A selection of Ulster-Scots writing
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- 1 A number of sources have been used to prepare the glossaries accompanying the selected (...)
1The idea behind this section is to give those who have had little or no contact with this tradition an idea of some of the dominant themes and styles in Ulster-Scots writing. A range of material – poetry, prose and the theatre – has been chosen from the beginning of the nineteenth century up until today1. It is in no sense an attempt at an anthology. Those interested should see Frank Ferguson (ed.), Ulster-Scots Writing, An Anthology, Dublin, Four Courts, 2008. Readers will notice the inconsistency of spelling across the selection.
- 2 James Orr, “The Wanderer”, Poems on Various Subjects, Belfast, Smyth and Lyons, 1804, p. (...)
2James Orr (1770-1816), from Ballycarry, Co. Antrim, was a handloom weaver by trade, a Freemason and a member of the United Irishmen. He took part in the Rising in Ulster in 1798 and fled to America before returning to Ireland under an amnesty. Although this text, “The Wanderer”, unlike several of his other poems such as “Donegore Hill”, makes no explicit reference to a particular political context, it is generally taken as being set in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the United Irishmen in the Battle of Antrim in June 1798. After the fighting, a group of United Irish sympathisers, among them McCracken, Hope and Orr himself, took refuge for several weeks on the rough, inaccessible terrain of Slemish, a mountain in North Antrim not far from Ballymena. What is striking about this short text is the remarkable energy of the clipped exchanges between the (republican) fugitive and the young woman who offers him her bed for the night while she keeps watch. The poem, set to a traditional Scottish tune, reflects the strong oral base of Ulster-Scots writing: in many ways, it functions as a mini dramatic dialogue. A “wanderer” in Scottish history refers to a Covenanter outlawed by the later Stuarts. The title therefore makes an oblique reference to the religious subtext of the 1798 rebellion.
Tune – “Mary’s Dream”
- 3 Thomas Beggs, “The Auld Wife’s Address to Her Spinning Wheel”, The Poetical Works (...)
- 4 See John Hewitt, Rhyming Weavers and other Country Poets of Antrim and Down, Belfa (...)
- 5 See for example : Amber Adams and J.R.R. Adams (ed.), The Country Rhymes of Hugh Po (...)
- 6 See, for example, David Herbison, “The Auld Wife’s Lament for her Teapot”, especially the (...)
- 7 See, for example, Edward L. Sloan, “The Weaver’s Triumph”, The Bard’s Offering: A Collectio (...)
3This poem is of interest in that it reflects one of the most significant frames of Ulster-Scots literature, that of the self-employed “rhyming weaver”, a vernacular literary tradition that was highlighted by John Hewitt in his Rhyming Weavers and other Country Poets of Antrim and Down, published in 1974.4 The work of several of the poets discussed in this volume (Hugh Porter, James Orr and Samuel Thomson) was subsequently reprinted in the early 1990s in the Folk Poets of Ulster series5. This body of work was heavily influenced by such authors as Burns whose poetry was, and continues to be, much admired in Ulster. Weaving, spinning, the production of flax and the preparation and sale of linen form a constant backdrop to this poetry. Faced with the increasing pressure of industrialization gradually undermining the traditional base of this cottage industry, many of the poets writing in this tradition, people like David Herbison (the Bard of Dunclug)6, or Edward L. Sloan7, for example, did not hesitate to take a stand on social and economic issues, denouncing the low prices paid by merchants, the pressure of mechanization, the frenetic new work cadences, and the resulting impact on the health and morals of the poor. In this particular case, Thomas Beggs (1789-1847), speaking significantly as an elderly woman, bemoans the death of an activity that had given her financial independence and allowed her to supplement her husband’s income from the farm. The personal content of the poem – “An’ what tho’ we never were blest wi a bairn” – could arguably be taken as an allusion to an entire way of life that saw itself dying without heirs.
Frae Tibbie Gordon I gat this wheel,
- 8 Gleanings frae Ballyboley Braes. Career of the Freebooters Ohaughin, and Poems, by the Late (...)
- 9 See Pádraigín Ní Uallacáin, A Hidden Ulster: People, Songs and Traditions of Oriel, (...)
- 10 See Jeanne Favret-Saada, Les mots, la mort, les sorts, Paris, Gallimard, 1977.
4This is a wonderful piece that shows the supposedly “dour” Ulster Scots in a radically different light from the more clichéd environment of the kirk or the ploughed field. Here, Turner (1804-1861), a teacher at the national school in Ballycorr, Co. Antrim, discusses the activities of the local fortune-teller who doubles up as a healer capable of countering the mysterious illnesses that occur in livestock, one of the principal sources of revenue in this primarily rural economy. This poem suggests that the Ulster Scot could be as superstitious as his neighbours from the Gaelic tradition9 or, for that matter, farmers in the French countryside...10
They talk o’ the spaewife o’ misty Glenramer,
- 11 Archibald McIlroy, The Auld Meetin’-Hoose Green, Belfast, McCaw, Stevenson & Orr Ltd. (...)
- 12 Archibald McIlroy, The Humour of Druid’s Island, Dublin, Hodges, Figgis & Co. Ltd.; Belfast (...)
5The following extracts from work by Archibald McIlroy (1859-1915) are examples of writing in what is known as the “kail-yard”(cabbage-patch) tradition that was popular in Scotland and with Scots communities in Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th century. In its Ulster variant, the genre is characterized by a story, usually set in the rural communities of counties Antrim or Down, in which the narrative is in standard English and the dialogues in Ulster-Scots. The material produced would often appear in serial form in local newspapers. The subject matter can be historical or contemporary, the latter being frequently based on the personal reminiscences of the author. Thus, W. G. Lyttle, for example, produced Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down , set in the Presbyterian community at the time of the “Turnoot” in 1798, and Robin’s Readings , a series of short comic texts, set in contemporary North Down and Belfast. Several of these texts have recently been reprinted by the Ullans Press or have been adapted for radio.
6The first extract from The Auld Meetin’-Hoose Green is typical of the tone of much of this work, looking at the community from within with great affection. The text points to the businesslike and often blunt nature of exchanges, even in what are considered to be the most emotional occasions. In the humorous concluding anecdote, Dorothy Logan’s miraculous recovery at hearing about her “weel-daen, sonsy, managin’” rival, allows the author to highlight the importance of the unsaid - a central characteristic of Ulster-Scots culture.
7“What’s a’ that chappin’ aboot, Andy?” said Mrs. Semple on the night before her death.
8“It's Wully Turner an’ his man pittin’ thegither the bit coofin.”
9“A’ houp they’r no’ usin’ up ony o’ the guid timmer,” continued the dying woman— "there’s
10plenty o’ odd bits lyin’ roon’ aboot ’at wud’ answer weel eneugh.”
11“They’r workin’ up es much aul’ stuff es they can mak’ available,” said Andy; “bit if they shud’ hae tae tak’ a bit length aff a plank, it’s no’ a big metter. ”
12Even in the face of death, people did not overlook the practising of thrift.
13Mrs. Semple passed away during the night, and Andy hardly recognised himself as he stepped about next day in his second best clothes and with polished boots – farm work being, of necessity, suspended.
14Towards noon, he sauntered up as far as Timothy Sloane’s, whose eldest son was wearing near the end, with decline.
15“Hoo’s the boy the day, Teemothy?”
16“Vera low, Andy – sinkin’ awa’ fast.”
17“Wull ’e be likely tae pit ower mair nor a day or twa?”
18“The ‘turn o’ the nicht’ ’ll likely bring a change… We hear the Mistress hes got awa’.”
19“She gaed aff last nicht, an’ a’ wus thinkin’ o askin’ Rabin Riggs tae appin’ a grave; an’ if ye thocht the boy’s wud’ sune be required, we micht es weel join an’ engage Rabin fur a half day.”
20“Thir’ can be little risk,” said Timothy, “even shud’ it no’ be wanted fur a day or twa; the wather bin’ dry, the grave can tak’ little herm.”
21Andy was feeling utterly lonely and desolate; Timothy's heart was just breaking about his beloved son; and yet a stranger, to have overheard the two thus economically arranging matters, would have been unable to detect the least semblance of grief in either.
22During the wake, neighbours and friends would drop in, and the talk would be about land, labour, or the price of produce and stock. When the time for the funeral service arrived, the husband or father would join heroically in the singing of a portion of the 103rd Psalm to the tune of “Coleshill”; the interment would take place, and friends move slowly away from the newly-made grave – no weeping – no demonstration; but “The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with its grief.”
23Nowadays, when the doctor shakes his head and announces that a patient has passed beyond hope of recovery, the fact is, at least for a time, carefully withheld from the sufferer; but when Mrs. Semple’s doom was confided to Andy, he acquainted her with the fact there and then – she receiving the same with as much composure as if it were only the matter of another cow or sheep being added to the farm stock.
24“If it’s the Almichty’s wull, a’m ready at ony time He may see fit.
25“Ye’ll be left lanely, Andy, ma man: bit it’ll only be fur a wee while: at ye’r age ye canna’ expeck tae be lang ahin’ me.”
26“Wud’ ye like me to step ower fur Rosey McCartney?” said Andy.
27“Bliss’s a’, man, can a’ no’ dee ’athoot Rosey M’Cartney?”
28“– or Mister M’Allister?”
29“Dinna’ bother the man; he’s plenty tae dae, an’s no’ sae young es he hes bin hissel’.
30“A’m no’ bin’ takin’ at a shoort. Ma lamp hes bin filled, an’ the week [wick] trimmed this mony a year, an’ a’m ready fur the Bridegroom whun He chooses fur tae come.” […]
31Sammie Logan’s wife was thought to be on her deathbed at one time — “given up,” in fact, and considered to be very low. Sammie was sitting by the bed-side when she remarked: “Ye’ll think lang, Sam, an’ be bit puirly luck’t after whun a’m awa’, a’ hae nae doot.
32“Gin’ a raisonable time hes elepsed, if ye can fa’ in wi’ some respectable, weel-daen, middle-aged wumman, ye micht dae waur nor merry agen; fur folk’s badly aff ’at ir’ left tae the mercy o’ strangers.”
33“‘Deed, Dorothy, a’ wus jist thinkin’ o’ somethin’ o’ that sort masel’,” said Sammie; “an’ it occurred tae me ’at George Frame’s weeda michtna’ be ill-wully tae venture on the merrit’ state a second time. She’s a weel-daen, sonsy, managin’ wumman, an’ weel spoken o’ a’ roon’.”
34Dorothy said little to this; but the “turn o’ the nicht” brought about an improvement in her condition. In a week’s time she was about again, and survived for another seven years— Sammie himself having passed away in the interval.
35The second passage from the same author comes from The Humour of Druid’s Island, published in 1902. It presents the encounter between a local Presbyterian minister, the Reverend McIntyre, and two particularly “ignorant” parishioners. The example illustrates a strong preference within the culture for the short, humorous tale, centred on the well-known local “character”. It is as if the culture shies away from fiction, preferring writing that is firmly grounded in the real, recording, sharing and – significantly – “performing” the transient exchange.
36“Talk aboot the heathen abroad,” said Geordie Eslor, one evening, to Staffy M’Crone, as they sat together enjoying a fireside ‘crack’. “Did ye iver hear tell o’ the M’Croits?”
37“Dae ye mean auld Jacky an’ Dolly that leeved doon near the rockin’-stane?”
38“The very same,” Geordie replied; “a think a mair ignorant couple could harl’y hae been foun’ an’ un’ner the sun.”
39“So a hae been informed,” Staffy answered.
40“Auld Mr. M’Intyre went tae visit them on yin occasion,” Geordie continued; “an’ when he got inside the do’r, it tuk him some minutes afore he could see onythin’ for the darkness an’ peat-reek.”
41“Jacky was deaf, an’ was sittin’ at his loom in a corner; on his heid a dirty nicht-cap, wi’ an enormous tassel hangin’ ower his ear; an’ his face luck’t as if it hadna seen sape or water for six months.”
42“Jacky nether hear’d nor saw the minister’s approach an’ continued at his weavin’; but Dolly got up aff the creepy-stool on which she had been crouchin’ ower the fire, snatched the ‘cutty’ frae her mooth, an’ made a pretence o’ drivin’ the hens and ducks ootside, as weel as the soo which was gruntin in contentment on the opposite side o’ the fireplace, at the same time drawin’ forrit a rickety chair for the minister.”
43“Dolly was hersel a bit deef; an’ on that accoont, as weel as a dulness o’ comprehension, she lost much o’ the guid that Mr. M’Intyre did his best tae impart.”
44“‘The hoose abane?’ she cried oot in response tae some remark he had made. ‘Why, it’s no near as guid as whor we’re sittin’: for it’s just filthy wi’ the hens and deucks.’”
45‘But have you no idea,’ said Mr. M’Intyre, ‘as to who it was that brought you from the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage?’”
46“‘It couldna hae been us, yer rev’rence,’ says Dolly; ‘a was niver a mile ayont the Druid’s Altar in my life, nor nether was Jacky.’”
47“‘Have you never heard,’ asked the minister, in despair, ‘of that place where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth?’”
48“‘A hae only two auld stumps left;’ says Dolly, ‘an they’re no’ fornenst ither.’”
49Glossary: chappin’: knocking; pittin’ thegither: assembling; timmer: timber; aul: old; the day: today; pit ower: survive; mair nor: more than; ony: any; ahin: behind, after; can a no dee: can I not die; athoot: without; tae dae: to do; A’m no’ bin’ takin’ at a short: I am not being taken unexpectedly; mony: many; awa’: away (=dead); gin: if; waur: worse; michtna’ be ill-wully; might not be opposed; sonsy: full of life; a’ roon: by everyone; leeved: lived; ignorant: rude, ill-mannered; yin: one; peat-reek: peat smoke; heid: head; creepy-stool: low three-legged stool; cutty: short clay pipe; forrit: forward; hoose abane: house above (i.e. in heaven); ayont: beyond; no’ fornenst ither: not opposite each other.
- 13 This story was originally published in Ullans, N° 9 & 10, Wunter 2004, p. 138-140. The auth (...)
- 14 Hugh Robinson, Across the Fields of Yesterday, Belfast, The Ullans Press, 1999.
50This contemporary short story is set on the margins of a rural Presbyterian, Ulster-Scots community. The conditions described – no exact time frame is given – reflect those that readers might associate more closely with representations of the rural Catholic community in the 19th and early 20th century – the large family, the tyranny of the mother, the pressure to emigrate, the relative poverty of the small farmer, his (reluctant) celibacy. Although the narrative adopts the well-tried format of the author’s personal reminiscences of the “characters” that inhabited the country landscape of his childhood - one that is to be found, for example, in texts such as Hugh Robinson’s, Across the Fields of Yesterday published in 199914 - what is of interest here is that Davison – the story was first published in 2004 – chooses to investigate areas that are outside the conventions of this now familiar frame, thus implicitly challenging the comfortable - comforting? -or nostalgic representations of an idealized rural past so common in contemporary Ulster-Scots writing. In this story we see a family who do not correspond to this norm, who,although they maintain a tenuous link to their Church – “They pyed intae the Kirk”, – are largely off the radar of their community, living an isolated existence and ultimately falling into poverty (the Workhouse) and alcoholism. The image at the end of the story when Tam is found “stiff an’ deid, half birried in clabber” surrounded by his cattle is one that recalls the fate of another famous Ulster “character” in W.F. Marshall’s poem, “Me an’ me da”:
51The deil a man in this townlan’
52Wos claner raired nor me,
53An’ I’m dyin’ in Drumlister
- 15 W. F. Marshall, Livin’ in Drumlister: The Collected Ballads and Verses of W.F. Marshall, ‘T (...)
54In clabber to the knee.15
55Eh nivir mairried. It wuznae that eh wuz ill luckin, fur eh wuz tahl, wi blaak curly hair an bricht broon een. Naw, eh wuz weel luckin, it wuznae that. But if ye hadda aaxed onieboodie aboot ’im they wud aa hae saed the same, that eh wuz baakward, parteekklary wi wimmen. Gye an affen whun ye spoke tae ’im eh wudda saed nithin, skellied at ye fool luckin, or lucked doon at the grun.
56Eh wuz christened Tammas, but eh niver got ocht but Tam. There wor ten o’ them in the wee hoose up the lang ruch loanin at the sooth neuk o’Glen Fada, the fether, mother an’ echt weans. Tam wuz the youngest o’ the brood. There wuznae much grun an’ maist o’it wuz ruch grazin’ or moontin. Yin bae yin the weans groued up an’ left, yin followin’ the ither ower the ocean tae Canada. Then there wuz juist Tam an’ the oul fether an’ mother.
57The fether wuz a quaite man, niver in guid health. Eh tuk tae eh’s bed, an’ only come doon the odd time. Then eh didnae come doon ava, unless ye coont bein’ cairried oot the door in eh’s coffin. So oniewie, that left Tam an’ the oul hizzie tae luk efter their wee wheen o’beese an’ sheep. They didnae gaa oot much. They pyed intae the Kirk, but they nivir went tae the Meetin’ Hoose.
58Yin or twa folk wudda caaled in, for the oul mother liked news, tae hear wha wuz daein’ weel, or daein’ badly, an’, of coorse, there wuz aye the breid cairts an’ither yins comin’ in an’ oot. Tae tell ye the truth a guid wheen o’folk kep oot o hir road, fur shay had an ill tongue in hir heid. If your beese or sheep hadda went on tae hir grun, shay wudda come doon intae yir cassey shoutin’ aboot puttin’ the laa an ye. So, oniewie, maist o’ the time they leeved in a worl’ o’ their ain.
59Whiles the ootside worl’ did brack in. They heerd little fae the brithers an’sisters, apairt fae the odd letter an’ postcaird. An’, of coorse, money wuz sent hame tae the oul mother. Then yin o’ the sins come hame. He gien the appearance o’ haein’ daen weel, tho’some folk saed if eh done sae weel in Canada, why did eh no stey there. “Sam’s Rab’s baak”, they saed “an’ taaks as if eh wuz boorn in Canada, no Glen Fada”. Oniewie, Tam didnae taak too weel tae eh’s brither’s return. Eh likely thocht eh wuz comin’ baak tae taak ower, efter aa his years o’ hard labour. But Rab didnae stey lang. Eh bocht a horse an’ridd aboot laik some gentleman, wrocht at nithin. Eh’s money soon run oot an’ eh finished up inside the nerra gavels o’ Bellamena poorhoose. Eh deed there o’scairlet faiver.
60The oul wumman tuk it baad; shay thocht shay’d got a loost sin baak, only tae loss ’im agane
fur guid. Shay went doon hill fast, tuk hir baad temper oot on Tam. Yin o’the kirk elders come tae see hir, tried tae get hir tae go tae the Meetin’. “The nixt taim ah’ll bae in Glen Fada Meetin’ Hoose wull bae wi the boords on mae face”, shay saed. An’ dae ye know, shay wuz richt. Saa, whun the han’ shakin’ wuz daen in the graveyaird, Tam went baak tae the hoose on eh’s ain.
61Bein’ on eh’s ain seemed tae change ’im. Eh started tae gaa oot at nicht, maistly tae nighbour hooses. Eh wudda sut in the corner an’saed little. Folk saed eh only went roon the hooses tae save ’im haein tae maak eh’s ain tay in the foresupper. Then eh started tae waak doon tae Craigban, a wee clatter o’hooses wi a shap an’ a pub. Eh went tae a certaint hoose whaur they hel’ punch dances. What wuz in the punch, ah dinnae know; maistly wee still ah wudda thocht. They wor poor folk an’gled o’the wheen o’ pennies they wor gien. The guid leevin folk didnae like it, of coorse, an’ they wor brocht up an’admonished in front o’the Kirk Session. But, oniewie, that wuz whaur Tam tasted strong drink fur the first taim.
62The drink brocht ’im oot o’eh’s sel, dae ye see, made ’im feel less baakward. An’ the punch dance hoose wuz whaur eh fell in wi Mag. Shay leeved on the ither side o’the Glen an’ iveryboodie wudda toul ye shay wuznae up tae much. Shay wuz a guid bit ouler than Tam an’ shay attached hirsel tae im laik a breer tae a sheep’s wull. Shay didnae move intae the hoose, but shay kinna tuk ’im ower, hir an’ ir freens. They gien Tam orders, lached at ’im, trated ’im worse than a dug. “Hi Tam”, they wudda saed, “mak uz a drap o’ tay”, or “Tam, rin doon tae the shap an’ get uz somethin’ tae drink”. An’ him, laik the saft gulpin eh wuz, seemed tae taak it aa, niver turned the word on them.
63An’ worst o’aa, Mag had a sin. They caaed him the cave man, becaz eh wuz supposed tae leeve in a cave, efter eh’s ma putt ’im oot o’ the hoose. Sae ye may guess eh wuznae a guid yin. Eh wudda come ower tae Tam’s on a Setterday nicht, houlin oot eh’s han, luckin fur money tae spen on drink. An’, dae ye know, the fool eejit gien’im money, juist tae be redd o’ ’im. Weel oniewie, Tam got redd o’ Mag an’ hir freens. Ah cannae tell ye the richt story, becaz ah heerd sae monie ah dinnae know what yin’s the truth. Ah think maesel eh juist cud taak nae mair, but eh musta daen somethin’ drastic, fur shay wuz yin hizzie wuznae easy skared.
64Efter this eh steyed close tae hame fur a guid while. Whun eh did gaa oot agane folk wor surprised whun eh started tae frequent the pubs. Mebbe eh thocht eh wuz missin’ oot on somethin’, ah dinnae know. But whativer the raison eh wuznae used tae the drink an’ ye wudda fun ‘im lyin at the side, or whiles in the middle o’ the road an’ had tae cairry ’im hame. Eh started tae get cattered lukin, didnae keep eh’s sel sae clean.
65Then yin o’ the brither’s sins come hame wi nae warnin an’ steyed wi ’im ower the simmer an’ this seemed tae gie ’im heert. The Meetin’ Hoose folk niver deserted ’im an’ finely eh gien in an’ started tae go tae the Meetin’. Eh didnae go fur lang, ah dinnae know why, but as ah saed, eh wuz quate an’ baakwaard in company an’ mebbe eh thocht some o’ the Meetin’ Hoose yins luked doon on ’im.
66Eh wuz gettin oul noo, the blaak hair turned grey, the boodie wuznae sae straicht an soople. Eh cut doon eh’s stock, let oot maist o’ the grun, kep a wheen o’ beese. If eh seen ye on the road noo eh wudda turned an’ went the ither wie or stud in behin a busch.
67Yin mournin a nighbour wuz oot fotherin beese whun eh happened tae luk ower the dyke. Eh seen what eh thocht wuz a pile o’ raags lyin beside a hie rack, wi twarthie kye stanin roon. Eh jumped ower an’ fun Tam lyin’ stiff an’ deid, half birried in clabber.
68Nane o’the owerseas yins come tae the funeral. It’s a lang wie fae Manitoba tae Glen Fada. But they did get the money whun the ferm wuz sowl. Eh wuz birried in the wee graveyaird in the middle o’ the fiels, in a guid shiltrie plice at the baak o’ the waa. Iveryboodie saed what a guid boodie eh wuz. Aye, they aa saed, eh niver done onieboodie onie hairm.
69Glossary: wuznae: wasn’t; ill luckin: ugly; weel luckin: handsome; een: eyes; aaxed: asked; gye an affen: very often; skellied at ye fool luckin: looked furtively at you in a foolish manner; niver got ocht but Tam: was only ever called Tam; ruch loanen: rough lane; neuk: corner; weans: children; grun: land; yin bae yin: one by one; ava: at all, ever; oul hizzie: old woman; wee wheen: small number; beese: cattle; pyed intae the Kirk: gave regular contributions to the (Presbyterian) Church; the Meetin’ Hoose: the (local Presbyterian) church; breid carts; bread carts (mobile grocery stores); kep oot o’ hir road: avoided her; ill tongue: foul mouth; heid: head; cassey: yard of a farmhouse; putting the laa an ye: complaining to the police; leeved: lived; whiles: sometimes; fae: from; gien; gave; no: not; ridd aboot: rode about; wrocht at nithin’: did no work; nerra gavels: narrow gables; Bellamena: Ballymena; to loss: to lose; saa: so; wudda sut: used to sit; foresupper: between the end of the working day and the evening meal; a wee clatter o’ hooses: a small hamlet; shap: shop; wee still: poteen; the wheen o’ pennies: the few pennies; they wor gien; they were given; the guid leevin folk: good living people (church goers); laik a breer tae a sheep’s wull: like a briar to sheep’s wool; lached: laughed; dug: dog; saft: easily taken advantage of; gulpin: idiot; houlin’ oot: holding out; red: rid; hizzie: (young) woman; cattered: worn; fotherin: feeding; twarthrie: some; kye: cows; clabber: mud.
- 16 Fergie an Freens oan tha Fairm, Belfast, Ulster-Scots Community Network, 2011. Text by (...)
70One of the most interesting areas in the contemporary revival of interest in Ulster-Scots is involvement in the schools and with young people. Fergie an Freens oan tha Fairm is a very well-designed and amusing children’s book aimed at Key Stage 2 pupils (age 5+). The story is set on a family-run farm in County Antrim.
71The following translation is provided at the end of the book:
72“Watch out, John!” shouts William. “That old ram is always cross: best to avoid him!” The angry ram butts John and knocks him into the ditch. Oh no! John is up to his armpits in the mud!
Fergie an Freens oan tha Fairm
73[Image non convertie]
- 17 Willie Drennan, “Andy Blair”, Wee Book, The Ullans Press, 2004, p. 50-52.
74Willie Drennan, with typical gusto, gives a lively re-writing in a local setting, of Burns’ famous poem, “Tam O’Shanter”. According to Drennan: “The similarity with Tam O Shanter is of course deliberate but the poem also partially relates to a story told by my mother, that she got from her mother, of a local man who was often brought home from the pub on a Saturday night by his trusty horse”. Both stories share a certain number of elements: the warmth and conviviality of the pub and the need to return home on horseback across a desolate landscape in a violent storm in the middle of a winter’s night. However, whereas Burns gives us an extremely detailed account of the horrors – and wonders! - Tam sees in Alloway’s Church, Drennan is very allusive about what Andy encounters on the moor. Furthermore, whereas Tam manages to escape the hoard of witches who pursue him as far as the bridge (“A running stream they dare na cross”), Drennan’s hero meets a sadder fate when his horse throws him in panic and dashes his brains out on Slatt Bridge.
- 18 James Fenton, On Slaimish, n.p., The Ullans Press, 2009, p. 26 & p. 27.
- 19 See James Fenton, The Hamely Tongue: A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim [19 (...)
75James Fenton is without doubt one of the most significant poets to have written in Ulster-Scots. He has an intimate knowledge of the language and the community it springs from. The following two poems illustrate something of the intensity that he can reach in what he calls the “hamely tongue”19. “Jeerin the jum” is a particularly tight piece centred on the vicious mockery that an obese local woman who loses her only child suffers at the hands of the local community. “A Nighber Wumman”, a poem about isolation and mental breakdown, is typical of Fenton’s ability to blur the reader’s capacity to define content, generating a feeling of deep unease in the most banal of settings. In accordance with the wishes of the author, no glossary has been provided for these poems.
- 20 Dan Gordon, The Boat Factory, Belfast, The Ulster-Scots Agency, 2009, p. 28-31.
- 21 See http://www.ulsterscotsagency.com/news/article/79/pat-and-plain-drama-project-wins-uk-wide-cultu (...)
76The Boat Factory is one of a series of 6 plays for young people by Dan Gordon – the “Pat & Plain series” - commissioned by the Ulster-Scots Agency and destined to be used in performance in primary schools.21 The extract below focuses on one of the major sites of Northern Ireland’s industrial heritage, the Harland and Wolff shipyards. The main theme in the passage is again initiation, in this case into the world of work. Willie McCandless, the main character, is the 14-year old apprentice, being introduced into the vast community of shipyard workers – some 35000 in the late 1950s when the play is set. On his first day as an apprentice, Tucker takes him up on to the top of the Arrol Gantry, a huge steel structure built in 1908 that dominated the Belfast shipyards until the 1960s, before being replaced by the now iconic Samson and Goliath cranes. Once on top, Tucker offers Willie a new perspective on his native Belfast. From this vantage point at the heart of the industrial North – one significantly designed and constructed by the Scottish engineer, Sir William Arrol – Willie suddenly realises he can see from “the Mourne Mountains away to the South” right over to Scotland. What he is being shown is an entire cultural province, one that, significantly, goes beyond the island frame and straddles the North Channel along an east-west axis. So the young initiate is being shown not only where to look, but also how to look, how to see himself, his position in the world - in geographical, social and cultural terms. As Willie’s guide says: “they’re all Shipyard men. And now that you’ve climbed to the top of the Arrol Gantry – so are you!”
77The boys begin a climbing sequence – they mime a climb, which is accompanied by music or a soundscape of shipyard workers shouting, hammering and working. Some of the cast might have seagulls on long sticks. They fly them and make cawing sounds around the boys as they climb.
78TUCKER: (shouting) ‘Bout ye boys –.
79FOREMAN 1: (from a distance) Youse uns alright up there?
80TUCKER: (shouting) Aye we’re dead on.
81Tucker stands upright while Willie clings on, sitting.
82WILLIE: I should have wore a pair of gutties - these boots are too heavy for climbing.
83(sees around) Oh it’s high up here - I think I’m going to be sick.
84TUCKER: Not at all, don’t be such a big Jinnie Anne, up here is the best view in the whole shipyard.
85WILLIE: Why do they call this the Arrol Gantry?
86TUCKER: (Scottish accent) Sir William Arrol and Company, of Glasgow, put up this big frame so they could build the Olympic and the Titanic underneath it – it’s near nine hundred feet long and it’s –
87Shouting to Foreman 1 at the back of the hall.
88Hey boy? How high up are we?
89FOREMAN 1: What? What do you say son?
90TUCKER: I said how far up are we?
91FOREMAN 1: Two hundred and twenty foot.
92TUCKER: Two hundred and twenty feet up – it was the biggest in the world. It was the same crowd built the Forth Rail Bridge. They’re never done painting that either.
93WILLIE: I hate heights. Why did I ever let you bring me up here?
94TUCKER: You’ll be alright in a minute - you’ve a grip on that gantry like a butcher’s dog. I love it up here. Look, there it all is before us – Belfast Shipyard.
95WILLIE: I can’t look - it’s too scary.
96TUCKER: You’ll be alright. Start in the distance – look at the horizon – that’s what the crane drivers do - then work back. Start at the Mourne Mountains away to the South – see them?
97WILLIE: Yes! Yes I can, is that where they are?
98TUCKER: Alright now turn your head to the other side – see the Cavehill to the North? – Look, you can see wee men walking up on the top against the skyline.
99WILLIE: Yes, I see them.
100TUCKER: Look to the right – you can see our part of Belfast – the East where the wise men come from – St Mark’s church spire and St Donard’s and St Matthew’s Chapel – you can see the Ropeworks and Gallaher’s cigarette factory where my Ma works. There’s Inglis’ biscuits and the Oval Football Ground and there’s the roof of our old school in Mersey Street.
101WILLIE: It all looks so tiny - wee, like a picture postcard.
102TUCKER: Right, now take a breath and look straight ahead right down the Victoria Channel past Belfast Lough.
103WILLIE: (excited) Boys o - I can see Scotland.
104TUCKER: Now bring your eye back up Belfast Lough and look down around us – alright?
105WILLIE: Alright – oh!
106TUCKER: It’s alright, you’re fine. Now what do you see?
107WILLIE: I can’t see anything.
108TUCKER: You will if you open your eyes. Here maybe this’ll help ye – (grabs him)
109WILLIE: Ah mammy! Don’t Tucker – let me go, you’ll knock me off.
110TUCKER: Well open your eyes and tell me what you see.
111WILLIE: Alright they’re open, they’re open – I can see the Clarence and Alexandra works, the slips below in the Victoria Yard, the Graving Dock, the fitting out docks and the Thompson Dock. I can see stagers building scaffolding and the steam cranes on the tracks pulling steel plates over to the Abercorn yard.
112TUCKER: What else?
113WILLIE: The foundry, the aircraft stores, the Musgrave channel, the boiler shops and the engine shops.
114TUCKER: Good. Look at it down there Willie – look at them, there’s thousands of workers down there like ants in cloth caps – ating their pieces with jam and drinking cans of tay – they’re playing footie – or gambling – there’s card schools and holy choirs – there’s arguments and rows, there’s fights over the colour of the paint on the boat and the size of the fish somebody caught in the dock –but when the siren sounds they’re all Shipyard men. And now that you’ve climbed to the top of the Arrol Gantry – so are you!
115The workers are silently coming to life and slowly beginning to work again. A seagull flies overhead. Willie clutches his head - it has pooped on him!
116WILLIE: Ah yuck – look what that seagull just did on my head.
117TUCKER: That’s supposed to be Lucky.
118WILLIE: It’s minging!
119TUCKER: No Willie, that’s your new name – Lucky - that’s what we’ll call you from now on - Lucky McCandless.
120They laugh – Tucker slaps Willie on the back and Willie pretends to fall and scares Tucker – Tucker realises the joke and laughs too.
- 22 Philip Robinson, “Ayont the knowes”, Alang tha Shore, The Ullans Press, 2005, p. 16-17.
- 23 Wake the Tribe o Dan (1998), The Back Streets o the Claw (2000), The Man Frae the Ministry(...)
- 24 Alang tha Shore, Ulster-Scots Living Writers Series, Vol. 5, n.p., The Ullans Pres (...)
121Philip Robinson has been one of the most prolific and significant writers of the Ulster-Scots revival. He has published several novels23 and two books of poetry24 as well as being actively involved in personal and collective projects translating religious texts into Ulster-Scots. The following poem illustrates a number of the themes that come out strongly throughout this considerable body of work: the intense connection with a (quasi-sacred) local landscape, religion and the afterlife, memory and the constant interplay between the present and the past, and the conviction that this dialogue has an on-going collective cultural significance.
“Ayont the knowes”
beyond; (small round) hills
- 25 John Erskine, “Tha Merle bi Lagan’s Loch”, Ullans, N°12, Wunter 2011, p. 19.
- 26 For the text of the poem in the original Irish and English, see “An Lon Dubh” (trans. David (...)
122Erskine’s “paraphrase” of the famous text in Old Irish26 is of particular significance not only in itself but also as it shows how interesting things can become when there is cross-fertilisation between the traditions in the north of Ireland.
123An Ulster-Scots paraphrase from the eighth-century Irish
Tha Merle bi Lagan’s Loch
1 A number of sources have been used to prepare the glossaries accompanying the selected texts, notably: James Fenton, The Hamely Tongue , n.p., The Ullans Press, 2006; Philip Robinson, English/Ulster-Scots Glossary: A Core Vocabulary Wordlist with Verb Tables, n.p., The Ullans Press, 2012; and Mairi Robinson (ed.), The Concise Scots Dictionary , Edinburgh, Chambers, 1996. I would also like to thank Anne Smyth and Ivan Herbison for their most useful remarks on some of the terms.
2 James Orr, “The Wanderer”, Poems on Various Subjects, Belfast, Smyth and Lyons, 1804, p. 151.
3 Thomas Beggs, “The Auld Wife’s Address to Her Spinning Wheel”, The Poetical Works of Thomas Beggs, Ballyclare , p. 14-17.
4 See John Hewitt, Rhyming Weavers and other Country Poets of Antrim and Down, Belfast, Blackstaff Press, 1974. A new edition of this book, with a foreword by Tom Paulin was published by Blackstaff in 2004.
5 See for example : Amber Adams and J.R.R. Adams (ed.), The Country Rhymes of Hugh Porter: The Bard of Moneyslane, Bangor, Pretani Press, 1992.
6 See, for example, David Herbison, “The Auld Wife’s Lament for her Teapot”, especially the concluding four verses, “The Irish Widow’s Lament”, or “My Ain Native Toun”, in The Select Works of David Herbison, Belfast, William Mullan and Son; Ballymena, John Weir and Moses Erwin; Londonderry, John Hempton, 1883 (?), p. 45, p. 48 & p. 305-308.
7 See, for example, Edward L. Sloan, “The Weaver’s Triumph”, The Bard’s Offering: A Collection of Miscellaneous Poems, Belfast, 1854, p. 73-74.
8 Gleanings frae Ballyboley Braes. Career of the Freebooters Ohaughin, and Poems, by the Late Samuel Turner, N. School-teacher, Ballcorr, Ballyclare, Ballymena, Observer, [1917?], p. 5.
9 See Pádraigín Ní Uallacáin, A Hidden Ulster: People, Songs and Traditions of Oriel, Dublin, Four Courts, 2003.
10 See Jeanne Favret-Saada, Les mots, la mort, les sorts, Paris, Gallimard, 1977.
11 Archibald McIlroy, The Auld Meetin’-Hoose Green, Belfast, McCaw, Stevenson & Orr Ltd. 1898, p. 213-217. The Ullans Press produced a reprint of this text in 2011 as part of the “Ulster-Scots Classics” series. The new edition includes a Foreword by Derek Rowlinson, an Introduction by Dr Crawford Gribben, and a linguistic analysis by the editor, Anne Smyth.
12 Archibald McIlroy, The Humour of Druid’s Island, Dublin, Hodges, Figgis & Co. Ltd.; Belfast W. Mullan & Son, 1902, p. 32-33. This passage appeared in the first issue of Ullans, Spring 1993, p. 23, under the title “Dolly McQuoit”.
13 This story was originally published in Ullans, N° 9 & 10, Wunter 2004, p. 138-140. The author has changed some of the spellings and has also made some minor alterations to the text.
14 Hugh Robinson, Across the Fields of Yesterday, Belfast, The Ullans Press, 1999.
15 W. F. Marshall, Livin’ in Drumlister: The Collected Ballads and Verses of W.F. Marshall, ‘The Bard of Tyrone’ , Belfast, The Blackstaff Press, 1996, p. 33.
16 Fergie an Freens oan tha Fairm, Belfast, Ulster-Scots Community Network, 2011. Text by Matthew Warwick, Illustrations by Louis Humphrey. The complete text, with accompanying translation, is available as a free download at : http://www.ulster-scots.com/uploads/USCNFergieanFreens.pdf
17 Willie Drennan, “Andy Blair”, Wee Book, The Ullans Press, 2004, p. 50-52.
18 James Fenton, On Slaimish, n.p., The Ullans Press, 2009, p. 26 & p. 27.
19 See James Fenton, The Hamely Tongue: A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim , The Ullans Press, 2006.
20 Dan Gordon, The Boat Factory, Belfast, The Ulster-Scots Agency, 2009, p. 28-31.
22 Philip Robinson, “Ayont the knowes”, Alang tha Shore, The Ullans Press, 2005, p. 16-17.
23 Wake the Tribe o Dan (1998), The Back Streets o the Claw (2000), The Man Frae the Ministry (2005) and The Old Orange Tree (2009), all published by the Ullans Press.
24 Alang tha Shore, Ulster-Scots Living Writers Series, Vol. 5, n.p., The Ullans Press, 2005, and Oul Licht, New Licht, n.p., The Ullans Press, 2009.
25 John Erskine, “Tha Merle bi Lagan’s Loch”, Ullans, N°12, Wunter 2011, p. 19.
26 For the text of the poem in the original Irish and English, see “An Lon Dubh” (trans. David Greene and Frank O’Connor), in Malcolm Maclean and Theo Dorgan (eds.), An Leabhar Mòr, The Great Book of Gaelic, Edinburgh, Canongate Books, 2002, p. 36-37.Haut de page
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Wesley Hutchinson, « A selection of Ulster-Scots writing », Études irlandaises, 38-2 | 2013, 181-202.
Wesley Hutchinson, « A selection of Ulster-Scots writing », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 38-2 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2015, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://etudesirlandaises.revues.org/3689 ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesirlandaises.3689Haut de page
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