Thursday, 16 September 2010

Ulster Scots at Stormont

The Belfast Telegraph reports strong criticism of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's plans for an Ulster-Scots Academy in the unlikely setting of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Through many years of observation, it has been the Blether Region's experience that views on Ulster Scots heard at Stormont rarely reflect the opinions of ordinary Unionists or Nationalists. While MLAs in the former camp employ the dialect as part of a Manichaean struggle with Irish Gaelic, their opponents across the Chamber have been wont to humour them in the hope, recently exposed as forlorn, that Irish might at some stage benefit from the application in law of a wholly fictional status to what has clearly always been a dialect of Scots.

Declan O'Loan, Deputy Chair of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, stated:

"This bid for funding for an Ulster-Scots [Academy] is surely inappropriate. The project has been delayed because it lacks definition and even those involved in Ulster-Scots issues disagree fundamentally about it. The whole concept of a so-called Ulster-Scots language has been inflated to an extent that has become comical. Public documents are being translated into an official verbiage which is non-existent in the real world.

"There is a genuine Ulster-Scots culture, history and local dialect, but the study of it is being damaged by falsehoods."

There is little to disagree with in his statement. More surprising was the reaction of Lord Laird to his comments:

"One of the gentlemen [attacking Ulster Scots] is Ballymena's own Declan O'Loan. On many issues I agree with MLA O'Loan, which makes me all the sadder when he lets himself down by attacking a culture which is not his. Declan has underlined once again the narrow out of date think of nationalism."

Now, if Declan O'Loan is from Ballymena, surely the culture must, to a greater or lesser extent, be his. He will at the very least be au fait with the residual dialect of the area, regardless of whether he is an habitual speaker himself. Lord Laird, on the other hand, appears to be a Belfast man, having attended Inst and later been elected to represent part of the city. Artigarvan, the hamlet immortalised upon his ennoblement, is in Tyrone and therefore not in a Scots-speaking part of Ulster. Famously, John Laird even argued for the authenticity of "wee daftie weans" as the Ulster Scots used to refer to children with special needs before he became aware that the term was in fact apocryphal (, 15 October 2003).

One wonders, then, on what basis Lord Laird can see Ulster Scots as his culture while stating that it is not Declan O'Loan's. Perhaps clarification is in order to avoid uncharitable inferences.

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