Monday, September 01, 2014

'Ulster-Scots: a DIY language for Orangemen'

So said the Andersonstown News at some point in 1996, and it was picked up on and repeated in other papers and media. A short time later, with assistance from a friend, I compiled a piece for the Newtownards Chronicle which demonstrated the very opposite, that Ulster-Scots in the Peninsula had been scorned by Orangemen. The Chronicle published it in a full page feature on Thursday 13 February 1997 and I came across it again over the weekend when going through some old files. The source for this was a blazing row, in the form of a series of letters, from the pages of the Newtownards Independent in July 1872.

Abie Gray kicked it off when he described the appearance of an Orange Arch in Greyabbey - '...We had an arch up at the low en o' the big row, but unless some o' the town ones had telt ye what it was before han' ye would nae a' kint what it was, we had sic quare names for things here, 'deed it would look'd tae strangers mare like a cadger's rod, twenty-four feet lang, wae twa dizen o herrin strung on it by the tails...' His description continued with references to the lodge having bare feet and slippers and a fight about a young woman.

This then incensed a reader, anonymously named A Greyabbey Orangeman, who sternly refuted the allegations as '... as poor a misrepresentation as can well be conceived of the enthusiasm of the Orangemen of this village. Your correspondent has failed miserably in his attempt to throw odium upon the Orange Society in Greyabbey... he violates not only the English language, but his own veracity mistakes his vulgar comparisons for wit ...'

This then triggered another letter from Abie Gray (in case you didn't notice, it's Greyabbey backwards) - ' ... He says A violate the English language, which is likely enough, as A am no a very advanced scholar; but it's tae tell the truth that it's infringed on; an A coont it better for an unlearned body like me tae dae that than for an educated ane like what he is tae use his learnin tae get published sic groundless effusions ... he says naethin tae contradict the letter, but flies in my face the way an wud dae that kent he was in the wrang... Grayba is indeed aboot as loyal a toon as in Ulster, but A doot we dae nee take tae oor society the credit o makin it sich, for it has aye been that ... A neednae, A think, sae ony mair tae pit every body on teh guard again believin this augmentatin to your correspondents. He was harly worth my notice, but haein the time, A made free to point out the coorse for him tae tak. Let him show whar A'm wrong an support his statements wae somethin better than his ain fallacaious production ...'

It was a memorable headline from the Andersonstown News, made even more memorable by repetition elsewhere, but one which doesn't stand up to historical enquiry. The letters are not linguistic masterpieces, but they do provide authentic evidence of how the common folk spoke at the time. Thran, carnaptious folk!

(Hard to believe this was nearly 18 years ago)

Ulster Scots DIY Orangemen 1872