Thursday, January 27, 2022

Ulster-Scots on the Box – new programmes by Paula McIntyre & Phil Cunningham

I was involved in these two programmes, and I make a brief appearance in each, as do some of my friends in our Ulster-Scots cultural world. Our connections with Scotland are endless, and are expressed in so many walks of life. These are two of my favourites – food and music! Both programmes are currently on BBC iPlayer. 


Friday, January 14, 2022

At 'Hame' in Appalachia, 25 years ago

This is a big year for us. I will be 50 very soon, and in September we will be marking our 25th wedding anniversary. Our 1997 honeymoon was a roadtrip through Appalachia, from Washington DC to Nashville Tennessee. Part of that included the Museum of Appalachia Homecoming Festival at Norris, Tennessee. It was there, in one of the huge barns full of local artefacts, that I first spotted a cross-stitch sampler bearing the message 'Gang East, Gang West, Hame's Best'.

Some months later I wrote to the Museum's director, John Rice Irwin, who I had met and spoke with on our visit, to ask him a few questions (update – John Rice Irwin died just two days after I posted this, on 16 January 2022). I re-found his reply to me recently –

At first I thought the sampler was a local one-off, but over the years since I have located more of these samplers, and two of them hang on the walls in our home, so it must have been a mass-produced 'kit'. To spot Scots or Ulster-Scots in Appalachia wasn't a huge surprise, but it was a huge affirmation of the stories I had been reading back then in the books by Billy Kennedy, and others. During the Festival Billy and others from NI were present, and he arranged for my wife and I to be invited onstage by John Rice Irwin, in between musical performences, to be introduced to the cheering thousands of people there as "the honeymoon couple from Northern Ireland".

That was 1997. So in 2002 we went back, with my parents and our young son Jacob. It was my parents' first and only time outside the British Isles. It was another superb trip. So much of Appalachia, and its people, felt very much like being at hame.

PS: Here is a photo of John Rice Irwin, from the Museum of Appalachia's Facebook page, which they posted along with a lovely obituary


Thursday, January 13, 2022

That Census of Ireland 1901 & 1911 language question again

This story got more coverage again over Christmas. Lots of us are still scratching our heads at some of the claims, or some of the conclusions. Here's a link to a subsequent, fresh, Facebook discussion by Barry Griffin who was the first to map the scale of the mysterious phenomenon in 2019, and whose maps I have posted here previously. As with all avenues of life, 'Irish' as an adjective does not only ever mean 'Gaelic' or 'Gaeilge'. We visit my in-laws in England many times each year – where on a recent visit my children were recently told "oh you all speak so Irish".  Barry's maps are the key to unlocking the East Ulster, predominantly Antrim and Down, linguistic enigma, and he made a lot of sense in the Facebook conversation. There are plausible explanations for the widespread 'scoring out' on the forms, and Barry's maps show the vast extent of that. The people of early 1900s pre-'Partition' Ulster would have had a far more holistic notion of what it was to be 'Irish' than many do a century later. Ireland is an island of cultural and linguistic variety. Our story is complex.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

1908 to 2021

This is a repost having been re-immersing myself in the Ernest Milligan Up Bye Ballads recently, and at the same time noticing the constant 'dialling up' of the rhetoric on this island, with a lot happening politically this year. All the voices I hear (when I occasionally catch the current affairs media) want to win power through an election or referendum – none of them seem want to build a society first.  This is a review from the Dublin newspaper Freeman's Journal and National Press on Burns Day, 25 January 1908, expressing its shock that it transpires there are three traditions in Ireland –

...In these days, when the chief city of Ulster and many towns and country districts all over it are become working centres of the Gaelic revival, a book of verse like this will almost come as a shock to the Irish-Ireland reader. 

He has been busily working for the de-Anglicisation of the Irish nation, looking forward to an era when the West British shoneen will be extinct, end behold here is reminder that there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British nor shoneen, which has not got to be de-Anglicised, for the simple reason that its speech is not English, as we know it, but Lowland Scotch.

The people speaking this tongue are to found mainly Antrim, Co. Down, but also on extensive tracts of land in the North-West, coming right against the Gaelic frontier of Tir-Conal, in the Laggan district, it is called, in Donegal.

But let not the Irish-Irelander brand those survivors of the Ulster Plantation as aliens and foreigners. This Scotch-Irish dialect, so ragged and almost distasteful to our hearing, was the speech of men who stood side by side with the Northern Catholic Gaels on the battlefields Antrim, who camped on the wooded height of Ednavady, and lined the ditch behind “Saintfield Hedge in the County Down.” was the mother tongue James Hope, and the congregations of those United Irish Presbyterian worthies, Porter, and Steele, Dickson, Kelburn, and Warwick..."

Those remarks wouldn't be out of place today.