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A Fine Old Tune in a Different Key: Problems and Progress in the Study of the Scotch-Irish in Ireland and America

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 29, 2013


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by Rankin S. Sherling

"They famously migrated from Ulster to America, but who exactly were they? Accounts differ widely. They have alternately been called Ulster Scots, Scots-Irish, Scotch-Irish, Irish Protestants, Irish Presbyterians, Scoto-Hiberni, Scots of Ireland, ‘the very scum of mankind,’ ‘God’s Frontiersmen’ and, even more grandiosely ‘that indomitable race whose pioneers in unbroken ranks from [Lake] Champlain to Florida formed the advance guard of civilisation in its progress to the Mississippi and first conquered, subdued, and planted the wilderness in between.’

Among other things, these differing names and characterisations demonstrate well two inter-related and central problems facing any professional historian attempting make a study of this group. They are problems of name and of an aggrandised and well-loved historical mythology.

This article examines how to answer many of the same questions that have plagued the historiography of the Scotch-Irish for over a hundred years, to move past the near exclusive focus on the eighteenth century and to focus upon both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and to work to re-integrate the study of ‘Scotch-Irish’ migration into the larger study of Irish migration as a whole.