Today marks the 260th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns. In a letter written in 1788, Burns details his attendance at a service of thanksgiving to mark the centenary of the …
Ian Adamson was a highly complex person, with a whole range of roles as physician, politician, historian, and cultural activist. What I will say today will only scratch the surface of what was an exceptionally …
A great send off for a great man. While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/pictures-van-morrison-sings-ian-adamson-s-favourite-song-at-historian-s-funeral-1-8768670 https://www.itv.com/news/utv/2019-01-14/van-morrison-sings-at-funeral-of-historian-ian-adamson/ https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/president-higgins-comforts-widow-of-ian-adamson-at-funeral-37708634.html
The funeral service of our friend Dr Ian Adamson will take place on Monday 14th January 2019 in Conlig Presbyterian Church at 10.30am, followed by burial in Roselawn Cemetery. Flowers accepted at James Brown and …
Today marks the 260th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns.
In a letter written in 1788, Burns details his attendance at a service of thanksgiving to mark the centenary of the Glorious Revolution –
“To that auspicious event we owe no less than our liberties, civil and religious. To it we are likewise indebted for the present Royal Family, the ruling features of whose administration have been mildness to the subject, and tenderness of his rights.”
He is regarded as Scotland’s national poet: an icon who has loomed
large in Ulster/Scottish culture and consciousness ever since his early
death at the age of 37. Arguably his best known work is the song Auld
Lang Syne: a long established feature of New Year celebrations in every
corner of the world settled by the Scottish diaspora (which means, in
effect, every corner of the world).
Ian Adamson was a highly complex person, with a whole range of roles as physician, politician, historian, and cultural activist. What I will say today will only scratch the surface of what was an exceptionally rich and full life.
Ian is perhaps best known through the series of books he wrote, starting with the best-known, The Cruthin, published at the height of the Troubles in 1974, and ending with the most recent, The Voyage of Bran, published last year. His work on the prehistory of Ulster proposes what amounts to an alternative narrative of origins for the unionist community in Ulster. He traces the story of the original inhabitants, not only of Ulster but also of the British Isles, what he calls the “ancient kindred” (known as the Cruthin or Pretani), from pre-history into the Early Christian period and beyond. He saw his narrative as a means to establish a meaningful dialogue with Ulster’s Gaelic past, with both “traditions” together forming a “common identity,” a theme he has developed over the past few years with Helen Brooker through Pretani Associates.
This considerable body of writing hides another key aspect of his involvement in publishing. His imprint, Pretani Press, was behind the publication of a broad range of significant texts. I am thinking of the Folk Poets of Ulster Series in 1992 which made the Ulster-Scots material of the “weaver poets” available to the general public for the first time since their initial publication; or again his edition of Ferguson’s Congal in 1980, the first publication of this major text since 1907; or again the translation of the Old Testament into Scots, produced in 2014. It is important to underline the intelligence of this targeted policy of re-edition. This material provided clear evidence of cultural continuities that reflected much of what he was saying in his own work with regard to the specificities of Ulster’s position as an interface between Ireland and Scotland; but – equally importantly – it also allowed him to highlight the complex ideological shifts that have taken place within a culture that is far from being as monolithic as its critics would have us believe.
However, what made Ian’s work special was that things did not stop with a publication. What mattered more was how he managed to turn material that might otherwise have seemed obscure into something that was relevant to the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland today. In particular, it is the creative and imaginative processes this material set in motion in the community that are important.
The example of a visit to France in the 1980s is a perfect illustration of how he worked.
One of my predecessors in Irish Studies at the Sorbonne, René Fréchet, was deeply impressed by Ian’s text, The Identity of Ulster, and invited him to present his work at the Sorbonne. Ian saw an ideal opportunity and, in collaboration with the Farset Youth Project, organised a trip with a group of young people from the Shankill and the Falls in Belfast and Tallaght in Dublin that would call in Paris and travel on through Europe in a bus. The idea was to follow in the steps of the 6th century monk, Colombanus, born in Leinster, trained down the road here in Bangor and who was destined to found a strimg of monasteries all over Europe. The connections Columbanus’s story opened up made him an ideal candidate for Ian’s particular brand of community relations. Ian was one of the rare people in this country to be able to see a direct cultural link between a Irish monk born in Leinster in the mid 6th century and a young unemployed loyalist in the Shankill in the middle of the Troubles in the 1980s. He was one of the rare people to be able to use the one to instruct the other in terms of his identity – to offer an alternative model to the sectarianism and violence that blighted everday life for so many. On the return journey, almost as an afterthought, he decided to stop off in the Somme, an initiative that was to lead to the creation of the Somme Association and the refurbishment of the Ulster Tower, a site that was to take on its fullest significance in the context of the 1916 commemorations
This trip is in many ways a résumé of the complex linkages that underpin Ian’s work. There is an interest in early Church history, the connection with Europe, the link in to the First World War and above all the overarching imperative of using this to educate young people who otherwise could never have imagined having such an opportunity.
The result of this multi-layered approach is that he has made an extraordinary contribution to the cultural debate here. Needless to say, his impact has been most clearly felt in certain sections of the unionist community. An obvious example is Rev. Ian Paisley with whom he had a close personal relationship. Indeed, Ian was Paisley’s advisor on history and culture from 2004 until the latter’s death in 2014. Ian’s influence can be seen in Paisley’s writings and Paisley gave him much-appreciated support on key projects like the refurbishment of the Thiepval Tower on the Somme and the insertion of Ulster-Scots – what Ian always refers to as Ullans – into the St Andrew’s Agreement.
But it is especially among the loyalist paramilitaries and former combattants that Ian’s ideas have had the greatest impact. Indeed, it could be argued that he effected a sea change in the loyalist imagination, extending their imaginative coordinates not only in terms of time but also space. The concrete results of this are to be found across the board in the work of the New Ulster Political Research Group, in a play like This is it! or in the work of Robert Williamson with the Dalaradia project which reflects many aspects of the educational programme of Pretani Associates, Ian’s most recent venture.
Thus, whether people like it or not, – and indeed many on both sides of the cultural debate do not! – his ideas have filtered into the collective imagination here. They have done so in a way that opens the loyalist imagination up beyond the Plantation, and the hyper-focus on the 17th century, challenging the stereotypes and the caricatures that have been used to confine it.
In short, Ian’s work was based on the premise that the past is not necessarily a trap; rather it should be used to open up opportunities for dialogue in and with the future.
Ian was first and foremost an Ulsterman, Although he worked all his life to ensure the maintenance of the Union, he systematically sought contact and dialogue not only with nationalists and republicans here in Northern Ireland but also with the Republic. He constantly sought to open channels of communication between the Irish State and the unionist and loyalist community here. I know that that he saw this particular dialogue as being one of the most important in his career. His efforts were readily reciprocated and we have evidence of this and the strength of the friendships thus established in the presence of the President of Ireland here today.
Before I conclude I would like to extend my sympathy to Ian’s wife Kerry whom he loved most deeply and who was for him a constant source of joy. Sadly, he has been taken from us all too soon. However, I am convinced that his energy – what I would call his imaginative legacy – will live on through the multiple projects that he initiated in such a wide variety of fields.
Ian Adamson was one the kindest, most interesting and disinterested men I have ever met. His spontaneous energy, his ability to see connections and opportunities where other people only saw walls, his capacity to circumvent problems and defuse tensions with a well-placed joke or an amusing aside; his encyclopaedic reading, his optimism, and inventiveness, these were some of his innumerable qualities.
He was for me a very dear friend- the kind of connection that happens only rarely in a lifetime. I feel immensely privileged to have known him and to have shared his friendship.
Ian Adamson: Doctor, politician, historian, multi-linguist, renowned
wit, a key mover in the restoration of the Ulster Tower at Thiepval and
a friend of Van Morrison … remarkable life of the late Belfast Lord
Ivan Little talks to some of the many friends of the ex-Belfast Lord Mayor, who has died aged 74
One of the warmest tributes to Dr Ian Adamson, the colourful and
charismatic unionist politician and former Lord Mayor of Belfast who has
died at the age of 74, has come from a close friend who is also a
former first citizen.
West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir praised Dr Adamson as
an “exceptional ambassador for a shared society and a united community
Mr O Muilleoir said: “Ian went places that other people would never
go. I saw him like a traditional Irish matchmaker who brought people
together who thought they would never be united. He even lived on the
Falls Road for a time during the hunger strike.”
Dr Adamson, who was also a friend of singer Van Morrison, was a
fervent multi-linguist who could read 15 languages and helped to pioneer
the Ulster-Scots movement.
On his website he declared himself to be a British Unionist, an Irish Royalist and an Ulster Loyalist.
He was also an enthusiastic historian who wrote a large number of
books on a wide range of subjects including dialects and poetry.
Politically, he was seen as a progressively-minded Ulster Unionist
who sat on Belfast City Council from 1989 to 2011, and who also served
as an MLA for East Belfast for five years from 1998.
He was Deputy Lord Mayor in the mid-90s before moving into the Lord
Mayor’s office two years afterwards and he later became High Sheriff in
2011 when people at his swearing-in ceremony were surprised to see Van
Morrison turning up and being pictured along with Dr Adamson and his
wife Kerry, who now works for the Belfast singer’s management team.
Dr Adamson said: “As soon as Van heard about my appointment as High
Sheriff, he was on the phone saying he would be there and he never lets
me down. He has every one of my books and I am flattered.”
Dr Adamson subsequently turned down media requests to say more about how their friendship had developed.
Among the other guests in the City Hall that night was the Rev Ian
Paisley, a close friend of Dr Adamson, who was the DUP leader’s personal
Dr Paisley also revealed that he turned to Dr Adamson for advice on cultural and historical issues.
Friends and colleagues of Dr Adamson were agreed that his dry wit and
laconic way of talking disguised a highly intelligent man who was a
deep and radical thinker and who didn’t just talk about making changes
but also put his thoughts into action.
He was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Somme
Association’s Somme Heritage Centre at Conlig – the village where he was
brought up – and helped push through the restoration of the Ulster
Tower on the battlefield site at Thiepval in France.
Dr Adamson was awarded an OBE in 1998 for his services to local
government and on his move into the world of Twitter in 2007 took
delight in using a picture of him greeting the Queen as his avatar.
One of his last contributions on Twitter was a retweet of a post which said Prime Minister Theresa May wasn’t fit to govern.
Dr Adamson had for more than 20 years been a highly active blogger
sharing his views online about everything from religion to social
His last blog was in April last year when he wrote about a visit to
Dublin with colleagues from his Pretani Associates company, whose
mission statement is to build stability for societies by promoting
Dr Adamson was passionate in his zeal for Ulster Scots. In 1992 he
helped found the Ullans Academy, a group which included an eclectic mix
of unionists and nationalists who he said were seeking to discover what
united them rather than what divided them.
Former UDA leader Andy Tyrie was also part of the academy, whose
members were a common sight on Saturday mornings in an east Belfast
At a gathering in Carrickfergus seven years ago to celebrate the life
of Columbanus, a saint revered by both traditions here, Dr Adamson told
me that the Ulster-Scots and the Ulster Gaelic languages must be
treated in tandem and could be part of the healing process in Northern
He said: “Ulster-Scots is a very rich and very expressive language
which is part of our common speech. I’m not into total bi-lingualism or
even tri-lingualism, but I think Ulster-Scots should be part of the
curriculum for young people to understand their backgrounds and what
language in general is all about.
“I know the culture has sort of taken over but I am more orientated
towards the language, though it has become in many circles something
that people don’t want to know about.”
Friends said Dr Adamson was particularly pleased to be recognised for
his work with disabled children and the unemployed in the Falls area of
Belfast several years ago when he was accepted as a member of the
International Medical Association of Lourdes.
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann led his party’s tributes to the Queen’s University Belfast graduate.
Mr Swann said Dr Adamson made a huge contribution to cultural and
political life in Northern Ireland and would be greatly missed.
The former Speaker of the Assembly Dr John Alderdice said: “He was a
real character and his passing is a genuine intellectual, healthcare and
UUP chairman Lord Empey, who served with Dr Adamson at City Hall and
Stormont said: “His flair for cultural issues, particularly as they
applied to the Ulster-Scots tradition, were brought to life with his
lectures and anecdotes. Those of us who were colleagues will miss him
The DUP’s East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said: “Ian was one of the
most warm, witty and wonderfully engaging colleagues on Belfast City
Council. He had a disarmingly charming personality alongside a sincere
strength to his unionism.”
Dr Adamson’s self-avowed friendships with people from outside traditional Protestant and unionist circles often raised eyebrows.
The former Catholic Primate of all-Ireland Dr Tomas O Fiaich was one
of those friends and the Cardinal even wrote the preface to one of his
Dr Adamson and Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir may have been poles
apart politically but the former Executive minister said he was proud to
count the “exceptional” Ulster Unionist as a friend.
He added: “Not many people know that he lived on the Falls Road when
he was a doctor in the children’s hospital. And that was during the
“He worked through some of the worst times of the Troubles. And he
was also Lord Mayor during difficult days in the City Hall but I always
found him to be a very genuine and a very kind man.”
Mr O Muilleoir added that Dr Adamson had many ties across the
barricades: “Ian was a wonder to behold. He spoke at my inauguration in
German, Irish and English. I respected him and admired him greatly. He
was a unionist, a very specific type of unionist with an incredible
inclusive world view.”
Dr Adamson was always a star turn at the Aisling Awards organised by
Mr O Muilleoir’s west Belfast-based newspaper group at the time.
In 2012 Dr Adamson presented the top award, the Roll of Honour, which
he had previously won himself, to Ballymurphy priest Father Des Wilson.
Dr Adamson, who gave the cleric a blessing in the Sioux language, was
called upon to make many speeches at the awards ceremony down the
As the regular host, the only problem I had was to try to stop him in mid – and loquacious – flow.
It has been an honour to work with with our patron, Dr Ian Adamson OBE , Paediatrician , Lord Mayor ,Author and visionary community representative. Some of his works will be forever reflected upon with great admiration. Did you know he was a Founding Chair of the Somme Association? Here is an old article we shared detailing his role in the restoration of the Ulster Tower.
It is with the utmost sadness Dalaradia mark the passing of their esteemed Patron Dr Ian Adamson.
An incredible human being who dedicated his life to his community,
serving as a Paediatrician he served those children most in need. As an
elected politician he represented all without fear or favour, also
serving as Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Mayor and High Sheriff of Belfast.
Working behind the scenes he was instrumental in promoting peace in our society by engaging with individuals
across the divide regardless of their background, a work he continued
right until the end. His sense of a common identity for all of Ulster’s
people was perhaps 30 tears ahead of his time.
As a respected Author and Historian his works on the History of Ulster
and its people inspired a generation, not least his pioneering
endeavours being instrumental in securing the Ulster Tower and the Story
of the Somme forever. A friend of Royalty and Presidents, he never
lost the common touch, not least his hugely satirical blog which
lambasted the failings of our politicians,- if ever Kipling’s poem
“IF” applied to anyone, it was Ian Adamson. “If you can talk with
crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common
touch. You’ll be a Man, my son!”
A lover of native language,
literature and culture be it Pritani, Cruithin, Ulster Gaelic or Ulster
Scots / Ullans he showed how culture can be enjoyed and celebrated by
all in an inclusive non-threatening way and never used as a political
weapon. His final completed book, perhaps the oldest written Ulster
story – ” A Journey To The Immortal Isles, The Voyage of Bran” being
launched throughout working class unionist communities only a few months
A huge loss not only to his friends but to the whole
Ulster Nation. We will remember him through support for Respect –
Heritage – Culture
Robed in Red Mantles and with caps of Red No swords had they, nor bore they sword or shield But each man on his knee a bagpipe held
All the committee and members of Reach UK wish to pay their thanks and respect to our valued friend and colleague.
The Loyalist Communities Council would also wish to pay their thanks and respect to our friend.