Tuesday, 7 February 2012

'The rich vocabulary of the Ulster Scot'

This morning the Irish News carried an interesting article in the Eamon Phoenix column On This Day.  It looks back to an article that first appeared in the newspaper on 7 February 1943, almost seventy years ago:
Belfast writer on 'Eireanns'
Has Gulliver gone on his travels again and discovered a new species?  The writer, Mr St John Ervine, who is not by any means a Dean Swift, refers to the shortcomings of the 'Eireanns'.  The word is not Irish and we doubt if it comes from the rich vocabulary of the Ulster Scot.

St John Greer Ervine (1883-1971) was born in East Belfast and became a playwright and author.  As a young man he was an Irish nationalist but later he became a staunch Ulster unionist.  In 1949 he wrote a biography of Lord Craigavon and in it he used the term 'Eireann' to describe Irish nationalists.

The Irish News stated that the word Eireann 'is not Irish' and although I do not speak Irish I find that somewhat surprising.  Are we not all familiar with the terms Bus Eireann, Dail Eireann, Radio Telefis Eireann, Seanad Eireann and Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.  However an Irish speaker may well be able to clarify this.

However my attention was especially taken by the reference to 'the rich vocabulary of the Ulster Scot'.  The journalist who wrote the article recognised the existence of the Ulster-Scots and the fact that Ulster-Scots speakers have a 'rich vocabulary'.

It is sometimes suggested that the term Ulster-Scot is a recent invention but this is obviously untrue.  It was used in the 17th century and later and it was also used throughout the 20th century, of which usage this is an interesting and unexpected example.

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