Book of the Week!

What do Mark Twain, Neil Armstrong and John McCain all have in common?
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They’re descendants of Scots-Irish braggarts who crossed the Atlantic from the north of Ireland in the early 1700s and settled in America’s south, giving rise to NASCAR, at least 14 presidents, decisive victories in the Revolutionary War, a third of today’s US military, the NRA, country music, the horror story, American-style democracy, the religious right and victory in the space race.

“The Other Irish” shines a light on this fascinating topic, illuminating the extent to which the Scots-Irish helped weave the fabric of a nation.

It begins with the ancestors of the other Irish emerging in Scotland a millennium ago when the Roman Empire, unable to fend them off, built Hadrian’s Wall to keep them at bay.

After 700 years warring with the English over trade, land, laws and religion, these lowland Scots transplanted themselves to northern Ireland.

There they faced another 150 years of war with the Irish Catholics, but by the 1700s many of them decided to migrate to the New World where they hoped for a warm welcome from their Quaker and Puritan Calvinist cousins. Unfortunately, they were shunned as hedonistic and unruly.

They paddled down the Delaware River to settle the frontier territory of Virginia and the Carolinas. They went where no colonist had gone before, fought off the natives, farmed scrappy land and planted their own culture on the blank canvas of the Deep South.

By hunting with the descendants of Davy Crockett, we learn that by settling the frontier, gun culture became entrenched in American culture. From there, we learn about America’s religious fervor by attending services from televangelists to backcountry snake handlers.

This leads to the emergence of the right-wing politics of the American heartland and shows us why they voted presidents such as Ronald Regan and George Bush to power.

Chapter 4 carries us into the Civil War and explores the role of the Scots-Irish in slavery and race issues in America.

Then, moving away from religion, war and politics, the rest of the book explores their high-spirited ways by meeting country stars to learn how the Irish fiddle and African drum combined to create country music.

Meeting moonshiners and NASCAR heroes, the book traces the illegal moonshine trade of the backcountry and how trying to outrun the law gave birth to NASCAR, the biggest spectator sport in America.

Finally, 200 years after they took one step into the West, we follow the story of the Scot-Irishman who ran NASA to make another Scots-Irishman the first man on the moon.

Dublin People, Feb 25, 2015

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