Monday, October 29, 2012

'The Scot in Ulster' by John Harrison (1888) - digital edition now available // 125 years old next year


Derek at Library Ireland has over the years digitally published some very important historical books, and (as you might imagine) to a far higher standard than the likes of GoogleBooks and His latest publication is The Scot in Ulster: Sketch of the History of the Scottish Population of Ulster (1888) by Edinburgh author John Harrison.

Harrison (1847-1922) made his own journeys across the sea from Scotland, and much of the book is based upon his own observations. The Scot in Ulster was originally published as a series of articles in The Scotsman newspaper in the spring of that year. Harrison also wrote Oure Tounis Colledge; Sketches of the History of the Old College of Edinburgh (click here for edition) which had been published in 1884. Towards the end of his life, in 1919, he published The History of the Monastery of the Holy-Rood and of the Palace of Holyrood House (click here). Both of these had also begun as series in The Scotsman. In 1920 he published The Company of Merchants of the city of Edinburgh and its schools, 1694-1920.

Here is an excerpt -

'...It is strange for any man who is accustomed to walk through the southern districts of Scotland, and to meet the country people going about their daily work in their everyday clothes and everyday manner, to cross into Ireland and wander through the country roads of Down or Antrim. He is in a country which is supposed to be passionately anxious to set up a separate nationality, and yet he cannot feel as if he were away from his own kith and kin. The men who are driving the carts are like the men at home; the women at the cottage doors are in build and carriage like the mothers of our southern Highlands; the signs of the little shops in the villages bear well-known names — Paterson, perhaps, or Johnstone, or Sloan; the boy sitting on the "dyke" with nothing to do, is whistling "A man's a man for a' that."

He goes into a village inn, and is served by a six-foot, loosely-hung Scottish Borderer, worthy to have served "drams" to "the Shepherd and Christopher North"; and when he leaves the little inn he sees by the sign that his host bears the name of "James Hay," and his wonder ceases. The want of strangeness in the men and women is what strikes him as so strange.

Then he crosses the Bann, and gets into a different region. He leaves behind him the pleasant green hills which shut in Belfast Lough, the great sweep of rich plain which Lough Neagh may well ask to show cause why it should not be annexed to its inland sea; he gets within sight of the South Derry hills, and the actors in the scene partly change. Some are very familiar; the smart maid at his inn is very like the housemaid at home, and the principal grocer of the little village is the "very image" of the elder who taught him at the Sunday-school; but he meets a donkey-cart, and neither the donkey nor its driver seem somehow or other to be kin to him; and the "Father" passes him, and looks at him as at a stranger who is visiting his town,—then the Scotsman knows that he is out of Scotland and into Ireland.

It is not in Belfast that he feels the likeness to home so much, for everybody is walking fast just as they are in Glasgow, so he cannot notice them particularly, and, of course, the "loafers" at the public-house doors, who are certainly not moving smartly, do not count for anything in either town; but it is in the country districts—at Newtown-Ards, or Antrim, where life is leisurely, that he recognises that he is among his own people. While it is in a town which is in the border-land between Scottish and Irish, say at Coleraine, on a Saturday market-day, that he has the difference of the two types in face and figure brought strongly before him. Some seem foreign to him, others remind him of his "ain countrie," and make him feel that the district he is in, is in reality the land of the Scot. The manner in which the two races have lived side by side for three centuries and are yet separate still, is stated with fine courtesy and good feeling in the account of the parish of Dungiven in Derry, written by the rector, for an old Statistical Account of Ireland.—The book was never completed, like so many noble attempts in Ireland.—"The inhabitants of the parish are divided into two races of men, as totally distinct as if they belonged to different countries and regions. These (in order that we may avoid the invidious names of Protestant and Roman Catholic, which indeed have little to say in the matter) may be distinguished by the usual names of Scotch and Irish; the former including the descendants of all the Scotch and English colonists who have emigrated hither since the time of James I., and the latter comprehending the native and original inhabitants of the country. Than these, no two classes of men can be more distinct: the Scotch are remarkable for their comfortable houses and appearance, regular conduct and perseverance in business, and their being almost entirely manufacturers; the Irish, on the other hand, are more negligent in their habitations, less regular and guarded in their conduct, and have a total indisposition to manufacture. Both are industrious, but the industry of the Scotch is steady and patient, and directed with foresight, while that of the Irish is rash, adventurous, and variable...'

Harrison's book will be 125 years old next year. Over a century later we can look at it and pick holes in some of the dated ideas - but his book is important as it is another example of the awareness of Ulster-Scots culture and heritage in the mid to late 1800s. As a light-touch introduction to the Ulster-Scots story it's hard to better.


A short biography of Harrison can be found here.