Take Back Control – of our Ulster-Scots histories

A friend of mine was sacked from the civil service for saying that Ulster-Scots was a made up language. Unfortunately he said it in the newspaper. But lots of us have said it in private, right? LOLed at the dafties whilst railing against the DUP. Or for unionists, awkwardly pushed it forward as a political issue.

I’ve been thinking recently about how radical the Scottish legacy in Northern Ireland is. And how uncomfortably this sits beside our understandings of Ulster-Scots today.

There’s so much anti-establishment Protestant history to digest. The Protestant Irish, the non-sectarian Presbyterians, the weaver poets, Labour Protestants, socialist loyalists, the evangelical reconciliation movement. Histories very far removed from British and unionist elites. We’re talking communists on the Shankill Road – like my husband’s grandad. Manual workers at the big house – like my own forebears.

But we seem to have developed amnesia about all of this. Conflict has polarised our interpretations of the past. It’s painted Protestants into a corner, which many are struggling to step out of.


All of this started a few weeks ago when I visited a a little exhibition about the Plantation in Bangor museum, with its many Ulster-Scots Agency booklets.

The usual bristling happened first. Montgomery and Hamilton “acquired” the land, did they? Those are the rent books, are they? The feckers. And so on.

I texted my friend, whose sister had helped put the exhibition together, and told her that it was very good, but that Planters were feckers. She texted back to say that there was a bit of Scots in us all, and not to self-hate. I’d had a few beers at that point and was half way through a Billy Connolly documentary, so I was open to the suggestion.

The Plantation of Ulster was a brutal colonial act. A subsidised land grab by a British elite. All of us in Northern Ireland still live with its scars.

But, a test:

a) who did the grabbing?

b) who was swept along by the tide of colonial history?

c) who rebelled against the unfairness of it all?

The answer to all of these questions is Protestants.

And obviously Catholics for the being swept along and rebelling bits.

Today though, Protestants often get tarred by a) whilst c) has been forgotten.


The first thing that made me challenge my instinctual ‘feckers’ narrative was, strangely, an Ulster-Scots language test. In one little booklet it asked if I knew these ‘hunner words’? Usually any mention of Ulster-Scots makes me do an elaborate eye roll any tween would be proud of. Frank Mitchell’s recent challenge to Roy, a caller to his radio show, to speak Ulster-Scots for sixty seconds, whereupon Roy simply switched into a Ballymena accent and culchied it up, is a Northern Irish comedy classic. No question.

But the hunner words were lovely. All eejits and oxters and things that are footery. Blethering and guldering. Being scunnered because you’re a mingin slabber who boked when you were steamin. Words that make me feel rooted to this piece of our island.  Ordinary people words. Words that reflect our black humour and grit.

These words aren’t ours or theirs (whoever ‘we’ and ‘they’ are). They’re pretty universal in the north. Like veda bread. Or frostbit boy (aka Ruarí McSorley, who isn’t far off speaking Ulster-Scots himself).

I don’t think I ever appreciated the richness of Ulster-Scots before. Not that it is a language, or even a distinct cultural tradition. But it’s a gorgeous part of our heritage in an increasingly MacDonaldised world. It’s been hauled into a bitter political argument, to score points against Irishness. Which is weird because it overlaps with Irishness. A fact which even the Ulster-Scots Agency underlines. It’s almost too ironic to bear.


Another rock and roll hobby of mine is trying to find United Irishmen’s graves. The United Irishmen were mainly Presbyterians of Scottish descent who made common cause with Catholics against the Anglican elite. They rebelled against Britain in 1798. And mostly got executed for it. I haven’t had a huge amount of luck finding their gravestones. Partly because 1798 was a long time ago and they’ve eroded or been destroyed. Partly because a small child is usually dragging me away for an urgent wee. And, crucially, because only a handful of dissenters, mostly Presbyterian ministers and the occasional doctor, were important enough to be commemorated in any style. History is written by the victors. Or the vicars in our case.

This history of the victors is reflected in the Ulster-Scots Agency’s booklets. It’s Viscount this and Laird that. It’s enough to make the blood of any good socialist, never mind Gael, boil.

But when I come to trace my own (mostly Protestant) family tree, I don’t find any Lords. Just lackeys and peasants and lumpen proles. Catching fish, sewing britches and digging up spuds for their betters. A yachtsman for a Lord, on the posh side of the family. People who came, or were brought over, from Scotland with the promise of a better life. To work for the 1%. Grappling with it in these terms, I start to redefine who I am annoyed with and why I am annoyed.


Modern unionism is still heavy with this tension. There’s an affinity with the common people, mixed with a paradoxical loyalty to a remote English elite. Which explains how Sammy Wilson and Boris Johnston can sit on the same Westminster benches, but understand little of each other’s lives. It’s an uneasy relationship. And to steal a line from a wise friend (who I won’t tar by association), the ‘iconoclastic edge still simmers in the unionist unconscious. It feeds into the sheer “no” of even the DUP’.

Outside of unionism, anti-establishment strains of Protestantism have expanded and contracted over time, in relation to sectarian conflict. Despite our current polarisation, I see them everywhere. Like the Irish identifying born-again Christians, of which I used to be one. Like Rev. Steve Stockman who runs Paddy’s day céilis in his Presbyterian church and writes articles on reconciliation for An Phoblacht. Like the loyalist councillor who is helping sort out parking for our local Catholic school. Like the Irish language speakers of the East Belfast Mission.

Conal Parr sets some of these alternative Protestant histories out beautifully in his new book, Inventing the Myth, which examines Protestant playwrights and thinkers over the last century. Protestants who disrupted traditional unionist narratives. Regularly emphasising social class over tribe. And who often paid the price for it. Because conflict pulled people into sectarian binaries, and suffocated alternative voices.


And the greatest irony of all? Present day Scotland. It’s the only place on these two islands that now pulls towards left of centre politics. From healthcare to welfare to tuition fees to renewables, where Scotland has devolved authority, it makes more forward thinking decisions than the rest of us.

It’s also the part of the UK that could provide northern nationalism with the best template for the future, with their imaginative, inclusive imagining of independence. Upon which any future Irish unity movement would do well to draw. Putting civic, not ethnic, ideals at the core. And, whatever happens with independence, Dublin and Edinburgh will be surely close allies in any future configuration of post-Brexit relationships.


Piecing all of this together – the gritty, funny humility of the Ulster-Scots vernacular, the lesser-recorded Protestant histories of dissent and radicalism, the progressive pulse of contemporary Scotland… it feels like, as usual, we’ve been missing a trick. We’ve allowed our political troubles to commandeer our Protestant heritage – a lot of which we have selectively misremembered. It’s not simply the conservative unionist monolith it feels like today.

All culture is invented. A Gaeilgeoir baby and and an Ulster-Scots baby, if abandoned at birth in a chicken coop, would not be able to distinguish Liam Clancy from Willie Drennan, or a hurley from a hockey stick. They would peck like chickens in equal measure. Which is to say that Ulster-Scots culture is socially transmitted, not genetic. It’s stories we tell about the past to make sense of the present. We’ve let the present binary frame our understanding of the past. And shape our desires for the future.

So I have a suggestion. Let’s tell a different story. Let’s take back control of the Ulster-Scots layers of our identities. By thinking, writing and talking about them more. By separating out Protestantism from unionism. By appreciating the variety of Protestant culture in Ireland. Its paradoxical anti-elitism. How evangelical religion has informed reconciliation as well as conflict. To appreciate our radical secularist parts. The Irishness that overlaps with Britishness. The positive ways that Scottishness has shaped our northernness, for Catholics as well as Protestants. 

And while we wait for segments of unionism to adjust to new realities, maybe the rest of us Protestants and ex-Protestants can elbow our way into the debate. To shout loudly. We exist. We are ready and waiting to help shape the new Ireland. Whatever that might be.


Claire Mitchell is a freelance writer. Formerly senior lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a member of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but all views are her own. More at www.clairemitchell.net

  • MainlandUlsterman


  • MainlandUlsterman

    certainly true – political unionism is much less attractive and resonant than the Union itself to a lot of people, myself included

  • MainlandUlsterman

    how long have you got?!

  • amcelholm

    But it’s not a language, it’s at best a dialect. It’s not even a very strong dialect, it would be difficult to write a page in Ulster Scots that a regular norn iron person couldn’t understand 95% of, let alone an entire book. I lived in Scotland for several years, Ulster Scots is basically speaking English in a Scottish accent. I once picked up a pamphlet and read some examples – “Heid” means head and ‘fitba’ means football apparently in Ulster Scots. That’s just English with a Scottish accent.

    Many languages have significant overlaps and technically are dialects, you’ve given an example of Spanish and Portuguese (which aren’t dialects but seperate languages but there is some overlap, as with Spanish and Italian). Better examples of languages which technically are dialects are the Germanic languages and Scandinavian languages which for political reasons are considered different languages. But Russian has virtually no overlap with Spanish, Greek with German, Irish with English. Some languages are clearly distinct and seperate.

    Ulster Scots is a dialect of English, trying to bludgeon people to ignore their own ears and eyes to accept it’s a seperate language just ain’t going to work cos it just ain’t true.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    A change of approach from SF, from seeking to destroy unionism to embracing partnership with unionists

  • NotNowJohnny

    And there you have it. That is the problem of Northern Ireland. It was ever thus. Sinn Fein is a convenient cloak for unionists but deep down it is the nationalist population that many unionists view as being worse than no good. However, for most, they usually have the wit not to let the mask slip. It’s considered acceptable to berate Sinn Fein proving you keep focusing on the troubles which is what unionists constantly seem to do. Arlene Foster was at it on the steps of Westminster last week. But it’s not really about the troubles which ended almost a quarter of a century ago.

    Of course the news is that the nationalist population aren’t going anywhere. It’s not 1950 anymore so unionists are going to have to get used to dealing with them on an an equal basis no matter what they think of them. Nationalism is much stronger and much more confident now thanks to unionist intransigence. They have a strong party in the north and a Taoiseach in the south who won’t be pushed around over brexit. So much so that they probably don’t need to worry what unionists really think of them anymore.

  • file

    Neither of which is the exclusive property of the territory from which it originated. So why should Irish be any different?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You’d have to unpack the comment that “ a lot of the DUP are genuinely anti-terror” for me. Of course they tell us they are, but then so does SF who are vociferously anti-dissident and pro constitutionalist nowadays. Both have structural party links with organisations which have histories in the troubles and are untroubled by the existence of such support, even appear to use public office to protect members of such groups and on Troubles issues act as their advocates.

    I’d need some genuine reason to believe that there is a strong anti-terror body in the DUP especially as I hear so often that “he (or she) had to say that in public but has his ( or her) own opinions in private.” Lord Bannside himself gave an eloquent example of this ploy, although in another context, when he insisted that he was forced into collision with SF only by the threats of HM Government in his last interviews.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My experience also.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Who’s doing the branding? That’s certainly not the brand of irishness that is emanating from the south. That sounds to me like an early/mid twentieth century branding rather than a twenty first albeit one that the DUP continues to buy into where they seem determined to link the Irish language to Sinn Fein.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Anything to add regarding the ‘brutal act of colonisation’, it seems to me that some wish to depict it as a ‘trail of tears’ and others as ‘civilising’, as usual ignoring all the juicy bits in between…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A first rate analysis of an important reality Marcus, but while there will always be one core culture, it can be liberal ( small “L”, importantly) and pluralist as are the inherently Conservative lead parties in Ireland today. There is also a strong pull to the alternative constitutionalist tradition which the Revolution eclipsed for decades, which has become the “history of choice” for serious Irish politicians over the past three decades.

    NI is as you point out importantly in the tension of what Yeats called “ the moment where chance and choice meet” and I cannot see an easy transition as the failure to build common ground after the implementation of the Belfast Agreement has left us with only an oppositional contest which all too easily could turn from political debate to (hopefully short lived) physical force, as so often in the last century. Let us hope that Dublin’s engagement in this change continues to be wise, broad minded and pluralist and that the Irishness that F.J. Bigger described as “an harmonious unity of effect from a great diversity of detail” prevails and flourishes.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Too many Unionists build a very different Ireland of their fears to that which is actually there today. Of course as Hanna Arendt points out in her work, fear of “the other” is the most important weapon in the political armoury of the unscrupulous politician. It is always an easy call that pays off far more than any genuinely reasoned arguement.

    Ireland today has nothing but positive things to offer all the people of the north, so it is all important if the Union is to appear justified as a political aspiration to pull more and more of the past in an undigested lump back into the present. This is painfully like a person walking a street from memory blindfolded. Inevitably unnecessary collisions must ensue.

    I keep getting accused of living in the past by Unionists who are probably liminaly aware of their own habits and project them onto my posts. Of course I am drawing on deeply encoded patterns of thought and behaviour still working themselves out in our everyday life in the north. This is something very very different to simply pulling an agrievement out of the past and using it as a block on facing modern realities.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I find it fascinating to watch just how often a poster will build a wall of conceptual sandbags against anything which challenges them. I disagree with you often, but you compell me to think of why i disagree with you and I genuinely try not to score cheap non-points in arguement.

    Aodh is stereotyping what Claire has written into easy bite size ideas which fail to engage with the real human being attempting to say something about another approach to who we are. I am delighted to again find myself apparently in general agreement with you over her powerful attempt to humanise an important part of my own background.

    I come from the tradition of Frank Bigger, Alice Stopford Green and James Brown Armour, whose Alternative Covenant waved the flag of progressivism and liberal Home Rule Ulster as Unionism was building the century long nightmare we have all survived.

    Claire’s great value on Slugger is that she is eloquently deconstructing the hardened and rusted up politics of stalemate and hinting at some very different ways to reimagine ourselves from the “ disguarded image” of the Northern Protestant. She is revitalising the sheer dissenter cussedness which was never tamed by that Tory/Orange Alliance which empowered Unionism, and in a most timely manner on the day of a very stale reworking of the Unionist myths by the DUP conference.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My dissenter strain is delighted to find that the juicy bits are what makes it real!

  • Sean Danaher

    “My heritage is border reiver” presumably on the Scottish rather than the Northumberland side of the border? It nice that the people in northern Numberland and over the border don’t think of themselves as primarily English or Scots but rather as “Borderers”

  • William Kinmont

    Borderer yes. The border has been a pretty fluid thing in those parts .have the the same fluid attitude here with regard to what country I live in

  • William Kinmont

    Why terrible?

  • Brian Walker

    Nope.. BBC commissioing editor etc. See CV if you’re interested

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I have in my library a contemporary account from the early seventeenth century of one of my own borderer ancestors fighting a duel with his brother-in-law with broadswords for nearly two days! Rests taken of course. In the end King James VI & I had to tell them to wise up on pain of emprisonment!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could someone explain why it was a ‘brutal colonial act’?

    To me it seemed to be a mix of private business projects involving all manner of rogues with royal approval rather than the much favoured narrative of a western proddy Lebensraum (a narrative much favoured by both MOPEy nationalists and the fantasist ‘we’re so ruddy loyal it’s unbelievable’ unionist brigade).

    Were there any Catholic earls involved in the plantation?

    Did joe six pack lose his land?

    Were all the planters of good loyal stock?

    Were there Gaels planted too?

    Were there similar enterprises before the crown got involved?

    What was the ‘death toll’?

    (Rhetorical questions but food for thought)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think it was a dig at Bojo, not you Brian.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    With Nelson McCausland in a yella kilt being the cherry on top!

  • William Kinmont

    A political tool in anyone’s language

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The plantation was the outcome of the nine years war in which the common standards of European warfare were set aside. I mention Fyffes Morrison’s description of starving children on the Castlereagh hills on another post above.

    The land had been cleared by systematic ethnic cleansing by Lord Mountjoy and the descriptions of Sir Arthur Chichester’s harrowing of Tyrone describe his killing humans and domestic animals down to dogs and chickens. “Brutal” was the inceptive moves. Those left who were not allies of England were entirely dispossessed. Many of the very allies were “cleaned up” by systemic theft through the process of driving them into revolt or through private debt arrangements which bankrupted them.

    The plantation did not get enough incomers to work and “ undertakers” to plant had to rent out to locals. The incomers were pioneers frequently trying to get settled alone. Another abuse creeps in here where they would Marty and bring in new brides after ten or more years of developing a local family out of wedlock. The number of planter wives and children murdered by adolescents or women eloquently pointy to this.

    The planters were a rough lot, even the gentry. They had to be “loyal” as this was the one security for their new lands, and it is interesting to note how strongly the north Presbyterian and Anglican, regarded themselves as loyal to Charles I during the civil wars. But then so was the Catholic Confederation. This allowed them to play musical chairs with alliances during the war on a mind boggling scale.

  • David Ferguson

    “I was unaware there was a dastardly evil master plan to absorb NI.” Um… would you think about that for a moment, please? From the unionist point of view, isn’t that pretty much what the IRA’s armed struggle has amounted to?

  • El Daddy

    > We don’t read too much of educated nationalists who are questioning Irish identity and looking beyond it to a greater understanding of our common British heritage

    I’m going to need some more on this one. How could this apply to someone of Gaelic heritage (or even Norse-Gael, or Hiberno-Norman) ? What is “British” about those?

  • Colonel Deplorable

    Rubbish. You are likely just another bitter aul Republican annoyed that any form of distinct local identity is being promoted at all.

  • El Daddy

    > Republic-run NI would surely offer a future in which Irishness would be pushed as a superior form of identity

    MU that’s ridiculous! I could easily see FF or FG bending over backwards to accommodate all identities in an effort to make people more comfortable in a 32 county republic. Didn’t I already link you the words of the constitution “in all the diversity of their identities and traditions“. We would be richer for the diversity of the different kinds of Irishness – our passports already have Ulster Scots in them.

  • Colonel Deplorable

    Unsurprising that a self-loathing lundy wants more lundy rubbish from this pathetic woman. Clearly a lunatic given a member of the Green party. No thanks.

  • Sean Danaher

    The IRA in no way shape or form represents me. I never have and never will support their aims and methods. I treat SF with the utmost suspicion and am quite frankly horrified that NI people vote for either SF or the DUP.

    I’m speaking from a Southern perspective and would only want a NI which works for everyone. An United Ireland where 49.9% against NI voted against it is a recipe for disaster.

  • Sub

    Colonel methinks you are about to lose your commission in Slugger land

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good grief! Where are the billy goats gruff when we need them to deal with the Troll beneath the bridge?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You have my genuine sympathy. It is inevitable of the hardest of things to cope with especially in one whom you care about.

  • Erewhon888

    A quotation from the “Cultural Traditions” QUB Conference Proceedings:

    “The father of modern Irish nationalism, Daniel O’Connell, gave the stamp of approval to this limiting and exclusive vision of Irish nationhood when he described Protestants as ‘foreign to us since they are of a different religion’.

    This simplification of history into race and religion is inherently false. In the Catholic/Nationalist version of history, for example, the Catholics of the Glens of Antrim are Irish, and belong to the ancient Celtic civilisation of the nation; the Protestants of the rest of Antrim are ‘Saxon’ interlopers who drove the native Irish off their lands.

    In fact, the only area where the native Irish were driven out by force of arms was in the Glens – by the Catholic Highlanders of the MacDonnell Lords of the Isles.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A most incorrect final paragraph as my longer posting clearly describes! And of course the Glynnes are always going to have been rather more complex than that with enough “ natives” left when Shane O’Neill broke then MacDonnells at thd battle of Glentaisie in 1565 for him to consider holding the glynnes himself.

    There has always been cross marriage and absorption, but the final years of the Tudor conquest in Ulster were an orgy of genocidal destruction as is well attested in the contemporary histories and reports written by commanders such as Sir Arthur Chichester. This is not somehow “Nationalist history” it is attested fact.

  • Erewhon888

    Yes, I assumed it was incorrect and that posting it would get a correction. Surprisingly, there is no pushback indicated from the conference. Maybe they chose not to embarrass their keynote speaker for poor research.

    Perhaps you can give some guidance. I am part way through Jonathan Bardon’s “The Plantation of Ulster” but note that some Amazon reviewers prefer Philip Robinson’s “The Plantation of Ulster: British Settlement in an Irish Landscape, 1600-1670”

    Have you a preference here or further recommendations noting the reservations expressed in various reviews by Armagh octagenarian Keenan.


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you for the link, I’d be with Dessie on the critique of Barton for sloppy terminology but perhaps even more for a tendency to generalisations.

    Jonathan had done good work on the twentieth century and I particularly like his excellent book on Brookborough but he loosens up the further back he goes, rather as Eamonn Phoenix also does. History is led by primary source research and I can tell you it’s very demanding work. The temptation is to resort to generalisations and to miss important detail like the instance of the common law families which I bring up in my big posting.

    I am notoriously reluctant to recommend outline books, but will have a think about academic articles that might elucidate the plantation.

  • Marcus Orr

    Sean, I’m well aware that the IRA or Sinn Féin does not represent you at all, and that you are speaking from a Southern perspective. However, it was the elected govt. of the Republic who pushed the USA hard to get Gerry Adams his visa and invitation to the White House in 1994. And when did the ROI water down their own territorial claim on Northern Ireland in articles 2 & 3 of your constitution? Why, that was in 1998, after 30 years of armed struggle in NI in which the IRA’s own “Brits out” strategy could be said to have been tacitly supported by articles 2 and 3.

    Do not get me wrong. I know very well that the Garda also did their best to curtail IRA activity and I also know that it was rather natural for the Southern Government to want to stick up for the rights of the Irish Nationalist community in the North, understandable given also some loyalist outrages and denial of rights.

    But you don’t get to close your eyes to what the IRA really did during the 1970’s and 1980’s given the strong lobbying that your own govt. did to Billy Clinton and the US govt. to turn the screw on the UK govt. back in the 1990’s. That was clear positioning on the part of the ROI’s elected representatives on the side of Gerry Adams and his objectives.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thank ye kindly Seaan.

    I was referring mainly to the Stuart part, mainly from the moment Hamilton handed Con O’Neill a ‘cheque’ (a romanticised version undoubtedly) and in particular I recall you mentioning some fine points regarding the modernisation of land use of this era (or words to that effect).

    The Tudor part was too ghastly to contend otherwise.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “self loathing Lundy”?

    And all the Shinners on here think him anti SF.

    Can he be both at the same time?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    same document declared itself “oblivious” to non-Irish-nationalist forms of identity which it described as “alien”.

  • El Daddy

    Full text of the constitution here – http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/cons/en/html

    Ctrl-F searching for “Oblivious” and “alien” don’t show up with any results, unless you want to talk about “unalienable” rights. Times have moved on.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the peoples of these islands have intermingled rather a lot and we are all descended from various waves settlers and invaders to some degree, including people of Gaelic heritage. If people are interested in seeking connections across the Irish Sea it’s not hard to find one or two in most families.

    But there is no more need for people in the Republic to big up their British side than for me to big up my Irish side. It’s entirely up to the individual how they want to define themselves and frame their heritage and sense of place.

  • Devil Éire

    No they didn’t.

  • El Daddy

    > But there is no more need for people in the Republic to big up their British side

    But I’m asking.. what British side? There isn’t any. The Gaels weren’t the first to inhabit Ireland, but even they were different to the Brittonic Celts. I have nothing against Britain or it’s people in the slightest, but to paint Ireland or it’s Gaelic inhabitants as having a British identity would be incorrect. I understand that there have been a lot of intermingling across the narrow sea, and plenty of it before any invasion/colonising/planting, and even people moving between the islands more recently for economic reasons. We have a lot in common with Britain, a significant. But that doesn’t give us a British identity.

    I’m not asking you to “big up” an Irish side, but I’m asking how I could have a British one, or even a “shared British heritage”. That just doesn’t make sense.

  • Devil Éire

    The irony of it: expressing Ulster Scots culture by wearing an ersatz version of the costume of the Highland Gael.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The thing that I don’t like is the cultural demarcation that has led to this.

    Once upon a time there was just Ulster’s version of Irish culture that saw Protestants partake in Gaelic culture and vice versa.

    It was just our thing and that’s that.

    Different to the south and different to the east and that’s that. Carry on.

    But since the late 19th century it’s become a case of ‘this is for usuns and this is for themuns’ despite the many shared cultural threads.

    And now something that was so much a part of Ulster life so as to be hidden in plain sight is now not only a thing in its own right but has been hijacked by a clearly mentally biased outfit (a certain N McC et al) and been dressed up as something for people of a particular religion and indeed a particular political mindset that didn’t really exist when the first Scots arrived in Ulster.

    And no one stops to think of all the people on the unionist side with Gaelic names and all the people on the nationalist side with ‘planter’ names.

    It must seem ludicrous from an outsider’s point of view.

    I’d say it is a tragedy of Greek proportions but I haven’t read enough Greek stuff so I’ll just assume that they have it covered in the tragedy stakes…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Yes indeed!

    I actually think I wrote to an Ulster Scots branch regarding that very topic. No reply though.

  • El Daddy

    > However, it was the elected govt. of the Republic who pushed the USA hard to get Gerry Adams his visa and invitation to the White House in 1994


    Well it was John Hume who pushed the US ambassador and the Albert Reynolds, who both pushed Ted Kennedy, who pushed Clinton, so I wouldn’t really say it was the Irish govt looking out for Adams at all. The territorial claim was hard to get rid of at the time when Irish nationalist in NI were treated the way they were – it would have involved a referendum to change the constitution, which I doubt would have been passed considering how nationalists were treated for so long, up until the GFA.

  • El Daddy

    I’ve just realised you’ve mixed up the Proclamation with the Constitution.

  • siouxchief

    I enjoyed your posts Sean but like Marcus I also agree that taking the “don’t mind me I’m from the South and don’t vote SF” view a bit annoying to be honest.

    We are all a part of this mess and it’s the collective decisions of politicians and military men in both islands that got us here. We down south can’t take some sort of moral high ground in all of this.

    Quaint you think a 50.1% winning margin is not ideal but I wouldn’t dare tell those people they have to stay controlled by a foreign country for any longer than necessary just because you’re happy out in D4.

  • Deb Logan

    Three of their graves (my ancestors) are here in the US. Check with John Lyttle in Belfast – you might find some other graves.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you’re right, sorry my mistake

  • MainlandUlsterman

    that was kind of my point – I don’t think you should have to feel
    any kind of British identity. Live and let live. There are connections, links, shared history aplenty across the islands, for those who value that; for those that don’t, fine. Same with pan-Irish stuff for me. Sometimes interesting but not for me a significant part of my identity as an Ulsterman and a proud Brit.

  • El Daddy

    I suppose the one difference being that Ulster is part of Ireland, yet Ireland is not part of Britain.

  • LordSummerisle

    Sorry is there no room for dissent ? I have not forgotten her other article on Slugger. Though it appears that some have.

  • sam mccomb

    My limited reading suggests that DNA from a woman of the neolithic age whose remains were discovered in Co Down had a predominantly Near Eastern origin similar to modern Sardinia Other DNA from bodies on Rathlin Island had genetic material common to about 80% of the modern Irish male. Now, and subject to revision of course, the hypothesis is that a large area of Europe including Ireland was transformed genetically by immigrants from the east, the steppes of Ukraine and southern Russia. If Ireland did indeed see such immigration it may be that so did Scotland. Perhaps we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns.

    My name is “son of Tom”. I come from a clan of “cattle breeders”. My great grandfather married a Graham woman, a family which stole cattle. A perfect marriage.

    I had an attempt at a post earlier which was moderated and for some reason removed. I was trying to tell our poster here William Kinmont of KInmont Willie, the well kent Border Reiver of 16th century Scotland who was an Armstrong. Although a Border Reiver He had a close relationship with the Warden of the Marches on the Scottish side who rescued him after Armstrong’s capture by the Warden of the English Marches (The name Armstrong comes from Middle Age French.)

  • LordSummerisle

    One thing cannot be another thing. Even after the revisionism is accepted as Gospel truth and the complete transformation has taken place be assured that whilst the accidents change the substance remains the same. McKay even alluded to that in her ghastly offering of ‘Protestant’ thought cum identity. It is terrible because it is brought about by self loathing amongst other things. The above article and the other one of recent memory seem to prove it.

  • William Kinmont

    Let’s not allow debate next thing there could be an outbreak of thinking, imagine what that could do for the old indoctrination.

  • William Kinmont

    Maybe once you realise the Gospel to have little basis in fact or truth the loathing is for time and lives wasted on it.

  • LordSummerisle

    Yes and you can than a certain Monk for that particular freedom. The difference is that I do not consider my opinion definitive. It is simply my opinion.

  • LordSummerisle

    You have misunderstood my point. When I reference revisionism I am talking about the revision of history concerning this very place. Not New Testament literary criticism. When the revisionism of history is swallowed by young people who do not feel the need to challenge the narrative… self loathing… angst… now I hate that from which I am from…

  • Sean Danaher


    OK, I hopefully can understand where you are coming from and I’ve never lived in NI so I am I suspect terrible naive.

    There is a difference between what is desirable and reality and I may not have expressed myself very well.

    I agree we to all have collective responsibility to get out of this mess, which is not going well at present and feel I have to do what little I can to help; but often well meaning idiots can be counter-productive. I hope I’m not in that category.

    I think it desirable for the well-being of a future UI that some of the more sensible at least of the PUL community buy into the process. I believe also that many in the PUL community are so traumatised by the way things have gone that they are unable to think rationally about the future and the very prospect of a UI is so terrifying that it is too horrible to contemplate. A “pull yourselves together” or saying a UI is inevitable so “tough you better get used to it” is not going to win many friends. A relaxed friendly approach may not work either but I am giving it a go.

    I don’t live in Dublin 4 but rather in Northumberland in the UK, but go back regularly and try to feel the pulse so to speak.

    Should the people of NI vote 50%+1 for a United Ireland my own view is that I have to do all I can to make it a success. I would certainly accept a 50%+1 result. It is not however desirable. I have no territorial ambitions to annex NI but feel somehow we in the South should have done more to support the CNR community and continue to support them. Catholic guilt I suspect.

    So here is I think how things might go.

    I think Brexit will happen and in a pretty extreme form (WTO etc), I wish this was not the case but don’t see how it can be avoided.

    My thinking on Brexit is that it will not go well for the average person in the UK, indeed it could be potentially very bad. The power brokers behind Brexit will clean up in the ensuing chaos and we will end up a Singapore style model, which will be excellent for the top 1%.

    The UK economic forecasts are depressing even without Brexit factored in.

    I think the powers in the UK will as ever prioritise London and the SE and don’t see things going well at all for the more peripheral regions including the NE, but most particularly NI.

    NI is already a drain on the UK of around £10bn PA, the economy is not doing well. It could well be even more of a “basket case” in 5 years time.

    I am far more optimistic about the South. It has been the only other part of these islands that has thrived over the past 45 years apart from London and the SE. It has been very good at attracting FDI and I would not be surprised it that accelerated after Brexit. It is very possibly in its strongest economic position ever. The UK is not.

    According to Boris Johnson, (Daily Telegraph, May 12, 2013) “If we
    left the EU we would end this sterile debate and we would have to
    recognise that most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by
    chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills
    and a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human
    and physical capacity and infrastructure.”

    I don’t want to end up in a Cyprus type situation where NI votes for a UI but the people of the South see both an economic and social mess and wonder is this really a good idea?

    I don’t look at NI in a zero sum game way. I do think a UI can work for everyone. Indeed I have no interest in annexing, crushing or dominating the PUL community. I think their fears are irrational and unfounded, but they are definitely there.

  • Nevin

    “I don’t think I ever appreciated the richness of Ulster-Scots before.”

    The Dictionary of the Scots Language is a wonderful source of words, their possible origins and their usages. Worth consulting before wading in with big boots …

    “LOLed at the dafties”

    A most unfortunate turn of phrase but mocking of some groups is all too common, not least the residents of mental hospitals/asylums. Such institutions would be labelled the hoos fer dafties in the Scots vernacular.

    Hence (1) daftie, an imbecile; one who is slightly deranged mentally; a fool; Gen.Sc.;

  • MainlandUlsterman

    actually part of Ireland is, though I know over there ‘Britain’ is often used differently as a term. Britain in frequently used as a name for the whole country, the UK – and in that sense does include N Ireland. Also, the rest of Ireland used to be in the UK so to that extent has some British heritage and history. The architecture of central Dublin for example is more than a little British in that sense. The places it most resembles are city areas in mainland UK built in the same periods.

  • siouxchief

    Thanks for your reasoned response Sean and apologies if my response may have come across a bit tetchy. Out of interest how do you think the UK falling back to WTO rules (when Ireland use their veto) would get through the UK parliament or how would the Gov survive? Surely a prospective no deal will trigger a general election?

  • Claire Mitchell

    Yes, I agree with you, it’s really patronising. And I very much note the comments on class/urban based snobbery about Ulster Scots on this thread. I was trying here to pinpoint this attitude, hopefully in order to challenge it. As I have indeed been challenged myself over the last month when finding out more about it. Hopefully that comes across too. Thanks for the link.

  • Claire Mitchell

    that’s so interesting – thanks for that!

  • El Daddy

    To be honest I would say Britain is used as shorthand for the UK more because people are unaware of the existence of NI, but I have no doubt you don’t agree with me on that one. Certainly from my usage you can admit that Ulster is part of the island of Ireland and not Britain.

    The architecture of the rulers from London certainly would lend itself to certain similarities with cities in the UK, but that is more the heritage of the cities and buildings rather than the people.

  • Nevin

    I did some research into the indomitable Martha Craig; it shows the influence of story-telling in the home. Ray Davey, one of the founders of Corrymeela, had a significant influence on my life but I had limited interest in politics and history before I ‘fell into’ family history in my mid-40s in the 1990s. Some of my maternal Presbyterian kith and kin were on the losing side in 1798 so it was interesting to read an account of Derrykeighan from 1758 and Louguile from 1801. Presbyterian republicans in Derrykeighan and Catholic loyalists in Loughguile I should imagine are a rare if not extinct species now.

    I dabble in family history. I’ve come across numerous folk who may be called X but who have no X in their DNA, something that can come as a real shock to descendants of the diaspora!

  • Sean Danaher

    I am ever appalled by the Tories ability to put party before country. The Tories are also terrified of another General election. There is a very powerful faction, the European Research Group (also Think Tanks Legatum and Atlantic Bridge) that wants WTO rules and detests the EU, who seem to be driving the process so far and have no intention of giving up. The Mail, Sun and Telegraph will spin things such that it is Ireland’s/EU’s fault for being so intransigent. The “little Englander” tribe will be ecstatic “that will show Jonny foreigner!”

    The DUP obviously will not pull the plug. My main hope are the 12 Scottish Tory MPs and a few pragmatists such as Anna Soubry https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/26/anna-soubry-interview-brexit-history-will-condemn-this-period but there are some on the Labour side who want Brexit as well, probably even Corbyn.

    No I’m not sure the government will fall over WTO rules; I certainly hope so but remain very pessimistic.

  • Claire Mitchell

    That website is amazing, I hadn’t come across it. Loving Martha Craig. So hard to find histories of political women recorded (with some notable exceptions), so this is especially interesting. As well as all the family histories. Thanks very much for sharing!

  • DP Moran

    Yeah diversity really made Ireland so much stronger. So strong in fact that it led to the partitioning of the island.

  • William Kinmont

    surely the article is all about pointing out there are numerous muddled narratives so that they can be investigated and challenged.
    More likely to come out loathing the old indoctrinated positions rather than ones self.

  • Nevin

    Claire, I’ve just added a footnote to that Martha Craig blog: her great-nephew Professor Robert John Gregg of Larne and Vancouver had a life-long interest in Ulster-Scots.

    You might also be interested in the Bushmills Suffrage Society – and the Unionist ‘Provos’!

  • Hugh Marcus

    Brilliant piece Claire. Best article I’ve read in a long time.
    Problem is all of us are being ‘boxed’ or labelled nowadays. Having come back to my roots a few years ago, I now live on 40 acres of stones that was bought by my great granda. He wasn’t some crusading knight on a white horse. He came to work in the iron ore mines & met a local girl.

    I have a copy of the bank loan he had taken out, to buy a heather covered hill. He spent most of his life making fields & getting it to grow grass instead.
    My great granda on my mum’s side was brought over to stable & drive horses for Lady Londonderry.

    Nuff said.

    Now I know why I’m always wanting to fight the establishment or take the side of the ‘wee man’.

    What annoys me most is that most of those who spout about ‘Ulster Scots’ would know more about a fish supper & a red bus (yea I know they’re pink now, but you get my point’.

    I think Adams & Co have managed to make us all feel guilty in case we were a part of a movement that drove the Catholics into the bogs. Truth is, most of us weren’t.

  • Tom in London

    Being born into a so-called “Ulster Scots” family, I never had a hug, ever, for 17 years. Luckily, much later, I went to live in Italy 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    John Lyttle has written the first book by an insider to examine the role of eighteenth century Freemasonry in the radicalism of the United Irishmen. It is an authoratitive work which offers the fruits of his researches in Masonic records, and supersedes the work of others in the past who are simply reporting hearsay.

    He quotes a letter from a government informant of the 1790s shown to John Herron Lepper by F. J. Bigger stating every United Man is a Mason and every Mason a United man.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    One has only to run across the names in LOI minute books to find regular Gaelic ancestry. I’d add a more recognisable term for most Scots Irish regarding the tragedy “ of Biblical proportions..,,”

  • Nevin

    “where Scotland has devolved authority, it makes more forward thinking decisions than the rest of us”

    The SNP’s big brother/sister approach to the care and protection of children – the named person scheme – has gone down like a lead balloon.

    “I’d had a few beers at that point and was half way through a Billy Connolly documentary, so I was open to the suggestion.”

    An obvious case for the named person aka the head gardener to call in a child for a wee chat about mummy’s drinking problem and disturbing TV viewing habits.

    “It’s the only place on these two islands that now pulls towards left of centre politics.”

    The head gardener upgrades the alarm from yellow to amber at this suggestion of reds under the beds and a potential outbreak of island or Rathlin syndrome.

    Named Persons will be able to advise and talk to children, which may include very personal issues, without their parent’s knowledge or consent. .. source [pdf file]

    Mummy sees red when she finds out that her private life has become tittle-tattle at the Annual Conference of Head Gardeners and been recorded for posterity in that obscure blog: Slugger O’Toole. She was last seen tattie-howkin British Queens in Comber!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You’re right I should pull out a few links to things I’d written before in Slugger.

  • Paul Paterson

    As a Scot I read this article with fascination.

    From our perspective it hits the nail squarely on the head. We are managing to marginalise the flag carriers on the 12th – civic nationalism and the inclusiveness of this is really helping.

    Most Scots (who aren’t aware of Irish polilitics) share an affiliation with Ireland and we rarely make the distinction between North and South. It is almost subliminal knowing that we sprung from the same tree to some extent in the distant past. Certainly, true of those of us from a highland heritage. Language being one aspect, whisky and stout being others…

    As for the Scots language – it is debated here too, is a dialect or is it a language. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter at all. You can get Scots bibles, Scots dictonaries etc… Scots Gaelic too is also on revival – bi-lingual signage at all train stations and road signs north of Perth.

    I applaud the strong bond developing between Dublin and Edinburgh and I hope a bond can be developed with Belfast in the long run.

    The only thing we have got wrong is Scottish Rugby should have supported Ireland’s world cup bid, but that’s another story!

  • runnymede

    This article is very self-contradictory. Clearly NI unionists understand the dissenter and anti-establishment elements of their culture very well indeed. Apart from anything else, they largely vote for the DUP.

    Now had you written this fifty years ago you might have had a point.

  • Claire Mitchell

    Yeah, sorry! Was hungover and Slugger defensive shield engaged 😉 All good points!