Rhymin Rab’s ramble at Ulster Folk Museum

An educational trail – Rhymin Rab’s Ramble – has been introduced at Ulster Folk Museum. The trail is part of National Museums NI’s ‘Languages of Ulster’ programme which aims to expand visitors’ ability to explore the rich heritage and diverse traditions associated with all languages and dialects of Ulster.

Languages of Ulster is one example of how National Museums NI endeavour to support public policy initiatives such as this through unlocking the potential of our diverse and unique collections.

Irish and Ulster Scots are recognised in the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 which is underpinned by the principle that ‘everybody in Northern Ireland is free to choose, affirm, maintain and develop their national and cultural identity, and express and celebrate that identity.’ It also articulates the principle that ‘public authorities should encourage and promote reconciliation, tolerance and meaningful dialogue between those with different, national and cultural identities with a view to promoting parity of esteem, mutual respect and understanding, and cooperation’.

The manuscripts of Ulster-Scots writer, Robert Huddleston (1814-1887), also known as the ‘Bard of Moneyrea’, have been used as an inspiration and invaluable resource to create a bespoke 48-page colour-illustrated trail booklet. The new Ulster-Scots Huddleston trail joins Cúl Trá-il – a self-guided, educational Irish language trail whose name is derived from the Irish place name for Cultra (Baile Chúl Trá) – which was successfully introduced to the museum in 2022

The Robert Huddleston papers form part of the Ulster Language and Dialect Archive, which is housed at National Museums NI Library & Archives, Cultra. This archive contains thousands of manuscript documents relating to native forms of speech in Ulster, including wordlists, maps, and pioneering research notes and correspondence.

Donal McAnallen, Library & Archives Manager at National Museums NI, said, “Ulster Folk Museum, from before its opening in 1964, has been the region’s leading centre of preservation and research into the languages and dialects of Ulster including Ulster Scots, Hiberno-English or ‘Irish English’ and Irish (Gaelic). Rhymin Rab’s Ramble enriches the museum experience not only by illuminating the linguistic diversity of this place, but by revealing how central language is in exploring heritage, identity and enabling cultural expression.

“We’re very proud of this trail booklet. Building on years of prior research, we have collaborated and consulted with representatives across Ulster University and the Moneyrea community to create an adventurous but authentic sample of the life and works of Robert Huddleston.

“The trail uses 18 buildings and places of the museum as prisms to present aspects of Huddleston and his poetry. Each profile cites his verse, with accompanying prose written in the first person, as if Huddleston is speaking directly to the reader. What began as a showcase for an Ulster-Scots poetry collection has become meby mair, as Huddleston would say. His reams of writings serve almost as an historical diary of rural north Down in the Victorian era, and capture the rich fusion of Scotch, English and Irish elements in local speech.”

Dr Frank Ferguson, the Director of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at Ulster University, and co-author of the trail, said, “Language helps us to communicate our values, beliefs, and customs, and has an invaluable social function as a catalyst for cultural expression and belonging. To continue to celebrate and develop language for future generations, collaborative interventions like the trails at Ulster Folk Museum are hugely important. At Ulster University, we welcome this major opportunity to partner with Ulster Folk Museum to deliver this fantastic Ulster-Scots resource.”

In 2023, National Museums NI revealed plans to reinvigorate the Ulster Folk Museum. Having already received planning permission, ‘Reawakening’ the Ulster Folk Museum is an ambitious project that will unlock its potential as a dynamic heritage and environmental resource.

William Blair, Director of Collections of National Museums NI, said, “Ulster Folk Museum is a remarkable asset which has made a significant societal contribution for almost six decades. As a public resource, our unique language archives reveal the vibrant heritage, complexity, and interconnectedness of linguistic diversity in Ulster.

“Languages offer a unique lens to look at history, traditions and contemporary identity. The collections at the Ulster Folk Museum reflect all traditions, making it a valuable shared space to celebrate both our common heritage and diversity. Initiatives like this Ulster-Scots trail, and our wider Languages of Ulster programme, provide an important platform to forge new connections, enrich our programming and broaden and deepen our connections with audiences.”

He added, “The rich curated landscape and diverse collections preserved at the Ulster Folk Museum have never been more relevant to our lives today. With renewed investment, we look forward to bringing more people together to creatively engage with traditions and heritage, and in doing so inspire new conversations about our shared future.”

For more information visit ulsterfolkmuseum.org

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