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‘As native in my thought as any here’ A revisionist re-reading of the life and works of James Orr: poet, patriot and Ulster-Scot

Baraniuk, Caroline (2009) ‘As native in my thought as any here’ A revisionist re-reading of the life and works of James Orr: poet, patriot and Ulster-Scot. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The Ulster poet James Orr (1770-1816), from the Presbyterian, Scots-speaking County Antrim village of Ballycarry, experienced a brief period of fame during the 1800s when he published a volume of verse and became a regular contributor of poetry and essays to Belfast newspapers and journals. Orr, a radical activist who had participated in the 1798 Rebellion, was a weaver by trade and an autodidact. He produced a small but significant body of poems expressed in the vernacular, or ‘Braid Scotch’. In language and verse forms these works are recognisably related to the Scottish vernacular verse tradition of the eighteenth century, however the greater part of his extant work is expressed in standard English. Since the mid-twentieth century Orr’s Scotch poems have excited the interest of a variety of interpreters, including the regionalist critic John Hewitt, activists within the Ulster-Scots revival movement and, most recently, Scots academics who have portrayed Robert Burns as a leader and guide to Ulster radical writers during the 1790s. The present study has been undertaken in the belief that all previous readings of Orr’s work have been either partial or partisan and that his actual significance to the literary traditions of Scotland and Ireland has never been fully appreciated. In this thesis the process by which Orr became radicalised, his relationship to the younger leaders of the Ulster United Irishmen, and the lifelong endurance of his radicalism are elucidated through a reconstruction of his life. Orr’s performance of a series of Irish myths, including the rebel poet, the fugitive patriot and the emigrant, is scrutinised, while his commitment to Ireland and his desire to assume a bardic role in relation to his country are established. As each stage of Orr’s life is re-imagined, his poetry is reviewed against the background of the prevailing social, historical, political and theological contexts which informed its composition. Orr’s successful negotiation of various social and literary networks is revealed. Orr’s poetic vision shows him to have been deeply influenced by some of the major theorists of the Scottish Enlightenment. This, it is argued, may have been a significant factor in his decision to compose verse mainly in standard English for publication purposes. However, the thesis demonstrates Orr’s effectiveness as a cultural transformer who employed the language and generic forms of the Scottish vernacular poetic tradition to treat Irish themes, and to embed the Scottish cultural heritage of the north of Ireland within the heritage of the whole island. A proper understanding of Orr’s relationship to the Scottish poetic tradition and in particular to Robert Burns is also established. Orr’s life-span takes in the cusp where eighteenth-century Augustanism coincides with first generation Romanticism. This study reveals that he embraced innovation and engaged dynamically with contemporary trends. Finally, a major purpose of this thesis is to confirm the substantial nature of Orr’s achievement and to argue for the restoration of this neglected poet and patriot to his proper place within the literary canon of Ireland, the ‘lov’d, lost country’ to which he dedicated his life.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available after the embargo period.
Keywords: James Orr, Ulster-Scots, Scottish vernacular poetry, Robert Burns, Scottish Enlightenment, Ireland, 1798 Rebellion, United Irishmen, radicalism, north of Ireland, 1801 Act of Union, eighteenth-century poetry, weaver poets, Romanticism, Romantic nationalism, bardic nationalism, patriotism
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: Carruthers, Dr. Gerard
Date of Award: 2009
Embargo Date: 28 April 2015
Depositing User: Caroline Baraniuk
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-739
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 May 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:25
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/739

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