The Ullans Academy: 3

In the negotiations leading up to the establishment of the Belfast Agreement of 1998, the Ullans issue assumed a central role, as outlined by the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair in his book Tony Blair: A Journey. At a meeting with the Ulster Unionist Leader, David Trimble, and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister did not take the same relaxed view of the importance of Ullans as Mr Blair. Trimble however held his ground and even calls to Bill Clinton yielded nothing, almost leading to an impasse in the Agreement. Our firmness however paid off and Ullans entered the Agreement with the proposed establishment of an Ulster-Scots Agency in the Noarth / Sooth Boord o Leid. With the formal recognition of Ulster-Scots as a European Regional Language by the UK Government in 1999, we then 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 Principal 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 USLS 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. 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 £1.5 million expenditure on the language plan was not processed.

In September 2002, the Ulster-Scots Agency held its first formal meeting with the Ulster Scots (Ullans) Academy. It was agreed that the Academy would reconstitute itself as a company limited by guarantee, in order that the existing voluntary programme with the Academy be properly resourced and established. In October 2002, the then Minister for Cultural, Arts and Leisure, Mr Michael McGimpsey, responded to the repeated representations from the Ulster-Scots Community for resolute action by Government to promote Ulster-Scots more effectively.

Michael’s department (DCAL) organised a three-day “Future Search” conference to clear the way forward between statutory bodies, Government and the Ulster-Scots Community. In the context of Ulster-Scots as a recognised European and Minority Language, the Ullans Academy would be modelled on the Friesian Academy in the Netherlands, which I have already mentioned. However, it would also promote the inter-relationships between Ullans and Ulster Gaelic, as well as the study of Ulster English and Northumbrian English in general. This has led to a difference in philosophical approach between those who would see the promotion of Ulster-Scots as something of a political tool in their opposition to the Irish Gaelic language and my Ullans movement.

Furthermore in the case for an Ulster-Scots Bible there remained an area of contention between certain language enthusiasts on the one hand and potential users of the Bible on the other.This was the proposed linguistic style or register. The use of an artificial archaic register would defeat the purpose of providing an authentic translation of the living Ullans tongue and alienate native speakers. Yet this is precisely what has happened with the production of gibberish by DCAL.

There was also an attempt to restrict the origins of the Ulster Scot to Plantation Times, which mostly neglected the connections between Ulster and Scotland since time immemorial, particularly the history of the ancient British Cruthin or Pretani, and was not part of that coherent narrative advocated by the Ullans movement. Furthermore, my two grannies, who were Sloan sisters, were descended from sixteenth, and not seventeenth, century Scots. In origin the Sloans were Robogdian Cruthin, who had left Dalriada in Ulster for North Britain, which eventually took the name of “Scotland”.

To be continued.

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