The Ulster-Scots Community, Part 3

The genesis and (arrested) development of the Ulster-Scots Academy

In 1992, therefore, the year of Fréchet’s death, I published the three-volume Folk Poets of Ulster Series, including the “Country Rhymes” of James Orr, Samuel Thompson and Hugh Porter.[1] In line with the Scots magazine Lallans, I suggested the use of “Ullans” as the name of the magazine the Ulster-Scots Language Society first published in 1993. The term appeared particularly useful, not only as a contraction of “Ulster Lallans” but of the word “Uladh”, Gaelic for Ulster, or “Ulidia,” and “Lallans”, Scotch for Lowlands , as well as being a acronym for the Society’s aims in its support for the “Ulster-Scots language, literature and Native Speech.” I had also suggested the new name for a proposed Ulster-Scots Academy which I founded in June 1992, following a meeting in Vancouver between Professor Robert Gregg and myself. The Academy was to be based on the Friesian Academy of Sciences in the Netherlands, with its three departments of Linguistics and Literature, History and Culture, and Social Sciences,[2] which I had visited in 1978 with a group of community activists from Northern Ireland.

The Academy would fulfil a need for the regulation and standardisation of the language for modern usage. These standards would be initiated on behalf of the Ulster-Scots Community, Protestant and Catholic, Nationalist and Unionist, and would be academically sound. What we didn’t need was the development of an artificial dialect which excluded and alienated traditional speakers. Furthermore, the term “Ullans” was not to be restricted to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, since as a variety of Central or Mid Scots, it is also spoken in south-west Scotland, an area south of the River Nith, including the country of Robert Burns, and in Galloway and Carrick – corresponding roughly to the ancient Kingdoms of Rheged and Aeron[3] – where it is known as “Galloway Irish”.[4] The Ullans Academy was to be based in Belfast, which was at the epicentre of all three jurisdictions. It was also to be used to explore the relationships with Ulster Gaelic which I have termed “Ulidian,” which was formerly spoken in all three areas, and had been first brought to south-west Scotland by the Kreenies or Cruthin of Dalaradia in Antrim.[5]

In December 1992, I facilitated the formation of the Ulster-Scots Language Society in Craigavon House, Belfast and at a meeting of the Society on Friday 28th May, 1993, I suggested that the Ulster-Scots Academy might be required to act as a teaching and resource centre for the newly formed Language Society.

The first formal meeting of the Academy was held at my home on Monday 10th January, 1994. The following month, I asked Mr. Jim Nicholson M.E.P. to raise the issue of an Ullans Academy in the European Parliament at Strasbourg.[6] This was followed up by the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley M.P.[7] In December 1995, I asked Dr. Paisley to arrange for Members of the U.S.L.S., including myself, to meet the Northern Ireland Office Minister, Michael Ancram, to put forward a comprehensive proposal for a core-funded Academy. The costed and itemised proposal included details of a language development programme and an Ulster-Scots Language Resource Centre. Without any funding being awarded, the Academy managed to complete some aspects of its agenda on a purely voluntary basis.

It was clear to me that establishing a standard version of the language was of fundamental importance while at the same time maintaining local variants. To this end, in 1995, I had published, under the imprint of the Ulster Scots Academic Press from my premises in 12 Main Street, Conlig, County Down, a regional dictionary by James Fenton, The Hamely Tongue[8] which was the most important record yet produced of current Ulster-Scots speech and which is now in its third edition.

With the establishment of the Ulster-Scots Agency in the Noarth/ Sooth Boord o Leid under the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and the formal recognition of Ulster-Scots as a European Regional Language by the U.K. Government in 1999,[9] I ensured that the implementation of the Academy’s Language Development Programme became a Government imperative. On 10th March, 1999, Marjorie Mowlam, one of Her Majesty’s Principle Secretaries of State, made Order 1999 Number 8591 establishing North-South co-operation bodies. The functions of the Language Body in relation to Ullans and Ulster-Scots cultural issues would be exercised by an Ulster-Scots Agency of the Body. Ullans was to be understood as the variety of the Scots language traditionally found in parts of Northern Ireland and Donegal. Ulster-Scots cultural issues related to the cultural traditions of the part of the population of Northern Ireland and the border counties which were of Scottish origins and the influence of their cultural traditions on others, both within the island of Ireland and in the rest of the world. This document thus allowed a distinction between the language, which is spoken by people of varying ancestry and nationalities, and the cultural traditions, which are an amalgam of Ulster and Scottish traditions including Highland , Lowland and Hebridean .

In 1998/99 the Government had funded the U.S.L.S. to produce a development plan for the Ulster-Scots language. This “Edmund Report” was produced in July 2000 by consultant John Edmund, its official title being, A Strategic Plan for the Promotion of the Ulster-Scots Language.[10] It provided an updated, detailed language development proposal as a model for the work of the Ullans Academy. This report again provided detailed costings for a core-funded Academy. The resourcing of the critical elements of the language development plan was agreed by Government and approved in the 2000-2003 corporate plans for the Ulster-Scots Agency. However, the agreed £1.5m. expenditure on the language plan was not processed.

[1] J.R.R. Adams & P.S. Robinson (eds.) (1992), The Country Rhymes of James Orr, The Bard of Ballycarry, 1770-1816, Bangor, Pretani Press; J.R.R. Adams & P.S. Robinson (eds.) (1992), The Country Rhymes of Hugh Porter, The Bard of Moneyslane, c. 1780, Bangor, Pretani Press; J.R.R. Adams & P.S. Robinson (eds.) (1992), The Country Rhymes of Samuel Thompson, The Bard of Carngranny, Bangor, Pretani Press.

[2] The Fryske Akademy in Ljouvert (Leeuwarden), Friesland, Netherlands was started before the Second World War by a group of Friesian students who were concerned to sustain the Friesian language. The initial task was the development of a comprehensive Friesian dictionary, including local dictionaries and shorter dictionaries.  The Akademy would like to have University status which they feel is essential for the future of the language. I last visited them on 31st October and 1st November, 2002 with the Ulster-Scots Agency.

[3] Rheged was the Old British Kingdom whose original language was akin to Breton. See Mike McCarthy (2002), “Rheged: An Early Historic Kingdom near the Solway.”  Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 132, Edinburgh, Royal Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, 357-381.

[4] Billy Kay (1993), Scots: The Mither Tongue [1986], Darvel, Alloway Publishing, 162.

[5] John Mac Queen (2005), St. Nynia [1990], Edinburgh, Birlinn Ltd. 47. See also Ian Adamson (1998), Dalaradia, Kingdom of the Cruthin, Belfast, Pretani Press.

[6] See verbatim report of proceedings, European Parliament, 07/02/199408/02/1994, 2-276, Nicholson (PPE).

[7] Letter to Sir Patrick Mayhew MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from Dr Ian Paisley, 31st March, 1994.


[8] James Fenton (1995), The Hamely Tongue: A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim, Conlig, Ulster-Scots Academic Press.

[9] Gavin Falconer, “Breaking Nature’s Social Union. The Autonomy of Scots in Ulster,” in John M. Kirk and Dónall P. Ó Baoill (eds.) (2005), Legislation, Literature and Sociolinguistics, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland,  Belfast, Cló Ollscoil na Banríona, 48-59.

[10] The text of John Edmund’s report is available as an appendix to Ulster Scots Academy Implementation Group, Proposals for an Ulster-Scots Academy: Public Consultation Document, 2007 available at:

To be continued 

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