Director goes back to her Ulster-Scots roots

Award-winning film-maker Alison Millar has returned to her Cullybackey roots for a new documentary.

Cullybackey-born film-maker Alison Millar retraces her roots in A Carryin Stream
Cullybackey-born film-maker Alison Millar retraces her roots in A Carryin Stream

On Sunday at 9.45pm on BBC Two Northern Ireland, in ‘A Carryin’ Stream’ Alison revisits the landscape of her childhood, remembering the people and places that first inspired her to pursue a career in film-making, and discovers how her own story connects with the legacy of a visionary teacher, RL Russell.

For the documentary Alison, who won the Royal Television Society award in 2016 for Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary ‘Kids In Crisis’, revisits her father’s old primary school at Tullygrawley crossroads, where Master Russell taught generations of children, destined for a working life in the linen mill or on the farm.

The majority of his pupils would only have a primary school education, but the lessons learned at Tullygrawley have never left them. Guided by Master Russell, they produced art and poetry to a standard many children of today would struggle to match.

The pupils of Tullgrawley School, with Master R.L Russell taken in 1948. Film-maker Alison Millars father Peter is pictured front row, second right

Alison met a number of Master Russell’s pupils – some now in their nineties – whose memories of school days 70 and 80 years ago are as fresh and vivid as if they happened yesterday.

She discovered their work, preserved in the collections of the Braid Museum and the Causeway Coast and Glen’s Council.


Accompanied by the artist Ross Wilson, she returned to her own primary school, to set some creative challenges for the pupils of today.

Through making this documentary, Alison also explored her own Ulster-Scots heritage, something she knew very little about, and reconnected with a way of speaking and seeing the world that she said “used to be as natural as breathing”.

One of the many hand printed linographs, hand drawings and poetry/prose produced by pupils at Tullygrawley School under the tutelage of Master R.L Russell. Picture courtesy The Mid-Antrim Museum at The Braid

A Carryin’ Stream is an Erica Starling production for BBC Northern Ireland, with assistance from the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.