Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Willie Drennan - Big Lang Danner

Willie BLD Cover.jpg

Willie's new book, Big Lang Danner, is out next week. It's record of a two week walking trip he made from Stranraer through south west Scotland to Dumfries, then north west through Moniaive, Sanquhar and Cumnock to Ayr. An amazing series of stories and discoveries unfold in the pages - plenty of encounters with Covenanter tales and monuments forbye! He asked me to write the foreword for it. Here it is, and it might (perhaps) get me into a wee spot of bother:

by Mark Thompson, Chairman, The Ulster-Scots Agency

Forget government agencies and public bodies. The real face and heart of Ulster-Scots is not the suited “professionals” and bureaucrats that trip over themselves to get their photographs as big as possible in the newspapers, it’s Willie Drennan. Go up to anybody in the street in Northern Ireland, and they’ll at the very least say “the wee man with the Lambeg”!

I have the utmost respect for Willie and for what he has done in lifting Ulster-Scots from being a fringe interest of the dedicated few, to many new audiences - in schools, at mainstream festivals, on radio and of course television. I have even had the privilege of playing mandolin onstage and recording music with him over the years. “Big Lang Danner”, his second book, takes his work to another level.

If you’ve never read the 1998 worldwide bestseller “A Walk in the Woods” by the famous American author Bill Bryson, you should get a copy. It’s his personal experience of walking the Appalachian trail from Maine to Georgia, and describes the people and places he meets along the way. “Big Lang Danner” is just as good, and for an Ulster-Scots or Scottish readership, it’ll open your mind. I’ve spent a bit of time travelling the roads that Willie walks in this book, and reading his unique fusion of history, humour, culture and people has honestly made me want to retrace his steps (although I might skip the part where he sleeps in the phone box!).

1.5 million people travel by ferry between Ulster and Scotland each year - but virtually all of them just hurtle through south west Scotland - that triangle from Stranraer to Dumfries to Ayr, on their way to somewhere else. This needs to change. I would encourage everyone to plan some extra time into their journey, to turn off the A77 or the A75, to visit the places and meet the people that Willie talks about in this book. Go to Glen Trool, go to Moniaive, spend a day in Kirkcudbright, and take “Big Lang Danner” with you. There’s no better introduction to the Ulster-Scots connections - the pages will come to life as you walk through the villages and landscapes that Willie has described so well.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to Willie’s conclusion - he poses some big questions, challenges and ideas at the close of this book that we would all do well to consider. There is so much more yet to be done for Ulster-Scots. Government might think it will deliver, but in actual fact, it’s the ordinary people who will. In "Big Lang Danner", Willie shows us the way.


Willie's new "A Danner Wi Drennan" tv series is due to be broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland during July. Meanwhile,you can pre-order your copy of "Big Lang Danner" here, for just £10.00.