It’s been a clatter of years since anything in or about the Ulster Scots language has adorned this page.
And according to Liam Logan, author, journalist and broadcaster in the lingo, while clatter means noise in standard English “in Ulster Scots it is more commonly used to mean a number. Not a specific number but a general term meaning more than a few or perhaps, quite a few.
So yes, it has been a while, but Liam is more than compensating for the extended drought today, with his third and latest book entitled Nine Rhymes.
It’s a very enjoyable read, a masterpiece of mirth, with the occasional word that doesn’t quite make sense (to Roamer!) but even the most unfamiliar, curiously spelt and seemingly opaque expressions buzz with colour and character!
James Fenton, author, academic, poet and an acclaimed authority on Ulster Scots agrees that the style is “mostly light-hearted” and thoroughly applauds Nine Rhymes.
“It could only be the work of a native speaker” writes Fenton on the review page headlined ‘What Others Have Said.’
James commends the book to native speakers and “especially the exile” stressing that it will also be enjoyed by readers “with little or no knowledge of Ulster Scots.”
“I have tried in my way to add to the gaiety of the nation with these rhymes,” Logan declares in his introduction, adding “I hope you will enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing.”
He has been compiling the collection for over 15 years “starting with the Johnny Munn story” he told me, referring to the first of his nine rhyming pieces, a hilarious tale about a corpse apparently coming to life at a wake.
Aided by his apprentice, McDowell the undertaker nailed the coffin lid down on Johnny and stopped for a lunchbreak, with a much needed beer “…for his thrapple needed wet.”
Some of Johnny’s neighbours arrived and were more than happy to share McDowell’s lunch.
“Wae the yin thing an anither sure we had a couple mair
An a bite tae eat forby for thon oul boy had wrocht us sair.”
But when the Reverend Moore arrived in his long black coat to make preparations for the funeral he was extremely displeased.
“He guldered, ‘Yes are sittin, drinkin, eatin here deed sowl,
An Johnny Munn is lyin there his bady harly coul.’”
While he was alive poor old Johnny had been cantankerous, humpy and grumpy, thus attracting insults and nicknames from his neighbours.
The Reverend Moore, in no uncertain terms, reminded the mourners of their misdemeanours.
“The steuch o your hypocrisy wud mak a boady boak
I only hope ye mine the times ye made John Munn a joke.
A kindly word, a helpin han was missing whun he leeved
I doot that this would be the way he wanted tae be grieved.”
“A lock o whited sepulchres, clean rotten tae yer herts
A gether up o naebodies, a wheen o cheeky blerts
Ye’s haesnae ony right tae sit an yarn wae drink an mate
As Johnny restin in his box is aff tae meet his fate.”
The Reverend Moore, evidently a dab hand if not an accomplished expert at admonishing his flock, was as surprised as the rest when Johnny seemed to come to life.
“He ris up frae the coffin and he gin a mighty groan
He seemed tae sprachle forrit an he lot another moan.”
Terrified, everybody including Moore scrambled screaming for the door, with undertaker McDowell, who had experienced this kind of thing before, telling them it was “jist trapped gas, it happens when yer deed.”
Then horror of horrors, Reverend Moore’s long black coat caught on a nail sticking up through the floorboards.
“He let a gowl an guldered as he tried tae get it loose
He pulled and tried tae free himsel, tae get oot the hoose.”
Thinking that it was the ghost or the revived corpse of Johnny that was holding him back and threatening to “drag him tae the grave or tak him doon tae hell” the reverend gentleman instantly forgot about his recent rebukes and admonishments to the mourners.
“‘Leggo o me this minute, ye humpy heeded cur.”
The reverend made a sprachle as he tried to reach the dour.
“Release me noo, Oul Humpy, ye crooked twisted blert’”
But aal that Rev Moore heared was the thump o his ain hert.
The hysterical clergyman continued in this vein for several verses, calling Johnny a ‘dirty humpy divil’ and suggesting loudly that the dead man’s fate was ‘doon below. May Oul Nick be oot tae meet ye wae haes pitchfork aal aglo.’
Suddenly the Rev Moore’s long black coat ripped and parted from the nail in the floorboard, freeing him to dash through the door screaming, never to be heard of again!
Liam Logan’s Nine Rhymes, vividly illustrated by his Dunloy neighbour Billy Mawhinney, continues joyfully through a range of topics from competitive bandsmen to holidaying Orangemen to shopping in the 1960s.
Published by Galdanagh Press (£9.99) the book is available from local bookshops and Amazon.
I’ll return to it again here soon with more of Liam’s thoughts and writings.
Look out for him - he regularly performs publicly, often with colleague linguist Linda Ervine.
They believe that Ulster Scots is the link between Irish, Scots Gaelic, Scots and English, a link they strive to strengthen and develop.