Notes and ‘enqueeries’

Scores of encouraging letters have been received by the Society laced with comments in the same vein as this from Millisle:

“delighted to hear that somebody is doing something at last before it is too late.”

We intend to include a regular slot in the magazine for letters and queries sent in to the Editor. Obviously this is not quite possible in the first issue, but we already have had many interesting comments in letters of enquiry about the Society. Here is a selection of the sort of comments that have been made — first of all about the Society itself, and then some colourful anecdotes and snippets about our language:


“As someone reared on the sound of broad Ulster-Scots,—‘what hae A tae dae tae join’?”


“The study and promotion of Ulster-Scots has been neglected for too long, and so many congratulations are due to those involved in the formation of the Society.”


“It was good to learn… of your attempts to have the broad Ulster-Scots Language promoted throughout the country.”


“pleased that something is being done… saddened at how our language has been allowed to lapse.”


“I was quare an pleased when I seen your notice in the Telly yesterday. Now the English has stopped speaking their own language its past time for us to mind our own languages and dialects.”


“as I talk the way you describe it would be grand to keep the language alive.”


“very pleased to read that an effort is being made to rescue what remains of the language which is indeed the mother tongue of many in this district. Forty years ago the lowland Scots was an everyday means of communication. I feel strongly about this but have always felt powerless to stem the discrimination against a very valid part of our Ulster culture.”


“The Ulster language (I’m glad that you do not refer to it as ‘dialect’) is something that I have always been very much interested in.”


“I would describe myself as Scots-Ulster as I have a great love of Scotland and its culture.”


“I am most interested as is my sister. My mother was a stalwart defender of the old language and my home district (East Antrim) was extremely rich in the ‘Braid Scots’.”


“delighted to hear something is being done, and it is encouraging to hear that you intend to promote Ulster-Scots music as well.”


“My father spent the summers of his youth amongst the fishermen of Donaghadee and was frequently chastised at his home in the evening for speaking a language the rest of the family could not understand.”


“if some of our fellow countrymen went say to Portavogie Harbour or the ‘Satwatter Brig’ pub of an evening, they might be forgiven for thinking that the people there spoke an alien language.”


“it is heartening to see that there could be a revival of the Ulster-Scots tongue. I wish the Ulster-Scots Language Society success — lang mae its lum reek.”


“most interested to join a society that could help save ‘oor tongue’.”


“delighted to hear that there has been an encouraging response to the launch of the Society, it is quite imperative that we all do our utmost to ensure that our mother tongue is not lost to future generations. What a pity that the Society had not been in operation years ago. I rather fear that a great many of the stories, poems, sayings etc held only in the heads of our grandparents were lost under pressure from TV.”

St Johnston, Co Donegal:

“deeply interested and would wish to be associated with the movement. Could I assist in some way, say with the collection of words and phrases?”


“as a speaker of Ulster-Scots, I share your concern about the erosion of this part of our culture and welcome your defence of it.”

Claudy, Co Londonderry:

“tell me more… it is a subject I hae always been interested in.”


“Good wishes for a project that has been long overdue.”


“Words like fernenst were in common use every day in our home. As I grew up and moved away many got lost or were dropped because they were considered “coarse”. Yet recently I have come to realise that these words are in everyday use in Scotland, so I purchased a Scots dictionary and was delighted to find all the words which we are led to believe are ‘common’ therein! Obviously over the years these words are being lost along the way with English and American influences, not to mention television, and of course in education. At a time when all kinds of minorities are promoting their varied cultures and stressing the importance of identity, I would like to express my interest in the Ulster-Scots language and the rapid demise of Ulster-Scots traditions etc, which very few of the younger generation know anything about.”

• • • • •

One letter from County Donegal tells a few stories about ‘Joe’, a ‘real native speaker whose speech was little removed from Burns’ day’.

During the war years, two Yanks got lost in a small plane patrolling the North of Ireland. After flying around all night, after daybreak they saw land and touched down in a big field near Newtown Cunningham. One got out and looked for somebody to speak to.

Joe was there, fishing in a burn which ran alongside the field. The Yank approached Joe and asked ‘Say Bud, are you having any luck?’ ‘Ah jist yin wee young yin,’ was the reply. The Yank was then seen to run over to the plane shouting to his mate, ‘Rev her up and get out of here — we’ve landed in Red China!’.

Joe was asked about a circus visiting nearby Burnfoot. ‘Ah man ’twas great, ’twas great a’thegither, the come oot twa big bullocks an started tae play hobbility-cabbly ower a plank’ (see-saw).

On another occasion Joe had been gathering pirties/praties all day and fell out with two other lads as to who was gathering the most. The young lads attacked Joe with stones as he was going down the lane. All he could do was to run to the farmyard to tell the boss ‘Only A run they wud ha kilt me a’richt, only A started tae weible-wabble like a snipe.’ [Zig-zagin some districts it is called ‘trenglin’ (maybe from triangle). Eds.]

In a pub discussing a traffic incident which had happened nearby, Joe maintained it was D—’s fault. He said ‘it was his fault a’reicht for he was striddely legs ower the white lines.’

• • • • •

A Strabane member writes:

I seldom hear the youngsters of today using words which were in common usage 40/50 years ago… ‘hizzie’ or ‘boul hizzie’ (a cheeky girl), ‘abeen’ for above, ‘awa’ for away, ‘frae’ for from, ‘breeks’ for trousers, ‘brae’ or ‘knowe’ for a small hill…

Finally two more words that I was always interested in finding out their origin — the words are ‘gallock’ and ‘sclater’ and quite by chance I discovered them as two of the ingredients of a 16th century Galloway love potion.

[A ‘gellick or ‘gallock is an earwig, and may have come into Ulster-Scots (where it once was as common as ‘eariewig’ is today) from Gaelic. A ‘sclater’ is presumably just a ‘slater’ or wood-lice. In old Scots ‘scl’ was a common way of spelling words that were ‘sl in English. Eds.]

• • • • •

From Bangor, a member relates how when he was young and helping on a farm he was told to go for a ‘leather’.

I couldn’t find it and when reporting accordingly I was told ‘D’ye not know what a leather is ?’ (a ladder)… A particularly annoying thing is the habit today on radio of referring to ‘knowes’ as ‘nose’ (like the Sandy ‘Nose’ roundabout).

• • • • •

Canon Cosslett Quinn, a former Professor of Biblical Greek at Trinity College Dublin, and a well known Irish and Scots Gaelic speaker, writes:

I was born in Derriaghy, my mother was from Magheralin… it was a sort of Shakespearian Jacobean sort of language there — not like the braid Scots of Portavogie. Would you know what ‘sevendable’ means? Did ever you hear of a ‘shuggy-shoo’, and if so what is it’? [‘Sevendable is Scots for strong, secure, proper. ‘Shuggy-shoo’ is wobbly, or ‘shooglin aboot’. Eds.]

I was in North and South and West — in parts of Cavan where the Orangemen spoke a sort of broken English you had to translate into Irish before you’d know what it meant! A mother to her baby was squallin ‘hold yer quiet ye wee Tory ye’. Her hide hills on you. And her to fall out of her standing. If you hear anything ye shouldn’t put your foot on it. A gosoon, a cuttie.

A Belfast woman: ‘Yer man he’s terrible afeard of ministers, he’d go down a mousehole before a minister.’

An independent Inishowen man: ‘Be myself a hissled into the shugh and be mysell I’ll hissle oot again.’

A Ballymena man to a neighbour who ‘dug with the other fut’, and who helped him out of a ditch: ‘I wouldn’t be beholden to such as you. Put me back intill the shugh’.

A Belfast lady, talking about the Dean of Belfast: ‘My dog he berked an the Dean ses “Is that your bloody dog?” “What if he is?” “Will ye tell him to bloody well hould his whisht,” ses the Dean.

• • • • •

N.B. All letters to the Editors and any correspondence about Ullans magazine should be sent to the Editorial Secretary, Mr Jack McKinney, 17 Tildarg Road, Ballyclare, Co Antrim.



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A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


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