Ulster Flag – Image courtesy of Creative Commons via N. Burns

Saint Patrick’s Day on the mountain is a perfect time to sip green cocktails and reflect on our rich Scotch-Irish history. Our ancestors were adventurers. They escaped British oppression, facing turbulent ocean voyages and wilderness hardships to start life anew. They gifted us with mesmerizing lore, lively music, a rich culture, and the luck of the Irish!

Scotch Irish Origin

During the reign of England’s King James I over Scotland and Ireland, the Scottish were encouraged to migrate to Ireland. Most Scottish immigrants ended up in the Irish province of Ulster. Due to unrest with displaced and enslaved Ulster Irish, and the Anglican Church, the Scots and Anglo Irish Protestant Dissenters fled their homeland. Large groups sailed to North America between 1680 and 1815. It is estimated over 200,000 Scotch-Irish entered at the Philadelphia port, the Atlantic coastline, and in North Carolina’s Piedmont region.

Did you know Scottish and Irish people come from the same Gaelic heritage? ‘Scoti’ is a Latin word for ‘horde’ that Roman historians of the 4th century AD assigned to the Gaelic tribes of Ireland. In the 5th century, Gaelic tribes from the Irish kingdom migrated to Western Scotland and became the Scottish as we know them today. 


Theodore Roosevelt – Image courtesy of Creative Commons

War and Peace

Escaping a war-torn Ireland, the newcomers understood America’s Revolutionary War was the result of English tyranny. England was again trying to suffocate freedoms and needed to be fought with tenacity. The Scotch-Irish militia, called the Overmountain Men, gained renowned for their courage and persistence. It is written that these admirable warriors were key players in the British defeat during the Battle of Kings Mountain.

The Scotch-Irish helped our country take shape in matters of war and leadership. The US has quite a few Presidents of Ulster ancestry, among them – James Polk, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Obama, both George H, and George W Bush.

America’s Backbone


Image courtesy of Creative Commons via Robert Yarnall Richie

The Scotch-Irish were hard workers, be it at war or at peace. When war ended, those who settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ohio and places with good soil, built farms. They raised livestock and grew crops to feed their families and sell for profit, when yields were hearty.

Irish farm food was a simple but hearty cuisine. Potatoes were a staple, as were many root vegetables. Most every meal contained cabbage and potatoes, with meat if one could afford this luxury. Dishes like Mutton (sheep) stew, Champ (onions and mashed potatoes) and Colcannon (potatoes and cabbage), often graced the table.

Those who didn’t go into farming ended up in the iron, steel or railroad industry. We all know immigrants basically built the railroads. However, history also records a heavy influence of the Ulster Irish controlling leadership in the metal industry during the 1800s. Their diligence helped form the backbone of America.

Music and Lore


Uilleann Pipes – Image courtesy of Creative Commons via David M. Jensen

Our ancestors brought the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland during their migration, referred to as Celtic or Folk. Song styles were versatile with ballads, like the famed, “O Danny Boy,” cheerful drinking songs, and laments. Music style for dancing was a jig, mazurka, highlands, and even a polka. Uilleann pipes, bagpipes, tin whistles, bodhran drums, harp and fiddle remain much loved Irish instruments.

When it comes to Scotch-Irish folklore, the superstitions of Ireland are deeply rooted. Tales of the Aos Si have been whispered for centuries. There are many types of faeries, all having a unique quality. Some are dangerous like the wailing banshee. Others are mischievous tiny creatures that inhabit faerie mounds.

The Leprechaun is the most famous tiny creature. The Lucky Charms mascot and smiling Saint Patrick’s Day characters are misleading. A true leprechaun is a trickster with a passionate love of gold and mischief. He can grant a wish, mend a shoe, or break all your dishes quietly, while you sleep.

Faerie circles and mounds are places of power, not to be disrespected. The Aos Si may seem playful, but they aren’t always fair. If you ever stumble upon one, legend says proceed with caution!

Sláinte is a traditional toast used in Ireland to this day – pronounce ‘slawn-che’.  It is the Irish Gaelic word for health. Use this toast to wish your friends good luck the Scotch-Irish way!

Luck of the Irish

The Scotch-Irish families who settled in the Appalachian region are the original Hillbillies, and any descendants should be proud. The Scotch-Irish overcame adversity, became great leaders and helped build America into the country it is today.

Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with drink and lively music and remember our Irish origin. Don’t forget to toast the luck of the Scotch-Irish. It got us this far. Sláinte!