Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Adam Lynn's Linguistic Fusion - Ulster-Scots, Orange and Irish

Adam Lynn (1866–1956) seems to me to be underrated as a writer, not just for his rich Ulster-Scots but for the world that it describes. His collection Random Rhymes Frae Cullybackey was published in 1911* and is online here. We filmed a segment about him for one of the Hame BBCNI episodes, but there was no room for it in the final edit.

In recent years much attention has been focussed upon the famous Irish language expression Erin Go Bragh being used prominently at a huge Unionist convention in 1892. Lynn uses the term as well, in his Ulster-Scots poem Ireland for Me on page 146.

He also uses another famous Irish language expression - Cead Mile Failte - in a poem of that title which celebrates the 12th July demonstration in Cullybackey in 1910.

The world as understood by Adam Lynn was linguistically overwhelmingly Ulster-Scots, and culturally one where Presbyterians, Church of Ireland, Faith Mission and Orange lodges co-existed, and within which the occasional use of commonly-known Irish language expressions was natural.

That was 100 years ago, a very different time. Pre Partition and pre Troubles. Pre our institutionalised polarisation. This balance and blend was, and still is, different in other parts of Ulster - and that is why notions of a flat cultural and linguistic uniformity are a huge mistake. It is essential to reflect the variety.

His poem Liberty on page 169 is worth a spin through.

* Coincidentally, 1911 was also one of the years of the Census of Ireland. So of course I had to look at the forms online. Adam Lynn lived in Galgorm, and on his form the language column is left blank. Three other families in Galgorm - the Church of Ireland McMeekins, the Presbyterian Stockmans and the 'English Church' Crawfords - had written 'Irish' in their forms, but in all cases the enumerator who did the checking scored that out. So, a famous and published Ulster-Scots language poet with no means of officially recording himself as such - and three families whose linguistic lack of self-understanding had got it wrong.

PS: The 30-something female poet Agnes Kerr of Ahoghill whose important Ulster-Scots collection was published in 1913, also left the language column in her form blank. In Ahoghill only the Brethren McMeekin family, the Church of Ireland Marks family, the Catholic Letters family and the Presbyterian Mark family were those who filled in 'Irish', and again in every case the enumerator scored that out.

There is a need - or opportunity - for an academic re-assessment of the Census, which takes into account all other existing evidences of cultural and linguistic life.

Ulster is complicated and surprising. 
Reject the two-tribes false simplicity.
Reflect the interesting true variety.