Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Dúlamán, "Dullie Men", Dulse and Ulster-Scots edible seaweed gathering

Which came first? And does that matter?

The older folk around Ballywalter still refer to the local guys that gather the edible seaweed called dulse (Wikipedia page here) as the "dullie men". Dulse grows pretty thickly there at a rock known as the "dullie roak".  Ernie Dunbar's dulse is the best. Below is an article from the Belfast News-Letter, 1 July 1946, describing these and also mentioning a "dullie beach" and "dullie floats". I grew up with this name and pronunciation and I still hear it used. 

For Ulster-Scots, these terms are very specifically used for dulse only, not seaweed generically.

In 1976 Clannad released an album called Dúlamán (on YouTube here) and in west Donegal a distillery produces An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin (website here).

Culture flows in multiple directions. I don't know if my County Down dullie men predate dúlamán, or vice versa, or if they exist(ed) simultaneously. I also don't buy that just because there's an Irish spelling now that it therefore must linguistically predate the Scots version.

The old Scots & Ulster-Scots crack became the Irish craic in the 1970s (see Irish Times article here). Ulster-Scots largely abandoned traditional music during the same period (see Nigel Boullier's marvellous book Handed Down for details of that - see ITMA website here). Ulster-Scots have stopped doing the Christmas rhymers I grew up with, and their road bowls playing was consigned to history long ago. Yet these two traditions remain alive in Armagh and Fermanagh, within what would be regarded as Irish cultural communities. 

As Ulster-Scots communities devalue, fail to hand down, neglect, and eventually stop doing these things, then the traditions are left for others to pick up, carry on and develop. Maybe a bit like the seaweed itself - it's lying there and it's available - so why not gather it up?

I am not very bothered about 'cultural appropriation' as one of the activist grievance issues of our age - because civilisations develop when cultures are shared.


Dulse is an emotive food for many, evoking deep-rooted memories of hame. This time last year an elderly lady, now living in Texas but who was born and raised in Portavogie, reached out to me on Facebook after I posted the poem below. She was so stirred by the words that she wanted to taste dulse again - so I posted her a bag which arrived with her about 8 weeks later, in good time for Christmas.

The poem was given to me by a man from Coleraine a few years ago, but it was originally collected by Sam Henry and published in his 1933 book Rowlock Rhymes and Songs of Exile (see manuscript here). He had perhaps slightly Anglicised the Ulster-Scots 'Blad' (which means a 'sample' or 'selection') to 'Blade'.