Thursday, 24 March 2011

Ulster Scots lecture in Ardrossan

On Saturday 14th May, the Ulster Scots Lecture will be held at The Whitlees Community Centre, Carrick Place, Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, at 7.00pm. The main speakers will be historian and ex-Ulster Unionist MLA Fraser Agnew from Newtonabbey, Co. Antrim, and historian James Devenney in County Donegal, with a short film on The Cairncastle Ulster-Scots Folk Festival in County Antrim shown by Robert Acheson.

The event is being organised by the recently formed Ardrossan Ulster-Scots Historical and Cultural Society, in association with Cairncastle Ulster-Scots Folk Festival and the East Donegal Ulster-Scots Association. To take part, call 01294 608557 / 601147 or 471550.

Although I wish the venture well, as someone from Northern Ireland's protestant community I have always been uncomfortable with the classification of culture and identity in Ulster on both sides. As a student almost 20 year ago I actually made a documentary about the politicisation of Irish Gaelic by both Sinn Fein and the British Government, which has done it more harm than good in the fact that the language has become so polarised by both communities in Ulster. Some Irish Protestants, such as Robert McAdam, actually helped to save it from virtual oblivion in the 19th century. And try telling someone in my home town of Carrickfergus that the original 'Scotch' of the town's Scotch Quarter were actually Protestant Gaelic speakers from Scotland, and you'll likely get lynched! Nothing is ever so black and white as 'they had their culture' and 'we had ours', and I must admit that I have been uncomfortable about the DUP's and others' attempts to politicise the Ullans dialect of Scots and its culture for similar reasons.

However, there is and was an Ulster Scots history that certainly should be commemorated - I've actually written about the history of the long established links between Ireland and Scotland on my website at - it is certainly worth exploring and commemorating. The Americans know this - ten of their first presidents all came from Ulster-Scottish stock (or Scotch-Irish as they refer to it), and George Washington once stated that if he was ever going to go down fighting, he wanted to do so surrounded by Scotch-Irish fighters. I suspect their definition of Ulster Scot means something different to today's Ulster Scots still resident in the country. Many of the Ulster Scots who fled to America did so to avoid the oppression of Presbyterianism by the Anglican state in Ireland.

I must admit though that my heart slightly sank when I was handed a leaflet last night about this new Ardrossan based society which states the following: "Please note: We are striclty non-sectarian and non-political". It's a very welcome statement, and I wish the venture well, but I would humbly suggest that it probably did not help that the leaflet containing that statement was printed on orange paper. Maybe the fact that as a protestant Ulster Scot myself I find that the colour orange does not represent me or my heritage, is proof that one shoe size does not fit all, and that maybe our identity is just a bit more complicated than all of that...

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Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Tracing Your Family History on the Internet (Even newer book!)

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