Ulster Sails West

“Many Americans are misled by [Irish] Republican propaganda.  We ask them to remember to whom it is that they largely owe their freedom; we ask them to remember that it was our people in Ulster who were the first to start and the last to quit.”

William Forbes Marshall, also known as the Bard of Tyrone, wrote these words in 1943 in his Ulster Sails West.  Marshall, born in Drumragh, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, in 1888, was a Presbyterian minister who had served at Castlerock since 1928.  At Castlerock, where he lived for the rest of his life, he gained fame for his poetry and promotion of the Ulster dialect.


W.F. Marshall – photo credit: Dictionary of Ulster Biography

Marshall’s stated purpose in writing Ulster Sails West is to tell the story of the emigration from Ulster to North America in the eighteenth century, revealing the extent to which Ulster immigrants had shaped United States government and society.  This task was made all the more urgent, he explains, “now that the American flag so often decorates our Ulster countryside, and we have ceased to stare at American soldiers walking in our streets.”  Northern Ireland was used as a staging area for Allied troops during World War II, with a peak of 120,000 American servicemen stationed there at one time.  An estimated 300,000 American servicemen passed through Northern Ireland throughout the course of the war.

Marshall writes that “few of these welcomed friends have heard our story.”  He accuses Irish Republicans of using the history of the Scotch-Irish to support the end to partition in Ireland; Ireland’s neutrality in World War II also shapes Marshall’s message.  He wishes to educate Americans so that “when appeals are made to them, with reminders of services said to have been rendered, let them remember that these reminders rest on no basis of fact, that Southern Ireland was no more in [the American Revolutionary] war than she is in this one, and that she made no mark on the United States till the 19th century.”

Beyond this direct response to his World War II context, Marshall’s characterization of Ulster Protestant immigrant impact on American history is very similar to what I have found for Ulster unionists in the Home Rule era (1886-1920).  Marshall himself uses several works from the Home Rule era as sources.  He emphasizes the martial excellence of the immigrants, which he must intend to especially appeal to the American soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland.  He quotes tributes to Scotch-Irish fighting abilities in the American Revolution from the likes of George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt.  He recognizes numerous Scotch-Irish generals from all of the major conflicts of American history.

Marshall also highlights the Scotch-Irish contribution to American religion, education, politics, journalism, industry, and inventions.  He credits them with leading the way to the west as pioneers.  And of course, he has the familiar long list of United States presidents of Ulster descent, which numbered fourteen at the time.

All throughout the book he denies the right of Irish Republicans (as he characterizes the situation) to use this history and achievement as their own.  With the repeated emphasis on this history as solely belonging to the Ulster Protestants, he reveals how strongly he felt the threat of the history being “stolen.”  He states, “We are not willing to lose the credit for those achievements of our people.  We are not willing that this credit should be stolen from those to whom it belongs, and made part and parcel of a tireless propaganda for our political extinction.”

As with the Ulster unionist use of American history in the Home Rule era, there is some question of what Marshall hoped to achieve with this call for the “rightful” use of history.  He states at the end of the book that he hopes the American people would be guided in their views of Ireland by knowledge and thoughtful consideration of the facts.

And perhaps also guided by the sentiments of the noteworthy poem that opens the book:

Hi! Uncle Sam!  /  Wherever there was fighting,  /  Or wrong that needed righting,  /  An Ulsterman was sighting /  His Kentucky gun with care:  /  All the road to Yorktown  […]  /  That Ulsterman was there!

On Friday I’ll be taking a look at some related things to consider when examining at this source and others like it, so stay tuned!


Suggested Reading:

Marshall, William F.  Ulster Sails West.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1984.

“GI Guide to Ulster (Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland).” Your Place or Mine, BBC Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland and World War II.”  Irish History Live, Queen’s University Belfast.


One thought on “Ulster Sails West

  1. Pingback: Who “Owns” Historical Memory? | Isles Abroad

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