THE Irish – both Roman Catholic and Protestant, from north and south – had done as much as any other race to make America great.
That was the view of correspondent Ernest Sandford, writing in the News Letter on this day in 1956.
Sandford was based in the US and his report examining the influence of Irish emigrants, entitled The Irish in America, was the 10th article of his series.
According to certain researchers, said Sandford, America was discovered by Irish Cuidee monks in AD 980, beating the Norseman Leif Ericson by 20 years and Columbus by 512.
Whatever the truth, the Irish had since arrived in the country in considerable numbers - about 200,000 (three-quarters from Ulster) before the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and about five million (four-fifths from Southern Ireland) between then and the middle of the 20th century.
Sandford claimed that both sides had mellowed and there was now no quarrel between the Catholic and Protestant Irish in America.
The writer went on to look at the Ulster record in the United States which, said Sandford, was a proud and noble one.
It was a bad day in British history, he claimed, when English bishops and landlords decided to persecute the Ulster Covenanters. In 50 years, 150,000 of them sailed from Belfast, Derry, Newry, Larne and Portrush to America - and but for them (General George Washington said it himself) the Colonies might have lost the War of Independence.
Sandford suggested that the words of the “Outline of American History” should be engraved somewhere in bronze: “Pennsylvania was the principal gateway into the new world for a great migration of Scotch-Irish. They were vigorous frontiersmen, taking land where they wanted it and defending their rights with rifles and interminable texts from the Bible. Believing in representative government, religion and learning, they were the spearhead of civilisation as they pushed ever farther into the wilderness.”
The Ulster pioneers, led by such frontiersmen as Daniel Boone, the first white man to reach what is now Kentucky, tripled the territory of the Colonies when they broke through the mountain barrier of the Appalachians.
Fourteen American Presidents had Ulster blood in their veins but, on this occasion, Sandford chose to focus on the man who was the richest Ulsterman - and also probably the richest American - there had ever been: Andrew Mellon (1855-1937).
The son of a farmboy from Newtownstewart, Tyrone, Mellon went on to amass a fortune estimated at $743m (with holdings in companies worth $2bn), compared to John D Rockefeller’s $156m and Henry Ford’s $628m.
So important was Mellon that America had just marked the centenary of his birth by honouring him with a stamp bearing his effigy.
Mellon rose to be Secretary of the Treasury and his doctrine of expansion and lower taxes for the rich saw American industry flourish until the slump of 1931 brought sudden ruin to millions.
The heart of Mellon’s empire was Pittsburg and his interests embraced practically every industry from aluminium to varnish, railroads to shoe polish, oil to insecticides, coal to coach-building.
Strangely enough, said Sandford, Mellon was a highly cultured man who amassed an immensely valuable art collection, which he left to the nation, together with the funds to build the greatest public building in the US - the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
A strange, powerful and lonely man, he lived like an ascetic, was kind and generous to all whom he liked but despised mediocrity and poverty, said Sandford.
The list of Ulstermen who made fortunes in America included numerous figures other than Mellon - among them Horace Greeley, who had a link with Londonderry and who founded the New York Tribune; Thomas Dunlap, from Strabane, who printed the Declaration of Independence (and eight Ulstermen signed it); and President Woodrow Wilson, of pure Ulster stock, who founded the League of Nations.
Sandford concluded: “Today the Ulster stock is part of the warp and woof of the American fabric, strengthening it, indistinguishable – or at least a faint, gold thread.”