An International Documentary Association Project
A bit over 2 weeks ago, my husband and I were asked to consider helping out a small team about to create a new film on the Scots-Irish in America.
The film project about which we were contacted is currently titled America’s Other Irish. Partners currently listed for this project are: Chris Moser of Redwine Productions, Georgia; David Hughes Drake of Drake and Associates, California, and well-known folk performer John McCutcheon.
Duke and Associates (founded by David Hughes Duke and son) is a small film company in Georgia which has already done some work with PBS, as well as having made a significant number of corporate films, and Chris Moser, who has long had an interest in Scots-Irish history and music.
The government of Ireland learned of this proposed project and donated $5000 to it, but also wanted a particular title, America’s Other Irish. This seed money funded their promotional video: https://youtu.be/VGK-spU-12M.
The film is a sponsored project of the International Documentary Association (IDA), an esteemed and well established organization, which helps provide materials and opportunities for film producers to make films and raise funds for them. The IDA also sponsors several Irish film festivals, which makes us wonder – where are the Scottish film festivals, Scottish organizations, etc.?)
We’ve had some experiences with the Irish government and understand that it would like to see re-unification of Ireland and an end to any remaining tensions. Both Ireland, and Ulster have made great strides in recent decades to end religious discrimination and keep church and state more separate, both of which help smoothe the road toward having one nation on the one island. Scots Irish in America descend from Ulster ancestors and can also help promote unity and tolerance. The Irish government is also well aware of this fact, and that 180 million Americans or more are a quarter or more Scots-Irish, Scots, or Irish and often a mix or two or three of these thanks to the greater unity and tolerance we established in this nation about 220 years ago.
However the Scots-Irish, though part of the island of Eire’s history and people since before the Roman empire took over large parts of ‘Britannia,’ are somewhat distinct also. Their DNA is in both Ulster, and other parts of north and eastern Ireland–even in ancient pre-Christian skeletons, but also in most of central and western Scotland, and they were the people who brought Christanity and the Gaelic language to Scotland.
It is only 12 miles in spots between Scotland and northern Ireland (Ulster), home of the Dal Riada, the Argialla, the O’Duine (ancestors of both Campbells and Clan Donald/O’Donnell), etc. and the people were going back and forth for many centuries. The problem is for the people today, that, in the 16th century, many Scots chose to become Protestants and the last time they came in large numbers back to Ulster it was by far, as Protestants to replace the native Irish who had been clansmen, and tenants of the Earls who had first agreed to submit to Queen Elizabeth I, and then rebelled, making them traitors and their lands forfeit, even those with existing tenants.
This was also where clan rule, often an advantage in checking the power of tyrants, could be a disadvantage. In strict feudalism, the rebellious noble and his immediate family, and any close kin otherwise proved to have participated in said rebellion were dispossessed but when a noble was a clan chief also, as in Scotland and Ireland, the English crown, if it was in charge, took or could take, all of the clan’s land, not just what was being personally owned and used by the clan chief. It was up to kin like Con O’Neill to prove they had NOT been involved in the rebellion and petition for retention or return of lands. If you were part of a clan you were assumed to be following your chief and guilty until you proved you were innocent, not innocent unless proved guilty in court.
Religion, for good or ill, in the past, and in the present, has become part of culture, and despite the shared DNA, religion did set the Scots who returned as Protestants to Ireland apart from their own cousins who were still Catholic. It’s been used to divide and weaken or conquer ever since.
That is one of the main themes of this new upcoming film, which will show a short general history of the Scots-irish and how it became often expressed in music and how the culture and the music of the Scots-Irish changed again, along with religion, in what became the United States.
In the U.S. the Scots Irish relations with both Ireland and Scotland have become even more complicated, and it has often resulted in both the Scots in Scotland and the Irish in the Republic of Ireland disowning them or treating them as inferiors, forgetting all those centuries of shared history and culture. The Scots-Irish and Scots in what became the U.S. were the greatest part of the rebellion for U.S. independence, while their cousins knuckled under to the English in the ‘Act of Union’ and the failure of three rebellions. When descendants of the cousins who lost their independence, have founded some organizations in the last 150 years or so in the U.S. and, as recent immigrants, have become officers of some of these organizations, they have often described themselves, and so many Scots who moved south to work in England, as ‘British,’ and ‘imperial,’ and so on. To some of these people and organizations that they lead, the Scots Americans and Scots-Irish Americans are no longer ‘Scottish’ or ‘British’ enough to merit being called Scots. To the Irish, too often it has been, if you weren’t or aren’t Catholic, you aren’t Irish either.
I have sometimes thought, after encountering both attitudes, say, within the same week, that it’s a pity we can’t just saw off the entirety of Ulster, paddle it to the middle of the Atlantic and pretend that all Scots Irish descend from a benign and sensible race of cabbage-people, and ignore both Irish and British-Scots!
The Irish government however, has some historians in it who are well aware of how many rebelling Irish in 1641, for example, tried to spare the Scots–as cousins–and just focus on getting rid of the English, and that, in 1798, the rebellion led by Wolf Tone included many Protestant Scots-Irish and Catholic Irish fighting alongside one another for the same cause, one unified, free Ireland, and with an end to religious discrimination just as their cousins were writing in their new Constitution in the new United States of America and beginning to enforce.
The Irish are now essentially saying to the ‘British’ and Scottish organizations, ‘well, if you don’t want to acknowledge the Scots-Irish as Scots, we’ll be glad to accept them as Irish–and that includes all their tens of millions of Scots-Irish American relatives.’
So, here’s a challenge for the recent immigrant Scots, Scots organizations, and Americans of Scots-Irish descent who would rather not feel like the children of divorce and respect their ‘parentage’ on both sides of the Irish sea. Support this film, make some donations, even modest, to its production. Not just match the $5,000 being given by the Irish government but exceed it and say, ‘we are proud of our heritage, our culture and language on both sides of the Irish sea.’ If for no other reason, support the music and a fine musician, John McCutcheon, who our United States of America, Library of Congress itself has honored, and help spread the word about this upcoming film (which at two hours in length, will not be nearly long enough–are you listening and reading, Ken Burns?–or someone who knows him well?)
If you are of Irish descent and also love the music, please donate, and just add to the challenge. The more the merrier, and more likely the film will make it to all PBS stations and maybe we’ll see a longer series by someone in the works. Let’s also make this a friendly, fun rivalry and all enjoy the film when it comes out, and generally work more together for a better future for everyone!
Here is a link for donations through IDA: America’s Other Irish — A Musical Journey | International Documentary Association