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New TG4 Documentary on Ulster-Scots - A Hidden...

18 January 2010

The Hamely Tongue – Cultúr Ceilte

An unusual and controversial perspective on the Ulster Scots language and culture in a one hour documentary film, directed by an Irish language activist.  
Deaglán Ó Mocháin’s film, The Hamely Tongue – Cultúr Ceilte (Hidden Culture) on TG4 on Wednesday 20th January at 9.30pm, argues for a more nuanced perspective on Ulster Scots than the normal broad swipes at the language that prevail in the media or on web forums.
When the term ‘Ulster Scots’ is mentioned the default position is often humour – that this is a Ballymena accent, ‘Oor Willie’ or ‘the Broons’ of Glasgow, and a series of made up words; or anger – that this is a pretence, a vehicle to counter Irish, a financial scam, the language of the DUP.

Ó Mocháin’s film argues for a more nuanced perspective on Ulster Scots by excavating an exciting and radical history – the history of 1798 in the north, and the flowering of intellectual development associated with the enlightenment and the French and American revolutions.
At the core of this film is respect for the choices that people make in terms of their identity, an issue that is at the heart of modern day Irish language activism.  One of the subjects of the film, musician and ethnomusicologist Gordon Ramsey, articulates this position in an interview where he says:
“Ulster Scots identity can be viewed as an alternative to Irishness, but it can also be viewed as a particular way of being Irish, and for some Loyalists, Ulster Scots identity offers a way to be Irish on their own terms without having to accept any of the baggage of Nationalism that has sometimes been associated with Irishness”

Music forms an important backbone to the film, and The Hamely Tongue – Cultúr Ceilte is rich in the musical traditions of the Ulster Scots community, for example, the group Ailsa, who have created musical arrangements for many of the Scots poems written in the South Antrim area from the late 18th century onwards, is prominently featured, as are the ‘soirées’ held regularly as an exhibition of Ulster Scots music and dancing.
Ulster Scots was, controversially, given language status, by the European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages, a respected body that operates to support and promote lesser used languages throughout Europe. They place Ulster Scots, and Irish, and dozens of other languages on a register of threatened voices. Ulster Scots was, again somewhat controversially, formally recognised as deserving of special support within the Belfast Agreement in 1998.  This Agreement was widely endorsed in an All Ireland referendum in the summer of 1998.
The film, Cultúr Ceilte, follows narrator, Seimí MacAindreasa, a native Irish speaker from Belfast, on a journey through modern day Ulster Scots.  Some of the people he meets are long standing activists, and have been preserving and promoting the language for years – recording older members of their community, translating the bible, encouraging people to take an interest in traditional music.  Others are new to the concept, and are slowly working through their relationship to the language and culture.
MacAindreasa talks to historians and academics about James Orr, one of the ‘weaver poets’, as John Hewitt described them – working class intellectuals who wrote in Scots and who were often of a radical nature. Orr was a United Irishman, a section leader under the command of Henry Joy McCracken, and was forced into a period of exile after the Battle of Antrim in 1798.  His work is viewed as being on a par with that master of Scots verse, Robbie Burns.
MacAindreasa also goes on to meet the modern day Orr – James Fenton, a retired schoolmaster and the author of ‘The Hamely Tongue’ - a compilation of Ulster Scots words and phrases gathered over thirty years. This is widely viewed as an exemplary piece of work, recording the core aspects of a language in rapid decline. James also writes poetry in his mother tongue, and three of these are featured throughout the programme.
Director, Ó Mocháin’s perspective is that people have the right to define themselves in a manner of their own choosing, and should be supported in those choices.  Ulster Scots may be a language in decline, but to those who express an interest in multi-culturalism, and who support the preservation of minority cultures, he believes that this should act as a motivating factor to ensure that Ulster Scots is properly supported and nurtured.  The first act in this supporting and nurturing has to be a greater understanding and awareness of the multi-faceted nature of modern Ulster Scots.

The Hamely Tongue - Cultúr Ceilte is a Soilsiú Films production for TG4, made with the support of The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (Sound & Vision), Foras na Gaeilge and The Ulster-Scots Agency.
The Hamely Tongue – Cultúr Ceilte (Hidden Culture) on TG4 on Wednesday 20th January at 9.30pm.

For further information, interviews with the director, screening copies, and still photos, please contact Soilsiú Films on, or by telephoning +353 74 9180730