Thursday, 4 October 2018

Scotch Readings at Ballysillan

Ballysillan Presbyterian Church

Back in the 1890s Ballysillan Presbyterian Sabbath-School held an annual fete and there was an interesting report of the 1891 fete in the Northern Whig (5 September 1891). 

The teachers and children assembled at the Wolfhill Mill School and then, led by Wolfhill Flute Band, they walked to the grounds of the Wolfhill Spinning Company.

There were games, swings, a shooting gallery and a four-a-side football competition.

Image result for scotch readings murdochAfterwards there was a tea, the Ballysillan choir sang and R Diamond read Bobbie Barefeet.  

I was unfamiliar with this but discovered that it was a short story titled Wee Bobbie Barefeet and that it was from SCOTCH READINGS Humorous and Amusing by Alexander G Murdoch.

The volume of readings includes titles such as The Sittin Doon Cauld and Wha Rules the Hoose?

As regards Wee Bobbie Barefeet, most of the narrative is in English, interspersed with some Scots,  and most of the dialogue is in Scots.

The fact that a 'Scotch reading' was included in the Ballysillan fete is another insight into the Ulster-Scots heritage of the Ballysillan area.  It seems that the adults and children of Ballysillan and Ligoniel were able to understand the language of the reading and that is only to be expected.  Those who came into the area to work in the mills were coming from surrounding rural areas which were thoroughly Ulster-Scots in their language and culture.

Unfortunately much of our Ulster-Scots heritage, linguistic and cultural has been eroded, especially in more recent years and there is much work to be done to recover what has been forgotten.  

The author of the book was Alexander Gregor Murdoch (1841-1891) who contributed many poems, both serious and humorous, to the Glasgow Weekly Mail and also published two volumes of poetry.  Eventually he joined the staff of the Glasgow Weekly Mail.  

 His Scotch Readings was very popular and went through a number of editions, with a fourth edition being published in 1889.  His poetry, which was written in Scots, was also very popular and received very positive reviews, both for the quality of the poetry and the quality of the Scots.


  1. That's a lovely piece of detective work Nelson.

  2. Dear Nelson,
    I am a journalist with The Economist, coming to Belfast imminently and hoping to arrange to meet up with you. Could you possibly drop me an email at so I can elaborate, please?
    Thanks so much,


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