Friday, 14 December 2012

Ulster Scots on the Map

The Blether Region's thanks go to Ian James Parsley for alerting it to more detailed sets of figures on competence in Scots at local level. Unfortunately, it seems difficult to link to the figures on the NISRA website, but the relevant document is entitled "Dataset 2347_2011" and gives percentages by local authority area.

As readers will be aware, the headline census figure for "some ability in Ulster-Scots" for Northern Ireland was just under 8.1%. Nine of the 26 local government districts in the territory reported above-average percentages on this question and therefore have some claim to be Scots-speaking areas.

They are as follows:

Ballymoney 29.43
Ballymena 22.15
Moyle 21.71
Larne 19.20
Coleraine 15.93
Ards 13.27
Antrim 09.57
Carrickfergus 09.39
Newtownabbey 09.13

The overall impression is that the heart of Scots-speaking Northern Ireland is north County Antrim and the north-east corner of County Derry around Coleraine (the establishment of a university in the town will presumably have rendered the latter area somewhat less Scots in recent decades, but it is still stronger than anywhere in Down).

Moyle, covering the former Glens of Antrim Gaeltacht and with a Catholic majority, has the third-highest total, suggesting that Robert Gregg's decision to mark it simply as "Gaeltacht" in his seminal 1963 map of Scots-speaking areas may be in need of revision. Indeed, for any combination of skills involving speaking ability, Moyle is in second place, after Ballymoney and before Ballymena. The Glens are a small area not only bordering Gregg's "Scotch-Irish" dialect zone but with traditionally strong ties to Scotland. While it is possible that the area's dialect has become more Scots as a result of decreased isolation since Gregg drew his maps, a more likely explanation is that there was a lengthy period of bilingualism before Gaelic finally died out in the 1960s. This all goes to confirm that, despite how it may be promoted at an official level in Northern Ireland, Scots on the ground is a genuinely cross-community phenomenon.

On a related point, although Gregg's decision to map the eastern edge of the Laggan Scots-speaking area as coterminous with the border between Donegal and Northern Ireland has been queried recently, the low percentages reported in the Derry and Strabane local authority areas (4.49% and 6.89% respectively) suggest that he was more accurate in that case. Limavady, at 7.84%, is slightly better but of course borders Coleraine.

As expected, the lowest figures for competence were reported in Fermanagh and Newry and Mourne (4.0% and 3.7% respectively), which include strongly Catholic areas where Scots-influenced Mid-Ulster English yields to South Ulster English.

A further inescapable conclusion is that the Down "Scotstacht", as John Kirk terms it, is on its last legs, with the Ards Borough Council area reporting a figure of only 13.27%. Remember: this figure covers all levels of ability, including knowledge of individual Scots words. The Down area was always smaller than its counterpart in Antrim and seems to have suffered a three-way squeeze from the salubrious areas of Down bordering Belfast Lough to the north, growth of the commuter belt around the capital, and displacement of people during the Troubles. This may also go some way towards explaining why the revival of the Ulster dialect spearheaded by staff or board members of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra has, in many respects, been able to take such an idiosyncratic and untraditional path.

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