Ulster-Scots are being written out of historical record - it’s time to reclaim them for posterity
There is a hierarchy in history here and their many achievements are ranked too lowly, writes Nelson McCausland
Northern Ireland has yet to realise the value and potential of so much of its history and heritage. I have long held that view, but it was reinforced a few weeks ago when I spent a few days in the city of Krakow in Poland.
In the heart of the city, beside the Market Square and the Christmas market stalls, there was a museum with a major exhibition about Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish soldier who died 200 years ago on October 15, 1817.
He was a Polish patriot, but he was also an American hero. In 1776 he sailed for America and joined the American revolutionary army, where he served under George Washington and eventually attained the rank of brigadier general.
It was an extensive exhibition with a strong emphasis on his role in America and celebrated the life of a great Polish soldier.
In stark contrast, the tercentenary of the birth of another American soldier, John Armstrong, passed almost unnoticed.
He was born in Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh on October 13, 1717, the son of Ulster-Scots parents, and he emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania around 1740.
Armstrong served with distinction in the American revolutionary army and was a friend and supporter of Washington.
He died in 1795 and, five years later, Armstrong County in Pennsylvania was named after him.
Both men fought in the same war and both men reached the rank of brigadier general, but while Poland celebrated the bicentenary of the death of the Polish soldier, Northern Ireland ignored the tercentenary of the birth of the Scotch-Irish soldier from Fermanagh.
It seems to me that, across our cultural establishment, there is now a hierarchy in the history of Ulster and that the successes and achievements of the Ulster-Scots, at home and abroad, are ranked very low in that hierarchy. It wasn’t always like that, but it is like that today.
Someone could argue that this was a single omission, but unfortunately such omissions are more the norm than the exception.
Last Saturday was the 150th anniversary of the birth of Amy Carmichael, a famous Christian missionary, who was born into an Ulster-Scots family in Millisle on December 16, 1867.
Amy worked among the poor in Belfast, especially the “shawlies”, who were shawl-wearing factory workers, and, in 1887, she established the Welcome Hall, now the Welcome Evangelical Church, at Cambrai Street.
Later she travelled to India, where she spent more than half-a-century as a Christian missionary. There, her most notable work was with girls and young women, some of whom were rescued from what was really temple prostitution.
India eventually outlawed temple prostitution in 1948, but Amy continued her missionary work in India until her death in 1951. She also wrote many books, some of which are still in print today.
So, how is the story of Amy Carmichael told in our museums and cultural institutions?
Is her story not part of our Ulster story and is it not a story that deserves to be more widely known?
The Welcome Evangelical Church in Belfast is a testimony to her work, as is the Dohnavur Fellowship in India and there is an excellent Amy Carmichael mural in Cambrai Street, but we are still waiting for our cultural establishment to step up to the mark.
Why is it that the cultural establishment in Northern Ireland pays so little attention to the achievements of the Ulster-Scots? Are they not aware of these stories? Or are they not considered of sufficient merit?
Perhaps it is time for a real conversation between our cultural institutions, the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Ulster Scots Community Network to talk this through. Otherwise, the narrative that is told by these institutions is partial and patchy.
Such stories can be inspirational, affirmational and educational. They can also help to build our tourism product and tourism is an important aspect of our economy.
Yes, it’s time for Northern Ireland to embrace a cultural tradition that is at the heart of our cultural wealth.