Are We Irish?

That may seem like an odd question since the McClungs, Frickletons, McCleans, Rodgers and Hagans were born in Ireland. However, as you start digging into our genealogy you find that if you are Protestant and from the six northern counties you are most likely Scots-Irish or even Ulster Scots. It turns out there is a difference between being Irish and being born in Ireland - genealogically speaking and, to some Scots-Irish, literally.

The McClungs are a good example. They can be traced back to the late 1690's when 3 brothers from Galloway, Scotland fled to Ireland. They were Presbyterian and faced religious persecution from the established church. Even in Ireland it was illegal for Presbyterians to perform marriages until 1782; they had to rely on the Church of Ireland (Anglican). The Frickletons may in fact originate in England. There is a village called Freckleton in Lancashire that is old enough to have been mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. Their migration likely was also first to Scotland and then to Ireland.

What helps to set the Scots-Irish apart is that they are Protestant, primarily Presbyterian, with strong historical ties to Great Britain. In the late 1800's and early 1900's there were attempts by Westminster to give limited home rule to Ireland. The 1912 effort to establish home rule was once again opposed by the Unionists who viewed it as an attempt to deprive the Irish of British citizenship. This resulted in the Ulster Covenant / Declaration of 28 September 1912 which opposed home rule in any form. On that day, the Covenant was signed by 237,368 men, and the Declaration by 234,046 women, some of our grandparents among them. Annie Rodgers of 16 Annalee Street signed at the Clifton Street Orange Hall; David McClean of 33 Keswick Street signed with an "X" at St. Mary's Institute in Belfast, William McKinley of Milford, Armagh signed in Armagh; Samuel Murdock of 27 Cameron Street signed at the Belfast City Hall. Margaret Bain (Granny Bain) and her husband William of Corkley, Keady signed at the Armaghbrague Presbyterian Church.

The native Irish, the ones whose ancestors were in Ireland before the Plantation of Ulster began in 1609 with Scottish and English Protestant settlers, before King Billy and the Battle of the Boyne on July 12, 1690, were nearly all Roman Catholic.

Historically, the communities remained separate. In The Scotch-Irish: A social history, the author reaches the conclusion, "If one must give his verdict, the weight of evidence seems to be on the side of little intermixture. The Scotch-Irish, as they came to be known in America, were overwhelmingly Scottish in ancestry and Presbyterian in faith. To the extent that occasional intermarriage occurred, the Irish partner seems almost invariably to have been absorbed into the Presbyterian element." In our own family the division is obvious. In all the research I have done, among both McClungs and Rodgers and all their related families (almost 3,500 people), I found only one documented inter-faith marriage before the 1930's.

The sectarian tension between Protestants and Catholics had its origin over 400 years ago and has often resulted in violent, protracted confrontations. In the 20th Century alone the early 1918-1922 period was one, resulting in the division of Ireland into Northern Ireland (Ulster) and the Republic of Ireland. My mother told the story of having to lie on the floor of the tram on her way to and from work when it passed through certain Catholic areas of Belfast. The responsibility was not just on the Catholic side. My mother also spoke of a Catholic family who lived on her street. The entire family was murdered by the Black and Tans, the mostly British auxiliary constables of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Things turned violent again in the 1970's and lasted well into the 1990's. And once again, it was not just one side. My cousin's husband, a Catholic, was shot dead in front of her in their living room. Another cousin on the Rodgers side, a Protestant who was an auxiliary police officer, was killed by an IRA sniper while on foot patrol.

This may seem to have wandered far from the initial question, but it is meant to illustrate that, in addition to ancestry, there were and are deeply-rooted differences that have made the Scots-Irish unique. Are we Irish? Well, it is obvious we are not the St. Patrick's Day, wearin' of the green Irish. In fact if we were living in Northern Ireland, we would be more likely to wear orange and march on The Twelfth to the beat of the Lambeg drums. And some of us might be tempted join the Facebook page, "r u irish? no im northern irish. same thing. no its really not!"

This is a narrative that includes personal interpretations without passing judgement. I do not contend that it is historically comprehensive nor without error. Check Wikipedia for other analyses or visit your library.
Brian Rodgers - March 13, 2011
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