Ulster Scots identity and culture: The missing voices

K Stapleton, J Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years, the Ulster Scots cultural movement has become increasingly prominent, primarily among Protestants/unionists, in Northern Ireland. This movement is frequently seen as a form of cultural unionism that has emerged in response to sociopolitical change. Thus, Ulster Scots is typically seen as a response to the growing confidence of Irish nationalist culture and to a sense of dislocation among unionists in the face of UK devolution and changing conceptions of `Britishness.' These notions reflect a potential politicisation of the movement and have led many to question the `authenticity'(of an Ulster Scots communal identity. In this article, we acknowledge the importance of sociopolitical conditions for the emergence of the Ulster Scots culture/identity. However, we challenge the suggestion implicit in much,academic and nonacademic writing that this culture/identity is somehow contrived in response to such developments. Drawing on interviews and focus group discussions, we show the significance of Ulster Scots as a means of self-understanding and identification in everyday society. Crucially, these interviews were conducted not only with political and cultural leaders (who have hitherto been the focus of Ulster Scots research), but also with `grass-roots' Ulster Scots people, for whom the official movement holds varying degrees of importance. We demonstrate that Ulster Scots functions as a cultural resource not only at the macro-level of official rhetoric, but also at the micro-levels of identity formation, self-understanding, and communal consciousness. We conclude that Ulster Scots is a `real' and lived experience for a self-defined community and, hence, functions similarly to any cultural identity category.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-591
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Oct 2004


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