Book of the Year goes to
Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination by Wesley Hutchinson.
Review by Willie Drennan
key word is imagination.
Yes, Ulster-Scots do have an imagination. This is Ulster-Scots warts
and all and it gets edgy enough at times. You won't find such content
in the Ulster-Scots Agency pamphlets or website.
quite like this has ever been written before about this distinct,
often derided and misunderstood cultural identity. The fact that
author, Wesley Hutchinson, is Professor emeritus in Irish Studies at
the Paris university of Sorbonne Nouvelle, suggests a heavily
academic piece of work. And indeed it is to a certain extent but
Hutchinson writes with a unique quirky poetic flair for a master
scholar which makes it an easy and pleasing read.
family roots are also in the Ulster-Scots culture so he writes from a
vast personal knowledge on the subject to add to his highly acclaimed
credentials on research and academic delivery.
“tracing the imagination” this allows for much colourful imagery
and insight. Some of the extracts from Ulster-Scots authors will
pleasantly surprise those readers who have no direct experience or
understanding of Ulster-Scots. Hutchinson masterfully caters for such
readers and no doubt will keep them on board right to page 438 and
leave them wanting more.
not just a recommended read for Ulster-Scots but for anyone with
interest in history, cultures of the world and sociology. With cross
references to other cultures Hutchinson will keep the interest of
book provides insight into the Ulster-Scots in Ireland, Scotland and
North America . This includes in-depth insight to ancient history
which is rare. Narrators on Ulster-Scots usually begin with 17th
Century migrations from Scotland to Ulster but Hutchinson
deliberately explores in great detail the works of historians of such
note as Dr Ian Adamson. Hutchinson deals extensively with the
concepts of Ulster's common identity and shared space as explained in
the works of Adamson: such as The Cruithin, The Ulster People and
was very sad that Ian Adamson passed away just a few days before the
launch of Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination in Belfast in
January of 2019. At the Launch there were folk from just about every
social sphere and background in Northern Ireland. This Ulster-Scots
event was held in the Irish Secretariat Building in Belfast. Now
there's an example of imagination for you. The choice of venue
would have been unexpected but demonstrates the spirit of shared
space as expressed in the book.
delving into the ancient Ulster-Scots history is only one of the
important aspects of this book. To understand the distinct aspects of
Ulster-Scots psyche it explores literature relating to the historic
Ulster work place: from farm to factory, schools and churches,
community and fraternity groups, to music and dance. It later relates
all this to the Scotch Irish settlements in North America: from
presidents to hillbillys.
section on “marginal spaces” is one of my favourites. Here, the
lore and mystique around the moss and the mountain is profoundly
examined: where imagination for centuries has gone off into
other realms. It is in the heart of the moss where the inner self has
been explored and from the mountain: the wider world viewed and
impressive aspect of Hutchinson's work is his ability to fully
understand the mindsets of the writers and poets that he references.
He even fully understands material I have written in the past. In
particular he quotes at length from my book of 2008: Big Lang
Danner, where I explored the historical and cultural links
between Ulster and south-west Scotland. I am not an academic but a
creative writer. No academic has previously acknowledged or paid much
attention to my writings in the past. They tend to not understand me.
But Hutchinson is a unique scholar in that he does understand even
quirky folk like myself.
one thing that this books perhaps glosses over, and wisely so, is the
impact of the Ulster-Scots imagination on the contemporary politics.
In its historic references to the Covenanters, Siege of Derry, The
United Irishmen, the American Revolution and the Signing of the
Ulster Covenant, lies explanation of the Ulster-Scots independent
spirit, or Ulster-Scotch thranness. It has been a constant
throughout history that loyalty to family, community, church, school
and state has always been conditional: to allow for a healthy
questioning and challenging of authority whenever deemed necessary.
me this explains why the main Ulster-Scots areas of Northern Ireland
voted to reject the EU establishment in the referendum of 2016:
against all the odds. In my opinion the independent spirit or
thranness of the Ulster-Scot is still very much alive: for
better or for worse.
this book is not owned or endorsed by the establishment in Northern
Ireland it probably falls between the cracks and doesn't get the
attention it most certainly deserves. It is for the academics,
folklorists, and just about anyone else who enjoys a good read that
sparks their imagination.
This is one of those books that you
not only get to read through once but you can keep occasionally
picking it up to read sections you know will stimulate your
is available in Northern Ireland in any decent book shop, that is
still left standing, or through Amazon.