The Fife and Drum

My friend Daphne Swilling has just returned to the United States following her visit to those Christians in Northern Ireland who support the Native American mission to our country. I am presently helping her to foster cultural relationships between the Scotch Irish or Ulster Scots and the Indians among whom they settled. I first met her when she became aware of my Wisdom Keeper status among the Lakota Sioux and my visits with the Tyendinaga Mohawks in Canada. She is one of the most esteemed of the Friends of the Ullans Academy.

The important part played by the Scotch-Irish in the American Revolution, in the shaping of the Old Frontier and in the political leadership of the United States of America is well known. Less obvious has been their lasting contribution to the American scene and their broad imprint on the American landscape and way of life. It has been said that all-in-all the middle colonies were the most significant cultural nursery of North America, because of the hybridisation of the various cultural groups who were attracted to Pennsylvania, the southern and western tiers of which the Scotch-Irish largely fashioned and which became in turn the cradle of the Middle-West.

The family farm and the family bible were the foundations of faith. The dignity of the individual was so valued and distinctions of class were so scorned that women could achieve in society that position which was denied them in the European homelands.The cultural landscape of a large part of the present United States is still characterised by the single homestead and the unincorporated hamlet and by a corn and livestock economy which was pioneered in the Old West mainly by the Scotch-Irish. The success of the Scotch-Irish in frontier life was predicated by home life in Ulster itself. There they had already been accustomed to living in rectangular houses with a wide-open hearth fitted with familiar gear such as crane and iron pots, flesh-hooks and pot-hooks, griddle and frying pan.

In America, Indian corn became a prolific substitute for oats and barley and like them it was spring-sown and food for man and beast alike. The Scotch Irish were to learn much from the Indians. Frontier clothing of leather or rawhide would have been no novelty to the Ulster immigrant, nor would Indian music consisting of drum and flute have been unfamiliar to them. They did indeed become more Cherokee than the Cherokee themselves. I believe that the the Native American flutes played by Joseph and Laralyn River Wind along with the drums of Devin Ruff and Justin (J.J.) Collins will perfectly complement Joseph on the Bagpipes and Laralyn on the Harp when they hopefully visit us next year.

The Scotch-Irish were descended from the most ancient peoples of the British Isles, the Picts and Scots, the people of the Cruthin. They took with them the heritage of farming and frontier life which had been learned through thousands of years at the Atlantic ends of Europe. Their original society was matriarchal, their lineage matrilineal, until conquests by Indo-European groups such as Celts and Anglo-Saxons. The American frontier women were re-empowered by the old ideals of freedom and democracy which became the hallmarks of the American people. Such a person is Daphne Swilling. On this day when we celebrate the birth of the Master, may I wish her God Speed on returning to her homeland and a very Merry Christmas to one and all.

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