Learn Ulster-Scots

Lesson 4 Hobbies, Interests and Work

In this lesson, you will learn:

  • describing hobbies & interests
  • words for some jobs
  • working life & leisure time
  • traditional Ulster-Scots pastimes
  • traditional pastimes and jobs in Ulster & Scots poetry

Hobbies and leisure: Basic vocabulary

beuks/ buiks
Take a drink
tak a gless
Highland dancing
hielan dancin
Hill walking
waakin ower the braes
Go for a walk
tak a danner
Walking the dog
takkin the doag fer a danner
Watching television
watchin tha tellyveesion
Climbing wall
climmin waa
Board games
boord gems
haein a crack
I really like
A'm gye an fond o (eg. A'm gye an fond o Jane Austen beuks)
I love/ enjoy
A fair love (eg. 'A fair love tha gowf')

Dialogue 1

In the following dialogue two young men discuss favourite pastimes and then decide to spend an evening in the pub. Read it and try to answer the questions afterwards. These will help you practise the new expressions and give you some guidance about characteristic Ulster-Scots phrases and grammar. (Answers at the end)

Whit dae ye like tae dae when ye hae time on yer hauns?
Weel, A luv tha readin’. There’s naethin better nor a guid beuk. A luv a guid fillum forbye.
Ye cud dae wi’ gettin oot a bit mair, so ye cud. Ye’re ower fond o’ the readin’ an’ tha tellyveesion. Sittin crulged up wi tha beuks haes ye lukkin wile peeliewalie. Ye need mair exercise.
Weel ye’re no Mr Universe yersel! Whit did ye dae yestreen?
I rid ma bike roon the toun an’ then A haed a scrammle up thon braw new climmin waa at tha gym. Joan ma pairtner sez A’m gettin a quare pair o shoothers frae aa tha exercise. Sae A micht mak Mr Universe yin o’ these bricht days!
A’d liefer hae a waak or a sweem. A wudnae be oany guid at tha climmin or even tha fitbaa.
Aye, ye were aye a richt pachle so ye wur!
Noo fair do’s! A’m middlin guid at tha gowf. Ye maun gie it a birl.
It’s no aa aboot tha spoart, is it? Social chiels taks a gless whiles.
Guid man! Whit aboot it? A’m wile droothy the nicht.
  1. What expression does Bob use to emphasise that reading is the thing he likes to do more than anything?
  2. Find the expression that means 'in addition to'.
  3. What expressions suggest Tam’s contempt for the effect reading has on Bob’s posture and appearance?
  4. How does Bob say 'I'd prefer to'?
  5. Notice how the definite article (tha) is used when any activity is mentioned eg. 'tha fitbaa', rather than just 'I love football'.
  6. List any more examples you can find of this use of the definite article.
  7. What expression emphasises Bob is very thirsty?

Work and working life: basic vocabulary

fairmer / birsey
Farm labourer

Here cum the lassies!

Here is another dialogue for you to read. In it two young women who haven't seen each other for a while meet up. They discuss where they are working. Notice that in Ulster-Scots you do not 'teach' someone something but rather you 'lairn' them it.

Whar dae ye wark?
A wud a wrocht in a shap. Noo A hae a wee joab wi Tammie Flynn. He’s stairtit tae big a wheen o hooses doon tha brae. He haes tha foons in.
A thocht ye wur warkin in tha tex office sae A did.
A wark in Tammie’s offyce noo sae A dae. Whut dae ye wark at yersel?
Sure A've jist cum bak frae college in Scotlan. Noo A'm warkin in tha schuil wi tha weans. A'm lairnin thaim histrie.
Is it tha wee schuil doon tha road?
Naw. In Bilfawst. A hae tae tak ma motor. A hurl oan tha train. A wudnae get there in time in the moarnin. Its aboot foartie minnits in tha moarnin an aboot thurtie comin bak at nicht. It's no sae bad noo in the simmer but A didnae like tae think aboot makkin tha journey in the wunter.
Whut’s the heidmaister like?
No sae bad an tha weans are gran. A lek ma joab.
A hae pit in for a joab in Bilfawst.
In thon new Victoria Square. In a shap. A lek meetin fowk. It’s better crack nor a offyce.
  1. Look out for the Ulster-Scots words for the past participle of the verb 'to work'.
  2. What are the words for ‘build’ and ‘foundations’?
  3. Can you work out what concerns Sue about her job in Belfast?

(Answers at the end)

Literary links: Traditional pastimes

In ‘A Winter Night in the North of Ireland’ (1819) the poet John McKinley records the Ulster people’s love of good company, conversation and thrilling stories:

When surly winter ‘gins to blaw,
An’ robe himself wi’ frost and snaw;
See roun’ the ingle in a raw,
The rural folks
Sit down and pass the time awa,
In cracks and jokes...

Neist tales o’ ghaists and magic spell –
O’ witches lowin out o’ hell,
And tricks o’ Nickie-ben himsel’
Gae roun and roun,
Till ilka youngster thinks, pell-mell
He’s comin down.


the devil

The eighteenth-century Edinburgh poet Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) reveals that such gatherings could take on a less cosy and civilised character as they included binge-drinking (clearly not just a modern phenomenon) and loud, vulgar behaviour. The following extract is from ‘Elegy on Maggy Johnson’:

Fou closs we us’d to drink and rant,
Until we did baith glowre and gaunt,
And pish and spew and yesk and maunt,
Richt swash I true;
Then of auld stories we did cant
Whan we were fou.

cooped up close together; rave aggressively
stare vacantly; yawn
belch; to slur one’s speech

In the same poem, however, Ramsay makes a reference to enjoying a game of golf (‘the gowff’) with his friends. See the Ulster-Scots Agency's website for details of traditional Scots/Ulster-Scots games. Go to the booklet/resource titled ‘Be a Guid Sport’.

Robert Fergusson (1750-74), another Edinburgh poet, celebrated the traditional Scottish dancing that took place when friends came together in the taverns on winter evenings. This extract is from ‘The Daft Days’:

For nought can cheer the heart sae weil
As can a canty Highland reel;
It even vivifies the heel
To skip and dance:
Lifeless is he wha canna feel
Its influence.


It should be understood that there are two types of Scottish dancing popular in Ulster today: Highland dancing and Scottish country dancing. These have different steps and formations. The main difference is that Highland dancing is generally solo dancing, while Scottish Country Dancing is danced in sets, usually of four couples. For further details see the Ulster-Scots Agency's website. Go to the resource/booklet titled ‘Birlin Roon tha Flair’.

James Orr (1770-1816) wrote an ‘Epistle’ in praise of Nathaniel Pinkerton, a blind fiddler and story teller who was greatly in demand at social gatherings:

Ae flourish o’ your fiddle-stick
Sen’s care to Cloutie...
Frae ilka neuk the spunkies staucher
To hear your stories;
The roof re-echoes ev’ry nicher,
An’ every chorus.

the devil
lively people walk unsteadily
expression of pleasure/anticipation  

In what may be his greatest poem, ‘The Irish Cottiers Death and Burial,’ Orr also refers to the traditional Ulster-Scots Presbyterian pastime of ‘arguing Scripture’ – debating the interpretation and application of Bible verses.

Literary links: Traditional jobs

Orr’s ‘Irish Cottier’ was a labouring tenant on land belonging to a farming landlord. The Cottier’s life would have had many similarities to that of the Cotter, whose Saturday night worship Robert Burns described in one of his most popular poems.

The traveller Arthur Young described the Cottier system in Ireland in 1780 as follows: ‘ […] the common system of labour in Ireland […] much resembles that of Scotland […]. If there are cabins on a farm they are the residence of the cottiers. If there are none the farmer marks out the potato gardens, and the labourers […] raise their own cabins on such spots; […], a verbal compact is then made, that the new cottier shall have his potato garden at such a rent, and one or two cows kept him at the price of the neighbourhood […]. He then works with the farmer at the rate of the place, usually 6d. a day […]. The cottier works for himself as his potatoes require […]. (From A Tour in Ireland.)

Orr himself was a wabster (weaver). Other traditional names for occupations which appear in Ulster-Scots include suttor (cobbler); sodger (soldier); boons (farm workers in a gang); hind (ploughman); herd (shepherd); spae-wife (fortune teller); man o business (lawyer).

Answers to Dialogue 1

  1. There’s naethin better nor a guid beuk.
  2. Forbye
  3. Sittin’ crulged up wi the beuks haes ye lukkin wile peeliewalie.
  4. A’d liefer
  5. tha climmin; tha gowf
  6. wile droothy. ‘Wile’= extremely.

Answers to Dialogue 2

  1. Wrocht is the past participle of the verb to work
  2. Build = big
  3. Foundations = tha foons
  4. Sue likes her job but is concerned about having to drive such a distance in the winter time.

Other Lessons

Lesson 1

Meeting and Greeting

Meeting and Greeting
  • greet people in Ulster-Scots
  • introduce yourself
  • talk about where you come from
  • count in Ulster-Scots

Go to this lesson: Meeting and Greeting

Lesson 2

Self, Family and Friends

Self, Family and Friends
  • nouns for family members
  • nouns for parts of the body
  • describing appearance
  • describing yourself, family & friends

Go to this lesson: Self, Family and Friends

Lesson 3

Moods, Feelings and Clothes

Moods, Feelings and Clothes
  • moods, feelings & characteristics
  • words for items of clothing
  • talking about appearance
  • traditional Ulster & Scots dress
  • clothing & characteristics in Scots & Ulster-Scots poetry

Go to this lesson: Moods, Feelings and Clothes

Lesson 5

Food and Drink

Food and Drink
  • examples of food and drink
  • ordering food in a restaurant
  • discussing eating habits
  • food and drink in Ulster & Scots poetry
  • finding Ulster-Scots recipes

Go to this lesson: Food and Drink

Lesson 6

Weather and Seasons

Weather and Seasons
  • words for types of weather
  • weather conditions
  • words for different seasons
  • seasonal activities
  • the weather in Scots & Ulster literature

Go to this lesson: Weather and Seasons

Lesson 7

Nouns and Names

Nouns and Names
  • buildings
  • parts of the face and head
  • The Coortin’ o Miss Norris

Go to this lesson: Nouns and Names

Lesson 8

Meeting and Greeting (2)

Meeting and Greeting (2)
  • Meeting and Greeting (2)
  • The Coortin’ o Miss Norris - Practice Reading and Dialogue
  • Markers of Ulster-Scots

Go to this lesson: Meeting and Greeting (2)

Lesson 9

Grammar and Pronunciation

Grammar and Pronunciation
  • the Definite Article before a Noun
  • spelling and pronunciation
  • saying, doing and being

Go to this lesson: Grammar and Pronunciation

Lesson 10

Pronouns - and Linen-Making

Pronouns - and Linen-Making
  • Pronouns
  • A Byre o a Hoose
  • Tha makkin o tha lïnen

Go to this lesson: Pronouns - and Linen-Making

Lesson 11

A closer look at Dialect (1)

A closer look at Dialect (1)
  • what is dialect
  • when to use dialect speech
  • dialects in Ulster?
  • dialect spelling
  • ‘language versus dialect’

Go to this lesson: A closer look at Dialect (1)

Lesson 12

A closer look at Dialect (2)

A closer look at Dialect (2)
  • what good is it learning about dialect?
  • country matters
  • farming vocabulary
  • farming practices of old

Go to this lesson: A closer look at Dialect (2)

Lesson 13

A closer look at Dialect (3)

A closer look at Dialect (3)
  • words with a story
  • what’s in a name?
  • Ulster ‘crack’
  • scunner, sheugh and black-mouth

Go to this lesson: A closer look at Dialect (3)

Lesson 14

A closer look at Dialect (4)

A closer look at Dialect (4)
  • similes
  • forms of ‘be’ and ‘do’
  • Match the meanings
  • Wordsearch
  • The Minister’s Cat
  • Call my Bluff

Go to this lesson: A closer look at Dialect (4)