Monday, June 19, 2017

Multic-Ulster-al (1956) – "the lallans of Antrim and Down"

Sam Hanna Bell (1909–90) was one of our greatest writers, thinkers, folklorist, collector and broadcasters of the 20th century. To understand an Ulster which few today can remember, Sam Hanna Bell’s writing will take you there with a clarity and authenticity that’s hard to find now.

Glasgow-born but reared near Raffrey in County Down before moving to Belfast, I would encourage everyone to get hold of his work and visit a different world. His début collection Summer Loanen (1943) has lovely natural touches of Ulster-Scots vocabulary. The world he presents was not idyllic, but which culturally speaking was far more nuanced and whole than the political perspectives which have come to dominate. An Ulster which seemed to better understand its multiple cultural strands than most do today.

If there is to be a holistic 'Culture Act' in Northern Ireland then Sam Hanna Bell had at least some of the vision for how it could be. He envisaged a ‘Folklore Commission’ and soon after the 'Committee on Ulster Folklife and Traditions’ was set up. It is easy to pass laws. But where are the minds, the hearts, the eyes, the ears, the voices and the pens? Where is today’s “body of trained folklorists”?

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