Friday, July 30, 2010

Ulster-Scots: Culture v Geography & Race

Had an email response the other day to my post below entitled "Congratulations Londonderry" in which I referred to the early Lowland Scots settlers of North Down and the Ards (the Hamilton and Montgomery settlement from May 1606 onwards), their equivalents in Derry, Donegal and Killybegs (who came as tenants of Bishop George Montgomery from Spring 1607 onwards). On that particular post I left out the third wave of Lowlander settlement in Ulster which was encouraged by the Earl of Antrim, Randall MacDonnell in June 1607 (see previous blog post about this important story here).

The email was along the lines of "but there were Scots settling in Ulster long before 1606/1607, so how come you don't include them as 'Ulster Scots'".

Personally, it's because Ulster-Scots is not a geographical or racial term - it's cultural. The answer begins in Scotland. Around 1380, "two Scotlands" emerged, one Highland and one Lowland, with identifiable cultural and linguistic differences, one Highland and one Lowland. That year John of Fordun wrote in Chronicles of the Scottish Nation that "the manners and customs of the Scots vary with the diversity of their speech. For two languages are spoken among them". The Introduction of the Chambers' Concise Scots Dictionary says that "by the fourteenth century this language had become the dominant spoken tongue of all ranks of Scots east and south of the Highland Line..." (see map below). Fordun also described a range of cultural differences, outlining a Highland / Lowland cultural "divide".

AB82726A-5DDF-4D24-986F-85B403C299CE.jpg By the time the Reformation arrived in Scotland, in the early 1500s (through figures like the Lollards and Murdoch Nisbet of Ayrshire, the Wedderburn brothers of Dundee, Patrick Hamilton of St Andrews, and John Knox) a whole new dimension of cultural difference was introduced - so much so that by the early 1600s, Gaelic/Gallic writers were using specific terms for the Lowland Scots to distinguish them from Gaelic Highland Scots (this book cites the term 'fir Alban' as one of them). It was these specific people, this specific cultural group, who began to arrive in Ulster as settled communities in 1606/1607.

Throughout written history the term Ulster-Scots has overwhelmingly referred to the Ulster outworkings of these Lowland Scots - to their culture. If Ulster-Scots is to be stretched to become a racial or geographical term, then perhaps the 1200s-1400s Gaelic Gallowglasses/Gallóglaigh and 1400s-1500s Gaelic Redshanks from Argyll (which Barry McCain has explored well) should be included. However if it is to remain as a cultural term, then they should not.

1606/1607 was when Lowland Scottish culture arrived in Ulster. There was no meaningful Lowland Scots communal or cultural arrival in Ulster before this. That's why 1606/1607 is "The Dawn of the Ulster-Scots".

Food for thought. Your feedback would be appreciated.