Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dunedin, The McIlvanney Clan, The Languages of Scotland and Terry Eagleton's brilliant class

If the Scots had ever had an empire of their own (rather than engineering, running and generaling the British Empire) it probably would have looked at lot like Dunedin where I've been for the last few days. There's a statue of Robbie Burns in the centre of town, the streets all have Scottish names, the buildings remind me of Dumfries and even the landscape has a Scots feel: moors and mountains and - at least since I arrived - mist and rain. I've been staying at the Department of Irish and Scottish Studies as a guest of Liam McIlvanney the chair of same. I hadn't met Liam before but I've known about him since the publication of his excellent book All The Colours of the Town which I've blogged about several times. He's also an influential voice in Scottish poetry and has attended the John Hewitt Summer School many times hanging with all the big guns of the Belfast poetry scene: Heaney, Muldoon, Mahon, the Longleys, Paulin, Carson etc. Liam's da, of course, is the great William McIlvanney the author who more or less invented Tartan Noir and Celtic Noir. William McIlvanney's novel Laidlaw was one of the first crime novels I ever read and it remains a classic. Not to overegg the custard but Liam's Uncle Hugh McIlvanney was one of the greatest postwar British sports writers. 
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When I say that Liam and I have never before this might not in fact be true. We were at Oxford at exactly the same time 1991 - 1993, drank in many of the same pubs, were both in the Irish society, and we both attended Terry Eagleton's famous lecture series on English literature. In fact over the years I've met half a dozen people in all corners of the world who were in that Terry Eagleton class and everybody all says the same thing, that not only was it the best class they had at Oxford but the best class they ever had anywhere. I'll bet you a very high % of students in that class went on to become writers...
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But anyway back to Dunedin. A charming Scottish town exported to the Southern Hemisphere with a distinct New Zealand tang. The university (below) runs along the banks of the Leith and is really quite lovely even in the rain. The name Dunedin comes from...well, why should I rewrite what Wikipedia explains very well. (Michel Houellebecq wouldnt even kop to the theft.) Here's what the anonymous wiki people say in their article on Edinburgh: 
The root of the city's name, is most likely of Brittonic Celtic origin, from the Cumbric language or a variation of that which would have been spoken by the earliest known people of the area, an Iron Age tribe known to the Romans as the Votadini, and latterly in sub-Roman history as the Gododdin. It appears to derive from the place name Eidyn mentioned in the Old Welsh epic poem Y Gododdin.[12][13][14]The poem names Din Eidyn as a hill fort (Din meaning "dun") in the territory of the Gododdin.[15] The change in nomenclature, from Din Eidyn to Edinburgh, reflects changes in the local language from Cumbric to Old English, the Germanic language of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia that permeated the area from the mid-7th century and is regarded as the ancestor of modern Scots
Interesting, eh? As I understand it at the time of the Y Gododdin 4 languages were spoken in Scotland: Cumbric (a form of Gaelic similar to Welsh and Cornish), Old Irish in the Kingdom of Dalriada in the Western Isles, Pictish in the North and Old English (or Anglo Saxon if you prefer) in the South. These 4 languages would soon be joined by Old Norse as the Viking longships made their way up the firths and loughs. By the middle ages only Scots (the dialect of English still spoken there today), Gallic and Norse were left. Norse in its Norn variant died out in the nineteenth century, leaving Scots and a few pockets of Gallic remaining.  

19 comments:

Sheiler said...

Relatives of mine went somewhere to Scotland to visit a town where our ancestors came from. Apparently they drove up to some plot of land and someone from the property next door confirmed that the family X did indeed used to live there but they weren't proper Scots since they had originally migrated from Ireland, stayed 400 years, and then went back.

Right.

John McFetridge said...

There used to be a joke that Canada was, "Scotland's colony." Of course, in those days what was meant by Canada ended at the Ottawa river.

Montreal was once a very Scottish city. There's still a statue of Robbie Burns downtown and McGill university, of course, and many buildings (like the Royal Vic hospital) are in the Scottish Baronial style and there were all the banks and engineering companies but most of that's gone now.

I think that's too bad, but I may be in the minority.

Of course, now that I live in Toronto when I hear "Dunedin," I think spring training....

Alan said...

Adrian,The migratory Scots with their Calvinist ambition seem to have created out colonies everywhere.I am glad you mentioned Liam's dad as Laidlaw is a beautiful poem to brotherhood and humanism.It is a pity that that this aspect of "Noir" seems to have been lost in many writer's seas of blood and gore.It is wonderful that you both as artists of the human spirit can meet and celebrate your intertwined cultures and writings.Best Alan

seana graham said...

Were the Scots more likely to be transported to New Zealand than Australia, then, or was this more of an actual colonization?

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler


Well, of course, the Scotti did in fact come from Ireland originally. Indeed the whole kingdom of Scotland goes back to Fergus Mor Mac Erc, king of Dalriada, who probably came from Carrickfergus.

adrian mckinty said...

John

Well werent there Canadian HIghland regiments that fought in both World Wars? I seem to remember a Canadian Black Watch fighting somewhere in Europe...

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Its a very thoughtful book isn't it? In fact his whole oeuvre is very thoughtful and you can see echoes of that all the way through Ian Rankin and Iain Banks. He set them off on a good road I think.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

No, NZ was never a penal colony. It was always just a settlement and after the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori, I think a fairly peaceable settlement. Even today though the S Island only has about 1 million people living on it and this a place as big as Ireland or Scotland with a 1/6 of the population.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Alan: Some crime writers (I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to the Scandinavian next to you) seem to exhibit a clinical sort of pity for the victims in their novels, to regard them as symbols. William McIlvanney, on the other hand, will bring tears of real pity and compassion to my eyes. And he's much funnier than most crime writers, too. I'd call Allan Guthrie McIlvannian in some respects, too.

Anonymous said...

Adrian,
Best wishes for the Sydney writers' festival

Craig Arthur said...

Hope you enjoyed your brief stay in Dunedin. Sorry about the weather the first couple of days.

Nice meeting you briefly. Really enjoyed both your talks and your reading. Great prose style.

PS. I forgot to say on Monday - cool Dr Who T shirt.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

He's very funny as is the whole clan.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Really looking forward to Sydney. Some terrific events lined up there....

adrian mckinty said...

Craig


It was fun wasn't it?

You're the only one who spotted my Dr Who t shirt! Not the most obvious of motifs but still...

Brendan O'Leary said...

It used to be said that Australia was Catholic and NZ was Presbyterian. There is still some truth in that.

Note "F" pronunciation of many NZ "Wh" placenames. Or, to put it more chronologically, the "Wh" transliteration of many "F"-sounding Maori placenames like Whangarei. That was typical of 19th C Scots English and is still prevalent in the North East Scotland "Doric" dialect , especially in rural areas, with "fusky" and "fite" for "whisky" and "white" for example. I think it comes about because Scots gives full weight and aspiration to the letter "H" .

seana graham said...

Thanks, Brendan, that was what I was wondering. I hadn't really thought of either place in terms of denomination before.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Seana,

Transportation's only part of the story. As Adrian pointed out, it didn't happen in NZ.

While influential in Australia's history, it's given far too much weight by some commentators. I guess it's the memorable fact about Australian settlement. Something like 160,000 convicts arrived in Australia over the whole 80 years of transportation 1788-1868, but in 1852 alone, 370,000 free immigrants arrived.

seana graham said...

Thanks, Brendan. That's a helpful comparison.

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