On 23rd March 2010, the then Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Nelson McCausland unveiled his plans for the way forward of the Ulster-Scots Academy. Speaking at North Down Museum in Bangor – home of the Raven Maps, a key artefact from the 1600s – in a speech cleverly written in Departmental language, Nelson emphasised how important Ulster-Scots is as one of Northern Ireland’s main cultural traditions. I attended on the invitation of the Ulster Scots Agency, of which I was a member.
“Last year, a major independent survey showed that Ulster-Scots continues to be widely recognised, across both sections of our community, as an integral part of the cultural fabric of Northern Ireland,” Nelson said.
“As such, and as part of a shared future, it is only right and proper that we continue to support and promote this important aspect of our culture.”
He outlined “a number of measures to ensure the evolution and enhancement of Ulster-Scots, as well as ways of recognising and maintaining its history and heritage.”
“Among a range of plans are the establishment of a Ministerial Advisory Group to develop an Academy strategy and priorities for the CSR period. Alongside this there are various Ulster-Scots projects which reflect the diversity of the sector. My aim has always been to build confidence, capacity and credibility within the Ulster-Scots community and the way it is perceived in the wider society. I believe these plans are the way to secure mutual respect and growth at the wider community level.”
“The initiative has three strands: Language and Literature; History, Heritage and Culture; and Education and Research. I believe great damage has been done to the development of the sector by opponents who have sought to characterise this as being all about the status of the Ulster-Scots language. Clearly, it is about much more than that – this is a rich and vibrant culture which has shaped many aspects of life in Northern Ireland.”
And so it came to pass that Nelson announced the appointment of a Ministerial Advisory Group for the Ulster-Scots Academy.
Following open competitions for the appointment of a Chairman and four new Members, these were appointed with immediate effect for a period of up to four years. Yet another four members to “represent the Ulster-Scots Sector” were appointed by the Minister himself. As it turned out, however, the group was actually a very good, indeed excellent, one, although whether it was capable of producing a statutory Ulster-Scots Academy remained to be seen.
The Chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Group was Dr Bill Smith, and the Members of the Ministerial Advisory Group were Dr Caroline Baraniuk, Dr John McCavitt, Dr David Hume MBE, Dr Ivan Herbison, Tom Scott OBE, Iain Carlisle, and John Erskine. The Ullans Academy, of course, did not get a look in.
At the launch of the “ MAGUS”, the Minister thanked the Chairman and Members for agreeing to sit on the Ministerial Advisory Group, and added: “This group has been established to provide advice on the strategic development of the Ulster-Scots sector and to rapidly build confidence within the sector by progressing projects under the three streams of activity for the proposed Ulster-Scots Academy, i.e. Language and Literature; History, Heritage and Culture; and Education and Research.
“Each of the new appointees has skills and experience which will make a valuable contribution to the work of the Ministerial Advisory Group.” Appointees are to serve for a period of up to four years with immediate effect.
Bill Smith was an independent professional adviser on issues of public policy, strategic planning and governance. He has worked extensively with a range of organisations in the public and voluntary sectors. He was a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast, and has recently completed a major research project for the US Institute of Peace. He was a member of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland; Board Chairman of Early Years, the organisation for young children; and a non-executive Director of Volunteer Now. No political activity was declared.
Dr Caroline Baraniuk had a doctorate in Ulster- Scots literature, from the University of Glasgow, which focused on the poetry of James Orr. She worked in the Ulster- Scots Curriculum Development Unit at Stranmillis University College for four years. The Unit produced school curriculum materials designed to teach Ulster- Scots language, history and culture. She had also published essays on Ulster-Scots literature in academic journals. Dr Baraniuk had taught extra mural courses on the history of the Ulster- Scots community, contributed to radio and television programmes and had presented papers on Ulster-Scots literature at academic conferences. No political activity was declared.
Dr John McCavitt was a teacher with almost twenty five years experience. He has engaged in research on early seventeenth century history, a “formative period” for the “Ulster Scots”. He was historical consultant to the Ulster Scots Agency for the Hamilton and Montgomery commemoration, 2006. Dr McCavitt’s first book was a biography of Sir Arthur Chichester, often referred to as the ‘Architect of the Ulster Plantation’. He had since authored books on The Flight of the Earls and was an historical consultant to BBC N.Ireland’s three part television series on the subject. His current research focused on General Ross, a famous British soldier from Rostrevor, who fought with and against many of his fellow countrymen in the USA during the War of 1812. This conflict highlights the extraordinary contribution of the “Ulster Scots” during what has been termed as the ‘Second War of Independence’. He had also worked with a number of councils on cultural heritage. No political activity was declared.
Dr David Hume had been involved in Ulster- Scots community activities for many years and was co-founder of the Broadisland Gathering Festival in Ballycarry, Co. Antrim, the longest established Ulster- Scots festival. He had published books and research papers on Ulster- Scots history, people and events as well as contributing to radio programmes and journal and delivering talks on Ulster- Scots language and heritage. These include the Plantation of Ulster and Ulster- Scots emigration to America among others. Dr Hume had devised and delivered courses on the Ulster- Scots history and related topics, including community development in Ulster- Scots communities. In 2007 Dr Hume was awarded an MBE for services to the community in Larne and Ballycarry, including Ulster Scots activities. No political activity was declared
Dr Ivan Herbison had nearly thirty years experience as a university lecturer. Dr Herbison had been engaged for many years in researching the poetic traditions of Ulster- Scots, with particular reference to the work of the weaver poets.He had a special interest in the revival of the Ulster- Scots literary tradition, including contemporary poetry. He had written extensively on Ulster- Scots poets and their expressions of cultural identity. Dr Herbison had worked collaboratively towards the establishment and refinement of an orthographic policy for Ulster- Scots and had contributed to an elaboration of the principles upon which it is founded. No political activity declared.
Tom Scott was the Chair of the Board of the Ulster-Scots Agency. He was until 2005 a Northern Ireland senior civil servant latterly with Department for Employment and Learning with responsibility for skills, management development and youth training policy. In November 2005 he became Chairman of the Greater Shankill Partnership Board in Belfast leading the partnership on neighbourhood regeneration strategy. Tom was a board member of Ormeau Enterprise Ltd, a local enterprise agency, a board member of Intertrade Ireland and is involved with several private and public sector bodies. He was also involved in youth issues through Scouting, Belfast Activity Centre and the Gerry Rogan Initiative Trust. Tom was awarded an OBE in the 2008 New Years Honours List for services to the community in Northern Ireland. No political activity was declared.
Mr Iain Carlisle was currently the Acting Director of the Ulster-Scots Community Network. He had acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the Ulster-Scots community through close involvement with a wide range of projects and events. No Political activity was declared.
Mr John Erskine was currently the Acting Head of Library and Learning Resources in Stranmillis College. He was a member of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Mr Erskine research interests included aspects of Scottish cultural influence in the north of Ireland and the bibliography of Irish Presbyterianism and of Ulster-Scots language and literature. His external interests include membership of Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland and of the Ulster-Scots Language Society, although he is not a native speaker. He was a former member of the cross border language Body. No political activity was declared.
To be continued