John McIntyre — An Appreciation

John McIntyre

The Ulster-Scots Language Society lost a loyal and committed founder member and Vice-Chairman on the death of John McIntyre on the 9th of August 2013. John was no great age by modern standards — 66 — but he had packed a lot into his allotted span.

As one of the ‘twa Jhones’ who was in at the beginning of the Language Society in the early 1990s, he had met with the other founder members, in what became laughingly known as ‘the kitchen cabinet’ (due to the fact that these first meetings were held around the kitchen table in John’s house), to discuss how to obtain for Ulster-Scots the protection it so sorely needed. Soon John was picking up on instances of linguistic inequality and prejudice of one kind or another, and writing letters of protest. He corresponded regularly with the late Isobel McCulloch, the Society’s first Secretary, and with one of our current Honorary Vice-Presidents, Philip Robinson, to plan the strategy by which the USLS could be made effective in its mission.

After the United Kingdom Government became a signatory to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Ulster-Scots on the 27th of March 2001, John saw this as an opportunity to press for government action to safeguard the status of the language and to uphold the cultural right of Ulster-Scots to affirm this as their identity. He became involved with the Northern Ireland sub-committee of the European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL), latterly as its Chairman. EBLUL had been formed in 1982 to promote the cause of lesser-used languages in the European Union. Ultimately, John was elected Vice-President of this organisation, until it unfortunately ceased to exist in January 2010 due to difficulties relating to international funding.

When the North/South Language Body was created under the Belfast Agreement, John served as a foundation Board member of the Ulster-Scots Agency. He was one of three language representatives from the Ulster-Scots Language Society. His appointment proved particularly appropriate, given that body’s responsibility to promote the Ulster-Scots language ‘in the context of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages’, and he represented Ulster-Scots language interests on behalf of the Agency across Europe and America.

Arising out of his work with EBLUL, John became well versed in the area of human rights within Europe, and in regard to the provisions of the European Charter. He was a convinced advocate of a place for Ulster-Scots as of right within the education system, and argued cogently for high-quality broadcasting provision for the language, and for language status equality with Irish. When, at DCAL’s request, a ‘Five-Year Plan’ or ‘Road Map’ was prepared for progression to Stage 3 status under the Charter for Ulster-Scots (currently categorised as Stage 2), John played a leading role in its drafting. This Road Map was approved initially by the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group (where John was involved on secondment), and then by the DCAL-led Interdepartmental Charter Implementation Group.

One of the aspects of the mechanism whereby the Committee of Experts (COE) in Strasbourg monitors the UK Governments compliance with the Charter is a three-yearly ‘monitoring round’ in which, firstly, DCAL (and then the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) submit a report on all that has been done for Ulster-Scots during the monitoring period just elapsed; secondly, there is an ‘on-the-spot’ visit by representatives of COE; and lastly the COE prepares a report on its findings. The USLS had two representatives at each of the first three ‘on-the-spot’ meetings in respect of Ulster-Scots (although at the first of these they were part of a larger USLS deputation), and John was always one of them. It has been noted elsewhere that only the USLS representatives had to attend these meetings in their own time, all other attendees doing so as a responsibility of their salaried posts. Had the USLS been given the opportunity to attend the fourth ‘on-the-spot’ meeting (see Editorial), John would doubtless have been there, despite his failing health. If position papers or responses were needed as part of the Language Society’s interaction with the European bodies, John was always happy to take on the job of the first draft.

Another area of interest in which John was active was in our sister organisation, the Ulster-Scots Academy. Formed as a vehicle for the academic study of Ulster-Scots, the Academy temporarily acquired company status, and John was elected as Company Secretary during that period. On part-time secondment from his substantive job, he also acted as Project Manager for the recording and transcription work which, along with other essential language development projects, was being progressed ‘without delay’ under the terms of the Ulster-Scots Language Society’s Partnership Agreement with the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group.

Helpfulness and hospitality were the main hallmarks of John’s personality. Not only did he host the early USLS committee meetings in his family home, but he also provided accommodation when needed for our President, Professor Michael Montgomery, on his visits from South Carolina. Perhaps as an inheritance from his Scots forebears, John had a pawky sense of humour. Fellow committee members may recall his deadpan account at one of our meetings of a hill-walking expedition in the Dolomites, when he got thoroughly lost due to the unavailability of accurate maps. His consequent adventures involved him in populating a convent with a small army of ants, and nearly being arrested by the police back home in Belfast. John had picked up a tick in his ramblings, only managing to get it seen to after his return, when he went straight to the City Hospital. In the middle of what seemed to be rather ineffectual probings and incisions, the area where the insect had taken up residence was flooded with whisky. Gung-ho as ever, John got behind the wheel of the car and drove up the Lisburn Road, only to be stopped by the police. As he gave his explanation of how he came to be there at what was now a very late hour, John suddenly realised the reason why the policeman was leaning into the car in such an obvious way and reaching for his little plastic bag. We never heard how he convinced him that the whisky had not been consumed, as by this time we were all convulsed with laughter.

A USLS Committee member for all the years the organisation has been in existence, John rarely missed a meeting until his last illness. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in December 2012, and as the illness progressed such was its virulence that all the treatments the doctors could prescribe were ineffective. John faced the ordeal with great courage and with his usual diffidence. In early April, matters so transpired that he was the only USLS officer available for the handover of keys for the Valley Business Centre; and John duly drove over to Whiteabbey to carry out this duty on behalf of the Society. Only later did we discover how ill he was. John had not said a word.

We could not believe that someone who lived such a healthy lifestyle, a non-smoker with a commendable record in athletics in his younger days, his membership of the Royal Naval Reserve, his yachting, cycling and hill-walking and his love of the outdoors, could have been struck down by this aggressive cancer. For that reason it took some time for us to realise that the whispers we had heard of his condition were actually true.

At the funeral the Tuesday following John’s death, the parish church where he had served as church warden was packed with mourners, an indication of how highly he was regarded in all his many areas of interest. The service was an inspiration, focusing on John’s deep faith. It was simultaneously a sad occasion and a celebration of John’s life. He will be greatly missed by his friends in the USLS.

Our sincere sympathy is extended to John’s wife Kathleen, their children Laura, Amy and Andrew, and their respective families.



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.



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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!

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