Dear William
: female novelists and the Scots language; diary novels and dialect; the Ó Gnímh bards and Agnew sheriffs

  • Angeline Kelly

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study challenges Northern Ireland’s identity and language prejudices. The composition of a contemporary diary novel, Dear William, comprising linguistic references to Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots, has allowed me the opportunity to articulate a compelling historical story and give those seeking alternative narratives a new version of their own linguistic history. Dear William centres around a young Presbyterian woman who becomes captivated by the idea that she is walking in the footsteps of sixteenth and seventeenth century hereditary bards, Brían and Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh.

Through a close textual analysis of novels written by women, and with reference both to feminist theory and the Lacanian psychoanalytical ideas of the symbolic and imaginary, I demonstrate that writing in Scots can not only elevate the status of the ‘home’ tongue, but also alter the place of the mother. I also contend that Ulster Scots and Ulster English, when chronicling a history of conflict or division, may unlock the ‘childlike self’ and perhaps even assist in the processing of trauma.

The theme of dialect continues in an assessment of diary novels, in which I cultivate the idea that dialect can act as a subversive voice. Through an analysis of primarily female texts, I illustrate that dialect in diary novels works well as the main diegetic vehicle of the narrative, allowing for the communication and articulation of silenced voices.

Regarding the Ó Gnímh / Agnew family history of Larne’s hereditary bards and Lochnaw’s hereditary sheriffs, I provide an analytical review of resources across three disciplines, Gaelic literature, history and genealogy, and approach the research with a feminist mindset, recognising that women previously written out of history might provide some clues as to the Agnew story. I contest identity and language stereotypes concerning two separate identity silos — ‘native Irish’ and ‘Lowland Scots’ and posit the idea that the various Ó Gnímh / Agnew families were connected, if not by blood, then by familial, cultural, linguistic, legal and societal ties.

Date of AwardJan 2024
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorFrank Ferguson (Supervisor), Andrew Keanie (Supervisor) & Kathleen Mc Cracken (Supervisor)


  • Diary novels
  • Dialect in creative writing
  • Family history writing
  • Female Scots novelists
  • Female Ulster Scots novelists
  • Agnew family history
  • Ó Gnímh family history
  • Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh
  • Brían Ó Gnímh

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