Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | March 17, 2013

Irish Southern Celebration or The Wearing of the Orange

"Irish" Southerner

“Irish” Southerner

Happy St Patrick’s Day 2013!

I shared the short story on Facebook of my Daddy telling his kids “we wear orange” on a St. Patrick’s Day morning 1959 or 60.  He said it and let it drop.  Nothing else was ever said about being “Orange.”    Perhaps that’s because our family clan is Irish Southern not Southern Irish – and I don’t mean lower latitudes on the auld sod island.

My uncle said his grandmother Maley said, “We’re Arash.”   Translated from West Tennessee Anglish, that means we’re Irish.  That’s how she described herself.  She was born in Tennessee in 1855.

My father added, “We’re Black Irish.”  And, “We’re Scots-Irish.”  I think he knew correctly.  His grandfather from his mother’s side was Scottish.  He was born in West Tennessee too, but farmed in a kilt – so it’s said – and had a thick brogue from his parents.  He knew Scot from Irish.

Here’s a map showing where the Scotch-Irish, Scots-Irish, Ulster Scots, or as the good people of Philly said, “the scum of the earth” immigration waves.

Most came to US 1700-1770. Key point. .

Most came to US 1700-1770. Key point. .

The “people with no name” were often called Irish on the shipping manifests.  And, as my great-grandmother did, they called themselves Irish without further explanation.   It should mean that all qualify to drink green beer.  But, what about this wearing of the Orange?

The Orange was the color for the Protestant people coming over from northern Ireland.   The Green was the color for the Catholics who came in great waves from the 1840s on.   Some Catholics came during the big Protestant wave and some Protestants came during the big Catholic waves.  Timing is everything.

The Orange Irish had created a key American sub-culture, one of four, on the frontier and spread it west for 100 years before the Recent Unpleasantness of 1861-1865.  Plenty of Black Africans, Amer-Indians, English and Germans – Mexicans in Texas – and a smattering of others – Italians, Jews lived among them, but only one culture dominated.  As it always does.   Since so many of the Orange Irish were on their third to sixth generation in America (figure 4 generations @ 100 years), they didn’t see themselves in their ‘otherness’ as a minority even when they usually were a minority.  It was their culture.

There are more than those who call themselves Scot-Irish. A small minority identity in the culture they shaped

There are more than those who call themselves Scot-Irish. A small minority identity in the culture they shaped

Culture commands.   Take West Tennessee.

Andrew Jackson kicks out the Indians in 1820.  My ancestor, Jeremiah Bowden (born in Isle of Wight County, VA) comes over from his daddy’s Revolutionary War bounty land grant in Franklin County, NC.   We don’t know if his first ancestor in America was from England, Ireland or Scotland, but that fellow married a Webb woman.  That’s a good Scot-Irish family name.  By the time Jimmy Bowden marries Florence Ellen Maley in the 1870s the defining event in their life was the War of Northern Aggression.  The family deaths.  The theft and destruction by Union troops – and making little 8 year old Florence deaf in one ear for life by shooting a percussion cap pistol by her ear, trying to scare her into revealing her partisan ranger brother’s hiding place.  Then, the stealing and crimes during Reconstruction.

Their identity is their family name – their clan.  Which means being evangelical Protestant Christian.  And their identity is West Tennessee and American.

The ideas and folkways of one strain of Irish culture shaped their culture.  Their Arash made America, the South and their county in West Tennessee what it was.  But, frankly, there’s nothing “Arash” about them.

Hence, the confederate battle flag design on the Irish shamrock fits.

The defining historical events of my parents’ lives were the Great Depression and WW II.  The defining watershed of my life was the Vietnam War.  The Great Recession may be or the coming upheaval or whatever happens – if I live long enough maybe the other defining historical happening.

So, I’m not sure what common and defining characteristics of my clan – the 300 or so of us descended from GGrandmother Maley (Bowden) are broadly Celtic or specifically Scot-Irish 0r just “us’n”.   But, I do know that we call ourselves Bowdens – and we are really all Maleys.  The matriarch shaped her family to me – the 4th generation – as I hope to influence another 4 down.

And as I wrote – – I was amazed at how I connected to the movie “The Fighter” about a Boston (actually Lowell) Irish family.

Finally,  my son-in-law – whose father’s family are recent immigrants from Ukraine – sees that we aren’t “Irish” or “Scot” with connections back to an ethnic identity.  Our identity is Southern.  That is our ethnicity.  Confederate-American – if that can be short hand for longstanding Southern identity and not political commentary.   As the better universities teach, we have Southern politics, literature, art, poetry, religion, food and music, etc.

For me, as much as I love hearing Scottish bag pipes, Irish whistle and drums, Country Gospel – is my ethnic music.  Old country music – heavy on the fiddles – is my ethnic music too.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!  Happy St Columba Day – whenever that is!



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