalachia. It is estimated that one in four Americans can claim ancestors of Scotch-Irish descent; their immigration to America formed the foundations of society. However, their importance and contribution to our origins have gone under-recognized. Many people when asked about their ethnic origins will reply that they are Irish, not realizing they may truly be of Scottish descent. Recognizing this fact has made me examine my family history in a new light. Have fun with your genealogy and reexamine your Irish roots. Dig deeper into your history to try and determine ethnic lineage. No matter what the outcome, I promise that you will come to respect them more and appreciate with a sense of pride your family's past.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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