Donegal language expert Pauline Holland has been starring in a new BBC documentary about a controversial teenage Raphoe poet from the 19th century.
Dr Holland, from Ballybofey, is a doctor of Anglo-Irish Literature and appeared on a programme that examined how modern day speech helps to frame people’s identities by drawing from their culture and history.
Pauline went to school locally and is a proud Donegal woman, who now lives in Belfast as a hugely successful mother-of-one and one of the most sought after academics in her field.
The literature expert has been appearing on TV screens in recent weeks as part of the three-part TV documentary called Languages of Ulster on BBC NI.
She was discussing the legacy of 19th century Donegal poet Sarah Leech, from Raphoe, while the entertaining show also looked at the origins of typically local words like brae, clabber, and banshee.
Some of Leech’s poetry – which was controversial at the time - was written when she was aged from 19, following a lifetime of difficulties, and she died in her early 20s.
She was born in 1809 near Raphoe and very quickly had to leave school to become a spinner to support her family because her dad died very young and left behind a large family.
Dr Holland said on TV: “She had no money or status in the world and lived in a small cabin. She became self-taught and no-one cared what she said and that’s quite a powerful place to come from as a writer because you can write exactly what you like – and she did.”
Donegal Now got in touch with Dr Holland and asked her to tell us more about the show and the poet, who wrote in Ulster Scots.
Dr Holland said: “Ulster Scots is the language of the hearth - and it has spanned four centuries.
“Sarah Leech occupies a unique niche in Ulster literary history.
“She is the most prominent female poet of the Ulster Scots tradition, and was born and raised in Raphoe, Co Donegal.
“Her poetry is notable for its vivid imagery, unflinching honesty and penetrating social observation.
“Ulster Scots dialect has slipped through the nets of compartmentalisation through the years.
“It is not Irish, English or solely Scottish.
“This meant that, for centuries, those who expressed themselves creatively through Ulster Scots experienced a level of artistic freedom outside the social, political and cultural parameters.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The show explores our region’s unique linguistic traditions - Ulster-Scots, Irish and northern Hiberno English - and the relationship between them.
“The show is built around the Concise Ulster Dictionary, which has been described as ‘the most comprehensive record of Ulster vernacular speech’.
“It tells the story of the dictionary’s creation and profiles some of the writers, whose work captures the vitality and richness of our local speech traditions.
“Languages Of Ulster helps to explain the background and origin of familiar words such as brae, clabber, banshee, kaleyard and dailygan.
“It’s a lyrical and affectionate exploration of language, people and place and an encouragement to find out more about our local speech.
“It also demonstrates just how much Ulster-Scots words remain part of our everyday speech.
“This series will be supported by specially commissioned film and other resource materials from The Open University.
“Languages Of Ulster has been made by Below the Radar TV, with assistance from the Northern Ireland Screen’s Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.”
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