Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'The Psalms in Braid Scots' by Rev TT Alexander (St Ninian's, Leith), c. 1930

My brother was given this by a friend from Donaghadee a few weeks ago. It had been in his mother’s collection of stuff and they thought we might appreciate it. I’d not heard of it before, and so I went for a hoke in Graham Tulloch’s excellent History of the Scots Bible (1989) but it wasn’t mentioned in there either. So it must have been a fairly local edition - pocket sized, priced at one sixpence.

A bit of digging shows that Alexander was minister at St Ninian’s from 1926-1932. In 1931 he stood as an SNP candidate in the East Edinburgh constituency. The BNA has some adverts for him preaching church services in Braid Scots, one of which is below.

Just last weekend my brother and I were in New Cumnock in Ayrshire, playing and singing a bit in the Baptist Church there. We were nearly tripping over folk from Ulster or with Ulster connections. One New Cumnock couple we met are good friends and frequent visitors to neighbours of ours who literally live a few fields away from me.

Maybe four of the church pastors in the town are Ulstermen - certainly we met three of them. One man there was thrilled to hear a few sangs in the hamely tongue, as he was born and raised outside Larne. He recounted a story to me of a time when he was asked to preach in a church in Belfast, and so very naturally just used a brave wheen of Ulster-Scots words in his sermon. However one of the church elders, as we say, 'boned' him at the door and made it very clear that he'd caused great offence by using such irreverent and disrespectful language in the pulpit. Sometimes there are just thran individuals who like to be seen to be in charge.

I am pretty sure that the 'Man of Galilee' spoke like a country man from Galilee. There is much academic and theological writing on the subject (example here and another similar article here). The most famous example of this was when his disciple Peter, then in the metropolis of Jerusalem, denied knowing Christ, he was confronted by a servant girl who said - according to the old King James Version translation of 1611 - "Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee" (Matthew 26:73). Country folk often stand out like sair thumbs in the city.

Rev TT Alexander worked in historic Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh. Language usage has changed a lot in the past 100 years, Scots and Ulster-Scots have been diminished and spread very thin by a whole range of factors. Both remain at their richest in the country, the folk in New Cumnock confirmed this to me over tay and pieces after the meetings.

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Here is the church today, built in 1816: NewImage

And here is the much older manse building. The congregation at Leith dates from 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus is said to have discovered America.St Ninian s Manse North Leith