International Law

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Digression o' the Day for February 12, 1999

Our hypothetical pair of potentially trading nations were "Jeffersonia" and "Caledonia."  I implied that Caledonia was Irish, but it's in fact a bit more complicated than that ....


In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in 1978, Van Morrison, who was born and raised in Belfast in Northern Ireland (Ulster), gave the following reply to the following question:

Question: You sing about a lot of places, but you always come back to a place named Caledonia. What and where is it?

VM: I don't really know. All I know is that Caledonia used to be Scotland. This funny thing happened a long time ago--a lot of people from northern Ireland went over to Scotland to settle, and vice versa. They changed spaces or something. So a lot of people from Northern Ireland are of Scottish descent. And my name suggests that I am. My grandmother was Scottish, so I'd guess I'm of Irish and Scottish descent, I'm Irish and a British subject.  {Quoted from the Van Morrison Website, where you can find the full text of the interview here.}

{By the way, Mr. Morrison's 1974 no-overdubs live album, It's Too Late To Stop Now, featured the "Caledonia Soul Orchestra." See CDnow's entry for this album, which includes the line-up of the CSO.  There were no bagpipes in that band, but bagpipes are the bag of the folks at Edinburgh's own Bagpipes of Caledonia.} 

For purposes of international law and politics, you might note the complex interplay of heredity, ethnicity, nationality, and national sovereignty implicit in Mr. Morrison's answer: he describes himself as of Irish and Scottish descent, of Irish ethnicity (or perhaps Irish nationality), and subject to British sovereignty.  The tensions implicit in at least some of those descriptions have led to a good deal of strife in Northern Ireland, and the Nobel Peace Prize was most recently awarded to two men involved in attempting to work out these issues of emotion, history, and sovereignty in northern Ireland.  See the CNN story on the award.)

According to the Merriam-Webster's Online WWWebster Dictionary, the answer is more straight-forward: "Caledonia" is Latin for "Scotland."  

(That on-line dictionary will also tell you that "shillelagh," which I suggested as the Caledonian currency, is a cudgel or club named after a town in Ireland.   You may not know that the term "paddy wagon," which dates only from the 1930s, almost certainly derives from a word used as an ethnic slur against Irish immigrants in the United States, presumably in the belief that such immigrants or their descendants were the likely occupants of the police van.)

Caledonia is also (according to WWWWebster) a town in the southeastern portion of Wisconsin, home to some 20,000 inhabitants, and (according to Yahoo) a town in the southwestern portion of Michigan. 

New Caledonia is an island in the southwestern portion of the Pacific Ocean that bills itself as possessing "the biggest lagoon in the world."   See New Caledonia's web site (in English).  Like Northern Ireland, though for less time and with less public attention, New Caledonia has also been the site of some conflict concerning its sovereignty.  New Caledonia is a French dependency, but many New Caledonians desire independence, and there was some armed conflict over the issue recently.  (Scroll down to "MODERN HISTORY - WWII TO 1990" in Altapedia's entry for New Caledonia.)  The US Department of State includes New Caledonia among a limited number of "Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty," but not in its list of "Independent States in the World."

Just north of New Caledonia, by the way, are the islands comprising the nation-state of Vanuatu.  (Map.)   Vanuatu shows that you don't have to be big to be a nation-state: it had a population of about 175,000 in 1997, according to Altapedia's entry on Vanuatu, compared to the roughly 110,000 inhabitants of Charlottesville and of Albemarle County in 1996, according to the Charlottesville-Albermarle Chamber of Commerce.}


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This page was last updated on 02/14/99.