Friday, January 14, 2022

At 'Hame' in Appalachia, 25 years ago

This is a big year for us. I will be 50 very soon, and in September we will be marking our 25th wedding anniversary. Our 1997 honeymoon was a roadtrip through Appalachia, from Washington DC to Nashville Tennessee. Part of that included the Museum of Appalachia Homecoming Festival at Norris, Tennessee. It was there, in one of the huge barns full of local artefacts, that I first spotted a cross-stitch sampler bearing the message 'Gang East, Gang West, Hame's Best'.

Some months later I wrote to the Museum's director, John Rice Irwin, who I had met and spoke with on our visit, to ask him a few questions (update – John Rice Irwin died just two days after I posted this, on 16 January 2022). I re-found his reply to me recently –

At first I thought the sampler was a local one-off, but over the years since I have located more of these samplers, and two of them hang on the walls in our home, so it must have been a mass-produced 'kit'. To spot Scots or Ulster-Scots in Appalachia wasn't a huge surprise, but it was a huge affirmation of the stories I had been reading back then in the books by Billy Kennedy, and others. During the Festival Billy and others from NI were present, and he arranged for my wife and I to be invited onstage by John Rice Irwin, in between musical performences, to be introduced to the cheering thousands of people there as "the honeymoon couple from Northern Ireland".

That was 1997. So in 2002 we went back, with my parents and our young son Jacob. It was my parents' first and only time outside the British Isles. It was another superb trip. So much of Appalachia, and its people, felt very much like being at hame.

PS: Here is a photo of John Rice Irwin, from the Museum of Appalachia's Facebook page, which they posted along with a lovely obituary



Doug said...

Enjoy your holiday in Appalachia in September. As an American with Scots-Irish roots it's been my longing desire to take a vacation in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Maybe one day I will. I enjoy your blog.