Thursday, 4 August 2011

35 - 'Blackmouths, rednecks and hillbillies'

West Virginia McCallister House, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
May 18, 2011


I mentioned on the last show that we were about to have a UK election, which wasn't completely accurate.  Actually, all that the rest of the UK had was a referendum on Alternative Voting, but, here in Norn Iron, we had that, plus elections to our local Assembly AND local council elections.  We already have Alternative Voting - we call it Proportional Representation - in Northern Ireland, which simply means that everybody's vote counts.   The least popular candidates are eliminated and those votes transferred to the voter's second choice candidate.  The same applies to surplus votes for the most popular candidates.  This process is repeated until a certain quota of votes is reached.  It's a pretty fair way of doing things - especially in our unique Northern Ireland situation.

Unfortunately, even so, the outcome this time was even more polarised than before.  The extremist parties once again gained at the expense of the more moderate ones!  What can I say?  At least we have a situation now where even the extremist parties are prepared to work together, by and large.  That wasn't always the case in the fairly recent past!  So, it's much better to have things argued out politically, in a reasonably sensible way, than the past alternative of trying to sort out our differences using bombs and bullets, kidnappings and other violent activities!  As the Ads. for BT telephones used to say, 'It's good to talk!'  

And now we have new kinds of politicians, like the Green Party, getting elected - and representatives of ethnic minorities, like the Chinese Community.  We have around 10,000 Chinese people living in Northern Ireland and they are our largest ethnic minority community.  Because of all the conflict here we didn't have much immigration during the Troubles - mostly just Chinese and some Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi people - but since the mid Nineties we've had quite a lot.  

One town in Co. Tyrone now has an 11% Portuguese population, and lots of small towns, in Co. Down and elsewhere, are getting used to having quite a few Polish workers in local factories and food-production plants, plus Philipinos working in retirement homes and hospitals.  The majority of immigrants live in Belfast - especially in the south of the city, where there are more houses to rent and lots of restaurants, Queen's University, etc.  It makes Belfast a much more cosmopolitan city than it ever was before, though there are some people who aren't so keen on that.

Of course, of all people, we have absolutely no room to complain about immigrants, when we've been continually emmigrating to the 'New World', as we call it, for hundreds of years!  There are approximately 50 million people of Irish descent in North America, not to mention, Australia, New Zealand, the UK mainland and other parts of the world.  If this show depended only upon listeners living in Ireland, we would would have very few downloads!  And, not all, but a reasonable proportion of our tourist industry depends on people of Irish background coming over to see the 'aul' country' again.  Long may it continue!

Apart from economic aspirations, one of the early reasons why so many Irish (and also Scottish) people migrated to North America, was the need for religious freedom.  In 17th & 18th century Ireland both Roman Catholics and Presbyterians were second class citizens, compared to those who were of the Anglican (or 'Protestant') ascendancy, and who made the laws.  Until the days of Daniel O'Connell and Catholic Emancipation, Roman Catholics were not allowed to own land and, previous to that, priests had been hunted down and murdered and secret worship had to be carried on at a Mass Rock out in the wilds.  

Presbyterians, though supposedly of the same Protestant religion, were often forced to worship in secret in the countryside and ridiculed as 'blackmouths' by their Anglican brethren - from eating blackberries there.  Many of these 'Ulster-Scots' settled in the Appalachian Mountain region, and were often called 'hillbillies', referring to their songs about William of Orange.  The Scottish Covenanters also were nicknamed 'rednecks', because many signed the Covenant in their own blood and wore a red cloth around their neck as a sign of this.  Many of these fled to Ulster in the 17th century and later emmigrated to North America.

Although both Presbyterian and Roman Catholic (from both Scotland and Ireland) came to North America seeking freedom from religious intolerance, unfortunately, we did not see any need to apply the same rule to the indigenous Native American people we found there.  We treated their worship of the Creator as 'pagan' and 'devil worship', simply because we didn't understand it and we perpetuated the same intolerance upon them that we had experienced from the English back home!



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