Monday, January 29, 2018

Part 1: Irish Republicans and 'broadest County Down Scotch' - the writings of Alice L. Milligan and Ernest Milligan

Major blog post brewing which might raise a few eyebrows.

In the recent, wonderful, Radio Ulster broadcast A Birl for Burns (online here) Seamus Heaney remarked in a 2012 interview that ‘the Nationalist side are identified with the Irish language, and the Unionists would be more inclined to Ulster-Scots. That’s a relatively recent development. For senior persons … there was no question of that, it was just part of their language’.

I recently found that the Milligan family, steeped in Irish history through their renowned antiquarian father, Seaton Forest Milligan, had a summer cottage on the shore of Ballywilliam townland just north of Donaghadee, along today’s exclusive Warren Road. His famous daughter Alice was at ease with including Ulster-Scots dialogue in some of her published stories; the less well-known son Ernest published a very strong collection of his own self-penned Ulster-Scots poems and ballads.

Both Alice and Ernest were close to James Connolly. Ernest was a founding member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its Belfast Socialist Society in 1898 - yet around the same time he was also a member of Ballyholme Sailing Club in Bangor where he was photographed sitting next to a young James Craig, future Unionist MP for East Down who would go on to become the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Milligans were upper middle class, you might even say today that they were ‘champagne socialists’. Yet the usages of Ulster-Scots in their writings shows a pretty credible connection with the common folk, a mode of speech that Alice described as 'broadest County Down Scotch’, and the existence of which a 1908 Dublin review of Ernest’s collection said:

“… will come almost as a shock to the Irish-Ireland reader … there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British or shoneen … its speech is not English, but Lowland Scotch … the mother tongue of James Hope and of the congregations of those United Irish Presbyterian worthies Porter, Steele-Dickson, Kelburn and Warwick … we welcome this volume as evidence that the Scotch-Irishman has not lost the gift of song. The subjects are homely and natural; the verses fluent and tuneful ...'.

More to follow...

2018 01 26 08 42 16Ernest Milligan