Again apologies are owed to our long-suffering members for the long delay in producing this edition of Ullans. However, on reading the following editorial, we hope you will feel we intend to put the publication on a better footing from now on.

A number of new members have joined the Society, and we give them a warm welcome. For those who are not used to reading written Ulster-Scots, we have tried to make the Ulster-Scots language content in this issue easily accessible.


What is ‘Ullans’? It is the name of this magazine, and the term was also incorporated into the name of the Society’s publishing house, The Ullans Press, which continues to be responsible for bringing to Ulster-Scots folk world-wide much good-quality, well-researched and helpful material in and on Ulster-Scots.

The word ‘Ullans’ was invented in 1993 by the members of the Committee of the Ulster-Scots Language Society as a title for the magazine, originally to emphasize its equivalence with the magazine of the Scots Language Society, Lallans. This latter term has a good pedigree. It was referred to several times in John Hewitt’s paper, ‘Ulster Poets 1800-1850’, read to the Belfast Literary Society on 2nd January 1950, in a context that made it clear he considered Lallans to be the language in which our weaver poets were writing.

In the first issue of the magazine, in Spring 1993, Jack McKinney, the then Editorial Secretary, wrote:

The title Ullans is an acronym of our purpose — to support the Ulster-Scots Language in Literature and Native Speech, but it can be taken any way you like. It is also a pun on Lallans (the Scots word for ‘lowlands’ that was first used by Robert Burns to describe the ‘lowland Scotch tongue’), or even as a mix of the words ‘Uladh’ (Gaelic for ‘Ulster’) and ‘lands’.

Our purpose

The objective stated so succinctly in the first issue remains our aim today. Northern Ireland has an abundance of pundits who consider themselves experts on Ulster-Scots, and many of them would have us believe that we can best protect and promote the language by concentrating on native speech and ignoring the literature, or vice versa. The position of the Language Society has always been that, in the words of the song, ‘you can’t have one without the other’.


It is doubtful if the weaver poets or those later writers who produced the kailyard novels had any inkling that today we would be referring to their work as examples of the resurgence of interest in writing in Ulster-Scots at their particular time. Interest in writing in the language has waxed and waned through the years, and there is no reason to suggest that this will cease to be the case. It is a sobering thought that the material we publish in Ullans might well be referred to by scholars a couple of generations on as a good example of the writing that took place during the Ulster-Scots revival of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

So far as book publications of the historic literature are concerned, although we believe it is important to make this material accessible to the modern reader, we are also very conscientious about accuracy and about providing informative front matter and commentary if so indicated, in order to put the work in context and enhance the experience of reading it. An attractive cover is far from being the only consideration.

Long-standing readers will note a couple of unfamiliar authors’ names in this issue. It is good to see up-and-coming writing talent — in fact, it is essential that these new writers are encouraged and assisted. Ullans has always prided itself on showcasing the work of current writers in Ulster-Scots. If you think you could join their number, why not consider contributing to our next issue? We will be putting out a call for material in the Society’s news sheet nearer the time for submission of articles.

Native speech

The Language Society also encourages the use of the Ulster-Scots language in all spoken communication, no matter the context. If what was described by a native speaker as ‘the embarrassment factor’ looms large in our minds, we will find this very difficult.

It is clear that the insidious inroads on our speech made by the ubiquitous standard English have left us today with a much less rich vocabulary than was possessed by, say, the Ulster-Scots poet Huddleston in the mid-nineteenth century. Are we to accept that this erosion cannot be reversed, and put up with a language that is so much less than it could be, filled with vocabulary much of which is just slang? Or do we have the misguided idea that we are simply talking about accent, rather than a tongue that also comprises vocabulary and grammar? If we do so, we acknowledge that we have failed in one of the main objectives of our Society — to uphold the status of the Ulster-Scots language — and we therefore provide another weapon for its critics. Furthermore, we are surely thereby confirming the erroneous impression given by some commentators that the Ulster-Scots language was only recently invented as some kind of counter to Irish, if we fail to convey its historical depth.

The Society has for the eighteen years of its existence been under-resourced in comparison with the enormity of the task it faces. Trying to juggle all the components of language development, promotion and protection is a tall order for a small voluntary organisation. Understandably, many native speakers find it hard to be enthusiastic about time spent lobbying or conducting research, although these too are part of the Society’s mission. To accommodate the ‘lobby-weary’, we would like to encourage members to catch the vision of running small local groups, so that those from the same area can meet for a bit of crack or a song at regular intervals. If you feel you can do this, please contact the Society’s office, and we will provide support in setting it up.

At the same time, it is important that these groups operate as part of a larger whole. We must avoid ‘cantonisation’ of Ulster-Scots, because the interests of Ulster-Scots will only be best served if we all speak with one voice. In truth, those who are truly committed to the language without considerations of self-interest are few in number, and we cannot afford such divisions.

We should also be persuading people from the wider population who see their cultural identity as Ulster-Scots to engage with the language. The language will not grow without involving these folk and providing them with the facilities to learn it. The Ulster-Scots movement has too often fallen into the trap of viewing the variety of Ulster-Scots spoken by individuals in a particular geographical area as the only true example of the language. All languages incorporate a variety of dialects.

Learning Ulster-Scots

We frequently hear it said that only those born and brought up in Ulster-Scots speaking families will ever achieve any facility with the language. It is of course a great strength of Ulster-Scots that it has a considerable pool of native speakers for whom the language is not ‘book-learnt’. But are we really saying that among all the languages of the world, this is the only one that is impossible to learn? And do we seriously believe that those responsible for teaching other languages, Irish for instance, begin from the initial premise that people who are not native speakers and choose to learn the language as a second tongue are doomed to failure?

One very encouraging aspect of our work has been the Society’s interaction with school children, and the way the children from Ulster-Scots speaking families (even those a generation or two removed) embrace their linguistic heritage with enthusiasm gives us great hope for the future and provides a basis for expanding outwards to reach those without a natural Ulster-Scots background. Clearly, the great need is for an Ulster-Scots language presence as of right within all levels of the education system.

An unfortunate side-effect of the failure to create an infrastructure for Ulster-Scots is that teachers without any particular skills in, or experience or knowledge of, the teaching of Ulster-Scots as a language have acquired responsibility for adult-learning classes. As in many other areas of Ulster-Scots interest, such as modern translation, the important question of quality control has never been addressed.

This entire discussion should have taken place firmly within the Ulster-Scots community, between those who are true devotees of the language, or who at least have a sympathetic understanding of it. Similar dialogue has occurred in regard to other European Lesser-Used Languages. However, we do need to focus on the long-term welfare of the language — this is no forum for grandstanding or introducing a political agenda. It is disappointing that so far the Ulster-Scots language has been poorly served in this regard.

Developments for the Society

In contrast with much ill-advised activity that goes under the name of Ulster-Scots, the Ulster-Scots Language Society has doggedly, and in the face of much opposition, continued to prioritise activities that are for the benefit of the language.

We now have an informative and attractive website, which we continue to augment, and we thank those responsible for the excellent job they have done on this project. Experience of ‘surfing the web’ teaches us that the one thing we are seeking to find out from a website seems, perversely, to be the one thing its architects are determined not to tell us! An experience of trying, on the internet, to book seats on a bus from Brisbane to Coff’s Harbour, New South Wales, some years ago comes to mind. All the data needed was to hand: the date of travel (even allowing for time differences), the route, the name of the bus company … Many clicks — and many sighs of exasperation — later, the attempt was abandoned, but not before the frustrated ‘surfer’ had been electronically afforded the unmissable opportunity to buy a secondhand bus! Please, members, let us know if you are looking for information the website does not give, and we’ll try to supply the deficit — and no buses, we promise!

Last year, Ullans Press, on behalf of the Society, produced six new publications. They comprised both reprints of historical material and modern writing, and all are of a high standard. Perhaps the most significant breakthrough was the publication of the early work of the Bible Translation Teams in the form of Luke’s gospel. We now have an Editorial Board, which prioritises the many ideas and suggestions for publications that we receive, and guides the process of publication.

John McIntyre left his post as the society’s outreach worker at the end of September, but we are glad to have him back on our list of officers as Treasurer of the Society.

As in any community, there have been joys and sorrows. We greatly miss the stalwart Roy Hewitt, our valued Treasurer for a number of years, whose obituary appears in this volume. On the other hand, we rejoice with our Secretary, Fiona McDonald, in the safe arrival of a baby girl, and send our congratulations to the new mum and dad! We also extend a hearty welcome onto the committee to Dr Philip Saunders, whose work with the Bible Translation teams is an inspiration to us all and who was voted on to the Society’s committee at the last AGM.

The Society continues to uphold the interests of the Ulster-Scots language in all forums where we can gain admittance. Since the last issue of Ullans, we have challenged the appearance of another scurrilous Ian Knox cartoon in the Irish News, written a piece for the Newsletter, engaged in much letter-writing, and made written and oral submissions to the European Committee of Experts, following the government’s report on its implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, to which the UK government is a signatory. Society officers have taught classes in Ulster-Scots, although not within Belfast, using material of our own devising. Representatives of the Society have also played a very full part in BBC consultation exercises.

The Society’s Chairman has presented papers at Trinity College, Dublin, and University of Pittsburgh. We have also provided personnel to take part in other events, such as the Glebeside Festival in Ballymoney during the summer, when we found ourselves providing musical entertainment from the back of a lorry! An excellent example of an event that was very worthwhile for the language was that run by Castlereagh Council on 13 February 2008, when the Chairman and Secretary took part in a full and interesting programme. On that occasion, our Secretary did a very effective job of presenting selections from historical Ulster-Scots poetry.

This last-mentioned event was a successful evening in the new Council offices at Galwally, but our records show that no report on it appeared in any of the local newspapers. It is unfortunate that our members generally receive the impression that the Society is inactive, simply because we do not receive the publicity afforded to those less ‘serious’ about the language. However, we now have a website that is more than equal to the task of letting people know we are not ‘sitting on our hands’, and we hope that in the future we can use this medium to convey our message, making us less reliant on the vagaries of Northern Ireland’s press and broadcasting media.

The elephant(s) in the room

Two major concerns have dominated the period since the last Ullans. One has been the vexed question of the Ulster-Scots Academy. Our Honorary Vice-President, Dr Philip Robinson, was the ministerially-appointed Chairman of the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group, which was set up as a consequence of section 30 of the Joint Declaration of the British and Irish governments (‘Requirements of Peace and Stability’ — April 2003). The Ulster-Scots Language Society entered into a Partnership Agreement with this body in the belief that a pooling of resources, both human and archival, would provide a better chance of success for the new body. Consequently, the projects that had previously been progressed under the USLS were resourced ‘without delay’ (as the agreement stated) under the banner of the USAIG. Naturally, the society’s collections (which include 17th-century documents) were used as source material for the project work.

Good progress was made for about eighteen months, until what was apparently a unilateral decision on the part of DCAL to close down the operation. As a result of this, without prior consultation with the Language Society, all of our collections (both paper and electronic in nature) were put into rented storage in Newtownabbey, accessible to DCAL as of right but not to ourselves unless through the Department. A DCAL appointee had previously compiled what purported to be an inventory of this material which wrongly identified a large proportion of it as belonging to the USAIG.

The practical effects on the USLS and its officers were numerous, but for our purposes it is important to note the huge expenditure of time and energy on the part of our personnel for the eighteen months of the existence of the partnership, and in the prolonged and frustrating correspondence that has ensued to try to achieve return of our property. Time that should have been spent on Language Society matters has been diverted to these considerations, and unfortunately it has been wasted time so far as advancing the aim of a properly-resourced and fully-functioning Ulster-Scots Academy is concerned. We can report that under the new Minister there are indications that we are beginning to see a resolution of the situation concerning our collections.

The other main concern has been the relationship between our funding body, the Ulster-Scots Agency, and ourselves. 2009 has been the first year when we as a society have been in receipt of core funding, despite the length of time the society has been functioning. Your officers met representatives of the Agency at the beginning of the year for an amicable and fruitful discussion. Subsequently, after a favourable decision from the Boord, and with the help of our two employees, the organisation has been able to make significant progress.

However, as we write this editorial the Society has entered a six-month review of its work initiated by the Ulster-Scots Agency, to ascertain whether it has been giving ‘value for money’ in regard to our core-funding. In reply to queries, we have been told that the Agency itself will undergo review on a similar basis, but we would question the order in which this is taking place. We believe our experience reflects that of many folk in the Ulster-Scots community, where dissatisfaction is rife with the current operations of the Agency, which is part of the North-South Language Body. Great unease has been expressed with its evident failure to provide consistent and appropriate funding to the most basic needs of preservation and development of the language. Without reference to any particular strategy, some groups or individuals are told that they are to be funded for a particular project or projects, only to find these offers withdrawn or reduced some time later.

In addition, in terms of ‘quality control’, it appears that there is an inability to analyse the contextual worth of any particular proposal before funding is granted, and subsequently an apparent lack of ability to evaluate outcomes for their effectiveness in advancing the cause of Ulster-Scots. Again, we are assured that such matters are being addressed, and we look forward to being able to continue with the great advances we have made in 2009.



The Ulster-Scots Academy has been an integral part of the Ulster-Scots Language Society since 1993. The name "Ulster-Scots Academy" is registered to the USLS with the Intellectual Property Office.

Ulster Scots Academy


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.


The Ulster-Scots Academy is currently working on the digitisation of Dr Philip Robinson's seminal Ulster-Scots Grammar and the English/Ulster-Scots part (with circa 10,000 entries) of a two-way historical dictionary of Ulster-Scots. These projects are planned to be completed and available on the site in 2016.



This site is being developed on a purely voluntary basis by the Ulster-Scots Language Society at no cost to the taxpayer. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

This site is being developed by the Ulster-Scots Language Society (Charity No. XN89678) without external financial assistance. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

(Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy group)