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The thistle and the shamrock

This month we take a look at Billy Kay’s contribution to the publication Scotland and the Easter Rising, edited by Kirsty Lusk and Willy Maley and published by Luath Press.

At the launch of the Scotland and the Easter Rising project in April 2015, a number of people commented that such a gathering for a potentially divisive subject like this could not have taken place until comparatively recently. True. And I would not have attended such an event until very recently. To be precise, my disaffection from what had once been a strong affinity with Scots Irish history and culture, was finally broken after the Scottish Independence Referendum on September 18th 2014. One of the few positives I took from the grief of a majority No vote then was the fact that the majority in the Scots Irish heartlands of Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dundee had voted Yes and in my eyes had at last realised that the natural home for an expression of their political and cultural traditions was in an independent Scotland. Seeing them come home at last, I could once again embrace the shared heritage that binds me as a Scot to Ireland – a tradition gently and beautifully expressed in a poem often attributed to Henry Joy McCracken, who along with Wolfe Tone was one of the leading figures of the radical United Irishmen movement of the 1790’s. “The Social Thistle and Shamrock” contains these lines:

The Scotch and Irish friendly are, Their wishes are the same.

The English nation envy us And over us would reign. Our historians and our poets they always did maintain that the origin of Scottishmen and Irish are the same…

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