Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Happy birthday to the Hillsborough A1 road

On 18 September 1974, the Hillsborough By-Pass road was opened. It was a motorist's transformation, and is once again in the news. The pages of The Leader newspaper of Dromore published a poem on 27th September entitled 'The Conversation between the A1 and the Hillsborough By-Pass at the time of the Opening of the Latter'. Written by the renowned artist Patric Stevenson (1909-1983) it is in Scots, and was inspired by Scottish poet Robert Fergusson's 'Mutual Complaint of Plainstanes and Causey, in their Mother Tongue' (see here). Interestingly at the end of the poem he added a footnote which says 'inconsistencies in dialect in these verses are deliberate and intended to suggest a fundamental lack of feeling of national identity in some parts of the north of Ireland'.

The whole poem is available online here - it's a strong piece of writing and worth being highlighted. Here's the first verse:

... I dinna think ye wad believe The kind o' treatment we receive; I've liv'd owre lang in by-gone days Tae thole the gross, ill-mannered ways In which the roadmen noo behave. It's God's ain truth till say that they've Insulted me wi' mony lines An' sundry cabalistic signs Thick painted on me asphalt cheek (I'm smartin' frae a job last week When cats'-eyes set within me skin Fair pierced me like a javelin) ...

Stevenson might just have been employing Scots as a literary device, rather than because of any personal affinity, but there was once a deep Ulster-Scots speaking pedigree in the area. The Northern Tourist (1830) recorded: "Speaking of the lower orders [of people] residing in the neighbourhood of Lisburn, Hillsborough, Dromore and Ballinahinch... they are a decent, industrious, well-disposed and orderly people... the language is now English with a strong Scotch accent - in the middle of the last century it was broad Scotch... the greater proportion of the inhabitants are Protestant Dissenters... the men are in general tall, and square-shouldered, retaining in their high cheek-bones much of the characteristic countenance of their Scottish ancestors - most of the women well-looking. Their dialect, having in it much of the Scotch accent... but the better classes speak very correctly...

Other books from the 1800s and right up into the early 1900s say similar things about the district, and many of the families I have met in the area who have been living there for generations will still use Ulster-Scots words and expressions - but of course the area has become very affluent and so the population has changed a lot over the past number of decades, so the words are not as commonplace as they once were.