I attended an excellent evening on Wednesday in Newtownards arts centre this week on the subject of Languages. Ulster Scots and Irish. There were two presentations of 40 minutes by Liam Logan, the elusive SDLP candidate for North Down on the Ulster Scots tradition and Linda Ervine, wife of the late David Ervines brother Brian, on the Irish Language followed by a question and answer session.

Without doubt Linda was the star of the show and I have no doubt the majority of the forty strong audience were there to hear what she had to say. Interestingly there was a good social mix in the audience. Crusty academics in tweed, some ladies of a certain age and determined demeanor, some younger people also who struck me as possibly politically active, a group down the back I’d guess were loyalist in inclination(forgive me if I stereotype) and me of course.

Unlike Alan in Belfast who does this type of reportage very well  I settled myself with a notepad and pen. Forgive my lack of podcasts or live links.

The first forty minutes consisted of Liam Logan batting for the Ulster Scots team.

He addressed the issue of whether it was a language or a dialect from the start admitting he didn’t know the difference. He quoted a couple of Ulster Scots poems, at length, and spoke of how everyday speech in Ireland incorporates many phrases and turns of phrase inherited from the lowland Scottish influences of the planters of two centuries ago.

There was a degree of self consciousness evident in the references to the Ballymena accent and the few jokes thrown in but his failure to make eye contact with the audience as he read a clearly prepared talk left me with an overall impression that his failure to engage and warm to with a willing audience was something of a missed opportunity.

In contrast, Linda was bright, smart, interesting and instantly engaged her audience.  This was an audiovisual presentation with slides, videos and delivered with passion by a very unusual, by NI standards,  advocate.

She also had that unpredictable quality. Quiet anger. More on that shortly.

Her talk started with her own personal discovery of the Irish Language via the 1911 Census and how that led to her discovery of family histories including the widespread knowledge of, and use of, the Irish language amongst the Protestant community in Ireland. She mentioned Douglas Hyde, protestant head of the Gaelic League, and Mr McAdam, after whom Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Rd is jointly named. She made a point of acknowledging the fact that the buildings origins as a Presbyterian Church is remembered there. Genuine and impressive from my viewpoint. Linda made a point of talking about how some of the “Flag Protesters” had turned up at one of her talks, ready for a row, but left with a somewhat different attitude.

There followed a thorough examination of the origins of placenames and speech patterns and the links to the present day including an hilarious reference to the discovery that, as an English Teacher, she realised that how we phrase sentences is actually correct in an Irish language context rather than incorrect in terms of the “Queens” English.

The presentation closed with a video of the Lurgan College version as Gealge of “Wake me up” by Avicci.

Then we got to the meat on the bones with the Q and A session. I was interested by how candid and, yes, angry, linda was about what happened to her last week.

She was, shall we say, invited, to a meeting with three senior (Male) members of the Orange Order. It was, in her own words, like a trip to the Headmasters office.

The accusation was that she was diluting unionist culture. The implication undoubtedly was to back off. The Orange Order is no longer what it used to be however and Linda stood her ground. She pointedly referred to the history of the Irish Language on banners and within lodges of that group and laid bare the hypocracy of a leadership that prefer to keep their membership in ignorance rather than educate and lead from a position of strength and knowledge.

Electric stuff.

Thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I’d recommend a visit to future events.

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