It is not often I get excited about public money being spent directly on culture and identity, but the new “Ulster-English Agency” with an annual budget of £2 million to be based, appropriately, on Bedford Street is good news.
The Agency will, I gather, focus both on language and on Ulster-English (or, in America, “Anglo-Irish”) heritage and culture.
On the language side, it will be good to have a government agency opposing such appalling barbarisms as “have went” and “there is opportunities”. On the other hand, it is only right that we enable words such as “sheugh” (note the English spelling) to be incorporated into our daily speech. An “Ulster-English dictionary” will be a great opportunity to assess the linguistic inheritance given to us first by Anglo-Norman culture from the 12th century, and then by English planters and merchants from the late 1500s.
On the heritage and culture side, of course, Ulster-Englishness has long been overlooked. Not all settlers from Great Britain were Scottish, after all. Counties Armagh and Londonderry, and some baronies of Fermanagh, were in fact specifically planted from England. Towns such as Carrickfergus and Downpatrick owe much to our Anglo-Norman heritage; towns such as Coleraine and Enniskillen (as well as, obviously, the city of Londonderry) owe much to the English of the Elizabethan period. Yes, they burned down lots of places but they introduced common law to sort out the miscreants. Yes, they took lots of the best land but they introduced commerce to put it right. Ulster was in any case already a feudal place with lots of tribal Chieftains keeping down the masses, so it is only right that a government agency sets the record straight.
It is also entirely right that we celebrate the heritage of many great Ulster-English people. Ulster-Englishwoman Mrs Cecil Alexander wrote Danny Boy, one of the top three most played hymns ever; Field Marshal Alan Brooke, who almost single-handedly won World War II, was of solid Anglo-Irish stock in Fermanagh; Mary Peters, Team GB’s most famous ever gold medallist, was born in England; and of course one of the lads from Snow Patrol and/or Two Door Cinema Club is bound to be of English origin. There is a cross-border dimension too, through the likes of Jonathan Swift in Monaghanand Field Marshal Montgomery in Donegal. And, of course, no fewer than 44 US Presidents and all 12 people who ever set foot on the Moon can trace their ancestry back to England – we should have a piece of that, no matter how vague.
I look forward to hearing more of the Agency’s good work in the years to come.