The respective emergence of Irish and Scottish ecocriticisms and recent studies of Ulster-Scots poetry are noteworthy developments in literary criticism, following the first decade of the 21st century. Yet ecocriticism, perhaps due to an early trajectory that appears chiefly national and canonical, has not yet engaged with Ulster-Scots writings. Consequently, by embracing the interdisciplinary framework of literature and ecology (ecocriticism), this paper will discuss various interconnections that show examples of how Samuel Thomson, an Ulster-Scots poet, Presbyterian, hedge-school master and one of the chief contributors of verse to the radical Belfast Northern Star, engages with nature and the environment, during the early Romantic era. Such was Thomson’s contribution to Irish nature writing that Andrew Carpenter called him ‘the most impressive nature poet of the [eighteenth] century’, in the anthology Verse in English from eighteenth-century Ireland (1998).
This paper will begin by briefly outlining some of the key developments in Irish and Scottish ecocriticisms and will offer a concise description of the re-emergence of Ulster-Scots studies. In order to demonstrate ecocritical analysis of Ulster-Scots poetry this paper will then provide several close-readings of poems from the Ulster poet Samuel Thomson. Thomson’s collections include a significant number of poems of ornithological and mammalogical interest. In these poems Thomson adopts and adapts Scottish and English verse forms and uses a variety of lexical items from language systems including Scots, Ulster-Scots, Standard English, (Ulster-) Irish and Latin. Thomson’s literary and cultural hotchpotch reconstructs nature tropes such as ‘pastoral’ and ‘wilderness’ and represents a lesser known literary engagement with Irish flora and fauna that will be explained in this paper.
International Association for the Study of Irish Literature, 36th Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada