Home to a ghost: Ulster-Scots language and vernacular in Northern Irish culture since the Good Friday Agreement

Frank Ferguson


The Good Friday Agreement (1998) stated: “All participants recognise the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland.” However, since that time the development of the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities has often been fraught. Despite much good will, investment and initiatives much work remains to be done to generate the state of linguistic and cultural respect, understanding and tolerance that the Belfast Agreement  envisaged.

In this article I shall explore the history and development of the Ulster-Scots language and writing from the time of the Good Friday Agreement to the present day. I will examine the various models of literary and linguistic development that have occurred since. I will argue that the focus on developing Ulster-Scots predominately as a lesser used language has at times led to an impasse in generating widespread acceptance and created barriers to the mainstreaming of Ulster-Scots. The article will suggest that as a major component of Ulster English dialect, Ulster-Scots is a major element of the vernacular and literary tradition and experience of the great majority of individuals in Northern Ireland. Indeed, given the significance of Ulster-Scots dialect in the work of Seamus Heaney, I will suggest that opportunities have been lost in the promotion of Ulster-Scots to audiences in Ireland and abroad. By the adoption of new, inclusive approaches to the comprehension and propagation of Ulster-Scots, I will suggest a methodology through which accommodation and understanding might be effected for the dissemination of Ulster-Scots language, culture and literature for the various linguistic and cultural communities in Northern Ireland and beyond. 

Słowa kluczowe: Good Friday Agreement, minority languages, culture war, Ulster-Scots, Northern Irish literature, vernacular literature

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