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Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination

Wesley Hutchinson, Professor Emeritus in Irish Studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, has produced the first substantial academic survey and analysis of writing in Ulster-Scots. Apparently aiming at readers both in and beyond Northern Ireland, he not only pays particular attention to the work of the last twenty-five years but also takes some account of the historical background and of earlier writing. He goes back as far as the seventeenth century, when large numbers of lowland Scots arrived and settled in north Down and east Antrim. More enthusiast than coldly dispassionate critic, he treats Ulster-Scots as a minority language, not just a dialect, and links it with minority languages and cultures in mountainous areas of Europe studied by geographers such as Yves Lacoste. He draws particular attention to Burns and Scottish ‘kailyard’ novelists such as J. M. Barrie as literary influences.

The main emphasis here is on the recent Ulster-Scots ‘revival’, manifest in increased popular and scholarly interest, with new Ulster-Scots verse and prose, not to mention plays for children. Hutchinson commends intriguing contributions from writers such as Willie Drennan, James Fenton, and Philip Robinson, all seeking to adapt traditional language and form to more-or-less contemporary experience. He shows how such ventures complement technical language-study and reprints of earlier writing by rhyming weavers, local ‘bards’, and story-tellers.


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