You see them in unexpected places. While traveling around a bend in the road a small stone church appears. They are found in mostly higher elevation hollows and coves of the Appalachian mountains. Some of the buildings exhibit old world design. Typically Presbyterian, these congregations are the tangible legacy of people who arrived in this area long ago. Many Scots-Irish, or Scotch-Irish as most Americans call them, settled in the high country of the southern Appalachians. Many of their descendants still remain. Some of the local small churches weren't formally organized until the 20th century, while others in Elizabethton and Carter County have roots back into the 1700s.
Scottish place names and surnames are found throughout the Appalachians. It seems that the more out of the way you go, the more you find. These people were quite tough, living in high and remote places, where the air was cooler. A few came over the mountains of North Carolina and settled the Roan Mountain area, where the school mascot is the Highlander.
The history of this area and the United States was heavily influenced by the actions of the Overmountain Men from this region. Many men mustered here at Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton before marching to South Carolina on what is now known as the Overmountain Victory Trail. When they won the battle at King's Mountain, the American republic took a big step toward reality. Some of them were Scots-Irish in origin and marched with people of English descent to fight for America.
Anyone who is familiar with this group has heard of the famous quote by George Washington at Valley Forge. "If all else fails, I will retreat up the valley of Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scotch-Irish of that region and make my last stand for liberty amongst a people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man left to draw a trigger."
The people from Ireland, Scotland, and the surrounding lands brought their love of music, dance, and whiskey. The close knit family clans became part of the culture of the Appalachians. People depended on nearby family and neighbors to help survive in the isolated settlements. The rich variety of Appalachian bluegrass, old time, country, and gospel music has roots in the Celtic traditions. The local dance style of clogging is similar to Irish and Scottish step dancing. It's also no coincidence that one of the world's top selling whiskies comes from Tennessee.
Scottish, Irish, and Celtic culture in general are enjoying renewed interest in Appalachia. For many years Highland Games have been held at Grandfather Mountain in nearby North Carolina. Music fills the air in September when the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival is held in Elizabethton. This event has been growing and showcases talented musicians both local and distant in an intimate small town setting. Several clans make an appearance along with an interesting mix of other Celtic people. Here's a video clip from a past year.
A few links to people involved in the Celtic/Scottish/Irish culture of the local area:
Sigean - traditional Celtic music band
WETS East Tennessee
Public Radio - Supporting traditional music in our region.
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