because it doesn't really exist "on the ground"
I hear this objection now and again, usually uttered by people who have either lost or rejected their rural roots - the sort of people for whom their closest contact with rural Ulster is the car park at M&S. And therefore their only contact with Ulster-Scots is the publicity-led variety, which tends to be that of public bodies and their marketeers, not that of organic local communities.
Rooted Ulster-Scots remains a quiet, modest wee thing that shuns the limelight. It resides in small local communities. As JB Woodburn indicated in the poem he purposefully chose to quote on the title page of his 1914 epic book "The Ulster Scot" -
He came from the North and his words were few
But his voice was kind and his heart was true.
However, the majority of what might be called "organised Ulster-Scots community groups" - the ones that are geared up to apply for funding, that hold high profile events, and who run local projects week in week out - are often outside of what might be seen as the traditional Ulster-Scots areas. North Down, the Ards, mid Antrim - there are very few organised, funding-applying and therefore high profile groups in those places. That in itself is an interesting dynamic.
As with most things in life, the real stuff is usually off the radar. You need to make a bit of effort to find and experience it, but it's definitely there. I'm told that if you want to visit Rome, go to the small, almost forgotten prison cell of the Apostle Paul, not the world-famous tourist magnet of the Colosseum. In America, don't go to New York, Florida or Disneyland - fly into Atlanta and hire a car, and get up into the small mountain communities. In Scotland, spend some time in Old Cumnock never mind cosmopolitan but kitschy historic Edinburgh.
In terms of Ulster-Scots, choose to sidestep the obvious and high profile - get your hands dirty (or clarried) among wee local communities. Ulster-Scots probably won't skip past you wrapped from head to toe in tartan wearing a big sticker saying "I am Ulster-Scots". You have to know what you're looking for. Ulster-Scots will look at you through the smiling eyes of the wee woman in the Post Office, or speak to you through the lilting voice of the man selling freshly landed fish at the market stall. Or greet you on a Sunday morning with a strong handshake that's been stooking bales all its life. Or be expressed in the stone walls of farmsteads, village streetscapes and ancient castles and abbeys.
Ulster-Scots is everywhere. You just need to tune in to the right frequency.
Previous articles in this series:
> Part Five
> Part Four
> Part Three
> Part Two
> Part One
> What is Ulster-Scots?
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Posted by Mark Thompson at Thursday, May 14, 2009