Thursday, 23 September 2010

Across with Saint Patrick

Professional Ulster Scots appear to be visiting the southern United States with increasing frequency. News 14 reports on Nelson McCausland's trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, while the Wilkes Journal-Patriot covers a visit by John Laird, the subject of a forthcoming BBC documentary.

Of all the spending decisions made by the Ulster-Scots Agency, perhaps the most controversial was when it paid for its entire board to travel to America. On top of concerns voiced about the correct husbanding of public funds and avoiding the appearance of junketing, some commentators saw in the agency's surprising interest in the United States (despite its activities being legally limited to the island of Ireland) an effort to create an Ulster-American lobby to counter the support traditionally enjoyed by Nationalists among the country's Irish Catholic community.

Today, in 2010, it appears that Auntie Beeb is footing the bill, or at least part of it. Given the obvious political capital that Laird and others stand to make out of building bridges with conservative Americans, it is perhaps surprising that the BBC, which is bound to political neutrality, should be subsidising it. And yet it "helped fund the trip" to Northern Ireland by R. G. Absher and 21 other Americans (appropriately enough members of a military re-enactment society) and plans to air the resulting three-part documentary on BBC America. Absher remarks that "People were just as friendly in one place as another", leading one to wonder if he actually believed that Northern Nationalists would take exception to the presumed fact of an American's Presbyterian ancestry. The involvement of the BBC is particularly worrying because the corporation appears to be making Scots-free programmes benefiting those very politicians who have exerted most pressure on it to improve its "Ulster-Scots" content.

The prize of a Unionist lobby in America is immense — and it appears to be low-lying fruit. The article comments that "'Ware Home' is 'Gaelic for we're coming home'" and quotes Absher as saying that "the term, 'hillbilly,' in America has a backward image, but over there (in Northern Ireland) it has a positive connotation indicating people who stand up for their rights".

All of which brings us to John H. Killian, pastor of Maytown Baptist Church in Alabama, author of the blog Musings from Maytown and associate member of LOL 688. On a trip to Northern Ireland in 2007, Rev. Killian stayed with Roger Bradley, secretary of the lodge, a small organisation remarkable for the numbers of British Israelites and professional Ulster Scots in its ranks. Apart from being interviewed by — you guessed it — the BBC, Rev. Killian found time to develop some strong views on the North. In particular, he opines that Sinn Féin should be opposed because "The Reverend Jesse Jackson has come to Belfast to express his support for Sinn Fein and the nationalist cause" and "With the continued rate of immigrants coming to the United States from Mexico, we could face a similar situation where Mexican immigrants demand the 'return' of the Southwest to Mexico".

Of all the manifold reasons why an individual might oppose Sinn Féin, Rev. Killian must surely have secured the prize for the most inventive.

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