MC's Scots-Irish identity explained in Sept. 27 lecture

Sept. 25, 2013
Contact: Chelsea Morgan, Communications Assistant

The school’s mascot is a fierce, tartan-sporting, sword-wielding Highlander, but is Maryville College Irish or Scottish?

Maryville College President Emeritus Dr. Gerald W. Gibson and historian Dr. Ronald Wells will shed light on the answers as they present their research into how ethnic and cultural identities at Maryville College have developed and changed over the years.

As part of the College’s Homecoming events, “Being ‘Scots-Irish’ at Maryville College: Glimpses from the History of the College,” will be presented at 1 p.m., Fri., Sept. 27 in the Lawson Auditorium of Fayerweather Hall.

It is free and open to the public.

In their talk, Gibson and Wells will discuss the Irish roots of the College and how, through reinvention and student impact, MC cultivated and came to embrace the Scots-Irish identity.

Maryville College was founded in 1819 as the Southern and Western Theological Seminary by the Rev. Isaac Anderson, a Presbyterian minister whose great-grandparents were present at the siege of Londonderry, the 105-day siege in 1688 against the Protestant stronghold in northern Ireland by deposed British King James II.

Londonderry was considered the jewel in the crown of the Plantation of Ulster, an area of about half a million acres across northern Ireland. The plantation was actually a colony settled by loyal English and Scottish migrants who were Protestant. It was the brainchild of James I, who had unsuccessfully tried to conquer the area (which was largely Gaelic and therefore, Catholic) and bring it under British control. It was from the Ulster region that many American colonists came after 1660, when persecution of Protestants began.

“‘Scotch-Irish’ and ‘Scots-Irish’ are terms that are American inventions,” Wells said, explaining that the descendents of Scottish and Irish Protestant immigrants who came to the United States prior to the 19th century (such as Isaac Anderson’s ancestors) coined the term to distinguish themselves from the droves of Irish Catholics who immigrated to the U.S. as a result of the potato famine of the 1840s.

“It’s an interesting and contested history,” Wells said, referring to the historic mixing of the Irish, English and Scottish.

The Scottish culture at Maryville College seems to have been easily embraced, especially by its student-athletes. In 1915, a Scottish highlander was introduced as the College’s first mascot. For reasons not entirely known, “Scots” and “Fighting Scots” replaced “Highlanders” in the mid 20th century. Also in 1915, the campus newspaper took on the name The Highland Echo. This title is still in the nameplate.

Today, bagpipers often lead Maryville teams onto fields of competition, and pre-game rituals sometimes include listening to battle cries of 13th century Scottish hero William Wallace from the 1995 movie “Braveheart.”

“We’re scholars, Gerald and I, and we just find this an interesting story,” Wells said. “Student power – that’s the storyline.

“People can’t fail to be interested because it tells how you remember,” he said. “How did we get this big Scottish identity? How did this all happen?”

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.