Another year has elapsed, and little has changed in the world of Ulster-Scots, or indeed generally in Northern Ireland. As this editorial is written, the disturbances in the centre of Belfast, and reaction to the Castlederg republican commemoration parade, remind us that ‘peace’ is an elusive commodity. Those who like to keep a watching brief on matters political may not be aware that at Christmas-time 2011 a letter of protest was sent by the Society to Belfast City Council, complaining about the inherent bias in the display of a City Hall sign reading ‘Happy Christmas’ in Irish, but not, of course, in Ulster-Scots. Perhaps if the news media had taken more notice of this, Belfast’s citizens would have had some advance indication of trends within the Council that ultimately resulted in its subsequent decision to dispense with flying the union flag. As so often happens, language issues are a gauge by which we can measure the progress of our ‘shared future’.

The one constant throughout the year was our work to achieve the publication of the Spelling and Pronunciation Guide and its associated Glossary, produced as a result of the work of the Spelling Standards Committee of the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group, in which the Society played a full part under our partnership agreement. Publication was funded by the body now known as the ‘Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG) on the Ulster Scots Academy’ (which started life as the ‘Ministerial Advisory Group on Ulster-Scots’). Launch of these two books took place in late March. They represent the end of the first important stage of a longer process aimed at establishing recommended spellings for writing in Ulster-Scots.

Unfortunately, MAG failed to honour the initial verbal agreement that six months would be allowed to elapse before the publication of the electronic version of these books, and they are now available as downloads via the DCAL website (which is also contrary to the original intention). This kind of selective amnesia does tend to reinforce distrust of the department that impounded our archives in 2008.

In the past, the progress of Ulster-Scots has been undermined by attempts to drive a wedge between the language and ‘its attendant culture’. Most Language Society folk, however, take an equally informed interest in the cultural side of things — as is evidenced in past issues of this journal. We were therefore delighted that Ian Muir and other talented members of his Scottish Country Dance band visited Belfast for a workshop spanning two days in February 2012. No stranger to Northern Ireland’s Scottish Country Dance scene, Ian Muir is a Senior Tutor at the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. This institution was formerly known as the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

At the Saturday evening session, in Knockbreda Parish Church Hall, which was facilitated by the Belfast Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, the ‘massed bands’ could not squeeze onto the stage but had to occupy part of the hall’s floor area. It was a wonderful night of music and dance, hugely enjoyed by the instrumentalists and their audience. Singling out any particular part of the programme is probably invidious, but two instances stand out in the memory: the infectious energy of Jimmy Shand’s ‘Mairsland Two-Step’, which Ian did not ‘count in’ but initiated with a shout of ‘Here we go!’; and the haunting beauty of the slow air, ‘Margit Anne Roabertsin’ (as he called it), played by the fiddlers led by Mairi Cochrane.

The thanks of those who took part also go to Iain Carlisle, of the Ulster-Scots Community Network, for organising the workshops, and to the Agency for funding them. In the past the Society has been critical of the quality of much of what is funded under the banner of ‘Ulster-Scots’; but on this occasion resources were provided for something absolutely right and very worthwhile. It is to be hoped that further action will be taken to capitalise on the benefits of those one and a half tremendous days of music.

Within the Society, there have been more staff changes. Our full-time worker, Derek Rowlinson, left in early March last year, and we thank him for his valuable contribution to the work of the USLS during the almost four years he was with us. Derek continues to support the Society on a voluntary basis. Elizabeth Hagan, now Bresland, our part-time Administrator, has been helping to man the shop-front at Great Victoria Street as a favour to the Ulster-Scots Agency, as required, and is soldiering on as the Society’s one remaining employee.

The Society’s office continues to offer reliable assistance in connection with public and private queries on the Ulster-Scots language. In addition to fielding requests for translation, it processes queries sent in by way of the website contact form. These are quite varied, and this year’s crop ranged from the origin of the word champ, through an explanation for Indian bag (from W F Marshall’s ‘Me an me Da’), to an inquiry as to what the Ulster-Scots called their weans (and no, we didn’t say it depended how angry you were at the time!).

The area of broadcasting was particularly prominent in the concerns of the Society during the year. Specifically, the way in which the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund is administered has brought to light a whole range of independent broadcasting producers who are not in the least interested in the Ulster-Scots language (or Ulster-Scots anything else, for that matter) but who are extremely interested in accessing funding. All they need to do is scrape together a few facts that they can drop into the application to convince the advisory committee. This of course wastes the time of the genuine Ulster-Scots who try to facilitate them but are not permitted to make any significant contribution to the end product. In effect, the Broadcast Fund exists to ‘grow’ the industry (a modern term, apparently devised to fill the gap when someone could not think of the word ‘expand’), while being totally disengaged from the Ulster-Scots community (so that there is no capacity-building taking place).

The quality of what is broadcast was also central to the lobbying of the BBC engaged in by the Society during the year. These discussions are continuing, with a view to reducing the risible content of programmes, mentioned in the last issue of Ullans (‘The Things They Say’, pp. 70-72).

A concern of the Ulster-Scots Agency during the year is the apparent lack of co-ordination in activities as between its core-funded groups. This eventually resulted in the formation of the Ulster-Scots Language Forum, set up by the Agency’s Chief Executive, the inaugural meeting of which was held on 15th October 2012, and to which representatives of these groups and others involved in Ulster-Scots language activity contributed. Funding for the current year has now been so structured that all proposals for publications (other than Ullans) must go before this body for approval. However, the USLS has not received notice of any meeting subsequent to the first one.

The next sphere of activity we can catalogue concerns planning and strategy. Our Archivist and Chairman completed their work at Redwood House on cataloguing and creating a condition report on our collections, which had been placed in storage and subsequently removed there by DCAL. A feature of the paper collections is the documentation of many hours of planning and strategy-building, which if the plans had been implemented would have placed the Ulster-Scots language in a very much stronger position than it presently holds. We are not short of plans — just the resources to implement them. Unfortunately, DCAL took the decision to terminate its lease on Redwood House, and our collections were subjected to yet another flitting in early April. The collections are now in the Valley Business Centre, which is basic but secure, and our Archivist is intending to be there on a regular basis. Anyone who wishes to access the library can be facilitated by telephoning our office.

There has been an appreciable number of meetings in this regard and also in connection with the Society’s continuing interest in the language development projects (for which the collections are an essential resource), at which the Chairman has represented the Society.

Another feature of the year’s work has been the need to respond to various governmental strategies on Ulster-Scots. Early in 2012 we had the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, which displayed a generally negative attitude to Ulster-Scots. On the 1st of May, this was followed by the DCAL publication, Public Attitudes towards the Irish Language and Ulster-Scots in Northern Ireland: findings from the Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey January 2012. It is noticeable that frequently the civil service departments continue to use the formula ‘Irish Language and Ulster-Scots’, as if using the term ‘language’ in relation to Ulster-Scots would bring on a choking fit. The mere fact that the Westminster Government subscribed to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Ulster-Scots should have settled the matter, and it is disappointing that the Northern Ireland Civil Service appears not to appreciate this.

In July, there was the first notice of an impending public consultation on the Ministerial Strategy, entitled ‘Strategy for Ulster Scots Language, Heritage and Culture’ — which at least was something of an improvement on the title of the ‘Public Attitudes’ publication. As a statement of desirable objectives for Ulster-Scots, this could not be faulted. However, it seemed to be based on a range of unsupported assumptions; and furthermore it made no reference to resourcing — which is fundamental in the light of the huge disparity in funding as between the minority languages, and is an even more crucial issue in the current economic situation. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Strategy is its heavy reliance upon civil servants to set translation standards(!) and to ‘drive’ language development.

In its response, which was contained in 10 closely-argued pages of text, the Society strongly expressed the view that the civil service has neither the skills nor experience for such a task, and that previous experience of leaving the protection and promotion of Ulster-Scots to civil servants has been disastrous.

The consultation period for the ‘Strategy’ ended on 27th November 2012 but, according to a subsequent ministerial statement, some groups were allowed an extension into the month of December to provide responses. In the same statement, we were told that in excess of 130 responses had been received in respect of the Ulster-Scots consultation. DCAL officials are said to be currently involved in a careful perusal of these responses, and in the Minister’s words, ‘The strategies will be revised on the basis of the consultation responses and input from other departments will be sought as the final strategies are cross-cutting’.

As matters currently stand, this does not seem to have been carried through. Previous USLS experience of consultations (particularly on the USAIG proposals) appears to support the view that (a) government bodies follow their own agendas regardless, and (b) all responses are considered equal, no matter how intemperate, illogical or perverse and no matter whether they represent the opinion of an individual or an organisation. The reader will note that again the civil service has a stranglehold on the outcome, absence of experience, knowledge and skills notwithstanding. It is assumed that by ‘cross-cutting’ the Minister is referring not to a shredder but to the impact of the Strategy beyond the confines of DCAL. We can expect more civil service ‘input’ from these other departments, and still no meaningful engagement with the Ulster-Scots speaking community.

Preparation of the Society’s response was in progress when we received notice of yet another public consultation, this time in reference to the ‘Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG) — Ulster Scots Academy’, as it is now known, which was said to have prepared the consultative document containing proposals for an Ulster-Scots Development and Research Strategy. The period of the consultation lasted from 15th October to 7th December 2012. In this instance no period of grace was allowed for completion of responses, and no information in regard to the numbers who did respond is available. However, two public consultation meetings were held, one in Lisburn and one in Omagh.

In this document, too, there was much that was unexceptionable. However, again the Society felt that far too much influence in framing language policy was conferred upon the civil service. Also, officers drafting the Society’s response noted that on page 11 of the proposals it was stated that ‘the Academy approach [undefined] will address the needs identified by the independent consultants’. Then, on page 14, the document stated that ‘independent consultants have identified a number of improvements to be made in taking forward the development of the sector as a whole’. In its response, the Society reiterated that neither civil servants nor consultants are equipped to either identify needs for the language or determine ways of meeting them.

Although the document failed to define its terms, it seemed to be proceeding on the basis that the only acceptable format would be that of a ‘virtual’ academy — or, more accurately, a commissioning body. In its response, the USLS clearly stated that an ‘academy’ of this nature did not conform to the expressed wishes of speakers of Ulster-Scots nor to the vision originally articulated by Professor Robert Gregg. Equally unsatisfactory was the apparent failure in this initial document to consider the desperate need for an authoritative standards-setting body, and a reluctance to even consider the unique position of the language development projects, which we have always argued should continue as a core function regardless of any other ‘academy’ activity.

Readers of this editorial will not be surprised to know that, by this time, the USLS officers involved in compiling these responses were just hitting their stride, and the second response was a page longer than the first. Perhaps it is impossible to be succinct in the unusual event of our being permitted to express an opinion. However, on this occasion the Society was gratified to find that MAG(USA) had not been unresponsive to our concerns, and that our argument against a wholly ‘virtual’ academy appeared to have been accepted. The Revised Strategy was published in the month of June 2013, and can be downloaded from the DCAL website. Its expressed intention to create an Ulster-Scots Academy/Resource Centre in a physical space (as yet unidentified) and to make this the repository of standards-setting activity is indeed welcome. Nevertheless, the funding of language-related projects under this body seems peculiarly vulnerable to the lack of capacity-building (another of the points made in argument in our response) and to the short-termism that is unavoidable in an organisation with no assurance of survival past 2015. These are symptoms of a wider malaise within the public service, as is the box-ticking culture that can lead in its ultimate manifestation to the creation of insurmountable administrative obstacles to progress.

While composing our responses to these public consultation documents, it did not escape the notice of the USLS that the three-yearly report which the UK Government is obliged to submit in regard to its implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages became due in May 2012. This is the fourth monitoring cycle, as it is known, since the UK Government became a signatory to the Charter, and despite many discouragements the Society was very active in participating in earlier three-yearly reviews, both by meeting the representatives of the Committee of Experts when they visited Northern Ireland and by submitting detailed position papers to the Committee of Experts. The previous UK Government report, which was only a partial report, was almost eleven months late; and, although a proper explanation for this was never given, the Society believes that Irish language activists had obstructed the compilation of a report in retaliation for government failure to force through statutory measures to give special treatment to Irish (or Gaelic, as it used to be called). There were no signs of information-gathering to feed into a fourth monitoring cycle report.

USLS members will now be aware that Stormont has recently received criticism for its failure to submit reports on compliance in regard to Ulster-Scots or Irish; and the point has been made that the latest United Kingdom report is therefore devoid of any reference to either language. The Society is all too aware of this deficiency. At 11.30 am on the 30th of April, our part-time administrator emailed the Chairman to say that representatives of the Committee of Experts (COE) had arrived in Northern Ireland for their one-day ‘on the spot’ visit and had already had the meeting relating to Ulster-Scots. This was the first we had heard of it. A startled USLS Committee, at its meeting that evening, was informed that the meeting had been held at the start of the day, had lasted 15 to 20 minutes, and the COE representatives had thereafter gone to Stormont to receive the hospitality of the Minister and a sizeable deputation from the Irish language lobby for the entire remainder of their time in Northern Ireland.

The USLS Chairman immediately contacted the European Language Equality Network, and acting upon the advice of Davyth Hicks of ELEN sent a letter of complaint to the Head of the Charter Secretariat regarding our effective exclusion from the meeting. Meanwhile, a member of the Secretariat, reacting to a message from Davyth Hicks, had informed the USLS that COE would accept a position paper in lieu of our participation at the meeting provided this was received by ‘the end of the week’ (24th May). By this time, we were in line for a black belt in writing position papers, and a 17-page document landed with a thump in the Secretariat’s in-box well before the deadline.

The Society was subsequently assured by the same, very helpful, member of the Secretariat that the position paper was then currently being examined in detail at a meeting in Paris. It should be noted that previous COE reports were not supportive of, and indeed misrepresented, the position of Ulster-Scots language activists. Perhaps on this occasion our attempts to set the record straight will bear fruit. It would be very unfortunate if the Society’s well documented tendency to point out that the Emperor is out in his scud were used to justify the continued marginalisation of our organisation. However, our gratitude to Davyth Hicks for his intervention must be put on record.

In the midst of pushing boulders uphill, there have been success stories for the Society. The continuing Bible translation project gives us great encouragement, not least because we know the USLS is still producing work of high quality and integrity. A fuller account of these activities is found elsewhere in this volume of Ullans. However, the Committee of the Society would like to express its indebtedness to the folk on the translation teams, whose commitment and conscientious approach are an example to the whole sector.

It is also good to know that the work of the teams is replicated in the context of other language groups. At the end of August 2012, Gordon Hay, an Aberdeenshire solicitor and elder of the kirk, completed the translation of the New Testament into Doric (the local language of north-east Scotland), after six years of work. He had begun by translating some readings for the Buchan Heritage Society and had enjoyed his involvement in Bible translation so much that he just kept going. If any of our readers are similarly inspired with regard to Ulster-Scots Bible translation, please get in touch with Philip or Heather Saunders, Wycliffe Bible Translators who are doing a wonderful job heading up the project.

Individual members of the Society are also active in the area of research and documentation of the historic sources, despite the lack of support, and the USLS hopes that it will be in a position to publish the fruits of this research in the near future. We salute the ‘self-starters’ who are so interested in the language that they are prepared to give voluntarily of their time and effort in its preservation and promotion.

As we enter another year in the life of the Society, the Committee would like to thank our members for their support, and to encourage them to talk to family, friends and neighbours about our work with a view to persuading them to join. We are also looking for new writers in or on Ulster-Scots to contribute to this journal. Even if you start without any degree of confidence, you can be sure that you will receive all the help you need to hone your skills. One of the major reasons for the existence of this publication is the showcasing of modern Ulster-Scots writing, and there are precious few such publications in existence. Let us make the most of it.



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)