Sunday, 2 December 2012

Stephen Colbert: The Scots-Irish are not Irish!

In an interview with author Nell Irving Painter, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert puts his opinion across albeit with tongue planted firmly in cheek:

“Scots-Irish are not Irish. There’s no Irish blood in Scots-Irish people.  They are Scots Presbyterians who were given land in Ireland. They took our land, and drove my people across the River Shannon, where we were forced to farm rocks by Oliver Cromwell, and I will see him rot in hell before you call Scots-Irish people Irish!”

Stephen Tyrone Colbert is of Irish Catholic heritage. He grew up in South Carolina, his wife is of Scots-Irish heritage. He once quipped; "I am in a mixed-race marriage. I’m Irish, and my wife is Scots-Irish. Somehow we make it work.”

So was Stephen's tongue in cheek statment correct?... I guess it all depends on your point of view. Certainly the early Scots-Irish families that settled in colonial America had only lived in Ireland for a couple of generations before moving on, and still today in Northern Ireland many Ulster-Scots don't regard themselves as Irish.... But, Scots have been migrating to-and-fro between Ulster and south western Scotland for thousands of years. In fact the first human settlers in Ulster were from the land now known as Scotland so these people of northern Britain were indigenous to Ulster. The inhabitants of both lands shared the same ancestors. The Y-DNA gene pattern called M222, the so called 'Niall of the Nine Hostages' marker is most common in Northern Ireland and Lowland Scotland. It can be found in many Ulster-Scots and is proof of the close genetic similarities of the people of  Ulster and the Lowlands of Scotland.

Many of the early Scots-Irish / Ulster-Scots settlers in America did indeed regard themselves as Irish. Having been born in Ireland their nationality was certainly Irish even though they were ethnically & culturally Scottish. These Scots-Irish even created the tradition of St. Patrick's day parades in America. This was in a time before the emergence of Irish Nationalism deemed  that one had to be a Catholic and a Gael to be considered Irish.

So were the Scots-Irish actually Irish? Well, what do you mean by Irish? Are you talking nationality? ethnicity? culture? citizenship? In my opinion it's all down to interpretation. Of the many ethnic groups, tribes or cultures which have existed on the island of Ireland over the millennia, not one has exclusivity on the term 'Irish'.


  1. NO, the Scots-Irish as you call them don't exist. The correct term is Ulster Scots because most of them originated in Scotland. I am from Belfast so I know what I am talking about.

    1. The term has been in America for quite some time, and it's not inaccurate (although it does ignore the North English who were part of the wave that settled in Ulster.) I hear this claim again and again, and it strikes me as irrelevant every time. Ulster is part of Ireland, and it was settled by Scots and Northern English (most of whom had already intermixed for centuries.) before moving to America. Thus Scots-Irish. Ulster Scots is more specific, true.

      Wherever you come from does not make you automatically right.