Presbyterian Ties in Pennsylvania and the Bible Belt in South Carolina; BILLY KENNEDY Looks Back on His Most Recent Trip to the United States in Pursuit of the History of the Scots-Irish Emigrants Who Moved There in Such Large Numbers in the 18th Century and Made a Remarkable Contribution

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THE UNITED STATES is such a vast country that moving from state to state can take up to at least half a day, depending on one's location, and if the mode of transport is by road.

This makes fitting in a busy two-week itinerary through seven states quite an accomplishment. However, with the aid of two internal flights, I managed to complete all of my engagements on this latest safari through the States in pursuit of more material on the hardy Scots-Irish settlers who took root in the Appalachian region 200/250 years ago.

Philadelphia - that teeming city where thousands of Ulster emigrants landed off basic wooden ships to start a life in the New World - was my first port of call and I found it the kind of metropolis that lived up to the great melting pot which is American today.

Situated on the huge Delaware River, Philadelphia is adjacent to New Jersey, which was my base for a couple of days, and eastern Pennsylvania, where the earliest of the Ulster-Scots settlements were established.

I took an Amtrack train from the centre of Philadelphia down to Harrisburg, the state capital, and to Lancaster and Elizabethtown, where I found ties closely linked to the north west part of our Province - the historic Donegal Presbyterian Church, and the townships of Derry and Mountjoy, named after the famous ship that broke the boom on Lough Foyle back in 1689.

Donegal church at Elizabethtown was set up in the early 1720s after the settlers arrived from Ulster in the first wave of emigration and members of the congregation today are very proud of their connections. Many Scots- Irish families moved on from this region along the Great Wagon Road to the Shenanodoah Valley, and, ultimately, to states like Tennessee and Kentucky. Some sold their land to German Lutheran settlers who arrived in Pennsylvania at the same time.

In Lancaster, I visited the ancestral Wheatland home of President James Buchanan, the son of an Ulsterman who emigrated in 1788.

Returning to Philadelphia, I lectured to members and friends of the Scotch- Irish Association of the United States at the city's impressive Balch Institute, premises used as a meeting place for the various ethnic groups in the region. Many of those present had travelled a distance and it was illuminating to participate in the cultural exchange.

The following day, I was on a flight from Pennsylvania down to Greenville in South Carolina to spend three days in an area I have come to know well.

The atmosphere is most definitely southern, and Confederate in sympathy - the Civil War is still being fought. There is a religious fervour that sets the region apart at the centre of the American 'Bible Belt'.

I travelled to Spartanburg and Greenwood, other Scots-Irish-influenced towns in the Carolina Piedmont area, and on St Patrick's night was the guest speaker at the annual spring banquet of McCormick County Historical County in the local school assembly hall.

McCormick does not figure much on the map and is located in what could certainly be described as ''the sticks''. In that event, my travelling companions and I got lost, but happily we managed to arrive just 35 minutes late, as the final course was being served and the 100 or so people were waiting to hear what their visitor from Northern Ireland had to say.

McCormick County is close to Augusta in Georgia, and only five miles from the Long Cane, which was notorious for a massacre of Scots-Irish settlers by Cherokee Indians on February 1, 1760. Among the victims then were the grandmother and cousins of John C. Calhoun, the second generation Ulsterman of Donegal parents who was American vice-president for two terms in the early 19th century.

''This area is thick with people whose ancestors came in from Ulster in the 18th century. We are very proud of our Scots-Irish heritage and, being St Patrick's Day, you are especially welcome to McCormick'', Bob Edmunds, of McCormick County Historical Society told me. …