Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Ulster Scots and Irish 'Nots'

'ULSTER' SCOT: NOT 'Prod' Scot or 'Unionist' Scot or 'Bits of Northern Ireland' Scot

This is a pruned version of an earlier gargantuan rant:

It did go on a bit (sorry).

So, without further ado

Cultural Hijacking

"Give me your songs, your instruments, your language and your fleg"

Recently I've been a tad foamy-mouthed with regards to the politicisation of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

I've been huffing and puffing about it on LAD, Slugger O'Toole and Dr Jude Collins' website:


Then NI21 came in with their Irish language election billboard posters.

A welcome move


Then someone mentioned "what about Ulster Scots?!"

What about it indeed?

Ulster Scots; only for Ulster Prods?

Ulster Scot?

With regards to Ulster-Scots, I consider it equally (if not more so) politicised.

Indeed, some politicans give the impression that it's a unionist only club.

This may be unfair perhaps, but perceptions matter in Northern Ireland.

And the Ulster Scots agency don't seem to care much for the Gaelic aspect of Scottish culture (language or games; too similar to 'themuns' perhaps?)

(I have emailed them to ask them. Still waiting for a reply....)

Ulster Prod.
Removing the undesirable elements of Gaelic culture from a cultural preservation movement must take an impressive amount of effort?

The word 'Scot' actually means 'Gael' (it comes from the Latin term for Gaelic raiders).

Yet Gaelic elements of Scottish culture are surgically removed from the potential range of delights that could be offered (apart from Highland dancing, though presumably it's sufficiently removed from the modern forms of Irish dancing, itself given a nationalistic makeover a century ago by a group similarly given to cultural control, the Gaelic League).

Not only that, but the Ulster Scots Agency is not above working with groups with a less than squeaky clean image in the furtherance of such an engineered culture. Observe:

Piping & Fiddling (23/07/14, 7pm, High Street, Ballymoney if you're interested)

From the outset, not so bad.

A flute band hosting a fiddler and a piper (albiet a band that seemingly wants independence for Northern Ireland?)

In fact, I think it's pretty cool actually.

Flute bands are quite important to many young Protestants in NI.

If they give something the 'thumbs up' then it can have a sycophantic ripple effect, a validation that something is 'cool'.

So good, piping and fiddling may have just got the thumbs up.


Dunaghy FB fb

William Campbell, the focal point of their fb page was a member of the UDA.

Now, as much as Dunaghy might be helping out on the cool factor of fiddles and pipes it is nonetheless difficult to see why they should escape criticism for their hero worship of a paramilitary member.

The Dungiven GAA club named after INLA man Kevin Lynch comes in for (deservedly so, in my opinion) criticism for their use of his name.

The same logic applies to Dunaghy FB.

By extension this reflects badly on the Ulster Scots Agency and by further extension damages the image of the Ulster Scots culture.

Is it really that 'inclusive'?

The Hamely Tongue

The nationalist areas of rural Antrim would have a mighty claim to the use of Ulster Scots as a language.

Many would also have a strong claim to Scottish ancestry, for example, the following Scottish derived names are common throughout the nationalist communities of rural Antrim:

McDonnell, McCabe, McCauley, McSheely, McSween, McClain, McCrory and McDowell to name a few.

Yet ('official') Ulster Scots culture has little influence in these areas.

True, I'm sure they're happy enough concentrating solely on Irish culture.

Fair enough.

That's no reason to make the idea unpalatable to people of a nationalist background though, is it?

I personally think a culture that could claim the aspects of Ulster Scots, Irish Gaelic AND Scottish Gaelic cultures would be a mighty culture indeed.

Why have just either Irish or Scottish dancing when you could have both (and a hybrid to boot?).

Why stick to just Scots, Sligo or Slieve Luchra versions of fiddling when we could blend them? (Though I'm sure many do).

Surely GAA clubs could benefit from the addition of Camanachd/Shinty?

Is there not room for Scottish Gaelic and Antrim Gaelic?
They overlap quite a bit (identically in some cases e.g. Arran Gaelic) and it could help to take the political sting out of Gaelic.

But like most things in NI, it's a case of 'this is for themuns and this is for oursuns...'

At the moment it appears to be like some sort of cultural carve up, with cultural aspects swapped like Trump cards.


                                             Themuns                Ulster Scots             Proper Scots

  • Gaelic Languages       Yes                            Nae*                        Yes

  • Bodhrans                     Yes                           Rarely*                      Yes

  • Fiddles                          Yes                            Yes**                       Yes

  • Gaelic Sports                Yes                         Nae*             Yes (Shinty)

  • Bagpipes                No (Only in America)   Yes                         Yes

  • Uilleann Pipes              Yes                            Nae*                      Yes

  • Lambeg Drums           No*                          Yes                          No

  • Gaelic Legends            Yes                          *No ***                   Yes

  • Scots language            No****                       Yes                           Yes

* They did, once upon a time
** They do, but only if it's deemed different enough from themuns (or maybe vice versa?)
*** Apart from the Red Hand of Ulster and Cuchulainn
**** They do in rural Antrim, they just don't bang on about it

Wha's Like Us: Well, according to the table, 'themuns' are....

So, on one hand, we have the Scots who are a mix of Picts, Britons, Gaels, Angles, Norse, and Anglo-Normans.

On the above table, they match up seven times out of a possible nine with Irish culture (eight if you include reluctant Hamely Tongue speakers).

Modern Irish society (ignoring the recent immigration for the sake of argument) owes its history to Gaels, Norse, Scots and Anglo Normans.

Then we compare them to the the 'hybrid' group who are logically descended from ALL of the above groups and have shared the cultural wealth of both groups.

Out of a possible nine they overlap with 'themuns' ONCE. (Again, nationalist Hamely Tongue speakers notwithstanding)

That number would increase to EIGHT times had this (hastily improvised and possibly biased) table been about a century ago.

That is to say, before the cultural carve-up

It compares to the Scottish column a little bit more favourably, a whopping three out of nine but again, wind back the clocks a century and it would be nine out of nine.

So it seems that Ulster-Scots culture serves as a curious wall between two very similar cultures.

How very Northern Irish.

Guiding a Culture

Before anyone thinks I'm on some sort of social engineering rampage, let us just remember that Irish, Ulster-Scots and Scottish cultures have went through various face lifts before:

Irish - After partition folk music and dancing both received a good lesson on how to be 'more Irish' thanks to the Gaelic League and the nationalism of the Free State

Scottish - The modern kilt owes its current look to a number of people, including Sir Walter Scott, an English sawmill owner and two Polish lads who wanted to cash in on a Royal visit to Edinburgh.

Ulster Scots - Once upon a time it was just a dialect that people in north east Ireland spoke. Now it appears to be a tribe of its own that is quite particular about membership.

Don't get me wrong, some aspects of this Ulster Scots revival are fantastic.
It's brought folk music back to some Protestant communities and helped to redress the post-partition imbalance regarding the perception of folk music as something for 'themuns'.

My fear is though that it will galvanise itself as a Gaelic-free tribe.

Shinty, Scottish & Antrim Gaelic, dancing, Gallowglass heritage and much more besides, they're all up for grabs and 'Ulster's' culture could stand to benefit greatly.

And I do mean ULSTER; Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan should be invited to join the party too.











Why not just have it all?

(Joking about Jedward, just wanted to see if you were still paying attention)


  1. Thorough-going look at the issue, AG - with one/two exceptions. (i)Why had I never heard of Ulster-Scots until the late 1980s? (ii) Why is Ulster-Scots referred to as a language when it's very obviously a (colourful and interesting) dialect? I have my own thoughts on both questions but it'd be interesting to hear those of others. Anyway, well done again, AG - Maith thĂș!

    1. Ach, don't get me started Dr C (well, even more started).

      I wonder is Doric/Lallans ( the remnant of Scots) thought of as another language in Scotland?

      I lived there for over a decade and never thought to ask.

      What a waste....

    2. Yep. Lallans is thought of as a separate language. Mainly utilised in poetry, but still also extant in numerous varieties of colloquial speech. I imagine there is a Wikipedia article about it.

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  3. Hi,

    Actually, Ulster Scots does have a claim to "language" status - although only under the heading "Scots". Frankly, the argument is a bit like whether Pluto is a planet - the kind of thing you would think obvious, but is actually quite complex.

    Scots was unquestionably the same language as English in Anglo-Saxon times (which is why Old English is sometimes referred to as "Anglo-Saxon"), i.e. *after* the split between English and German (which were effectively the same language until about 800).

    However, by 1558, Scots was unquestionably a *distinct* language from English - in much the same way that Dutch is unquestionably a distinct language from German or indeed Scottish Gaelic from Irish Gaelic. Elizabeth I herself listed "Scots" as a language she spoke, i.e. alongside English (and six others, as it happens).

    Of course, after the Union of the Crowns and the beginning of the use of the 1611 Bible Translation (i.e. in archaic English) in Scottish churches, Scots lost its prestige and declined - but by this time it had entered northeast Ireland. This is a common story across Europe - sometimes apparently terminally (Low German, Occitan, Aragonese); sometimes reversible (Swiss German, Catalan).

    Scots is, however, totally different from Irish for the obvious reason that it is closely related to the majority language (English) and thus its very language status is genuinely debatable.

    It is of course an issue that Scots (as "Ulster Scots") has been linguistically abused by some Unionists, none of whom ever utters a word in it of course. There, there is in fact a more meaningful parallel with the political abuse of Irish by "Republicans", many of whom also speak it very poorly or not at all.

    Another slightly peripheral issue with (Ulster) Scots is the tendency to think of it solely as "words"; in fact it has a distinct grammar or idiom too often ignored by those who use it (even with the best will in the world). Ultimately what this comes down to is a broad ignorance of how language itself works - something I think should be put right early in the education system. I did make my own contribution to correcting this here - excuse the plug, but you'll trust me when I say you don't do these things for the money...

    The point is that those of us who want to approach such things rationally do have to rise above that and reclaim it.

    1. Fantastic stuff Mr IJP

      I hear ya with regards to how different 'Scots' is/was but I find it difficult to extend the same distinction to Ulster Scots.

      It would make me officially bi-lingual which is a shameless claim.

      You have a mighty point about grammar and education.

      Anyone who has suffered my posts and blogs will see that my grammar is less than tip top and the bulk of the grammar that I did learn was from attempting to learn other languages.

      Your last point is very apt, this could be applied to Irish too I imagine.

  4. Thought-provoking piece. We clearly do have a politically-driven cultural carve-up: a major failing of the Belfast Agreement which solidified and accelerated the carve-up. We do need to fully understand what is going on at the top of our government and how they have successfully manipulated the masses to secure political control.
    You forgot to address the Third Way however - the rapidly expanding middle-of-the-road, liberal elitists tribe; who’s venom towards those not of their tribe does normally get over-looked.
    As someone who identifies myself culturally as an Ulster Scot I agree that us Ulster folk can have it all. I have no problem embracing aspects of Irish or pre-Reformation, pre-Plantation Ulster Scots heritage. In fact we all seriously miss out on the rich shared ancient history of Ulster and Scotland. As it is a shared heritage the political class largely ignore it as there is nothing to be gained from promoting something that might weaken the carve-ups.
    I note the first response to your blog was from Jude Collins. Not too sure if his queries on Ulster Scots are genuine or if he is merely confirming that it is always the other lot who are to blame and not us lot.
    In response to Jude’s questions:
    1) The term Ulster Scots was not common at all until the early 1990’s but following the politicisation of ‘Irish’ culture it was necessary to identify and highlight the distinct aspects of Ulster culture that Irish political activists seemed to want to bury. I suppose then the politicisation of Ulster Scots was inevitable.
    2 )The debate on whether Ulster Scots is a language or just a dialect, of either English or Scots, is a complex academic debate for linguists. As I am not a linguist I leave them to it and would recommend the same for other non-linguists. Seems to me it is all about how you interpret the definition of the English word, language.
    Ian Parsley’s input is valuable for those who seek to understand the linguistic nuances of Ulster Scots. His book on Ulster Scots Grammar is one of a few essential reads for those who are genuinely interested.
    On Ulster Scots identity in general, I would also highly recommend the latest issue of the French journal Etudes Irlandaises. This issue totally focusses on Ulster Scots. It is the first independently produced, non-politically interfered with, comprehensive appraisal of Ulster Scots culture that I have come across. It is not readily available to buy in Northern Ireland yet but I understand that it will be launched here in late May.

    1. Oh, I re-read that piece and it could be taken the wrong way:

      "you're part of the inspiration behind such a way of thinking."

      I mean that you've greatly (and positively) influenced my thoughts on the whole matter, I don't in anyway hold you accountable for the 'Ulster-Scot = Ulster-Prot' perception.

      BTW, do you think you'd ever introduce some Scots Gaelic elements to any of your shows?

  5. Mr Drennan

    Thank you so much for posting.

    I'm rather chuffed that you (at least partly) agree as believe it or not you're part of the inspiration behind such a way of thinking.

    Aside form my experiences of the Scottish folk scene I wondered how could folk music be reintroduced to NI Protestants.

    Next thing I know you're showing off a bodhran made from a lambeg drum.

    If I recall correctly your book (Big Lang Danner) highlights the hidden history of lambegs and Hibernians.

    You also mention the Gallowglass and Ulsters long links with Scotland.

    The way I see it, Ulster Scots has the potential to be a cultural bridge in Ulster (and I mean nine counties) especially with the Gaelic aspect.

    Hence my frustration at its current path.

    I think its only a matter of time before the Gaelic aspect comes about of its own accord.

    In the meantime I hope you'll continue your work as I think the history books will judge you well for reintroducing folk culture to parts of NI.

  6. Thank you for your kind words. We are clearly on the same wavelength with this. I do feel strongly that all of us, regardless of religious or political views are missing out by not celebrating our shared ancient history.
    While I don't speak or sing in Scots Gaelic I have worked with others who do. In some of our history based Ulster Scots shows the ancient pre-Reformation/Plantation material has naturally been included. I believe this can be celebrated without diluting the significance of how the massive 17th Cent migration, from mostly Lowland Scotland, has impacted on the Ulster traditions of today.
    I agree with you that Ulster Scots history/culture/music (including marching band music) can play a major role as a cultural bridge and I intend to keep working at that.
    The fundamental problem is that the two main political parties in Northern Ireland at the moment seem the have too much invested in obstructing that sort of development at all costs.

  7. Ulster-Haggis Grammar Lesson - 101
    "wee dafties", to describe those poor souls afflicted with mental retardation.
    "wee darkies", well you know who that one is for.

    Unspeakable as well as being deeply unpleasant to even write.

    Some traditions, cultural or otherwise, are best confined to the past, they are that embarrassingly out of place in what we call the 21st century.

    That is THE salient point that the wider, for want of a better collective noun, PUL community would be best to register in the forefront of their minds.

    I think the boats sailed/sank/burned several centuries ago. Are you for staying?

  8. Dear Mr Fdm Blogs. I assume your comments are directed at me?.
    You should brush up on your Ulster Scots before commenting. You have got the wrong definition of the term 'wee dafties' as used in Ulster Scots. No Ulster Scot has ever used that, or would say that in that context.
    Perhaps you do know that and are just twisting things as some other mischievous person tried to do about 13 years ago? Perhaps that was you? Or your big brother maybe? You do come across as being a real wee daftie, in the true meaning of the term,yourself. No harm in that.

    You do however also seem to be trying to portray yourself as a bit arrogant, ignorant, bitter and bigoted. Do you reserve that bitterness for Ulster Scots only or are there other identities that you love to abuse?
    I realise, as you seem to want to remain anonymous,that perhaps you are presenting yourself as an extremist just to wind me up. Fair play,as long as you are beyond your adolescent years.

    1. Gents!

      It's OK Mr Drennan, I know FDM (in the blogger sense) and man playing is not his style (quite the opposite).

      I would translate his comments as a broadside against those in the unionist camp who use Ulster Scots as a get-out-of-jail-free card with regards to anything Irish.

      I could be wrong and I'm sure he'll correct me if so.

      Just thought I'd jump in here in case it spirals out of control (man, now I know what Mick Fealty feels like.....)

  9. Your comments appreciated AG. Mick Fealty look out.

    I am all for folk taking broadsides at the likes of Nelson McCausland who has abused his power to control and manipulate a cultural identity for the advancement of his political career..

    That doesn't mean though that there aren't people out there who simply believe that the term Ulster Scots best suits their heritage and cultural identity. Taking swipes at those common folk is just another form of narrow minded bigotry in my mind.
    We should all be striving to create a tolerant pluralist society in Northern Ireland and unfortunately that means endeavouring to be be tolerant of everybody, including even Ulster Scots. I know, it's not easy.

  10. Dear willie drennan,

    "You have got the wrong definition of the term 'wee dafties' as used in Ulster Scots."

    How would you know? How would anyone know? Since there isn't really any significant dictionary or grammar text (that you could respect) for this "language" your guess is as good as mine as to what could or would or should be meant by the term "wee dafties". Given that I am from Antrim I presume I am supposed to speak this language too??? So therefore is my interpretation or invention of what this means not as valid as anyone else?

    The obvious man playing in your response means I much have touched a raw nerve. "trying to portray yourself as a bit arrogant, ignorant, bitter and bigoted." "adolescent"

    Meh. Ducks back and all that.

    What language are we inventing next week? Klingon?

    There is at least a decent dictionary for that one you can buy on amazon.

    wee dafties I tell ya.

  11. @ fdmblogs. Ye puir wee faur back unkennin gomerel.

    If its a dictionar ye're efter:

    Of course none of that necessarily means its a language in its own right, but whatever it is, it exists and has been well documented elsewhere as you could quite easily find out if you were prepared to make the effort.

    You may then be able to constructively criticise some of the bollocks that is being presented as "Ulster Scots".

  12. Alan,

    Most languages have literally hundreds of thousands of words that enrich them. I believe English is at least 220000, Spanish something in the same region for example.

    Those dictionaries you pointed me in the direction of have a list of about 1000 words? This is WHY I commented in my previous response "Since there isn't really any significant dictionary or grammar text". SIGNIFICANT being important there. All of which leads many of us to conclude that the "Ulster-Scots language" is merely scraps of mangled Gaelic/English words made even more dire when pronounced in a bad Ballymena accent.

    This isn't anything to do with political/cultural motivations since there are people, some high profile, from both sides of the divide which call it for what it is, which is a lot of belleeks. The latter being my Ulster-Scots version of bollox. You also completely ignore my point that since I am from the Ulster-Scots "gaeltacht", if you will pardon the pun, that I am as much an expert on this "language" as the next drunken guy slurring his words in an Antrim accent.

    Haste yee beck!

  13. I know how to drive a car. It doesn't make me an expert on the inner workings of automobiles.

  14. Dear fdmblogs.
    It appears you are from a different era than me. You clearly didn't grow up in a part of rural County Antrim at a time when virtually everyone spoke, or at least understood braid Ulster Scotch. That was when most rural folk worked on small family farms and didn't need to converse in Standard English. That all changed when farming changed and it became essential to communicate in Standard English to get a job. This was also at a time when television began to take over our entertainment and our consciousness.

    While you are clearly very well versed in the anti-Ulster Scots propaganda, politically driven in knee-jerk reaction to the politicisation of Ulster Scots, you must not have read Ian Parsley's or Philip Robinson's books on Ulster Scots grammar. You also must not have read James Fenton's 'Hamely Tongue'. Those experiences perhaps would not have altered your viewpoint but at least they would have given you some basis to refer to in rational debate.

    Should you genuinely be interested in broadening your horizons you may want to attend the launch of the latest issue of the French journal, 'Etudes Irandaises'. This issue focuses on Ulster Scots. That launch I believe is at Queens University on May 28th. I could probably get you an invite.

  15. Dear willie drennan,

    Thank you for your response.

    "It appears you are from a different era than me. You clearly didn't grow up in a part of rural County Antrim at a time when virtually everyone spoke, or at least understood braid Ulster Scotch. "

    That clearly rather depressingly brings the currency and relevancy of this "language" into question, outside of historical retrospection or nostalgia.

    "politically driven in knee-jerk reaction to the politicisation of Ulster Scots"

    This doesn't stand up to inspection, since there are many in BOTH "camps", as I stated previously, who are more than disparaging about said "language". Ian Paisley jnr, to name one, has been openly sceptical, nay hostile to it.

    "they would have given you some basis to refer to in rational debate."

    Which implies irrational thinking on my part.

    "well versed in the anti-Ulster Scots propaganda"

    Which implies an unthinking acceptance and sheep-like willingness, pardon the pun to those "braid Ulster Scotch" speaking Co. Antrim farmers, to regurgitate such. All of which when added to Alan's "trying to portray yourself as a bit arrogant, ignorant, bitter and bigoted...adolescent" is not really the epitome of rational debate. It all has the rather acid taste of being overly defensive. The will to overcompensate in such situations by attacking the person oft occurs when your opposer puts some steel on a nerve. If the edifice of the "Ulster Scots/Scotch" language was so strong, so embedded in I presume our collective culture, then how could a few arrogant, ignorant, bitter, bigoted, adolescent, irrational, regurgitated words of propaganda be so damaged to illicit such a froth-filled response?

    "Should you genuinely be interested in broadening your horizons you may want to attend the launch of the latest issue of the French journal, 'Etudes Irandaises'"

    Now there are some sensible words, as the odyssey of deepening my knowledge of the French language continues...

    Bonne chance!

  16. Great,so your coming along to Queens on the 28th? Hopefully Ian Junior will be there as well. Shaping up to be a great night

  17. The indisputable ties between Scotland and Ireland over the centuries have weaved a rich social and cultural tapestry which should be as important to anyone who considers themselves Irish as the influence of Celtic, Norse or Norman invaders. Probably more so in fact.

    I don't turn my back on it because I see it reduced to ridicule by the haphazard rantings of politically motivated spokespeople or groups. It doesn't belong to them. The exact same would go for anyone attempting to do likewise with Gaelic language or culture. I even make allowances here for natural polarization caused by decades of civil strife.

    What I can never accept, and I care not how it is packaged, is the ridiculous attempt to elevate 'Ulster-Scots' to a new level through the creation of nonsensical passages of text.

    I used to read the Ulster-Scot newspaper and marvel at the anomalies and discrepancies, not just from article to article, but sometimes in the same sentence.

    What sticks out the most is the plucking of words or phrases used in dispirit parts of the north only to be cobbled together with each other, pure lowland Scots not used here and standard English which is misspelled to produce a sentence that no living person has ever or will ever use.

    Things like that deserve ridicule and I have done so often. That does not constitute any type of cultural war. Quite the opposite, those who are peddling this are guilty of damaging a genuine culture and my father would have called them, 'sore cuifs'. (A word I have only ever encountered in Portglenone and in R L Stevenson's 'Catriona)

    Good article btw. Couple of things I might argue with but another time maybe. Oh and although they seem to have wilted now, Bann Valley and Greenlough Pipe Bands were both within a mile radius of Portglenone, both were Hibernian bands and both were going well into the 1990s.