In the last issue of Ullans, we said we intended to work our way back to the original position in the early days of the Society, in which Ullans was an annual publication. We are nearly there, but not quite.

It has been another busy year (and a bit). Since the publication of Ullans 11, the work of the USLS, in common with that of other core-funded organisations, has been the subject of a review by consultants acting on behalf of the Ulster-Scots Agency. During the summer of last year, this created a considerable amount of work for the office staff in providing information requested by the consultants, but it is unclear whether the resultant report utilised that information, or indeed whether it ultimately led to any positive action. One possible outcome may have been the Agency’s request that the Society send representatives to a one-day course on governance, which was attended by our two members of staff and the then USLS Treasurer in May of this year.

The Language Society continues to assist academic and broadcasting media researchers. A large proportion of the interested academic researchers come from overseas, which is a sad commentary on the lack of an Ulster-Scots presence as of right within our local education system.

There continues to be a steady stream of organisations and individuals seeking Ulster-Scots translation of common words and phrases. They can be fairly predictable: for instance, coming up to Christmas, we are always asked for the Ulster-Scots for ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’. Then there are always the inquiries about place names, nomenclature and signage.

However, we occasionally receive more unusual requests that seem to indicate that Ulster-Scots is increasingly looked for when people want to express their deepest emotions. Often this involves us in supplying readings for weddings or other family occasions, and we particularly enjoy selecting and supplying our little share in these heartwarming events. Elsewhere in this issue of Ullans can be found an Ulster-Scots translation of I Corinthians 13 verses 1-12, which was done in response to such a request.

Contact forms accessed via our website also turn up some interesting material, besides the occasional ‘rant’. In September, a contact provided us with an item of vocabulary not previously encountered: this was the word howd, which he said was fairly common in the Limavady area and which was used to refer to what is called champ elsewhere in Northern Ireland. The informant’s father, when sitting down to howd, also used to quote a phrase containing the word: ‘howd an herrin’ an’ tay in a tin’. A hoke through the specialist dictionaries, large and small, did not provide any enlightenment, and we had to confess that there did not seem to be any totally satisfactory etymology for the word. Of all the possible explanations, the one that appeared most likely was that it was derived from the word howe, meaning a ‘hollow’ (implying a howed spelling), in reference to the hollow in the middle of the mashed potato where the butter was placed. If any readers have also encountered the word howd in the sense given by our correspondent, then we’d be pleased to hear from them.

Another type of inquiry routinely dealt with by USLS staff concerns the availability of classes for learning Ulster-Scots. It is many years since we as a Society have had the capacity to run longer-term classes ourselves, although we have devised the basics of a teaching scheme. Of course, any serious attempt to teach Ulster-Scots as a language requires source material, particularly a dictionary, and the office has had inquiries about the availability of this too. The Society must respond positively to such requests, a need that will be borne in mind when compiling our plan for the next three years. However, in the final analysis, we cannae dae aucht if we haenae aucht tae dae aucht wi. In other words, everything depends on the level of resources, both human and financial, available to us.

During the year, the Society has continued to publish worthwhile Ulster-Scots language material, as far as the limitations of funding will permit. The decision was taken to republish Archibald M‘Ilroy’s The Auld Meetin’-Hoose Green without external funding, and a report of the unveiling of the blue plaque in memory of M‘Ilroy can be found elsewhere in this issue. Thanks are due to Derek Rowlinson, our full-time worker, for his effective awareness-raising and promotion of a largely forgotten Ulster-Scots author, without which it is doubtful if the plaque would ever have been erected. As part of our tribute to M‘Ilroy, Elizabeth Hagan, our ‘new’ part-timer, adapted ‘Liza Lowry’s Retirement’ as a script for radio, and it is hoped that this will be broadcast in the near future.

Meanwhile, USLS workers have pressed ahead with Denis Mayne’s Eagle Wing book, and a final draft is at present with the printer. This is the first time an author has attempted to reconstruct, on a sound basis, the probable facts of the construction of the ship and the experiences of those who sailed on her. In this instance, the Ulster-Scots Agency is funding the publication of the book.

In common with most older generation bibliophiles, the Society’s members, by and large, prefer to read books with conventional pages and covers. However, earlier in the year, the Society’s committee discussed the practicalities and economics and took the decision to look into the feasibility of electronic publication of its books. As a result, the USLS has done a bit of trailblazing of its own and published its new M‘Ilroy title as a Kindle book. We are planning to continue this trend using selected titles, but we will not be abandoning hard copy publication.

A new Chief Executive took up his post at the Ulster-Scots Agency in the summer. He has already shown his willingness to engage with Ulster-Scots speakers and, in discussion, it has been clear that he has taken the trouble to read up on his subject. We welcome Mr Crozier and wish him all the best in his new job.

We have to report that the creation of a properly constituted, fully-resourced Ulster-Scots academy continues to elude the Ulster-Scots community. From the end of June 2010 until the early months of 2011, the USLS Chairman had an ex officio place on an interim body blown as the ‘Project Steering Group’ (PSG), which was tasked with looking, yet again, at a list of options for an academy drawn up by consultants Deloitte. However, the Chairman of the PSG (another retired civil servant) informed the group that only the ‘virtual’ model was economically viable (meaning that no premises would be acquired or staff engaged). In effect, the PSG was being asked to act as a commissioning body that would ‘buy in’ projects, and this responsibility would later be handed over to the PSG’s successor. There was an emphasis on ‘product’, without any apparent means of benchmarking the quality of that product. Worse, the core projects identified for years as essential to the development of the language, which had been progressed under the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group, would not have any special consideration and would have to compete for funding with all the other schemes that suggested themselves as being likely recipients of the PSG’s and its successor’s largesse.

On 24 March of this year, the then Minister announced the formation of the successor body, which has become known as MAGUS (Ministerial Advisory Group on Ulster-Scots). Quite possibly the new Minister is not seeking to be ‘advised’, because it does not appear that this new grouping is making any progress either. We have no reason to believe that this is due to any lack of due diligence on the part of its members (although the USLS has no ex officio presence on this newer body), but would suspect that once again the obstructionist tendencies of the civil service may have militated against making any headway.

Meanwhile, the Society’s Chairman and Archivist, assisted from time to time by our full-time worker, continue to work on a collections audit and condition report at the DCAL premises where our archival material has at last been deposited, after being retrieved from the storage facility at Newtownabbey. Given the PSG’s emphasis on ‘product’, it does seem incongruous that, through all the settings up and demolishings of steering groups; the acquirings and evacuations of premises; the flittings and intended flittings; the consultancies and consultations; the hiring and shedding of civil service staff; the stops and the starts; the many reams of paper filled with figures, reports, minutes and projections; the endless meetings and hours of discussion, so little of benefit to the language has actually been achieved. It should be possible to find out how much of the £12 million that is said to have been dedicated to the academy back in 2003, when section 30 of the Joint Declaration of the British and Irish governments (‘Requirements of Peace and Stability’) undertook to ‘take steps to encourage support to be made available for an Ulster-Scots academy’, has been expended to date — and on what.

The principle of maximum effort for minimum result is also evident in many other areas of our endeavour. Freedom of Information legislation, intended as a safeguard to the citizen against the disproportionate power of government, has instead become a tool for journalists. The receipt of an FOI request is the signal for civil servants to go into panic mode, and in these circumstances organisations operating in the danger zone become caught up in the frantic search for facts that will make the inquirer go away. Just recently, a civil servant informed two incredulous Language Society personnel that he had been obliged to conduct a count of all the pot plants in a particular department’s offices, in response to an Irish News FOI request. There must have been too few riots in July 2010 to fill the columns of the Irish News, because in that month the Society was in receipt of no less than 13 emails from civil servants seeking information about the Bible translation, arising out of an FOI from that paper.

This is part of a pattern of hostility to the Ulster-Scots language evinced by the Irish News. Following this Ullans editorial, we reproduce an exchange between the USLS Chairman and its editor, Noel Doran, in regard to a cartoon by Ian Knox, which appeared in the paper on Wednesday 23 November 2011. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the paper is pandering to its natural constituency and evincing nothing more edifying than raw republican bigotry. As a Society, we are aware that most genuine Irish language enthusiasts do not share this attitude, and that Ulster-Scots and Irish both encounter corresponding difficulties in regard to the press and public perception of them.

This insistence on the part of the Irish News on what would in another context be racist comment has provided the USLS with more evidence to incorporate within its response to the report of the Committee of Experts 3rd Monitoring Round on the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. As the only non-governmental language body that has had a presence at all three on-the-spot visits of the Committee of Experts, we had drawn the previous cartoons to the attention of the Committee of Experts in a previous submission. The most recent report of that body now states that Ulster-Scots is ‘still largely invisible in public life’, and acknowledges that the language and culture are ‘subject to derogatory comments’ in the media. Messrs Doran and Knox have just amply confirmed this analysis.

Elsewhere in the report of the Committee of Experts, there are many instances of misconception and muddle, a situation not helped by the lack of information from the Northern Ireland Executive to assist in the review. The Charter, of course, imposes a duty on the UK government to submit a full report, and the Society shares the Committee’s hope that this will be properly carried out in the next monitoring round.

With the 4th monitoring round imminent, the Society stands prepared to engage with the process, as it has always done, and to supply evidence of the government’s dealings with the language. However, it is clear that the Committee of Experts has been misled in the past, deliberately or not, by some who would describe themselves as Ulster-Scots enthusiasts. It is high time that those who value the Ulster-Scots language ‘got their act together’, ceased the squabbling and ‘girning’ and approached advocacy for their tongue in a professional, coherent and balanced way. Otherwise, the ever-shrinking funding for Ulster-Scots will increasingly be swallowed up in expenditure that does no good for the language at all.

Finally, we wish to report on the comings and goings on the Ulster-Scots Language Society committee. The Society held its AGM on 9 November last, following which the committee elected its officers. We welcome two new members to the committee, Ms Ruth Barnes and Mr Chris Spurr, and hope that they will have occasional moments of fun in the middle of all the blood, sweat and tears. The following is the result of the election of officers:

Chairman: Anne Smyth

Vice-Chairman: John McIntyre

Secretary: Linda Hagan

Treasurer: Jack Thompson

Malcolm Buchanan and Fiona McDonald had let it be known that they wished to step down as Vice-Chairman and Secretary respectively. We thank them for all the years of faithful service they have put into the work of the Society. Fiona’s time is now occupied in seeing to the needs of a growing family, and we wish her well with that, the most important of all tasks. We hope that both Fiona and Malcolm will continue to take an interest in the Society, even though not directly involved in its administration, and that some time in the future they may again be in a position to return to places on the committee.

The following is the letter of complaint, referred to in our editorial, from the Ulster-Scots Language Society. For those who are not subscribers to the Irish News, the cartoon featured a number of confused-looking ‘schoolmarm’ types wearing tammies and sitting around a table, with the question ‘Where?’ in a speech bubble above their heads. On the other side of the room an elephant tramples some kind of board on which are the words, ‘Ballykeigle Ulster-Scots School Project’. Across the forehead and ears of the elephant are emblazoned the words ‘There is no Ulster Scots language’, and on its side the words ‘It doesn’t exist’.

25 November 2011

Dear Mr Doran

Re: Ian Knox cartoon, Wednesday 23 November 2011

This is the third complaint made on behalf of the Ulster-Scots Language Society in connection with cartoons by Ian Knox that have been carried in your paper, one in May 2004 and a second in June 2009.

I am quite sure that you will seek to dismiss this complaint by telling me that (1) this is a cartoon and is therefore not intended as serious commentary, and (2) I can submit a ‘letter to the editor’ for consideration for inclusion in a letters page. As to (1), I doubt if even the most dedicated anti-Ulster-Scots activist would think this cartoon was funny, so what actually is its objective? As to (2), I have no intention of contributing copy to a newspaper that clearly fails to value informed comment.

It seems that neither Ian Knox nor his colleagues on the Irish News can claim linguistic insights. In the absence of such knowledge, I can proffer the opinion of Professor Robert J Gregg, who was the pioneer of the academic study of Ulster-Scots. Here is his informed opinion, given in a letter written in 1994, after a lifetime of linguistic study: ‘To put it bluntly, I find it incredible that any specialist in language and dialect (I am one myself and have hundreds of others among my colleagues and acquaintances) — that any such specialists could regard Ulster-Scots as a regional variant of English! Impossible! … I feel these people are writing nonsense about Ulster-Scots not being a language but a dialect of English! Ridiculous!’

There are plenty of other very telling quotations, notably one from Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, in his short book Hidden Ulster: the Other Hidden Ireland (Clódhanna Teoranta, 1977). There he states:

‘While within living memory an interpreter had to be invoked to translate the evidence of a witness in a legal case in Donegal, whose “Braid Scots” could not be understood by the court, the pressure towards Southern Standard English from government in London and the neglect of the churches as regards publishing in Scots (even if individual seceders like Rev.

Thomas Clark could “harangue God and man in Kilmarnock bonnet and broad Scots”, in Monaghan from 1751 to 1764) have led to the situation where “The days have long since gone when Ulster poets like James Orr of Ballycarry could in his Irish Cottiers Death and Burial (1817) write a poem more surely and consistently Scots than Burns’s Cottar’s Saturday Night, when poets like Francis Boyle of Comber could write Scots verse which in John Hewitt’s words, ‘seems to be the countryside itself articulate’”.

Far from being ‘the elephant in the room’ (an American expression that has become a cliché), the whole sterile language versus dialect question (which has itself become a cliché) has been around for a very long time, touted by many who are devoid of linguistic skill or knowledge. It is simply disposed of by reference to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992) to which the United Kingdom Government became a signatory in respect of Ulster-Scots on 2 March 2000. Ulster-Scots was ratified as a language.

So far as the cartoon relates to the situation of Ballykeigle Primary School, please note that there are many international agreements that protect the rights of minority groups to self-identify and to seek to ensure the continuation of their culture, traditions, religion or language by inter-generational transmission. This latter includes the right to have their children educated in their own ethos. International agreements of this nature include Article 27 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and in the EU we have the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Strasbourg, 1.II.1995). Articles 13 and 14 read as follows:

13. Within the framework of their education systems, the Parties shall recognise that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to set up and to manage their own private educational and training establishments. …

14.1. The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.

14.2. In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their education systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language.

14.3. Paragraph 2 of this article shall be implemented without prejudice to the learning of the official language or the teaching in this language.

No longer is it the case that children at school are forbidden to speak their own language, and for that we must be grateful. That, however, is quite a different matter from their being encouraged to take pride in it. It is a sad state of affairs that the Irish News is so backward that it is trying to perpetuate through ridicule the disincentives to the use of Ulster-Scots that applied in schools in former days.

Today, we are led to believe that the people of Northern Ireland can look forward to a ‘shared future’. Only when we can all be grown up enough to respect each others’ culture, traditions, religion and language without feeling the need to react in such a puerile way is there any prospect of a shared future that includes all of us — including Ulster-Scots. And yet again the Irish News has turned the clock back.

Yours &c.

Mr Doran’s reply reads as follows:

5 December 2011

Dear Ms Smyth

Thank you for your letter of November 25. It is a little surprising to find you concluding that the Irish News is ‘a newspaper that clearly fails to value informed comment’ on the sole basis of a cartoon of which you disapprove. If we had declined to publish a letter from you, your criticism might have some substance. However, as you have made it clear that you do not wish to put your opinions to our readers, it seems to me that you have undermined your own case. If you change your mind, and decide that you are prepared to engage with the Irish News, please let me know.

Yours sincerely

Noel Doran, Editor

It should be obvious even to Mr Doran that the letter was a letter of complaint, and the natural outcome should have been an apology. It is quite clear that there was never any intention on our part to ‘engage with’ the readership of the Irish News.

What is not clear is what gave Mr Doran the impression that our statement was solely based on ‘a cartoon of which (we) disapprove’. This is the third cartoon regarding Ulster-Scots that has not let the facts get in the way of a lame attempt at a laugh. On neither of the previous two occasions on which we have had to complain about Mr Knox’s pillorying of Ulster-Scots has the paper printed any retraction of the information incorporated in the cartoons despite our pointing out its inaccuracies. We had no reason to believe that this occasion would be any different, and by his discourteous reply Mr Doran has fully confirmed our analysis.

Mr Doran can find his own copy — we will not be supplying it for him.



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)