Sunday, 23 January 2011

Some advice to an American visitor

I came across this old article by Diarmaid O Muirithe from the Irish Times (24 May 2010) about the Ulster-Scots language:

Amy Jamieson is an American student over here for a year abroad to widen her horizons.  She is anxious to know as much as possible about Ulster-Scots before heading north to do her own explorations and asked me to recommend reading material.
In his introduction to Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology ((Four Courts Press, Dublin 2008) its editor, Frank Ferguson, writes: 'Ulster-Scots has been implicated in the cultural wars of Northern Ireland where it tends to be perceived as the preserve of one tradition, and often only exists as a term of abuse or condescension in the minds of those who do not wish to place themselves within this category.  Ulster-Scots is viewed as part of the Unionist, Planter and Protestant set of cultural belongings, in opposition to Nationalist, Republican, Catholic and Gaelic intellectual inheritance.'
That apart, he says, 'the mention of the epithet Ulster-Scots in some quarters is liable to generate a profound aversion, an Ulster form of cultural cringe, which presents a problem to an upwardly mobile populace both Unionist and Nationalist, who do not want to be considered as throwbacks to perceived uncouth antecedents or lacking in cultural graces.'
The interest in Ulster-Scots has increased and it has been given a great deal of scholarly attention by the likes of the Longleys and Tom Paulin.
The Antrim poet, Charlie Reynolds (b 1950), remembers his own schoolmaster: 'Hae daen best tae change oor tunge/ Tae him its worth wus joost lake dung, / It wus English, English, moarn til nicht / An oor ain mither tunge wus niver richt.'
Reynolds is just one of many modern Ulster-Scots poets featured in Ferguson's book.  Here we have a collection of texts ranging from 17th-century religious tracts to works by Philip Robinson (b 1946) and Charlie Gillen (b 1051).  I heartily recommend it, not alone for its invaluable texts, but for its introduction which discusses the main difficulty that Miss Jamieson, say, may have in the study of Ulster-Scots: according to Ferguson, the initiation by the academy of the cult of the native speaker, and the problems associated with the preservation of an authentic dialect literature and language.  There are pointers everywhere to valuable reading material, such as The Hamely Tongue by James Fenton, and Across the Fields of Yesterday by Hugh Robinson of the Ards Peinsula.
If Miss Jamieson, a lady of Ulster-Scots descent, studies Ferguson's massive book of 550 pages, with Caroline Mcafee's Concise Ulster Dictionary at her elbow, she maun gang awa hame knowing a lot more about her people than she knows now, feeling even more proud of her heritage.

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