Running the Gauntlet of Cherokee Braves; Monday Books: The Scots-Irish in Pennsylvania and Kentucky by Billy Kennedy (1998). (Causeway Press/Ambassador Productions, Pounds 9.99)

Article excerpt

STANDING on the southern bank of the Ohio River, you can gaze across its slow-moving waters to Indiana on the distant far side.

It is a beautiful view I once got to enjoy on a fleeting visit to Louisville, Kentucky, a few years ago.

What I didn't then realise, but have since learnt from the latest edition of Billy Kennedy's hugely successful Scots-Irish series of books, is just what a heritage I shared with the first white men to see that same sight.

In `The Scots-Irish in Pennsylvania and Kentucky', Kennedy tells of the courage, and sometime ruthless determination, of Ulster Presbyterians as they battled the elements, and particularly the native Indians, to settle what today are modern American states.

It was Daniel Boone - a pioneer of west English Quaker stock - who was responsible for opening up Kentucky to the white man, and he was joined by equally formidable men of Ulster lineage.

In 1773, Boone organised a party of woodsmen to accompany him through the Cumberland Gap and then to cut a swathe through the forests, creating a pathway which became known as the Wilderness Road. Among his advance party were hearty men with Ulster names - William James Warnock, Hugh McGary, Benjamin Logan and the McAfee brothers (Robert James, and George) - and, in the quarter century that followed, it is estimated that three- quarters of the settlers who flocked to Kentucky were Scots-Irish.

Often in this "dark and bloody land" they ran the gauntlet of Cherokee or Shawnee braves or, just as bad, white renegades and marauders, but they were not deterred.

It is perhaps appropriate, and not a little ironic given it was later adopted by their fellow Ulstermen back home, that the Kentucky state motto is `United We Stand, Divided We Fall'.

Despite having left their homeland for the promise of the Americas, the new settlers were fiercely proud of their Irish roots . . . though they took great exception to being labelled as Irish.

"We are surprised to hear ourselves termed Irish people, when we so frequently ventured our all for the British Crown and liberties . . . and gave all tests of our loyalty which the government of Ireland required, and are always ready to do the same when required," wrote an indignant James MacGregor, a Presbyterian minister from Aghadowey who had survived the Siege of Derry, in a letter to the New England governor. MacGregor led several hundred co-religionists from the Bann Valley to new colonies around 1718.

Another cleric, the Rev Dr John MacIntosh, who settled in Philadelphia, quoted a more blunt message from his fellow Ulstermen in the States: "We're no Eerish bot Scoatch''. …