Lives Remembered

James Fenton: Father of Ulster-Scots revival and its outstanding poet

James Fenton died aged 89. Picture from BBC

JAMES Fenton was the father of the Ulster-Scots revival of recent decades as well as its outstanding poet.

His 1995 book The Hamely Tongue, a labour of love over more than 30 years, is considered the definitive record of Ulster-Scots spoken in Co Antrim.

His aim was to "compile an authentic, comprehensive record of a living language: its vocabulary, idiom, characteristic turns of phrase and modes of expression, its aphorisms and its humour".

James had been immersed in Ulster-Scots while growing up on farm a few miles south of Ballymoney.

Fearful that the distinctive words and phrases he loved would be lost, he began writing them down in the early 1960s and over time recruited a network of native speakers around the county as the project expanded.

The Hamely Tongue won international recognition for its scholarship and has been re-published in several editions, although its author always remained modest about his remarkable achievement.

James also wrote two acclaimed books of poetry - Thonner an Thon: An Ulster-Scots Collection (2000) and On Slaimish (2009).

Arts Council chief executive Roisín McDonough said he was as “a poet of cultural importance, whose legacy reached beyond the Ulster-Scots his work so eloquently documented and enriched, to wider society - he was an advocate for community respect and understanding”.

A teacher and school principal by profession, James Fenton lived in Glengormley and was also a member of the Ulster Wildlife Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

He died aged 89 on February 3 and is survived by his wife Pam, son Roger and a granddaughter.

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Lives Remembered