Ulster and Scotland

Roy Johnston reviews Ulster and Scotland 1600-2000: history, language and identity, William Kelly and John R Young (eds), Four Courts Press, 55 euro hbk, ISBN 1-85182-808-7

THIS BOOK will be of interest to people wishing to enhance their understanding of the Ulster Protestant cultural background, especially as regards the actual and perceived linkages with Scotland.

Ulster and Scotland

It treats the historical backgound as regards movements of peoples in both directions across the North Channel, links between Derry and Glasgow, Scottish links of Ulster Unionsis. It goes in some depth into the emigration patterns, covering the emigrations to America, New Zealand and Scandinavia, the latter being of importance during the 30-years war period. The New Zealand experience is interesting, in that unlike the Scottish, who tended to preserve their identity, the Ulster emigrants abandoned the Ulster identity and developed a British imperial one, but with a democratic, anti-aristocratic ethos, presaging an emergent New Zealand national flavour.

The final section on language and literature treats the relative roles of Irish, Gaelic, Scots and English as they evolved over the centuries. James VI/I consciously tried to integrate Scots with English, but the former survived in the undergrowth, reaching its peak with Burns, but scarcely survived the subsequent Burns cult dominated by the anglicising bourgeoisie, until perhaps rescued by Mac Diarmuid, though its current status is open to question. Scots and English are as close as Danish and Norwegian, or Spanish and Portugese, so that Scots is perhaps validly on the Scottish political agenda, in a role supplementary to Gaelic.

John R Young (University of Strathclyde) goes in some depth into the 17th century background and the perceived identity of the first wave of planters, who were mostly Scots-speaking radical Presbyterians, in dispute with the established Church, falling foul of Charles I and Wentworth in 1639 with the Covenanters, in opposition to the 'Black Oath'.

Young is silent on the question of how Scottish and Ulster politics related to those of the emergent English republic; there remains work to be done here. There were problems in Scotland post Restoration: "...for the ...Stuart administrations, a London-Edinburgh- Dublin axis... attempted to monitor the activities of rebels and dissenters..".

In his treatment of the Williamite war we get some feel for the European scope of that episode, but perhaps not enough. Post-war migration from Scotland to Ireland was motivated by famine in Scotland. He goes in depth into the extreme variability of the perceived identity of the Ulster Scots, in contemporary documentation: "distressed Irishes..Scots-Irish... British in Ireland... British Protestants... French Hugenots and Irish Protestants... the Scottish Nation in the north of Ireland...".

Graham Walker (Queens) gives some insight into the Scottish dimension of unionism, which was primarily motivated by a perceived need to disrupt the unitary vision of emergent Irish nationality. They countered the first Home Rule Bill by resurrecting the Scottish link in numerous pubications, which fuelled the subsequent anti-Home Rule Covenant.

There is however no mention of the Larne gun-running, which introduced the gun into Irish politics and subverted the constitutional Liberal Home Rule process, in what, in effect, constituted a Tory-instigated coup d'etat.

Unionist historians tend conveniently to forget this; I took this up with R B McDowell recently, in the context of my comments on his book on the 1917 Convention, in the background to which he mentions the subsequent Howth gun- running but conveniently passes over the Larne. He chuckled and said that the guns from Larne went to the right people.

In other words, Unionist historiography is dominated by conscious acceptance of the role of the Larne gun-running as a valid Tory imperial blow against Home Rule, seen as the first step in the dismantling of the Empire.

Mairtin O Cathain (University of Ulster Inst. of Scots Studies), in his treatment of the Derry-Glasgow link, picks up some Protestant republican and labour threads, and support for Home Rule and the Land League. Glasgow gang sectarianism existed as an a-political undercurrent. John Hume's grandfather was a Presbyterian stone-mason. On the whole an episodic and inconclusive contribution.

Jock Philips, a New Zaland historian and encyclopedia editor, contributes a comparative study of the Scottish and Irish immigrants to Nw Zealand; they make up an important part of the population. He finds that the Scottish more conservative of their identity, being united by a common Presbyterianism, while the Irish identity was split between the three main religions.

The Catholic group preserved its identity and became influential in the Labour movement, but the others were split between the Protestant denominations, and tended to blend off into an English-oriented background culture, in which however they tended to identify with an emergent New Zealand identity, better than Britain because "... more democratic, less elitist and free from the pretensions of upper-class toffs..".

Patrick Fitzgerald (Irish Migration Studies, Queen's University Belfast) treats the 1690s migration from Scotland to Ireland and to America; this turns out to have been primarily famine-driven.

Steve Murdoch (University of St Andrews) goes into the influence of the 30 years war and the consequent development of Scottish colonies in Scandinavia and the Baltic.

There was much Scottish participation in the Protestant armies of northern Europe against the Hapsburgs. The Baltic colonies were trade-driven in part, but contained also an element of Calvinist utopianism. There were marriage links, between Scottish colonial families of the diaspora, connecting Ireland with Scandinavia. Later interactions seem to have been divided between Williamite and Jacobite loyalties.

Kerby A Miller explores the 'Scotch-Irish' tradition in New England. While, initially, the motivation was harassment by the established Church in Ireland (rather than by the Catholic dispossessed); subsequently the French Catholics in Quebec were seen as the threat.

Towards the end of the 18th century they tended to accept an Irish identity, in response to the inclusive Enlightenment republican politics of the time, a key philosopher being Francis Hutchinson, the 'father of Scottish Enlightenment'. The differentiation into 'Scotch-Irish' identity came later as they bourgeoisified and needed to distinguish themselves from the 1840s Famine immigration wave.

Michael Montgomery (University of South Carolina) traces the historical evolution of the Scots language, which replaced Latin as the language of government in the 15th century but had lapsed from the written record by about 1700, though it persisted as the vernacular, in which context it staged a revival with Burns and the 'Rhyming Weavers' in the period 1780 to 1860.

A prose revival in the local press began from the 1850s, and is currently showing signs of expansion at the literary level. He gives a European perspective via the 'lesser-used languages' network, where it has recognised status, but is prepared to concede its image problem and dubious status.

Richard Findaly (University of Strathclyde) goes into the question of Scots in greater depth in the inter-war period, analysing the role of MacDiarmid, who led the revival after switching his support from Gaelic. There was an awareness of the role of language in Norway, whose language differs from Danish by about as much as Scots does from English. He is very critical of the Burns cult, supporting MacDiarmid; "sham bards for a sham nation... the occasion for a sermon or an excuse for a dram..".

The issues remain unresolved, with the 'nationalism vs socialism' dichotomy lurking in the wings, a phenomenon not unknown in Ireland.

David Horsburgh (Arts and Humanities Research Board Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies) explores the political identity of the Scots- speaking community in Scotland and Ulster from 1545 to 1760. He suggests many further areas of research, particularly in the area of how Scots managed to maintain its differentiation from English in spite of the factors generating conformity. The Scots-speakers were undoubtedly a distinct entity in a struggle usually seen as anglo-saxon vs celt.

Finally Alan Titley (St Patrick's College Drumcondra) compares and contrasts the rural autobiographical narratives available in Irish and Gaelic He concludes that the Scottish Kirk was much more destructive of the native culture than was the Catholic Church in Ireland. Popular culture in Ireland accepted as positive the national project, while in Scotland it tended to support the British imperial project uncritically.

We are left with a sense of unfinished business, and a sense that Titley needs a rejoinder from Scotland, and some critical voices from Ireland, perhaps to look into the role of English-speaking priests in the Gaeltacht.

It is good that the culural dimension of Ulster Protestantism is receiving some scholarly attention. It deserves more than to be identified with the Orange Order, triumphalist marching and related fascist-like pursuits.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-10-02 12:20:23.
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