Obituary: Isobel McCulloch (1930 -2010)

Author: Philip Robinson

Date: 2012

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 12 Wunter 2011/12


Isobel McCulloch was Secretary of the Ulster-Scots Language Society from its formation in 1992 until ill-health forced her to reture to Cookstown, County Tyrone, a decade later. After a lengthy illness, Isobel passed away in January 2010.

Born in 1930 at Moneymore, County Londonderry, Isobel spent much of her early career as a Private Secretary in private business in England, and on her return to Northern Ireland was for a while Private Secretary to Bill Craig, the former Stormont Minister. A woman of incredible clerical and administrative talents, she was self-effacing and always avoided the limelight, reluctant even to be included in group photographs. If it were possible, her clerical skills were surpassed by her total commitment to the Ulster-Scots cause, as we were to discover in the USLS to our great benefit. Without Isobel, the Society would not be the organisation it has become, nor indeed the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council (now the Ulster-Scots Community Network), or the Ulster-Scots Academy, both of which organisations she was subsequently involved with from their formation. As all our original members know, Isobel wrote personally to each and every new member, keeping in touch and encouraging them even when (largely through her efforts), membership rapidly grew to almost 200. Her shorthand and typing skills were so good that committee minutes often ran to pages and pages of small type (in those days before PCs) and in all her years of dedicated unpaid service, I don’t remember her ever claiming as much as a postage stamp in expenses.

Integrity and commitment were the hallmarks of Isobel’s legacy. She was no shrinking violet, but a person of strong opinions, and developed an anti-hypocrisy stance towards politicians and clergymen that she saw as primarily concerned with self-promotion and self-interest — the very opposite of her own character. This resulted in her shunning, more or less, all political parties and organised religion. In many conversations with her, I came to think of her as our latter-day “Betsy Gray”.

In 1992, six or so foundation members had been meeting in Greyabbey to plan the launch of the Ulster-Scots Language Society. At the third or fourth such meeting we were joined by Dr Ian Adamson (who became our first Chairman), and with him he brought Isobel McCulloch, introducing her as someone ideally suited to act as Secretary. Isobel was deeply involved right from the very start, with the formal public ‘launch’ of the Society at Craigavon House in Belfast and (almost simultaneously) at Ballyclare Town Hall. The Ballyclare event was to suit those Antrim foundation members such as Jack McKinney and Ernie Scott. Public interest had already been sparked by a radio interview given by Jack McKinney.

In early 1993, with Jack McKinney as editor, the Society published its first issue of Ullans magazine, and following this I remember travelling with Isobel to the Ballycarry Gathering that year with materials to set up stall at the ‘fair’. Together we sold I don’t know how many copies of Ullans (and encouraged folk to pay one extra pound to sign up as members), along with T-shirts Isobel had got specially printed with Ulster-Scots slogans on them.

Isobel contributed to Ullans in her own right, composing ‘Daein the Messages’ for the 1995 issue, and ‘A Reekin Buck-Goat, a Ringle E’ed Doag an a Wheepin Whitrick’ for the 1997 one.

All those involved during the 1990s in the USLS committee will remember Isobel at her very best in that situation. She was the power-house of the Society. And this was also the case when things were beginning to happen at a pace too quick for a small voluntary body to cope with. In those years when the Society was instrumental in getting onto the radar of the ‘Peace Process’ and getting international recognition as a ‘European Lesser-Used Language’, a few at the hard core of the committee (Ian Adamson, John Erskine, John McIntyre, Isobel and myself) would regularly meet up at lunch-time in John McIntyre’s kitchen for what we called our ‘kitchen cabinet’ meetings. Isobel’s virtually verbatim records of these meetings will no doubt form a significant historical record some day.

Isobel had a passion for pipe bands as well as the language, attending every local Pipe Band Festival, and many across the sheuch as well. When the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council was being formed, Isobel ensured that the RSPBA was involved as a core member. It was her final wish that her ashes be scattered on Lough Fey in County Tyrone, with a lone piper playing.

Philip Robinson

The Ulster-Scots Language Society also notes with deep regret the passing of its highly-esteemed members Ernie Scott, Samuel Young and Jimmy Kennedy, and extends its sympathy to their respective families.

Tho’ I pass through the gruesom sheugh

Fin’ A ken that He is near

His muckle cruk wull me defen’

Sae A hae nocht tae fear.

His guidness an’ his mercy, baith

Nae doot will bide wi’ me,

While faulded on the fields o’ time

His hame ma dwellin’ be.

‘The Good Shepherd’

(The foregoing stanzas are from a version of the 23rd Psalm, rendered by Ernie Scott at an early meeting of the USLS in Ballyclare Town Hall.)



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)