Armchair Anthropology: The Difference Between Scottish And Irish Culture And Its Effect On America

I’ll preface and say that these are generalizations and not absolutes. I realize that most of it is kind of subjective.

In middle school I became obsessed with Ireland. I was told we are Scotch-Irish, and so I assumed that meant I was Irish. I bought a bunch of Irish cds and got a CD-ROM to learn Irish Gaelic.

As it turns out, the Scotch-Irish aren’t Irish at all. They were the rowdy lowlanders that got deported to a worse shithole. We’re the orange on the Irish flag. Oops!

It makes sense. Bluegrass is a lot more like Scottish music than Irish music. Irish music is more flightly, but Scottish folk and bluegrass music is heavier and more earthy, as though it’s quiet in deep thought. Irish music has a lot of flutes and harps, which never made it into American bluegrass even though it wouldn’t have been hard to transport them across the ocean.

Bluegrass doesn’t have the same lightness as Irish music. It has more of the small intricate fretwork and brooding melodies.

Most Celtic music produced today is Irish, so here’s a good example of Scottish folk music that I listened to before this. The 1973 soundtrack to The Wicker Man is heavily influenced by Scottish music, since that’s where the movie takes place. And finally, the most famous Scottish song, “Loch Lomond.”

This reflects the geography. Ireland has green rolling hills. Scotland has cliffs.

You also see this reflected in whiskey. The Scottish invented whiskey and brought it to Ireland and then to America. Scottish whiskey is earthy and kind of bitter. It’s often smoked with roasted peat. Irish whiskey is light so you can drink it all night (much like a lot of Irish beer once you get past Guinness). American bourbon whiskey is sweet but not saccharine or light. And before the popularity of bourbon, the common American whiskey was made of a predominantly rye mash, which is probably the grainiest, thickest whiskey available.

Admittedly I haven’t tried much Scotch because I’m not paying that much for a blend, but as for Irish whiskey, I’ve had Tullamore Dew and Hell-Cat Maggie.

Though Canada had a lot of Scots come over, and their whiskey is like Irish whiskey if it were made by McDonald’s. There’s not enough Coca-cola in the world to drown out the taste of Crown. My Canadian friend recommended Wisers, and it’s still terrible.

Irish music and Irish alcohol are for parties. The Scottish and Appalachian equivalents are for reflecting on hard times. And really, it wasn’t until the 90s or so that country music became about partying it up in the parking lot. Because real country music does not and never has come from big city Nashville.

I think this also plays out into religion. Both the Irish and the Scottish rejected Anglicanism and its Puritan and Methodist offshoots. The Scottish, however, were still interested in reform. I guess that’s the pensive thought above. They decided to become fundamentalists. Though obviously it didn’t last, it was an attempt to restore the ancient church instead of, like the Anglicans, just adopt some Catholicy forms and continue on like you can have the best of both worlds and still do whatever you like.

The Irish, however, decided to stay Catholic for some reason. Didn’t give it much thought – just keep on doing what you’ve been doing, drink yourself blind, and let Rome worry about who is saved and who is damned. I’ve always had a feeling that they stayed Catholic not so much because they believed in it than just because they hated English. And besides, you know what Catholics are like.

[Interesting link]


2 thoughts on “Armchair Anthropology: The Difference Between Scottish And Irish Culture And Its Effect On America

    • All American music is a combination of Mississippi Delta Blues and Appalachian Bliegrass. Which, frankly, aren’t that different from each other.

      American culture is southern culture.


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