Ozark Thunderclouds

Irish Culture in the Hills

by Joshua Heston

It seems there are two strains of our Celtic immigration to America; an immigration which has contributed heartily to our nation.

For some — recent of the Emerald Isle — America was a vast city, ripe for harvesting. A place where a ready wit, a quick tongue (and sometimes quicker fists) were the ticket to greatness.

Imagine a nation in microcosm — a place of slums and ghettos; of riots and sweat shops. It would be an exploitive place — those great American cities of the 19th century.

And it would be a place to exploit (for even the downtrodden are not incapable of cruelty).

Beneath the “Irish need not apply” signs rose some of the most powerful political dynasties the United States has ever seen.

Then, there were the others.

The Irish, the Welsh, the Scots began arriving long before the terrible famines. They were a people who took one step off the ship and hightailed it for hill and holler.

These Celts took with them traditions of storytelling, of lore, of dance and music that, in the dark, back hollers of Appalachia and the Ozarks became “hillbilly” culture.

The old ways?

Still resonating in the fancy steps of a clog dancer, the lonesome wail of bluegrass, and even the old tales of booger and haints, oft representing the dark gods of the Old Country.

Yes, those old ways are still here. If you know where to look...

January 3, 2010

“Donnicks”

Growing up in Stone County (I started to say rural Stone County, but for the 1950s, that is redundant), I often heard my dad refer to fist-sized stones ( or rocks) as “donnicks.’ This was a rock that you could pick up in your hand and throw.

You won’t find this word in many dictionaries, but it probably comes from the Irish Gaelic word “dornog,” meaning a small round stone. Craig M.Carver, author of American Regional Dialects, says this term was probably brought to America by Scotch-Irish in the 18th century.

— Jim Wilson, Stone County, Missouri

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plate 2.

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Photo credits: J. Heston. Plates 1 through 4, Bear Den Mountain, Mincy-Drury Conservation Area, Taney County, Missouri (12/16/08).

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