Wednesday, August 27, 2014

100 years ago... (and the morning after question)

Brit Cov for blog

...about 2 million people in Great Britain signed the British Covenant, to show their support for the 475,000 who had signed the Ulster Covenant (and the Women's Declaration) of 1912, and their support for the United Kingdom. A century on, what would an equivalent Covenant look like today? If one were announced the morning of Friday 19th September - the day after the Scottish Referendum (or as some have called it, the 'Neverendum' as it is unlikely to be the end of the issue) - what would it say? What would a positive, imaginative vision for a 21st century United Kingdom look like? How would it resolve the deep malaise mentioned in the Wed Aug 20 post below?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

La Touche Legacy: Festival of History - The Great War Roadshow

I am delighted to have been asked to take part in an event in Wicklow in late September. I will be speaking along with Rosemary Raughter who shares my interest in George Francis Savage-Armstrong (1845-1906), a writer and poet who I have blogged about before, a man with Ards roots who lived in and loved Wicklow. GFSA died in Strangford; his son Lieutenant Colonel Francis Savage Nesbitt Savage-Armstrong was killed in the Great War in 1917, aged 36. I hope that GFSA's profile will be raised later this year, more on that to follow. The venue for the event is Charlesland Golf Club, on the Wicklow coast just south of Greystones.

La touche legacy 1

La touche legacy 2

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spiked Online: "The British establishment has failed to provide society with any sense of national purpose"

 In the wake of the recent James Wright Foley horror in Syria, SpikedOnline has again struck a chord:

 "...The British establishment has failed to provide society with any sense of national purpose. Any attempt to celebrate Britishness or advocate patriotic themes tends to be carried out with more than a hint of defensiveness and embarrassment. The political elites carefully avoid coming across as having any strong convictions about their Britishness. Their lack of conviction is most strikingly expressed through their virtual silence on the current debate about the future of the Union. None of the leaders of the main Westminster parties seems prepared to join the battle of ideas over Scotland’s future. Instead they outsource the campaign to defend the United Kingdom to retired parliamentarians and marginal political figures with little to lose...."

- full article here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Spiked Online: 'Scottish independence? Just say no!'

Spiked scottish

One of the news and commentary websites that I read regularly is SpikedOnline. Brendan O'Neill is a incisive, insightful writer, and 99% of the time I find myself in agreement with the Spiked position on most issues. This article - 'Scottish independence? Just say no!' - is one of the strongest pieces of analysis I have read on the malaise of the Union and the nature of Scottish nationalist sentiment.

We are two large-ish islands (surrounded by a collection of smaller ones) on the western edge of Europe. It makes sense for us to work together. I am glad that relations across Ireland are better than they have been in many generations - and I fully expect the Scots to vote to remain within the UK. Whatever the political structures, we all have more in common - and a far more intermingled population - than we are often allowed to acknowledge.

Metropolitan-centric governments have often neglected and even abused the rest of 'these islands'. A refreshed, re-invigorated set of relationships across our nations and regions would be best for all of us. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

NIGMA Traditional Group of the Year

We are astounded and delighted that the public voted for us and we won this category in last night's inaugural NIGMA awards ceremony, as part of the annual GospelFest event. Amazing! Just shows what can be done with two voices, a mandolin, guitar and a clatter of old old songs and hymns and the stories about them - and a message that is greater than anything ever heard.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jennie Rosenzweig the Belfast Rabbi's daughter, the Belfast poet and the Ulster Covenant


Brookill Avenue in north Belfast is a special place. It is where the poet Louis MacNeice (1907–1963) was born, in house number 2 - the house is still there today, with an Ulster History Circle blue plaque. The MacNeices moved to Carrickfergus not long afterwards.

Just a few doors along, at number 5 Brookhill Avenue, lived the Rabbi of Belfast Synagogue, Jacob Rozenzweig, his wife Milly, and their six children. Rabbi Rosenzweig published a sermon in 1910 entitled 'The Soul and Its Destiny' which he had preached on the day of the funeral of King Edward Vii. And in 1912 his daughter Jennie Rosenzweig, aged around 16, was one of the 177 women who queued patiently to sign the Women's Declaration (the women's equivalent of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant) at Cliftonville Church Lecture Hall in Cliftonpark Avenue.

In 1948 the Belfast News Letter published the 378 page The Jewish Conception of Immortality and the Life Hereafter which included writings by Rabbi Rosenzweig apparently under the pen name J. Ross. The Ross-Rosenzweig Collection is held at Queens University, some 355 volumes of archival material.

The story of the Old Testament contains five Covenants between God and mankind (see here). How the Rabbi would have felt about his teenage daughter signing yet another one makes for interesting speculation!

My mother's family are from near Millisle where there was a refuge for Jews during and after WW2 called the Refugee Resettlement Farm (more information here and in this Belfast Telegrapharticle here). Donald Harman Akenson has written about the links between Jews and Ulster-Scots before - but I wonder if anyone out there can tell me more about Jennie Rosensweig and the Ulster Covenant?

In a final twist, Louis MacNeice's first wife was Jewish. He died in 1963 and was buried beside his mother at Christ Church in the countryside between Carrowdore and Millisle, literally a few fields from the Resettlement Farm, and close to the graves of many of my Wilson ancestors.

• Researching Jewish Families in Belfast




PS - Today saw the removal of an Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque in Belfast on the birthplace of Chaim Herzog, the 6th President of Israel who was born on Cliftonpark Avenue - just a few minutes' walk from Brookhill Avenue mentioned above. This was done because of anti-Semitic attacks - presumably by those with Irish Nationalist inclination in symbolic support for the people of Gaza - but had they consulted the oracle that is Wikipedia they would have found that Herzog's father was apparently a fluent Irish speaker and a supporter of Irish Republicanism. The series of videos above might be an eye-opener, with Herzog's Belfast accent coming through. The world is not simple.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wee Flea

David Robertson writes well, and isn't scared to burst a few bubbles along the way. He is the minister of St Peters Free Church in Dundee. He is  also the director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, and blogs under the title The Wee Flea. Here is his alternative take on the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow last week - click here.