Philip Robinson was born in Larne in 1946 and spent his childhood in east Antrim living in the village of Boneybefore and holidaying on a hill farm with ancestral connections in mid Antrim. Memories of flax pulling, lint holes, hand milking, horse ploughing, seed fiddling and, most of all, the country crack were to form a lasting impression that must have inspired his first novel "Wake the Tribe o Dan" (Ullans Press, 1998). In contrast, his second novel, "The Back Streets o the Claw" (Ullans Press, 2000), draws from the post-school years he worked in a factory off Sandy Row in Belfast. He spent the next seven years at Queen's University (at the height of the early troubles), completing his doctorate in 1976 on the Ulster Plantation.
The first major academic book published by Philip Robinson was "The Plantation of Ulster: British Settlement in an Irish Landscape, 1600-1670" (Gill and Macmillan, 1984) and this standard work on the subject has been re-printed in two further editions by the Ulster Historical Foundation. During the 30 years he worked as a Keeper and Head of Collections in the Ulster Folk Museum, he published numerous books and academic articles on a wide range of Ulster folklife subjects such as traditional buildings, folk customs and settlement and cultural history, and was Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council from 1992-1995. In 1996 he directed the museum's publication of the "Concise Ulster Dictionary" (edited by Caroline MacAfee and published by OUP), and in the following year, 1997, published his own landmark study of the Ulster-Scots language: "Ulster-Scots: A Grammar of the Traditional Written and Spoken Language" (Ullans Press, 1997). A new, revised edition of this foundational work was re-printed in 2005.
In 2006 Philip Robinson co-edited (along with Anne Smyth and Michael Montgomery), the definitive collection of academic essays on the language: "The Academic Study of Ulster-Scots: Essays by and for Robert J Gregg" (National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland, 2006). This comprehensive volume is indispensible for any language development programme that hopes to combine academic validity with native speaker credibility.
His third novel, "The Man Frae the Ministry" (Ullans Press, 2005) reflects Philip Robinson's own experiences as a museum-based civil servant working in the cultural establishment of Northern Ireland in the years leading up to the Belfast Agreement. It not only explores the Ulster-Scots diaspora (in North America) as a theme, but was described as 'an ingenious satire on the reluctance of the cultural establishment to accommodate the Ulster-Scots tradition'.
While the first three novels form a trilogy, Philip Robinson's fourth: "The Old Orange Tree" (Ullans Press, 2009), does stand apart as a literary ground-breaker. Frank Ferguson, in his "Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology" (Four Courts Press, 2008), states that:
'Along with James Fenton, Philip Robinson is one of the most important writers in the contemporary Ulster-Scots language movement ... His work is immersed in the Ulster-Scots literary and cultural traditions and he has shown a determination to experiment with style and form in a number of texts that have not been given the recognition they deserve. Verging on what might be termed post-modern kailyard, Robinson's poetry and prose playfully explores Ulster's cultural and linguistic tensions.'
He has published two books of Ulster-Scots poetry ("Alang tha Shore", 2005; and "Oul Licht, New Licht", 2009) written both in traditional rhyming stanza and contemporary free verse style, and has also published two illustrated children's story books in Ulster-Scots ("Esther, Quaen o tha Ulidian Pechts", and "Fergus an tha Stane o Destinie"). Philip Robinson was appointed as the Arts Council's first 'Ulster-Scots Writer-in-the Community' in 2006, and has been teaching Ulster-Scots as a language subject and taking creative writing classes for native speakers since 2001. He has devoted much time to encouraging fellow writers, and in this capacity has edited books of traditional Ulster-Scots poets, and the 'Living Writers' series of contemporary Ulster-Scots authors.
A founder member of the Ulster-Scots Language Society, he edited the Society's journal "Ullans" for over a decade from its first issue in 1993. He also was a founder member of the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, and one of the first appointments to the Board of the Ulster-Scots Agency when it was established as a North-South Body under the Belfast Agreement. Currently he is an Honorary Vice-President of the Ulster-Scots Language Society, and Chairman of the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group.
Philip Robinson is married with three children and has been living in the Ards Peninsula, County Down, for the past thirty years.