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When it comes to making our case in White House, we are still playing catch-up

We could do much more to exploit the influence of the Ulster diaspora in United States, says Nelson McCausland

Published 07/07/2016

A number of Ulster-Americans made their way to the Presidency of the United States of America
A number of Ulster-Americans made their way to the Presidency of the United States of America

I have to confess that I am very fond of tomato ketchup - whether on a wide range of sandwiches, on chips, or even a fish supper. Now that may seem a strange way to start a newspaper column, but recently I came across an article about the origins of tomato ketchup.

The first-known published recipe for the sauce was written by Dr James Mease in Philadelphia in 1812, just over 200 years ago.

He had thought for some time that tomatoes and ketchup were a natural combination and he came up with a recipe for what has become a very popular sauce.

The success of tomato ketchup took off after the American Civil War and towards the end of the 19th century the New York Tribune declared that it was America's national condiment and "on every table in the land".

That is interesting, but it took on an added significance when I recalled that Mease was one of the most prominent citizens in Philadelphia and belonged to an Ulster-American family, which had already made its mark.

He was the son of John Mease, who was a shipping merchant and had emigrated from Strabane to America in 1754. John Mease, his brother James Mease and other members of this Ulster-American family, were strong supporters of American independence and gave generously to advance that cause. Some of them even fought in the ranks of the American Army.

So, there is an Ulster connection with something that is today as universal as a popular sauce.

Earlier this week the United States of America celebrated the Fourth of July as Independence Day, remembering July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted the American Declaration of Independence.

So, this is a good time to reflect on Ulster-American connections. The secretary of the Congress was Charles Thomson, an Ulster-born Presbyterian, and the declaration was printed by another Ulster-born Presbyterian, John Dunlap. Thomson was from Maghera and Dunlap was from Strabane.

A number of Ulster-Americans also made their way to the Presidency of the United States of America and, as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, the Ulster-American Folk Park has an exhibition of drawings of some of these Presidents by the Belfast artist Frank McKelvey.

They stretch from President Andrew Jackson, with family roots in east Antrim, through to President Woodrow Wilson.

However, the Ulster influence in America stretches far beyond Presidents and pioneers.

In almost every part of the United States and in almost every area of life, we can trace the influence of Ulster emigrants - men and women who were part of an Ulster diaspora.

Much of the Ulster diaspora can be traced back to the 18th century when a quarter-of-a-million Ulster folk emigrated from here to America. They were almost entirely Protestant in faith and they were predominantly Presbyterian Ulster-Scots.

In the 19th century there was another diaspora, this time from across Ireland and predominantly, though certainly not entirely, made up of people from a Roman Catholic background.

The influence of the diaspora can be seen in America, but it can also be seen in other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are major international companies which were founded by people who were born in Ulster or were of Ulster descent.

James Gamble from the Graan near Enniskillen was one of the founders of Proctor and Gamble, and Sun Life Insurance was founded in Montreal by Matthew Hamilton Gault, a Canadian businessman from Strabane.

The concept of "soft power" was introduced in the 1980s by Dr Joseph Nye, an American political scientist, and refers to ways in which a country can promote itself and influence others while avoiding what is termed "hard power".

I think we should look at the Ulster diaspora as a source of "soft power" for Northern Ireland.

It is an opportunity which, as yet, Northern Ireland has not fully recognised and utilised.

Belfast Telegraph

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