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February 26, 2001

Symposium examines roots
of Scots-Irish culture

By Deb Hammacher & Michael Terrazas

The Scots-Irish have been one of the largest and most influential ethnic groups in the American South, but few Americans know much, if anything, about that heritage.

“Ulster Roots/Southern Branches,” a one-day symposium cosponsored by Emory, the W.B. Yeats Foundation and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, looks to provide some of the answers through scholarly discussion and artistic performances. The event will be held March 3 on the Emory campus.

“There’s been a certain wiping of ancestral memories,” said Jim Flannery of the Scots-Irish descendants living in the United States, especially in Appalachia. Flannery, who along with Atlanta filmmaker Chris Moser developed the symposium, is professor of performing arts and director of the Yeats Foundation.

“I’ve always been conscious of this, ever since I came to the South,” Flannery said. “[The Scots-Irish] know very little about it because the immigration patterns were so long ago. They came in the early 18th century, mostly to New England, then made their way down to Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and ultimately down to the Appalachian region. And, through gentrification, they’re now in Atlanta—and some of them are teaching at Emory.”

The Ulster Scots are the descendants of mostly Protestant Scottish people enticed by King James I to settled in what is now Northern Ireland starting in the early 1600s, sparking centuries of conflict with the displaced, Catholic, native Irish.

The current peace process in Northern Ireland has led to a re-examination of the Scots-Irish heritage and the underlying reasons for the strife. The symposium’s speakers—drawn from both American and Irish institutions—hope to add fresh perspective on the situation, contribute a better understanding of Scots-Irish heritage in both Ireland and the United States, and advance the process of reconciliation that is under way in the old country.

“Actually, it couldn’t be more timely,” Flannery said, “because just in January there’s been created a group that came out of the Good Friday Agreement called the Ulster-Scots Agency, which is promoting exactly this type of effort.” Flannery added that the musical group Clatter O’Folks, made up of members of the Ulster Scots Folk Orchestra and scheduled to perform at the symposium, had its way paid over from Ireland by the new agency.

The five panel sessions include:
• “Ulster Roots: Encompassing the First 200 Years of the Scots-Irish in Ulster.” Speakers include moderator Tony McAuley, British Broadcasting Corporation producer specializing in Irish history; Owen Dudley Edwards, history professor at the University of Edinburgh; and Kerby Miller, professor of history at the University of Missouri and senior research fellow at Queens Universiy in Belfast.

• “Ulster Scots and the Unionist/Nationalist Division.” Speakers include Flannery as moderator; Anne McCartney, associate director of the Centre for Irish Literature and Bibliography at the University of Ulster (Coleraine, Ireland); and Michael Montgomery, emeritus professor of English and linguistics at the University of South Carolina.

• “Scots-Irish Presbyterianism in Scotland, Ulster and the American South.” Speakers include moderator Brooks Holifield, Candler Professor of American Church History; Katharine Brown, adjunct professor of history and art at Mary Baldwin College (Virginia); and Erksine Clarke, professor of church history at Columbia Seminary in Decatur.

• “Scots-Irish Intellectual, Political, Social and Economic Contributions to America.” Speakers include Moser as moderator; Richard MacMaster, professor of history at Elizabeth-town College (Pennsylvania) and president of the Scots-Irish Society of America; Jim Doan, professor of the liberal arts at Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; and Clarke.

• “Scots-Irish Cultural Contributions to the American South.” Speakers include moderator Allen Tullos, professor in the Institute of Liberal Arts; Tyler Blethen, director of the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University; Maggie Holtzberg, folk and traditional arts coordinator for the Massachusetts Cultural Council; and McAuley and Montgomery.

The day will culminate with a concert, “Roots and Branches: The Scots-Irish Heritage in Music and Dance,” that will bring together Northern Ireland’s Ulster Scots tradition and Georgia’s finest traditional performers. On the bill are the aforementioned Clatter O’Folks, the Georgia Mudcats, Nonesuch and Holtzberg playing the fiddle.

The concert will be at 8:15 p.m. in Cannon Chapel, and Flannery said it is more than just a nightcap to the symposium. “I have always felt the arts are central to political issues,” Flannery said. “They’re not just background or wallpaper—they’re core. You can’t discuss one without the other.”

Admission to the symposium is $15; students get in free. Admission to the concert is $12.50 in advance, $15 at the door or $5 with a symposium registration. For concert information or to order tickets, call 404-727-5050.

For information on the symposium, call the Yeats Foundation at 404-727-6180.



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