BOOKS: Epic Stories from White House to a Dirt-Dobber's Nest

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Our Most Priceless Heritage - The Lasting Legacy of the Scots-Irish in America by Billy Kennedy

Ambassador International, Belfast and Greenville, South Carolina. pounds 11.99 (350 pages)

THE ninth volume in Billy Kennedy's popular series of Scots-Irish Chron- icles, this latest book marks the conclusion of a decade of work.

It has become a labour of love for the senior News Letter journalist to tell the tale of the raw courage of the Scots-Irish heroes who forged firstly a hand-to-mouth living and then a sophisticated civilisation out of the American wilderness.

This meticulously researched history ties the elements together in a most digestible manner for even the most casual of readers.

The omnibus collection has already been much acclaimed in the United States on a book tour undertaken by the author, and its Belfast launch produced more praise for his research on the Scots-Irish.

The 18th century pioneers landed on the American eastern seaboard and travelled into the Appalachians and the southern states as well as west across the uncharted and dangerous territory towards California and the Pacific coastline.

Kennedy traces the tracks of those hardy men and women who, in a quiet, dignified and hard-working way, made America what it is today. Initially, they braved deadly storms and raging fevers to cross the Atlantic.

Then they played a part in every echelon of society from settlers in one- or two-roomed dirt-floored cabins to US presidents.

Early 20th century president Woodrow Wilson defined something of the Scots-Irish mix that produced his own temperament.

He described his nature as a struggle between his Irish blood - "quick, generous, impulsive, passionate, always anxious to help and to sympathise with those in distress" - and his Scots' blood - "canny, tenacious and perhaps a little exclusive".

Although this is too simplistic an analysis of the meeting of the two cultures - Scots can be generous, passionate and compassionate; the Irish can be exclusive - it gives a clue to the character of the "emotionally complex" man whose paternal grandfather came from Dergelt, near Strabane, and whose maternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister from Paisley in Scotland. …