Here is a wearily familiar report from the Associated Press on the recent Líofa 2015 initiative launched by the minister of culture in the regional administration at Stormont. The aim of the project is to encourage far greater knowledge of the Irish language in certain key sectors of society and the initial announcement was notable for the number of senior PSNI officers and civil servants who attended. However the broad welcome for the plan reported in the press was marred by the reaction of some unionist leaders, exemplified by Robin Swann MLA, a backwoods’ member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). According to the AP story:
‘Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann called for “parity of esteem” for Unionists and warned more should be done to promote Ulster Scots. He was criticising Líofa, a project to create many new Irish speakers.
He was speaking after a Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee meeting at Stormont during which culture minister Caral Ní Chuilin gave evidence.
Mr Swann said: “My personal opinion would be that Líofa was part of a Sinn Féin agenda. We know what Sinn Féin’s agenda is with regard to the Irish language, her actions actually would further politicise it and make it a segregated issue.”
Líofa 2015 is separate from the long-running political deadlock over securing legislative protection for Irish and Ulster Scots.
More than 100 police officers were among the first to sign up to learn Irish after the launch of a new project to support the language.
Representatives of the sporting bodies for Gaelic games, football and rugby also joined the minister at Stormont recently to launch the plan to create 1,000 new Irish speakers by 2015.’
For those of you who may be unaware of the nature of “Ulster-Scots”, it is a rich but rare dialect of the English language largely found in the northern counties of Ireland. Unfortunately very few speakers survive today, despite its reinvention in the 1970s as a supposedly ancient and distinct language by a few crank academics from the British minority in the north-east of the country. The aim of the would-be revival? To bolster the unionist community’s sense of non-Irishness by creating their own ethno-racial or colonial tongue to counter the native Irish one.
In fact most of the fringe historians and linguists who invented Ulster-Scots (aka. Ulstèr-Scotch, Ullans, Irish-Scots and so on) also believed in a bizarre tangle of 19th century occultism, religious fundamentalism and racial supremacy which preached that the British minority population in Ireland was one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. And many of their successors still do so.
Journalist Jason Walsh explored the matter further in Forth Magazine:
‘Some years ago I was employed in a production capacity by an Irish unionist newspaper and it was here that I first came head-to-head with the bizarre twilight world of Ulster Scots. As I came from the republican stronghold of west Belfast I knew little of this ‘language’ but a good friend of mine in the newsroom was responsible for laying-out ‘the Ulster Scot’, a free supplement all about this make-believe lingo.
At the time I thought it was nothing short of hilarious: clearly unionists were chafing at the sight of the Irish language undergoing a genuine (though frequently overstated) renaissance that was dragging it out of its comfortable romantic obscurity and into the modern world. What was the best thing to do about this, pondered unionist politicians, until one had the astonishingly grandiose idea of actually inventing their own language. Of course, synthetic languages like Loglan and Esperanto are difficult to learn and it’s even harder to persuade people to actually learn the damn things, so in order to facilitate rapid growth the new language of Ulster Scots would be simply the dialect of English spoken in North Antrim with a kind of dyslexic phonetic spelling system and a few inscrutable phrases pilfered from Lowland Scots dialect of English. If Ulster Scots is a language then so are the dialects used in Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ or James Kelman’s ‘How Late it Was, How Late.’ When BBC Radio Ulster announced, sadly incorrectly, that the Ulster Scots term for mentally disabled children was “wee daftie weans” I almost fell over, so hard was I laughing at the antics of these clowns.
I later enjoyed, if that is the correct word, a further dunking in the stagnant waters of the unionist identity project when BBC Northern Ireland screened the execrable ‘On Eagle’s Wing’, an all-singing, all-dancing, and above all, almightily camp musical that appears to be a kind of ‘Ulster kulsher’ response to the dreadful Riverdance. Revelling in unionist victimology, ‘On Eagle’s Wing’ tells the story of the stout Ulstemen and their redoubtable womenfolk as they made their way to the New World in order to escape persecution from the British Establishment in Ireland. Tellingly, the so-called ‘Scots-Irish-Americans’ are virtually unknown today, not because they were unsuccessful, but precisely because they thrived, threw off the chains of their former identities and merged completely into American society – precisely the opposite of what their born-again boosters are now promoting.
Fringe stuff indeed, but the ‘Ulster Scots’ project is gaining acceptance in post-Belfast Agreement Ireland. Notwithstanding the fact that Sinn Féin has pioneered cultural politics, thus softening up the ground for this curious rehabilitation of unionism as a ‘national’ identity, elements of the old unionist establishment are beginning to get on board.”
Indeed they are and none more so than the bold Robin Swann. In fact Swann is the very embodiment of the kulturkampf movement amongst the British separatist minority in Ireland. He is a “Brother” of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (commonly called the Orange Order, a Masonic-like Protestant fundamentalist society which is virulently anti-Catholic), a “Knight” of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter Of The British Commonwealth (a more secretive fundamentalist grouping, higher than the Orange Order) and a member of the Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry (another British anti-Catholic society).
So no surprise then that this political representative of the British separatist tradition in Ireland supports the Tolkienesque fantasy language – as opposed to hybrid dialect – of Ulster-Scots while opposing Irish and equality for the north’s Irish-speaking communities. After all a follow representative, the DUP’s Nelson McCausland, and another Ulster-Scots’ zealot is also an advocate for Creationism, as reported by the Guardian:
‘Northern Ireland’s born-again Christian culture minister has called on the Ulster Museum to put on exhibits reflecting the view that the world was made by God only several thousand years ago.
Nelson McCausland, who believes that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel, has written to the museum’s board of trustees urging them to reflect creationist and intelligent design theories of the universe’s origins.
The Democratic Unionist minister said the inclusion of anti-Darwinian theories in the museum was “a human rights issue”.
McCausland defended a letter he wrote to the trustees calling for anti-evolution exhibitions at the museum.
His call was condemned by the evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, who said: “If the museum was to go down that road then perhaps they should bring in the stork theory of where babies come from. Or perhaps the museum should introduce the flat earth theory.”
Dawkins said it was irrelevant if a large number of people in Northern Ireland refused to believe in evolution. “Scientific evidence can’t be democratically decided,” Dawkins said.
McCausland’s party colleague and North Antrim assembly member Mervyn Storey has been at the forefront of a campaign to force museums in Northern Ireland to promote anti-Darwinian theories.
Storey, who has chaired the Northern Ireland assembly’s education committee, has denied that man descended from apes. He believes in the theory that the world was created several thousand years ago, even though the most famous tourist attraction in his own constituency – the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast – is according to all the geological evidence millions of years old.
Last year Storey raised objections to notices at the Giant’s Causeway informing the public that the unique rock formation was about 550m years old. Storey believes in the literal truth of the Bible and that the earth was created only several thousand years before Christ’s birth.
The belief that the Earth was divinely created in 4004 BC originates with the writings of another Ulster-based Protestant, Archbishop of Armagh James Ussher, in 1654. Ussher calculated the date based on textual clues in the Old Testament, even settling on a date and time for the moment of creation: in the early hours of 23 October.’
This cult-like aspect of ideological unionism has been one of the driving forces in modern Irish history and no more so than in the last forty years. But the main story is the same one it always has been: the same old anachronistic and largely delusional settler versus native dynamic.
I’d just like to point out that Scots is most certainly a language distinct from English in the same way that Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are or German, Swiss German, Austrian German or even Dutch are. Very closely related and in some cases mutually intelligible but none the less languages. Even Scots Gàidhlig and Irish is another example, common root but still distinct. However I don’t know about “Ulster Scots” it does sound more like “Scottish English” which is the dialect spoken predominantly in Scotland today, unfortunately!
Scots being Burns, Barbour and MacDiarmid, Scottish English being Irvine Welsh!
Saor Alba agus Erin gu bràth.
Very true words UNFORTUNATELY being key i may not be fluent in speaking Gaelic scot or other past highland dialects but I have always and will learn it one day one of the most patriotic and inspirational things I could possibly do in this time of the independence campaign.
Alba gu bràth.