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Did medieval Irish colonists settle in Dixie?

The engraved stone fills up the trunk of a car.
The engraved stone fills up the trunk of a car.
Mark Hooten

A large chunk of granite has been found in northeast Georgia that is inscribed with a Celtic cross. It was in a section of the state that was occupied by the Creek Indians until 1818.

The evidence is increasing that Irish Christians, fleeing persecution by foreign bishops, who were trying to enforce Roman Catholic practices on the Celtic Church, fled to North America in the 11th and 12th centuries. According to Icelandic and French monastic archives, Norse mariners provided them the transportation across the Atlantic. Supposedly, they settled south of where the Norse were colonizing, in what is now the Southeastern United States. They called their new home, Mór in Áire (Great Ireland) or DuH’áire. Scandinavians called their colony Står Irland (Great Ireland) or Vitmannsland (White Man’s Land.)

During the 1600s, most of the mixed ancestry descendants of these Irish colonists apparently were absorbed into the old Kingdom of Apalache, which later evolved into the Creek Indian Confederacy. Some were probably also absorbed into the Cherokee Alliance or bands of Shawnee Indians.

A forgotten Spanish voyage

Within Peter Martyr d'Anghiera’s book, De Orbe Novo (1530 AD) is a description of the voyage of Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo to South Carolina coast in 1521. This story is described in the May 25, 2011 issue of the Examiner. (See link below.) The two slave raiders mentioned a visit to a province called Duhare, somewhere on or near the coast. Its occupants were Caucasians with red to black hair. The men wore beards. They lived in houses similar to those of the American Indians nearby. Their pottery was similar to that of the Natives. The Spaniards did not see any iron tools. They grew crops indigenous to the Americas, plus some typical of northwestern Europe. According to the Spaniards they also raised indigenous, and a few Old World domesticated animals – both turkeys and chickens.

What really set this story apart was its description of “dairy deer.” The Duhare People supposedly raised a domesticated deer. The milk was primarily made into cheese. The Spaniards stated that the dairy deer lived in a corral within the village at night, but browsed in the surrounding forests in the daytime.

For five centuries, scholars have scoffed at this story. The primary reason for it being labeled a fantasy is that "they knew for a fact that there was no such thing as a dairy deer." There is a problem, though. The Spanish slave raiders’ description of deer husbandry and cottage cheese-making seemed far too detailed to have been made by mariners, who dreamed up a tall yarn. This author started one of the first licensed goat cheese creameries in the United States. The story intrigued me because the personal names of the Duhare sounded Gaelic, even though the Spaniards made no mention of the ethnicity of these people.

Not knowing any Gaelic and only a smattering Early Irish History, I contacted the Irish Consulate in Atlanta. Consul Paul Gleeson directed me to the Cultural Attaché Office of the Republic of Ireland in New York City and the Irish Embassy in Washington, DC. I emailed them, details and personal names from the chapter of Peter Martyr’s book on Duhare.

After referring the matter to some professors in Ireland, the Cultural Attaché Office responded that the personal names were all typical of Early Medieval Ireland. The Spanish word, Duhare, was very close to the Early Medieval Gaelic word for Irish, Du H’áire. Furthermore, several Irish tribes developed a domesticated deer for dairying. This was not a myth. The raising of dairy deer did not decline in Ireland until invading Vikings introduced dairy goats and invading Normans introduced dairy cows. There was a tradition that several bands of Irish had left Ireland to escape the invaders. It all made sense.

During the 1980s, there was a very odd archaeological discovery made on the campus of Warren Wilson College near Asheville, NC. What appeared to be a Native American village, contained what was essentially a corral in its central area. The village had a palisade around its exterior made of large timbers, but the inner palisade was constructed of saplings . . . like a fence. The mention by the Spaniards of the dairy deer being contained in the village at night seemed to be related to this corral. This archaeological site was abandoned around 1500 AD, only eight years after Columbus’s voyage.

The testimonies of two Spanish slave raiders and linguistic evidence cannot be construed as absolute facts until actual Irish village sites are identified along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. This is an identical situation to that of the tradition of Norse settlements on the coasts of New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. These traditions were considered to be myths by many historians and archaeologists until Norwegian archaeologists, Helge and Anne Ingstad, unearthed a Viking hamlet on the coast of Newfoundland. The Duhare matter seemed to be in limbo until a similar discovery could made in South Carolina.

Forgotten and hidden North American history

There is much information, located in the libraries of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden that has been left out of North American history texts. Repeatedly, amateur historians in the young United States and Canada selectively published what they wanted young students to know about the past. The overriding goal was to glorify the Anglo-Saxon triumph over North America.

Early French, English and Swedish colonists encountered peoples living in the interior of North America, who were either Caucasian or had mixed American Indian-Old World features. One colonist at Jamestown obtained a light skinned, red haired bride from the Allegheny Mountains. Victorian era scholars did not want you to know that Europeans had been warmly accepted and treated well by Native Americans before Great Britain "took all the marbles." The newcomers had adopted indigenous lifestyles and intermarried with them. That was forbidden information for racist, 19th century North America.

Unraveling the Spanish and French colonial history of the South Atlantic Coast has been my primary research activity in 2014. Recently, while rambling through a series of 19th century history books in search of the first person to switch the location of Fort Caroline from the Altamaha River in Georgia to the St. Johns River in Florida, I stumbled upon an unexpected comment made in 1841.

Historian, William Bacon Stephens stated that there was a tradition among residents on the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, that some Irish people were living on the upper coast of Georgia and extreme southern South Carolina, when they arrived in the early 1700s. These Irishmen had obviously been living there for centuries and had gone "Native." Stephens referred to an article published in a magazine called, Antiquitates Americanæ by Danish historian, Carl Christian Rafn, in 1837, which he thought supported that tradition. However, he let the matter drop, without any further explanation.

So . . . Duhare was evidently near Savannah in Georgia and South Carolina. That narrowed down the potential locations for Irish villages. However, since according to the Spaniards, the people of Duhare made Native American style pottery and lived in houses like those of the Natives, it would be difficult to discern one of their villages.

Carl Rafn was the premier expert on Gamla Norska, the language spoken by the colonists of Iceland. While studying the old Icelandic manuscripts, he became convinced that some Scandinavians had settled in North America in the period between 900 AD and 1400 AD. He was apparently unaware of the story of Duhare in Peter Martyr’s book, but found many references to Norse ships hauling Irish refugees to a region south of Vinland. However, the mention of the Irish colonists was a “side show” to his main objective of proving that the Norse were in North America before the Spanish. Rafn’s theories were scoffed at by most American historians until the Ingstads unearthed the Viking farmstead in Newfoundland.

Discovery of some forgotten medieval manuscripts in France during the 1890s renewed the interest of French scholars in North America’s Pre-Hispanic history. The information somehow never reached the western shores of the Atlantic. In 1904 French historian, Eugène Beauvois, wrote “La Grande-Irlande ou Pays des Blancs Précolombiens du Nouveau-Monde” (Great Ireland or the Pre-Columbian White Nation in the New World.) It was published in the French Journal de la Société des Américanistes, but never published in the United States or Canada.

Beauvois had found manuscripts in French monasteries that collaborated with the information extracted by Carl Rafn from Icelandic scripts. However, the French sources went a step further. They located the Irish colonies on the South Atlantic Coast . . . exactly where Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo encountered the Province of Duhare.

At exactly the same time that I was quietly being astonished by the forgotten Danish and French books, a resident of Gwinnett County, GA contacted a citizen of the Muscogee-Creek Nation about a strange stone that had been in his family for two generations. He thought that the cross and circle symbol might be a Creek or Maya symbol, since he was told that it was not Cherokee. The stone was originally located near a complex of stone terraces, cairns and rectangular building ruins at one of the headwaters of the Oconee River. The archaeological zone also contains very old quarried stone ruins of buildings and chimneys that appear to have been built by Europeans.

The engraved design is a Celtic Cross, not the Creek symbol for the Sacred Fire . . . and it is clearly very old. The granite has oxidized inside the engraving. How old the Celtic Cross is, can only be determined by a forensic geologist. The rest will be history.

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