Sunday, 12 September 2010

'A Highland reel, not an Irish reel'

Get up, our Anna dear, from the weary spinning wheel;
For your father's on the hill, and your mother is asleep;
Come up among the crags, and we'll dance a Highland reel,
Around the Fairy Thorn on the steep.
In the first verse of his poem The Fairy Thorn, the Ulster poet Samuel Ferguson described a young couple who were about to dance ‘a Highland reel’. It is interesting to note that he said ‘a Highland reel’ not ‘an Irish reel’. Ferguson grew up at Glenwherry in county Antrim and was buried at Donegore, also in county Antrim. He was familiar with the culture of the Ulster-Scots in Antrim and he specifically mentioned ‘a Highland reel’. 

As regards musical instruments we find in the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Carnmoney, a thoroughly Ulster-Scots area, that: ‘The violin is the usual instrument but the Highland pipes are also sometimes introduced.’

There is some other useful information about instruments in a letter to the Cork Evening Post (11 July 1763).  It was noted that there had been a parade by the Hearts of Oak near Markethill, ‘when they ‘filled at least two miles of the road and were formed into companies, with each a standard or colours displayed; of which [companies] he says he counted thirty with drums, horns, fiddlers and bagpipes’. 

As regards the tunes and songs of the Ulster-Scots the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Carnmoney states: ‘Their airs and ballads are merely those commonly known in the country and are strictly Scottish.’ 

Further information about the tunes and songs of the Ulster-Scots is available from many sources but has never been fully researched. However we know many of the tunes they used because these were often named alongside poems and songs when they were printed. For example, when the poet Andrew McKenzie, the Bard of Dunover, was initiated into Greenhill Masonic Lodge No 985 on 2 February 1810 he marked the occasion by writing a song entitled Greenhill and we know this was to be sung to the Scottish tune ‘Lochaber no more’. 

It is important to preserve the authenticity of Ulster-Scots culture and therefore it is necessary to research the music, the song, the dances and the instruments of the Ulster-Scots. Cultures develop and evolve but they do so from an authentic core.

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