John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XV (8) start of chapter

But there is one class of whom, neither from Irishmen nor Americans, is much said in praise. 'Whole-souled' and 'high-toned' would sound as a sarcasm and a mockery if applied to those Irish, or sons of Irish, who style themselves 'Scotch-Irish'—a title or designation so unworthy and so unnatural as to excite the derision of every man of large heart and generous spirit.

The Scotch-Irish! Who are the Scotch-Irish? What does the term mean? Is not the compound of itself a contradiction? Such were the questions which I involuntarily asked when the strange absurdity first met my eye or ear. It was so curious, it comprehended a treason so inconsistent with the ordinary feelings by which men are governed, that I was at first much perplexed when striving to explain its meaning. But now I have no difficulty in understanding and accounting for this most ridiculous compound, this mongrel designation. Scotch-Irish are those Irish, or descendants of Irishmen, who are ashamed of their country, and represent themselves to Americans as other than what they really are. Not only are they ashamed of their country, but, so far as this false feeling influences them, they are its shame. Detested by every true Irishman, they are despised by every genuine American.

It would appear that, though the descendants of settlers who came over, or were sent over, to Ireland in the time of James, or Charles, or Cromwell, and though their families have intermixed with the native population, with whose blood and race theirs has blended during two centuries—in fact, as far back as when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on Plymouth rock—they still are not Irish! This, practically, is what the Scotch-Irish say of themselves by the adoption of this unnatural distinction: 'Such is our stubborn hatred of the country on which our remote ancestors were quartered, and from which so many of the rightful owners were driven to make way for us, we could not amalgamate with the Irish nation, or sympathise with its people.' This is a hard judgment for any class to pronounce against itself—and this is unmistakably implied by the mongrel designation of Scotch-Irish. The noble Geraldines soon became more Irish than the Irish themselves. Such is ever the case with a generous race; they will thoroughly identify themselves with the people among whom their lot is cast. Not so with the Scotch-Irish; the longer they dwell in the country, the stronger seems to be their dislike to it, and the greater their anxiety—when abroad—to be recognised as, or mistaken for, something different from that which they are, according to every law of nature. This, practically, is their own story of themselves.

It may be well to inquire why these people call themselves by this unpatriotic title or designation. The reason or cause is based on various motives, not one of which is praiseworthy or ennobling. Cowardice, whether moral or physical, is not a very creditable excuse for the adoption of this description of national masquerade; yet to moral cowardice may be traced this ludicrous disguise. Vanity is not a specially high-toned motive; and vanity has much to do with it. Bigotry is not an ennobling sentiment; and bigotry has also its share in the miserable treason. To conciliate prejudice and gratify dislike—this was the origin of Scotch-Irishism.

The prejudice to be conciliated was twofold—national and religious. But the prejudice against the stranger comprehended all strangers, all Irish, the Northern Protestant no less than the Southern Catholic. Hence then the cry—'I am no mere Irishman; I am Scotch-Irish.' And many of these men—these Irish-born sons of Irish-born fathers, and Irish-born grandfathers, and Irish-born greatgrandfathers, and Irish-born great-great-grandfathers, joined in every fierce crusade against Irishmen, or against Irishmen because they were Catholics. There were, no doubt, many more that claimed a remote Scotch ancestry, who, Protestants or Presbyterians as they were, stood by their countrymen on every occasion when either their freedom or their religion was assailed; and these high-minded men would have felt themselves disgraced if they called themselves anything else but what they boasted of being—Irish.

Then the mass of the Irish emigrants were poor, many illiterate, many in a miserable condition, a temporary burden on the charity or the industry of the community. For the moment this Irish emigration was unpopular; it excited apprehension, even hostility, there not being, at least in the minds of some, sufficient confidence either in the energy of the incomers or the resources of the country to which they came. Here again was the occasion for the unnatural Irish to exclaim—'These myriads of penniless adventurers are a different race from us. We, sleek and well fed, have nothing in common with those ill-clad, half-starved creatures; we are not Irish, but Scotch-Irish.' To this pitiable vanity, this abject moral cowardice, there was a splendid contrast in the conduct of Irishmen, who, notwithstanding the old Scotch blood in their veins, welcomed, assisted, and cherished their poor countrymen, with whom they claimed kindred, even though their pockets were empty, their raiment was scanty, and sickness had followed in their track.

Then the vast majority of the Irish emigrants were Catholics; and when the evil spirit of persecution broke out, here was a strong motive for repudiating the country that flooded America with Popery. 'We are of a different race and religion to these people, good Know Nothings! Excellent Native Americans! do not confound us with these Irish Papists. We are Scotch-Irish—Protestant Scotch-Irish. We are as opposed to these Irish Papists as you are; and to prove our sincerity—to prove to you that we are not of the same blood, though we had the misfortune to be born in the same country, we will heartily join you in every effort you may make to put them down.' And they did as they said. They were honest so far.

The literature of England was anti-Catholic, if not anti-Irish; it excited hostility and it deepened prejudice. The literature of England became the literature of America, or it influenced the tone of the literature of native growth,—another reason for the poor-hearted Irishman, while proclaiming his Protestantism, to repudiate his country.

A volume of indignant commentary could not outweigh the force of a few words which I heard uttered by an American, who was much perplexed by the term 'Scotch-Irish:' 'What does Mr. ——— mean? Why should he set himself out as not being an Irishman? What can he mean by this Scotch-Irish? Wasn't he born in Ireland? I was born in America. I am an American. Then why should he pretend he isn't an Irishman? I may prefer an American Protestant to an Irish Catholic, though a man's religion is nothing to me, it's his own affair; but I like the man who stands up for his native land, whatever he is. I don't like a hound that denies the country that gave him birth. It isn't natural.'

Thus it is, whatever their own opinion of their conduct may be, those who proclaim themselves Scotch-Irish gain little in the esteem of the generous and the high-spirited, but, on the contrary, lose much by this shabby absurdity.

I am happy to say that among the most favourable specimens of the country whom I met in British America or the States, whether North or South, were Irish Protestants, from Ulster as well as Munster; but these men were not only known and admired as Irishmen, but they boasted of being Irishmen. 'Whole-souled Irishmen' indeed. I must add, in justice to my countrymen in Canada, that I never heard of the Scotch-Irish until I came to the States.

There may possibly be those in Ireland who in their secret hearts have no love for the country that gave them birth; but there is no open and avowed treason to their nationality. Anything of the kind would only ensure universal contempt, and loss of public honour and private esteem to the person mean enough or rash enough to be guilty of it. Then why should it be pardoned in America?

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America