Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ulster-Scots and "The State"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, this is a post from my blog)

This week Northern Ireland has been responding to the Saville Report. Some of the reactions are as you would expect. It's got me thinking about the relationship between "The State" and Ulster-Scots throughout history.

At this point in time, Ulster-Scots people are mostly Protestant and mostly Unionist. That cannot be denied and is nothing to be ashamed of. But far too often the modern, unthinking, presentation of Ulster-Scots has - tragically - been a trivial, trashy variety of Ulster Protestantism or Unionism, with a thin veil of newly-applied Scottishness. It might tick the boxes of the many funders out there, but it lacks depth, authenticity and knowledge.

As a result there are widespread false perceptions in the mind of the general public, providing fodder for the critics who demolish it with ease. Of even more concern, it has also dug a deep well of frustration amongst those quiet folk who loved and cherished their Ulster-Scots identity for decades and generations, before the money taps were turned on, and who now are turned off by much of what takes place under the Ulster-Scots label. The problems are not just presentational, but go right to the heart of how heritage is understood, protected and supported by "The State" - if it is at all. But if the apparatus of the state in Northern Ireland only understands the "two tribes" British v Irish political model, then who cares about the "three legged stool" English+Scottish+Irish cultural model?

Over the next few weeks I'm going to mull this over with the view of posting a series like last year's "Objections" series, which will highlight some important historic examples which show how the relationship between Ulster-Scots and the state has shifted over the years.

I'll not be able to examine every strand, but am posting this taster as an invitation for ideas or suggestions. Sharper minds than mine could do a far better job, but I hope to draw attention to some of the issues.