Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Cracker

From Lonesome Dove, Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, both men carry Gaelic origin surnames, and are archetypal 'Cracker' cowboys. 
What is the etymology of the term Cracker?  We all know what a Cracker was (or is).  A Southern Anglo-Celt, usually of Scots-Irish origin, who lives in the backcountry.   The term appears intact and in use by the mid-1700s in Colonial America.  One eighteenth-century definition of what a Cracker provides a good description a Cracker; in 1776 a Colonial official wrote to the earl of Dartmouth:

I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers, a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their place of abode.
They were basically a semi nomadic group who were excellent hunters, kept free range cattle and pigs, and lived in the backcountry.  They were normally of Ulster ancestry, but not exclusively so.

Cracker is still a much used term.  Dubious sources, such as Wikipedia, tell us it is a “usually derogatory term for white people.” Wikipedia also offers a proposed etymology of the term coming from the sound of the “whips” used by Southern whites on their livestock.

The real story is more complex.  It is term with links to Ulster and associated with the people we know as the Scots-Irish.  The original Crackers are also associated with free range cattle and lived in the backcountry.  That much is on firm ground, but the etymology is more difficult to deduce, but I believe is also linked to Ulster.

two Florida Crackers by Frederic Remington

There are several possible origins:
Creachadóir:  This is the word I believe is the actual origin of Cracker. It is Ulster Gaelic and Scots Gaelic (Creachadair) word meaning, “raider and freebooter,” but also associated with the free range cattle drovers in Ulster.  In short, I think Cracker is the anglicised form of Creachadóir. Creach (Ulster Gaelic) means a “herd of cattle,” and also a “Cattle raid.”   You will also find the word Greigh in Scot Gaelic meaning a “herd of cattle.”   There is also the Scots-Gaelic word Gréighear meaning a “farm grieve.”  (someone who took care of livestock).  

Having stated my opinion of the etymology, I must now confess there are other possible ones. 

Cracaire: This word means “talker” or a person that chats a lot and is related to the modern Irish word “Craic” meaning “a gathering where people talk, have refreshments, and have a good time.”  As far as I can tell, the use of Cracaire and Craic are more recent in their use in the Gaelic language and I do not think this is the etymology of Cracker, but it is a debatable point.

Arizona Cowboy, Frederic Remington

I think the salient element is the linking of Crackers to cattle.  Creach was anglicised as Creacht and was used by the Elizabethan English usage to describe both a herd of cattle and the drovers (cowboys) of the herd.  These men were also used for raiding parties.  So in actual use a Creacht was both a free range cowboy and raider and freebooter. In modern Gaelic usage the older meaning of free range cowboy has been dropped and now the definition is “raider and freebooter, ” but it was the same thing, or person, in a historical context.  So, in Ulster, we have the word Creach and Creacht in use in both English and Gaelic and meaning exactly what the Southern Crackers, who were primarily from Ulster, were.

The anglicised form may be just from Creachadóir or it could be from Creach and anglicised from adding an English suffix of “er.”   I think however, the former more likely.

Cowboy, Frederic Remington

So, the apparently etymology of Cracker is from the Ulster and Scots Gaelic work Creachadóir.  For the record, Cracker is not considered derogatory among the Crackers living in the South today.  The opposite is true, it is an often used term of ethnic self-description and one of pride.  It means you are indigenous to the South, ancestors from Ulster or northwest Britain, have roots in the Uplands or Backcountry, are independent, self-reliant, you act in an honorable way, are good with weapons, hunting, fishing, and are a man who knows how to do things.  As the Southern Crackers settled Texas and the Southwest they became the Cowboy, a cultural continuum of their unique lifestyle. 

© 2019 Barry R McCain 

Link:  Finding the McCains 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May Day-Lá Bealtainne

Well it is May Day... I remember well the May Pole ritual which was still around when I was a child.  And what is May Day? It is a very old celestial festival long celebrated in Europle. In Gaelic Celtic lands it is called Lá Bealtainne.  This is on 1 May, circa halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. 

May Day is still widely observed by the better sort of person and is particularly popular in Celtic areas. The festival ritual was, and still is, observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, and throughout the Gaelic Diaspora. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lunasa.

On our earth, Lá Bealtainne is a transition between the seasons. In ancient times this was when cattle and other livestock were driven to the summer pastures. The old gods were evoked for blessings of fertility and growth for the new growing season. There are many rituals associated with Lá Bealtainne that date from ancient times and some have survived to this day. 

Foremost are the bonfires. In Old Times folk walked around the bonfires as part of a protective ritual. This is done in a Deisealach (towards the right, i.e. clockwise) fashion. People would jump over smaller bonfires also, which is still a common practice.

 Yellow flowers were, and still are, used as decorations on windows, barns, and on the folk and livestock themselves.  The yellow colour is a celebration of the coming summer, the warmth and fertility of the summer sun.  Holy Wells are visited with votives left in the well or on the Faery Tree. 

Lá Bealtainne was similar to Oíche Shamhna (Holloween) in that this was also a time when the Aos Sí moved about and the veil between the Otherworld and our world dropped.  An Dagda presided over Lá Bealtainne, as he does at Oíche Shamhna and the Aos Sí were about at this time. 


So, Remember your ancestors on the Day, and if you can, do light the bonfire and celebrate tonight... If this is not possible, not to worry, just light a candle. It is the fire ritual itself that is important, even a wee fire will do. And, a libation for you and your loved ones and one for the Old Ones as well.  Enjoy your May Day. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Scottish Heritage Weekend, 5-7 April; Laurinburg NC

I will be speaking at the 30th Charles Bascombe Shaw Memorial Scottish Heritage Weekend.  This symposium runs from April 5 through April 7. The event takes place in Laurinburg, North Carolina and is sponsored by St Andrews University.  

An excellent slate of speakers will be there. My talk is on the Redshank Migration from Mid Argyll to East Donegal.  This is the story of the Redshanks, or Highland Gaels, that in the 1500s settled  in the Lagan District, east Donegal. It is a romantic, though tragic tale, of the Scottish princess, Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill, the daughter of Seamus Mac Dónaill, the taoiseach, or chief, of Clann Dhónaill and how she became a pivotal figure in the migration of Highland Gaels into west Ulster. 

Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill is better known in history as Iníon Dubh (said Nee-an Doo), which means 'black haired daughter.'

If you have an interest in Scottish history and lore, do attend. Going to be an enjoyable and interesting event.

Click on Brochure Icons To Enlarge.   

Friday, February 1, 2019

Imbolc, the Day of Bríd

Bríd (artist unknow)

Imbolc... also called Lá Fhéile Bríde. A Gaelic festival that marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man; Imbolc is one of the four seasonal festivals along with Beltane, Lughnasa, and Samhain.  Bríd (anglized as Bridget) was incorporated in the early Christian faith as Saint Bríd. Bríd governed moral guidance, virginity, purity, the household, and livestock, and she was a patroness of crafts, such as smithing, and grain farming. 

Saint Bríd with the her cross icon

Her symbols are the Bríd’s Cross and the Brídeóg, which was a corn (grain) doll or effigy, that was paraded from house to house by girls, often with the strawboys joining the procession. 

Food and drink was left out for Bríd on this day and she was asked to protect the home, family, and livestock and a scared fire was lit. Holy wells were visited on this day and seers practiced divination at this time. 

Statue of Bríd, 2nd Century BC in Brittany France

We know of Bríd as a Gaelic goddess, but she was known throughout the Celtic world from Ireland in the west and across much of western Europe.  Part of our heritage and a lovely thing to celebrate on this cold day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

White Beard Speaks: Intermittent Fast, Coffee, and Ketones

White Beard Speaks: Intermittent Fast, Coffee, and Ketones: Will coffee break your Fast?  Let's find out shall we. I am doing several consecutive days of intermittent fasts. Nothing grandiose, ...