About being Scottish, NOT Irish
Moving to the US may have taken a while but it is working out well. Life in Arizona since I relocated here from Scotland in March has been as good as I had been expecting.
The food is great; the weather is phenomenal compared with what I left behind – despite the dire warnings of the extreme desert summer heat. And the people have been exceptionally friendly and welcoming.
But I do have one complaint. It is small, but it is something that crops up with annoying regularity.
I am a born and bred, kilt-wearing, whisky drinking Scotsman with a thick west of Scotland brogue. So why does everyone I meet in America think I am Irish?
Let me give you a couple of examples. I recently attended a neighborhood garage sale. The stalls were being “staffed” by a man who I took to be in his 70s and a middle-aged woman, who may have been his daughter. They heard my accent and asked where I came from. When I replied Scotland, the old fellow leaned back and, in a fake Irish accent, said, “So you’ve got a touch of the Oirish in you then.”
A few days later another gentleman, on learning of my Scottishness, asked if I had ever seen the film The Quiet Man. “You would love it,” he said. “John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara…and set in Ireland. It would remind you of home.”
But it wouldn’t remind me of home. It might remind me of holidays in Ireland. Scotland is the country that means home to me.
Let me be clear that none of this offends me. I love the Irish; I have had some great times with Irish people, in Irish pubs, singing ribald Irish songs. And of course Scotland and Ireland have much in common in terms of shared history and culture.
I also have an Irish grandfather from Downpatrick who came to work as a gardener in Scotland and married my Highland grandmother. But the fact remains I am Scottish through and through. Imagine if I was introduced to someone from Michigan or Montana or Illinois and referred to them as “US-Canadians” or some such term?
The phrase Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish is used exclusively in the United States – nowhere else in the world. It came into currency several hundred years ago as a rather ham-fisted way of describing people who emigrated from Ireland to America – some of whom had Scottish ancestry.
To make it worse, many of the so-called Scotch-Irish had no connection to Scotland. Some had emigrated via Ireland from Germany, France or England but were still saddled with the Scotch-Irish label. It was as confusing and wrong then as it is now.
It may have been an easy way of categorizing immigrants in the 1700s but the term has, in my opinion, long since outlived its usefulness and relevance. It should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Scotland and Ireland are separated by a stretch of water, they are two separate countries (albeit within an increasingly disunited United Kingdom) and they have clear, separate identities.
So far I’ve been called English, Australian, even South African…but the vast majority of people I meet here think I’m Irish. Only one person got it right, and he was a barman from – you’ve guessed it – Ireland.
So to my new American acquaintances. I really don’t mind if, next time you meet me, you call me Paddy or sing ‘Danny Boy’ for me. But I hope you won’t take it personally if I ask you to call me Jock instead. I’ll even teach you the words to ‘Flower of Scotland’.