Overseas relations

Gerard Curran reviews Atlantic Crossroads: historical connections between Scotland, Ulster and North America, Patrick Fitzgerald and Steve Ickringill (eds), Colourpoint, £9.99 pbk

THIS COLLECTION of nine essays, written by specialists in their field, arises from the Ulster American Heritage Symposium, a biennial event which takes place alternatively in America and the six counties.

The essays focus on the themes of religion, education, language, song and cultural identity. The first contribution by Michael Montgomery is based on the writer’s search through emigrants’ letters for colloquial language. One letter written in the Scotch-Irish dialect was traced to a newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. It urged others to follow the writer and not to tolerate any longer the oppressive conditions suffered in Ulster.

Many of the first emigrants were clergymen of the Presbyterian church who settled in Virginia. Through networking they quickly became upwardly mobile and intermarried with the landowning and professional classes -- many becoming slave-holding land owners. Some were, in time, to take a leading part in the revolutionary war against England.

The second ‘wave’ consisted of economic emigrants escaping from the depression which followed the Napoleonic wars. Next came those fleeing the 1847 ‘famine’ -- often assisted by their landlords’ agents paying their passage. For some, it was the only alternative to eviction.

Matthew McKee writes about the myths of the Scotch-Irish ‘race’ as represented by a society of the same name. Those who identified with the society became very conservative, undemocratic and keen to keep separate from what they called the ‘Celtic Irish’, Anglo Saxons and their own whiskey-drinking hill billies.

However, this reviewer remains sceptical about their claims to superior status in the creation of the American state.

Grace Fraser deals with the influx of Catholic Irish to New York and the problems of providing a Catholic education, while Ronald Wells comments on the upsurge of evangelicalism among Protestants in the six counties in 1920 under the leadership of William P. Nicholson -- a fiery orator on a similar style to Ian Paisley. Like the latter he had been trained in the US.

The final contribution by Ronald Fraser focusses on the transportation to the ‘new world’ of convicts and unindentured servants. Those affected were mainly from Ulster although others were Irish who had settled in Britain. This was a lucrative trade and helped the acute labour and ‘wife’ shortage in America, especially in Virginia.

Fifty per cent of those transported from Ulster were vagrants and not felons. In Ireland the poor were treated less sympathetically than in England. A wider gulf existed between those in authority and the majority of the population -- mainly due to the difference in religion.

Many more related works appear in the bibliography for those who want to pursue the subject of emigration and forcible transportation.

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