Tuesday, December 29, 2020

John Hewitt & Ulster-Scots, Belfast Telegraph, 19 March 1955

Reflecting on the year that has nearly passed, I remembered that John Hewitt was the subject of some controversy over the figure of speech "The Planter and The Gael" which was the title of his 1970 anthology, co-authored by Hewitt and John Montague. At the time it seems that Brian Friel objected to the terminology, and 50 years later it had the power to provoke us. As with many things, meanings change as time passes. What was meant when something was first written, often becomes something else to future eyes and ears. "The Planter and The Gael" is unhelpful, as it cements the "two tribes" adversarial binary. 

The very existence of poems such as "The Covenanters Grave", "Jenny Geddes" and "The Christmas Rhymers, Ballynure, 1941" shows the breadth of his Ulster-Scots cultural understanding.

Here he is in the Belfast Telegraph, writing not long after he had completed his renowned 1951 PhD thesis about the Ulster-Scots 'Rhyming Weavers'. His tutors were so detached from community tradition that they thought he had made it all up - he had to personally take them to the libraries to show them the old books.