I had the honour and privilege of attending an Ulster Scots Summer School today in the border town of Newry and it was tremendous to see the RJ Mitchell Memorial Orange Hall packed with local children eager to learn more about the culture we take for granted here in north Antrim.
The volume of children was such that it was only possible to speak to them about the language in two seperate groups. The first group consisted mainly of children under 8 years old and after an introduction to the basics of the language, we had a game of "Gary Says" which was all done in the Ullans language. For children who had never had any real experience of conversing in Ullans, it was amazing that they did so well and an indication of their willingness to learn.
The second group was over 8 yrs to early teens and there was no difference in the degree of interest shown. The kids really did everyone proud by listening very intentively and, when tested near the end of the lesson, I was very pleasantly surprised by the amount of vocabulary they retained in their memory.
The Newry group, in common with all other shcools I have visited, were attentive, well-behaved and well supervised. It was a pleasure to visit the Hall and meet the good fol of Newry who are determined that their children will not be force-fed Anglo-Irish propaganda, putting our language and culture in the shade.
My next stop was a richt bit nearder hame - Cullybackey. Running a bit late due to numerous roadworks and diversions (you'll all appreciate that we don't enjoy being re-routed!), I arrived at the local High School and was met by Andy McGregor who had the kids all ready and divided into manageable groups. Again, over 40 kids had gathered to learn more about their culture. And again, I was met with enthusiasm and genuine interest in a well staffed and well disciplined school. As I left Cullbackey I couldn't help but think that if a small village could organise an event such as this, then every other town and village should do likewise next year.
Again, I must pay tribute to the volunteers and children who have given up their time to run valuable projects such as this. Let's not forget Ed Hanna who has worked tirelessly to organise and co-ordinate the schools across Ulster. His work, though understated, cannot be under valued. The Ulster Scots movement owe Ed and the Ulster Scots Agency a huge debt of gratitude for all their work. Well done!