Thursday, January 16, 2014

All Made Up


On St Patrick's Day of 2006 I (then the fairly new Chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency) was invited to give a 20 minute talk at the IFEA (International Festivals and Events Association - website here) Conference which was being held at Belfast Waterfront Hall. It was quite a coup for a major annual business conference event to be held here, and the foyer of the venue was full of international visitors. I slipped through the crowd unnoticed, got my Powerpoint presentation to the technical people, tested that it was working, and then headed out to queue at the tea and coffee table. There was a sizeable crowd gathering, none of whom had ever set eyes on me before, and as I stood in line I overheard a conversation about myself. It went along the lines of:

'So who's on next?'


'What's that?'

'Oh, that's the Protestants here pretending they have a culture. You're in for a laugh'.


Undeterred, I took to the stage with those pompous, arrogant and ignorant tones still ringing in my ears. I gave my presentation on the impending 400th anniversary of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of 1606, our close proximity to Scotland (Belfast is closer to Scotland than to the Republic of Ireland), drew parallels with the Jamestown Settlement of Virginia in 1607, outlined the events, projects and activities which were planned for the commemoration, and made suggestions as to how it could become an annual event.

Mr Pompous and his guffawing mates did not come to speak to me at the end - but a number of international visitors did, speaking warmly of the similarity of experience with their own nations, especially seafaring ones, where migration and movement is acknowledged and understood.

I think - I hope - we have come a long way since 2006. The Waterfront Hall is, next weekend, the venue of a major Burns Night celebration, I think the second or third consecutive time it's been held there, having been at the Ulster Hall before that. Tickets are on sale here. But of course there are still a good few ignorant morons to contend with though - people with little knowledge or understanding, but huge opinions.