The Ulster-Scots writings of Sir Samuel Ferguson

Author: Philip Robinson

Date: 2013

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 13 Hairst 2013

Philip Robinson

Sir Samuel Ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson

Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886) was a poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist and public servant. He was President of the Royal Irish Academy and wrote many essays on Irish antiquities, being particularly renowned for his antiquarian work on ogham inscriptions in the British Isles. These essays were edited by his widow, Lady Ferguson (who also published his biography, Sir Samuel Ferguson in the Ireland of his day). In 1867 he became Deputy Keeper of Public Records in Ireland. In the course of his life he published many volumes of verse, some of the epic poems being based on Irish and Antrim legends. His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael, appeared in 1865, and his epic poem Congal in five volumes first appeared in 1872.

Congal has become the classic literary work on the south Antrim kingdom of Dalnaraide and on the Battle of Moira, fought just outside the village of Moira between the High King of Ireland (Domnall II) and the King of Dalnaraide (Congal) in 637. This battle was hailed by Sir Samuel Ferguson as ‘the greatest battle ever seen in Ireland’, and much of Dr Ian Adamson’s writing on the subject of this battle and the 7th century Cruithin kingdom acknowledges this. Congal, at the time of the Battle of Moira, was not only King of Dalnaraide (which he ruled from his ‘capital’ at Rathmore, near Antrim town and close to the Ferguson family home), but also over-King of Uladh, a confederacy of smaller kingdoms that included Dalriada in North Antrim and Dal Fiatach in north and east Down. Ten years before the battle, Congal had become over-King of all Uladh. However, after killing the High King of Ireland Congal was defeated by Domnall, the new high king, and fled to Scotland, vowing to return. In 637 he did so in search of revenge and, aided by a host of other Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons and Britons, advanced from north Antrim through Dalriada. Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, was his objective, but the Battle of Moira resulted in his final defeat.

Samuel Ferguson’s other published poems included a number of ‘Ulster Ballads’, dealing with Ulster-Scots subjects but written in English. The best-known of these is ‘The Ballad of Willy Gilliland’ the story of which will be described more fully later. (See also, ‘Wullie Gillilann o Glenquhurrie’ by John Erskine in Ullans, Nummer 4, 40-41).

Ferguson, who had a deep attachment to the Antrim of his childhood, has been described as the most important poet of the 19th century from an Ulster-Scots background. It was his unfulfilled ambition to chronicle and publish the early history of county Antrim based on information from the Irish Annals he had been abstracting. He was knighted in 1878 for his work in reorganising the Public Records. Few people, however, realise that his writings include both poetry and prose written in Ulster-Scots.

He was educated at Belfast Academy, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College, Dublin, but never graduated. Indeed he held no academic rank till the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred on him in 1865 by the university in Dublin, after the publication of the Lays of the Western Gael. Between 1845 and 1846 he went to Europe where he made sketches of cathedrals and churches dedicated to Irish saints, and he studied painting and sculpture in Italy. Some of his sketches are in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. He became Queen’s Counsel in 1859 and Doctor of Laws in 1864.

Nine years after his death, Lady Ferguson published the biography of her husband, including the following references to his early years:

Samuel Ferguson of Standing Stone, in the county of Antrim, the paternal grandfather of Sir Samuel Ferguson, had by his wife, Hessy Owens, a daughter and six sons, amongst whom he left a good estate, around and including the little town of Parkgate, Co. Antrim. The Ferguson property was situated in and about the valley of the Six-Mile Water, which empties itself into Lough Neagh near the town of Antrim. Here stands one of the earliest of the Irish round towers, and not far distant may be traced the remains of the royal fort of Rathmore Moy-Linny. The region is dominated by the moat of Donegore. This fine earthwork is a conspicuous object in the landscape. It commands an extensive view over a rich and undulating country to Lough Neagh, with its expanse of waters and boundary of distant mountains. To the north rise the Connor Hills and the wedge-like mountain of Slemish. At the base of the moat, or rath, stands the pretty church of Donegore. Here, on its lower slopes included in the churchyard, is the burying-place of the Ferguson family, and in this plot of ground repose the mortal remains of the Poet and Antiquary who is the subject of this biography. He lies amid scenes endeared to him from childhood, and often described by his pen. He sleeps among kindred dust on an Irish green hillside.

The Ferguson family came from Scotland early in the seventeenth century … The immediate progenitors of the Fergusons migrated to Antrim from south-western Scotland.

Although Samuel Ferguson was born in Belfast, and had lived in the city, the Ferguson family farm was at the ‘Four-mile-burn’ at Parkgate (near Doagh), county Antrim. This was where Samuel spent much of his early years, in the townland of ‘Ferguson’s Land’ in the Parish of Donegore. When he died in 1886, he was buried in the family plot at Donegore Church. The inscription on his gravestone reads:


The Ferguson and Gilliland ancestry of Sir Samuel Ferguson was researched and compiled by his grand-niece, the immediate connections being described as follows:

The Fergusons in Co. Antrim were originally Presbyterians; and Sir Samuel, in his ballad of ‘Willy Gilliland,’ included in Lays of the Western Gael, tells the story of a Covenanting ancestor who came to Ireland at the time of the persecutions in Scotland. Ellen GILLILAND, who married John FERGUSON, father of Samuel of Standingstone, and was great-grandmother of Sir Samuel, was descended from this hunted Covenanter. The burying place of the family is at Donegore in Antrim.

The Four-mile-burn

The Four-mile-burn, where Samuel Ferguson spent much of his childhood, divides the Parishes of Kilbride and Donegore, and flows down from the Big Collin mountain at Tildarg. On the north side of this mountain lies the Glenwhirry valley, home of the Gillilands, his other main body of Ulster-Scots relatives. The burn continues past Donegore Hill and between Parkgate and Doagh into the Six-mile-water.

This river receives an early mention in a report on customs in Ulster in 1637 as a staging-post on the trade route between Antrim and Carrickfergus. We are told that when Lord Caulfield was exporting pipe staves from Tyrone he was ‘forced to bring them over the Lough Neagh and land them near Antrim, and from thence to a place called Four Mile Water near Carrickfergus’.

The farms of Samuel Ferguson’s relatives are recorded in the Griffith survey, compiled when Ferguson was about 40 years old, as being situated on both sides of the Four-mile-burn. They were in the townlands of Ferguson’s Land on the Donegore Parish side, and Crawford’s Land, on the Kilbride Parish side.

The Fergusons at Four-mile-burn

The home farm of Samuel Ferguson’s father, John Ferguson, was beside Parkgate, in the townland of Ferguson’s Land, where the Four-mile-burn flows.

Hearth Money Rolls for 1666 and 1669 give us the earliest glimpse of the members of Sir Samuel Ferguson’s family that settled from Scotland in the parishes of Donegore and Kilbride, beside Doagh. They do not appear in the townland of Ferguson’s Land where Sir Samuel’s father was born, but were then concentrated nearby in the townlands of Holestone and Ballyclaverty. Here we have John Ferguson, Thomas Forgison, Henry Forgison, John Ferguson, and Widow Forgison, with some of the Forgisons in the 1666 Roll appearing as Fergusons in 1669.

In 1770, a George and a James Ferguson from this area signed a petition against local ‘Hearts of Steel’ outrages and, in the subscriber lists for the local poet Samuel Thomson’s book of Ulster-Scots poetry published in 1799, we find a ‘Thomas Ferguson, Four-Mile Burn’. This is significant, as this volume of Ulster-Scots poems would have been familiar to the young Samuel Ferguson.

Ulster-Scots literary connections

Sir Samuel Ferguson later described the territory of the Ulster-Scots bards in the upper Six Mile Water valley as a ‘little rustic Arcadia’ which had given rise to poets such as James Campbell of Ballynure, Thomas Beggs of Ballyclare, Samuel Turner of Ballyeaston, Samuel Walker of Roughfort and, of course, Samuel Thomson of Carngranny — all writing in what Ferguson called ‘the Scotch language’.

John Hewitt describes the same area as the epicentre of the Antrim ‘bards’, where they were ‘on their home ground’. He makes the connection between this literary upsurge and a ‘little swarm of [book] clubs, Ballyclare, Doagh first and second, Ballynure, Carnmoney, Carngranny and the Four Towns’. The Four Towns Book Club drew its membership from the four townlands of Mallusk, Craigarogan, Kilgreel and Ballybarnes, and their membership included the bards Samuel Thomson, Thomas Beggs and Samuel Walker, and the United Irishmen Jamie Hope and Luke Mullan.

Two lesser-known poets from this ‘arcadia’ (John Fullarton of Ballynure and John Dickey of Donegore) had their books of poetry reviewed favourably by Sir Samuel Ferguson shortly after their publication in the 19th century. In his essay, ‘Attractions of Ireland, No 3, Society’ (Dublin University Magazine, Vol. 8, December, 1836), Ferguson wrote:

The Scotch have a national literature; a Scottish school of science, and a purely Scottish school of poetry and romance. … It matters not whether Scotland was peopled from Ireland, or Ireland from Scotland; the Scottish race is the same in both countries. … Again let us suppose our traveller at Belfast; here in like manner a drive of ten miles will place him among the representatives of the Scottish lowlanders of the time of the Covenant. Among them he will find the national dialect of Scotland as broadly and almost as primitively spoken as that of England in the district he is supposed to have last visited. Scotch language, Scotch looks, Scotch habits will strike him wherever he turns; we must, however, admit that no discernible trace of peculiar Scotch costume is likely to arrest his attention. Indeed the lowland costume, at the period of this settlement, was not distinguished by any very remarkable feature except the bonnet, and the bonnet has generally been doffed for the ordinary felt hat in both countries. The long stockings rolled over the knee, are, it is true, still seen on some primitive individuals; but the cases are few, and the wearers looked on, to use the phrase of the country, as ‘doited auld bodies.’ It is remarkable that the recollection of the mother country is scarcely, if at all, cherished; yet there is a perfect similarity of habits and disposition. In nothing does this appear so strongly as in the popular taste for poetry. Robert Burns’ own parish was not more deeply imbued with the love of song than the central district of the county of Antrim. We could enumerate at least a dozen rustic poets whose works have been published from time to time in a district not more than fifteen miles in length by ten in breadth. The last volume which emanated from this little rustic Arcadia is entitled ‘Feudal Scenes’ by John Fullarton.

Ferguson continues in this article to give a positive review, with extracts from Fullarton’s book. (Fullarton was a member of the Four Towns Book Club, and wrote biographies of many of the other members, including Thomas Beggs.)

‘Ulster Ballads’ and other poems by the young Samuel Ferguson appeared in the Dublin University Magazine, Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine and the Ulster Magazine during the 1830s and 1840s. Although written in English, ‘The Ballad of Willy Gilliland’ probably resonates most strongly with his Ulster-Scots roots. It tells of an ancestor of Ferguson’s great-grandmother, Ellen Gilliland. Willy Gilliland had fled in Covenanting times from Scotland to Ireland, and was fishing one day in the Glenwhirry river:

It was a summer evening, and, mellowing and still,

Glenwhirry to the setting sun lay bare from hill to hill;

For all that valley pastoral held neither house nor tree,

But spread abroad and open all, a full fair sight to see,

From Slemish foot to Collon top lay one unbroken green,

Save where in many a silver coil the river glanced between.

But the Covenanter had been tracked down by his foes. His horse was captured and taken to Carrickfergus. The subject of the rest of the ballad is the story of Willy Gilliland’s journey from Glenwhirry, past the Four Mile Burn, to Carrickfergus, where he managed to recapture his horse at the North Gate of the old town wall.

In terms of actual writing in Ulster-Scots, Ferguson published a short Ulster-Scots novel, ‘The Wet Wooing: A Narrative of Ninety-Eight’, in Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine (1832). This story was written in ‘kail-yard’ style, with superb Ulster-Scots dialogue between the characters and English connecting prose. It is again set in Glenwhirry (with an excursion from Carncastle via the Gobbins to Strangford by sea thrown in). Importantly, woven into ‘The Wet Wooing’ is the earliest of Ferguson’s Ulster-Scots poems, called ‘The Canny Courtship’.

The Canny Courtship

Young Redrigs walks where the sunbeams fa’;

He sees his shadow slant up the wa’ —

Wi’ shouthers sae braid, and wi’ waist sae sma’,

Guid faith he’s a proper man!

He cocks his cap, and he streeks out his briest;

And he steps a step like a lord at least;

And he cries like the devil to saddle his beast,

And off to court he’s gaun.

The Laird o’ Largy is far frae hame,

But his dochter sits at the quiltin’ frame,

Kamin’ her hair wi’ a siller kame,

In mony a gowden ban’:

Bauld Redrigs loups frae his blawin’ horse,

He prees her mou’ wi’ a freesome force —

‘Come take me Nelly, for better for worse,

To be your ain guidman.’

‘I’ll no be harried like bumbee’s byke —

I’ll no be handled unleddy like —

I winna hae ye, ye worryin’ tyke,

The road ye came gae ’lang!’

He loupit on wi’ an awesome snort,

He bang’d the fire frae the flinty court;

He’s aff and awa in a snorin’ sturt,

As hard as he can whang.

It’s doon she sat when she saw him gae,

And a’ that she could do or say,

Was — ‘O! And alack! And a well-a-day!

I’ve lost the best guidman!’

But if she was wae, it’s he was wud;

He garr’s them a’ frae his road to scud;

But Glowerin’ Sam gied thud for thud,

And then to the big house ran.

The Glowerer ran for the kitchen dorr;

Bauld Redrigs hard at his heels, be sure,

He’s wallop’d him roun’ and roun’ at the floor,

As wha but Redrigs can?

Then Sam he loups to the dresser shelf —

‘I daur ye wallop my leddy’s delf;

I daur ye break but a single skelf

Frae her cheeny bowl, my man!’

But Redrigs’ bluid wi’ his hand was up;

He’d lay them neither for crock nor cup,

He play’d awa’ wi’ his cuttin’ whup,

And doon the dishes dang;

He clatter’d them doon, sir, raw by raw;

The big anes foremost, and syne the sma’;

He came to the cheeny cups last o’ a’ —

They glanced wi’ gowd sae thrang!

Then bonny Nelly came skirlin’ butt;

Her twa white arms roun his neck she put —

‘O Redrigs, dear, hae ye tint your wut?

Are ye quite and clane gane wrang?

O spare my teapot! O spare my jug!

O spare, O spare my posset-mug!

And I’ll let ye kiss, and I’ll let ye hug,

Dear Redrigs, a’ day lang.’

‘Forgie, forgie me, my beauty bright!

Ye are my Nelly, my heart’s delight;

I’ll kiss and I’ll hug ye day and night,

If alang wi’ me you’ll gang.’

‘Fetch out my pillion, fetch out my cloak,

You’ll heal my heart if my bowl you broke.’

These words, whilk she to her bridegroom spoke,

Are the endin’ o’ my sang.

[Sir Samuel Ferguson, 1832]

In his biography (Sir Samuel Ferguson in the Ireland of his day), Lady Ferguson also provides us with an otherwise unpublished Ulster-Scots poem ‘A New Year’s Epistle to Robert Gordon, M.D., dated the 1st of January 1845’. This 20-verse poem in ‘Standard Habbie’ (Burns style) is written in excellent Ulster-Scots, and had been copied by Lady Ferguson from a manuscript copy, ‘so far as she could decipher, the very illegible writing. The Northern or Scottish dialect added to the difficulty, the words being unfamiliar’. Robert Gordon was a childhood friend whose family was from Islandmagee in east Antrim. He and Ferguson corresponded regularly, but on this one occasion, the ‘epistle’ was a poem which begins:

A Guid New Year I wish you, Gordon.

Hech! Forty-four has been a hard ane …

The following verses reflect on their childhood friendship, and on the unfulfilled ambitions ‘Rab’ and Samuel once had.

A New Year’s Epistle to Robert Gordon, M.D., dated the 1st of January 1845

A Guid New Year I wish you, Gordon.

Hech! Forty-four has been a hard ane,

And on our backs has laid its burden

Wi’ pressure fell;

Still, hae we had our orra guerdon

Within oursel’.

To haud us up, and reconcile us

To that sour Madam Fortune’s malice,

Wha o’ the Muse has aye been jalous

Sin auld blind Homer

Beggit his bit amang Greek billies

Revolting from her.

And bonny bairns to grace the country,

You canna hae thae sweet wee gentry

Without the wife and the pantry

And hoose and a’.

That, reckonin’ up my sorra’ inventry,

Won’t suit ava’.

Oh bonny hizzie, braw and gaucie,

Thou minds me I was young and saucy

When first adown Life’s sunny causey

— I stepped fain,

And thocht nane ither like the lassie

I thocht my ain.

Thou was the Muse, my bonny thing,

That first did plume my fancy’s wing,

And raised me frae the miry ring

O’ warldly wark,

Up through the heaven o sang to spring

Like ony lark.

And bonny were the lays we sung

In thae bricht days when I was young,

And thou wast fairer than the tongue

O’ mortal man,

Or tongue ’twixt lips o’ angels hung,

Could speak or ken.

Yet yesterday it seems nae mair,

And thou was blyther than the air,

And all around thee fresh and fair

And kind and sweet:

The vara grun’ did greener wear

Beneath thy feet.

Since then I hae seen mony a face,

And mony a form o’ youthfu’ grace,

And mony a lassie high in place

Weel to gang wi’;

But, och, I never saw the lass

I looed like thee!

But odsake, man! I maunna bore ye

Wi’ this auld everlastin’ story

O’ birkies wha frae dreams o’ glory

And love awauken,

To find themselves by Chronus hoary

Half owertauken.

And, hech! eld’s hirplin’ up belyve,

For, for a lad that’s yet to wive,

And born intil this bizzin’ hive

In aughteen-ten,

This aughteen hunner forty-five

Is brawly ben.

And in thae five-and-thritty seasons

O’ greetin’s, mitchins, learnin’ lessons,

Dreamin’s and coortin’s, tears and kissin’s,

Fechts and sae forth,

What hae I dune, bune ither messens,

O’ guid on Earth?

Whaur’s a’ the visions I hae painted?

Whaur’s a’ the braw sangs I hae chaunted?

Whaur’s a’ the bletherin’ hopes I’ve vaunted

O’ fame and gain?

And Whaur’s the precious life I’ve panted

Awa’ in vain?

Fient haet o’ me can either tell

Or guess ; but here I am mysel’,

As fou o’ sperit as a stell,

And gleg as ever

At head-wark or the random spell

O’ clishmaclaver.

And, aiblins though at times mislasted

Wi’ grievous thochts o’ moments wasted,

Auld frien’s estranged, and green hopes blasted,

As birkies will

When the mid line o’ life they’ve crossed it,

I’m happy still.

For ilka day I’m growin’ stranger

To speak my mind in love or anger;

And, hech! ere it be muckle langer,

You’ll see appearin’

Some offerin’s o’ nae cauld haranguer

Put out for Erin.

Lord, for ae day o’ service done her!

Lord, for ane hour’s sunlight upon her!

Here, Fortune, tak’ warld’s wealth and honour,

You’re no’ my debtor,

Let me but rive ae link asunder

O’ Erin’s fetter!

Let me but help to shape the sentence

Will put the pith o’ independence,

O’ self-respect in self-acquaintance,

And manly pride

Intil auld Eber-Scot’s descendants

Take a’ beside!

Let me but help to get the truth

Set fast in ilka brother’s mouth,

Whatever accents, north or south,

His tongue may use,

And there’s ambition, riches, youth,

Take which you choose!

But dinna, dinna take my frien’s;

And spare me still my dreams at e’ens,

And sense o’ Nature’s bonny scenes,

And a’ above;

Leave me, at least, if no’ the means,

The thocht o’ love!

Adieu, my boy; the nicht’s worn through,

Aurora’s beasts are yokit-to,

And through the pouthery mornin’ dew

Come, micherin’ keen:

We’ll see what stalls they’ll hae in view

Next New-Year’s e’en.

[Sir Samuel Ferguson, 1845]

The recipient of this epistle in verse, Dr. Robert Hunter Gordon (1815-1857), was born in Belfast, the son of John and Catherine Gordon. His father was a Belfast grocer and wine and spirit merchant, while his mother was the daughter of the Rev. William Holmes of Islandmagee. It was the thatched, white-washed home of his grandparents that became Robert’s childhood rural haunt and the inspiration for his writing — associations that were in a way remarkably similar to those of his lifelong friend Samuel Ferguson with the Four Mile Burn and Glenwhirry.

A Glossary of Ulster-Scots words used in Sir Samuel Ferguson’s writings

This glossary has been compiled to provide not only a gloss for the poems A Canny Courtship and A New-Year’s Epistle, but also a record of the wealth of Ferguson’s Ulster-Scots vocabulary from the extensive passages of Ulster-Scots dialogue in his novel, The Wet Wooing. The latter source is particularly important, as it purports to be the vernacular speech of the Glenwhirry district rather than ‘poetic literary Scots’. This dialogue is rich in idiom and authentic in context, and Ferguson even provides the occasional footnote revealing his own experience of particular terms, for example:

I attempted to salute her, but she held me at bay with her hand. ‘Hech, lad! Ye’re no blate — is it knievin’ troots* ye think ye are?’

*‘knieving trouts’ (they call it tickling in England) is good sport. You go to a stony shallow at night, a companion bearing a torch; then, stripping to the thighs and shoulders, wade in; grope with your hands under the stones, sods and other harbourage, till you find your game, then grip him in your ‘knieves,’ and toss him ashore.

I remember when a boy, carrying the splits for a servant of the family, called Sam Wham. Now Sam was an able young fellow, well-boned and willing; a hard-headed cudgel-player, and a marvellous tough wrestler, for he had a backbone like a sea-serpent; this gained him the name of the Twister and Twiner. He had got into the river, and with his back to me, was stooping over a broad stone, when something bolted from under the bank on which I stood, right through his legs. Sam fell with a great splash upon his face, but in falling jammed whatever it was against the stone. ‘Let go, Twister,’ shouted I, ‘’tis an otter, he will nip the finger off you.’ — ‘Whisht,’ spluttered he, as he slid his hand under the water; ‘May I never read a text again, if he isna a sawmont wi’ a shouther like a hog!’

[In The Hamely Tongue, James Fenton describes another word for the same sport under the name ginnle: ‘catch (trout) by hand (gently easing the trout against a stone or the bank before grasping at the gills)’.]

a coortin’ — courting

a’ — all

ae — one (adjectival)

aff — off

aiblins — possibly

ain — own

alang — along

amang — among

ance — once

ane — one

arena — aren’t

atween — between

aught — anything

aughteen — eighteen

auld — old

ava’ — at all

awa’ — away

aye — always

bail ye — guarantee

bairns — babies

ban’ — band

baudrons — cats

bauld — bold

beggit — begged

belyve — at once

ben — inside

biggit — built

billies — comrades, friends

birkies — conceited fellows

bit — dear little (adj.)

bizzin’ — buzzing

blate — shy, timid

blawin’ — blowing

bletherin’ — talking nonsense

bluid — blood

blyther — happier

bonny — pretty

bouk — size

brae — hill

braid — broad

braid-claith — broadcloth

braw — attractive

brawly — nicely

bricht — bright

briest — breast

bristled — broiled, toasted

bumbee — bee

burn — stream

butt — into the kitchen

byke — beehive

byre — cowshed

cankered — bad-tempered

canna — can t

cannily — cautiously

canny — careful

catched — caught

cauld — cold

causey — lane

chaunted — chanted, sang

cheeny — china

chiels — youths

cled — clothed, dressed

clishmaclaver — gossip

cloured — hit a blow

colly — collie, sheep-dog

coortin — courting

couldna — couldn’t

crack — chat

creeshy — greasy

crock — earthenware vessel

crouse — bold

cusin — cousin, relative

cuttie — small, cheeky person

dang — fell heavily

daur — dare

dauredna — didn’t dare

de’il — devil

deein’ — dying

deeit — died

deevil — devil

delf — crockery

dinna — don’t

discoorsin’ — explaining

dochter — daughter

doited — tottering

dolochan — trout

donsie — unfortunate

doon — down

doug — dog

droukit — soaked

dune — done

dunt — thump, shove

dwamin’ — fainting

dyke — hedge

e’en — evening

eld — old age

eneugh — enough

expeckit — expected

fa’ — fall

fain — lovingly

fashious — annoying

fechtin’ — fighting, quarrelling

fechts — fights

fient — fiend, the devil

forgie — forgive

fou — full

frae — from

freesome — ? [possibly an error for fleesome ‘frightening’]

frichten — frighten

frien’ — friend

gae — go

gaed — went

gait — way, manner

gane — gone

gang — go

gang your lane — go by yourself

garr’d — compelled

gaucie — large, well-rounded

gaun — gone

gied — went

gin — if

gleg — quick, keen, sharp

glowerin’ — stare wide eyed

gowd — gold

gowden — golden

grun’ — ground

guerdon — reward

guid — good

guidman — husband

hae — have

haet — a bit

hail billy weel met — hail fellow well met

hame — home

hangit — hung

hantle — large number

haud — hold

head-wark — concentration

hear till him — listen to him

hech! — Ach!

hereawa — hither

herry — harry, rob

himsell — himself

hirplin — hobbling

hizzie — young girl

hoastin’ — coughing

hoose — house

hoots — bother!

howsomever — however

hunner — hundred

i’ — in

I’se — I shall

ilka — each

ill-faur’d — ugly

impurence — impudence

isna — isn’t

ither — other

jaups — splashes, small drops of liquid

jo — love (my jo)

kame — comb

kamin’ — combing

ken — know

kennin’ — knowing

knieve — fist

knievin’ troots — tickling trout

knowe — hillock, knoll

laird — lord

lane — alone

lang — long

langer — longer

lap — wrap

lass — girl

lasses — girls

lassie — girl

leddy — lady

limmers — scoundrels

loo’ed — loved

loupit — jumped

loups — jumps

lowin’ — sheltering

lugs — ears

mair — mair

maun — more

maunna — mustn’t

meat — food

mensefu’ — polite

menseless — rude

messen — cur

micherin’ — warm and cheerful

minds — remembers

mitchin’ — sneaking off (school)

mony — many

moss — peat bog

mou’ — mouth

muckle — great

nae — no

nane — none

natur — nature

ne’er — never

neist — next

nevoy — nephew

nicht — night

no — not

noo — now

o’ — of

och — oh

odsake — for God’s sake

ony — any

orra — extra

oursel’ — ourself

oursells — ourselves

ower — over

owertauken — overtaken

peats — turf

poke — bag

posset-mug — small beaker

pouthery — powdered

prees — tastes, tries

puir — poor

pyed — paid

qu’et — quiet

raw — row

redd — clear

riggin’ — ridge

rin — run

sae — so

sair — sore

sall — shall

sang — song

sark — shirt

sark-frill — shirt-tail

saul! — by my soul!

saut — salt

sawmont — salmon

sax — six

scud — smack

scunner — sickener

settle — wooden box-seat / bed

sheltie — pony

shouthers — shoulders

sic — such

siccan a — such a

siller — money, silver

sin’ — since, ago

skelf — fragment, splinter

skirlin’ — shrieking

slipe — sledge

sma’ — small

snorin’ — roaring

sorner — scrounger, robber

sornin’ — scrounging, plundering

sorra’ — sorrow

speel — climb

speerin’ — asking

sperit — spirit

splits — slivers of bog-wood used to give light

splore — escapade

square — squire

stane — stone

stell — whiskey still

stoup — wooden water vessel

stranger — stronger

streekin’ — sticking out

streeks — sticks out

sturt — bluster

syne — since, ago

ta’en — taken

tak’ — take

tawpie — giddy person

tay — tea

thae — those

the morn’s e’en — tomorrow night

thegither — together

thereawa — thither

thocht — thought

thole — suffer, endure

thrang — crowd

thritty — thirty

tint — taint

troot — trout

twa — two

twal — twelve

tyke — dog, cur

vara — very

verra — very

virginney leaf — tobacco

wa’ — wall

wa’s — walls

wabster — weaver

wad — would

wadna — wouldn’t

wae — woe

wark — work

wauken — awaken

waur ++’ — worse for

wean — child

wecht — weight

wee — small

weel — well

weemen — women

weshed — washed

wha — who

wham — whom

whang — hit

whaur — where

whilk — which

whisht — (be) quiet

whup — whip

wi’ — with

wifie — married woman

winna — won’t

wonner — wonder

warldly — worldly

wrang — wrong

wud — wood, would

wut — wit

wyliecoat — long under-waistcoat

ye — you (singular)

yett — gate

yokit-to — tied to

yoursell — yourself



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)