Monday, February 08, 2016

'Kirk and Covenant', Belfast 1660

Kirk and Covenant

Barbour Threads of Lisburn advert

Barbour Whale

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Ulster connections of the 1650 Psalter

Psalter 640On 6th August 1649, the General Assembly appointed a committee to “overtake the review and examination of the new paraphrase of the Psalms”. This would form the second Scottish Psalter, the first having been compiled in 1564–5. Those appointed were –

• Rev James Hamilton (1600–66; formerly of Ballywalter)

• Rev John Smith (d 1667; chaplain to General Leslie's Scottish army; minister of Burntisland, Fife - also 'Bruntilland')

• Rev Hugh McKail (d. 1660; had been in Ulster in 1644, and whose brother Rev Matthew McKail had been here from 8th Sept - 8th Dec 1643)

• Rev Robert Traill (1603–78; whose brother James Traill lived in Killinchy, to whom there is a large memorial inside Killyleagh Parish Church, tutor to Sir James Hamilton jr. Another brother - William Traill - was minister of Ballindrait in Donegal)

• Rev George Hutcheson (1614–74; he had been sent to Ulster by the General Assembly in February 1644)

• Rev Robert Lowrie (1606–78; had been minister of Perth, then Edinburgh, but 'conformed' in 1660 and was nicknamed 'The Nest Egg'. He became Bishop of Brechin)


The final volume, entitled The Psalms of David in Meeter: newly Translated and diligently compared with the Original Text and Former Translations, etc. Allowed by the Authority of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland was agreed on 8th January 1650. (see page 94 here). This continued as the standard Psalter well into the 20th Century, around 1930.

(Matthew McKail had been minister at Carmunnock south of Glasgow from 1639–1649, and then moved to nearby Bothwell. The Salty Scrivener blog has an excellent telling of the horrific torture and martyrdom of his brother Hugh's son and namesake, young Hugh McKail).

The 1650 Psalter blog has further detail

Monday, January 25, 2016

20/20 vision




Over Christmas, a man I know well reported to me that he had just changed optician. On his first visit to the new one, he was told that he was descended from people from the west of Scotland, as his eye was identical to the eye shape of people there. The optician had studied at a university and then worked in Scotland for many years. This was a new one to me but I am thinking of paying a visit for my own research purposes.

"Luther's version ... I am about to translate that version into the Scotish language" // The forgotten Scottish Reformer - Alexander Alesius

This man – known variously as  Alexander Alane / Alesius / Ales / Aless – keeps popping up in recent reading. A native of Edinburgh, born in 1500, he was in Fife when young Patrick Hamilton, not long back from Luther's Germany, was arrested and trialled before a kangaroo church court. 

Alesius played an important role linking the Reformations of Scotland, then Germany, then England. He is believed to have been planning to translate Luther's German Bible into Scots, but it's more likely that he intended to use the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts which Luther himself had used. Ales is said to have been the first Scot to meet Jean Calvin - this was at Worms in Germany in December 1540. In his time in England he was occasionally referred to as Alexander Alesius, Scotus, Doctor Theologiae.

Somebody needs to write Alesius' biography in a modern, accessible format. Meanwhile this blog post might help to direct others to the best online sources I've been able to find:

• The 1857 book by Peter Lorimer*, entitled Precursors of Knox, has a lengthy section on 'Alexandre Alan, or Alesius' (click here) . The back of the book shows that Lorimer intended to publish a standalone biography of Alane, entitled Alexander Alane, commonly called Alesius, the Wanderer, but this may have been publishers' enthusiasm as I've not been able to find it anywhere.

• Various footnotes from p232 onwards contain a lot of detail about Alesius work and writings, including his eyewitnesa account of the martyrdom of Patrick Hamilton (in the original Latin) on p236, and details of his change of surname from Alane to Alesius (p241).

• Lorimer's work The Scottish Reformation A Historical Sketch has much on Alesius, in chapter I section IV and in chapter II section III (click here), including a letter he wrote to Philip Melancthon describing a brutal martyrdom of a husband and wife in Perth in April 1544.

...Three days ago, there were here several countrymen of mine, who declare that the cardinal rules all things at his pleasure in Scotland, and governs the governor himself. In the town of St Johnston, he hung up four respectable citizens, for no other cause than because they had requested a monk, in the middle of his sermon, not to depart in his doctrine from the sacred text, and not to mix up notions of his own with the words of Christ Along with these a most respectable matron, carrying a sucking child in her arms, was haled before the tribunal and condemned to death by drowning. They report that the constancy of the woman was such, that when her husband was led to the scaffold, and mounted the ladder, she followed and mounted along with him, and entreated to be allowed to hang from the same beam. She encouraged him to be of good cheer, for in a few hours, said she, I shall be with Christ along with you. They declare also, that the governor was inclined to liberate them, but that the cardinal suborned the nobles to threaten that they would leave him if the condemned were not put to death...

• A very detailed and accessible account of his life can be found in Christopher Anderson's The Annals of the English Bible Vol II (1845) from p 426 onwards which is available here. This includes a very odd account from Alesius' own childhood memory where he was 'teleported' it was thought due to him wearing portions of scripture around his neck, as he says '... in certain parts of Ireland it is the practice still, to operate as a charm ...'. Not unlike Acts 8 v 39. The Historical Index at the end is a useful summary of his life.

• The Post-Reformation Digital Library has 36 titles by him (click here)

• The COPAC web catalogue contains 134 items linked to him in some way (click here)

• A street in Leipzig is named after him (Alexander-Alesius-Straße, 04316 Leipzig). He was a Professor at the University from 1542–65, where he died on St Patricks Day in 1565.

• A 2013 PhD thesis entitled Propaganda and Persuasion in the early Scottish Reformation by Elizabeth Leons Tapscott is online here and is packed with information about Alesius.


* Rev Peter Lorimer (1812– 1879) was born in Edinburgh but moved to London and became Professor of Hebrew and Biblical Criticism at the English Presbyterian College of London (now Westminster College, Cambridge). Perhaps somewhere in the College archives are Lorimer's manuscripts on Alesius. There is an article on the College website about Lorimer.

** Christopher Anderson (1782–1852) was also Edinburgh born, founder of the Gaelic School Society and the Edinburgh Bible Society. In 1830 he published Historical Sketches of the Native Irish which is available here on Biographical Wikipedia page here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Slave from Scotland, 1775

Over the centuries, people of all colours and from all cultures have either been slaves or have traded in slaves. Here is an advert from the Virginia Gazette in 1775 which tells an interesting story - a black slave who could 'speak Scotch and sing Scotch songs', due to having been in Scotland for many years.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Newtownards Priory, 1888

These images are from The Irish Builder, 1st November 1888. The drawing is by John T Rea of Glenside, Holywood. The reference to 'Henry VIII's Bible' would point to the William Tyndale translations of the early 1500s. The words read "Take heed to thy footsteps when thou enterest into the courts of thy God" (from Ecclesiastes 5 v 1) and "I was glad when they said unto me we will go into the house of the Lord' (Psalm 122 v 1). Others smarter than me can pin down the original source!

The ornate doorway and these scriptural details were added by Sir Hugh Montgomery during his restoration of the building, thought to have been as early as 1607; a 1607 datestone inside the building today is a clue. Montgomery's in-laws, the Shaws of Greenock, were renowned stonemasons in Scotland who carried out all of the maintenance and repair work to all of the Royal buildings. William Schaw was Master of the King's Works and reputedly the founder of another type of masonry.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

William MacEwan of Glasgow and New York (1871–1943) ........ 'The World's Sweetest Gospel Singer'.

#alttext#I am gradually refreshing a series of blog posts from 2011 to have their own dedicated blog which you can find here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

James Cleland and the Snake Experiment

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In 1831, James Dowsett Rose Cleland (1767-1852) of Rathgael near Bangor decided to test the legend that St Patrick had not only driven the snakes from Ireland, but that he had also made the island uninhabitable by them. Cleland went to Covent Garden in London, bought six snakes (natrix torquata), and brought them home where he released them in his own garden.

Within a week one of them was killed six miles away at Milecross near Kiltonga outside Newtownards, causing great excitement and concern among the local population. It was taken to the naturalist Dr James L Drummond (1753-1853), Professor of Anatomy at Belfast Inst, who was horrified by the discovery of a snake in Ireland. One minister preached on the subject, suspecting the end of the world was nigh, and another linked the snake’s appearance to cholera.

Rewards were offered for the other snakes - three were soon killed fairly close to Rathgael, but the whereabouts of the other two was unknown. However, according to the Belfast News Letter of 9 December 1831, Cleland gave two specimen snakes to the Belfast Natural History Society.

The story has been printed in many publications ever since, most of which are based upon a detailed account in Edinburgh author Robert Chambers' (1802–71) famous volume Book of Days which was published in 1864. The writer of this account said that he had ‘resided in that part of the country at the time, well remembers the wild rumours' – locals are said to have called the dead snake a ‘rale living sarpint’. Another of his publications - Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, regularly published stories from Irish history.

Here’s the relevant article from Book Of Days, which interestingly also contains many of the other Scottish traditions of St Patrick which I have mentioned here often before.

In 1847 Chambers wrote this of a visit to Dublin:

When lately in Ireland, I was, like all other tourists, struck with, and interested in, two things the opposite of each other — one, the surprising number of objects of antiquity, indicating a former age of wealth, literature, and refinement ; the other, the absence of all present moral vigour, with a wretchedness the very nearest thing to an entire negation of property and comfort. You see the remains of ecclesiastical edifices with the most gorgeous carvings ; stone crosses lying prone in the dust, any one of which would be the marvel of an English county ; and in museums you are shown books of vellum, in the ancient Irish character, bound in gold and silver, and ornamented with precious stones, which are said to be worth, in the present day, thousands of pounds.

In the collection of the Royal Irish Academy I was shown a copy of the gospels which had belonged to St Patrick ; an almost coal-black little vellum book, that could not be a day less than fourteen hundred years old ; and also a similarly antique copy of the Psalms of David, which had been the property of the pious Columba, who went as an apostle to Scotland about the year 563. The eventful history of these literary relics was of course duly verified, and afforded, among other things, room for much melancholy reflection.