Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer break from Bloggin'!

With the weans getting off for school holiday shortly, I'm going to slooooooow the bloggin away down. Too many fish to catch, crabs to scoop up and daytrips to take to be sittin at a keyboard!

See y'all sometime... have a great summer yourselves! :-)


Friday, June 19, 2009

Blood, DNA, Race and Culture - part 2

Well I had no idea these posts would be so topical, but after tv personality Esther Rantzen's astounding rant on BBC's Question Time last night, (and which she restated on Radio Ulster this evening) that the actions of a few feral teenage thugs in Belfast means that everyone in Northern Ireland is a seething racist, clearly race is a hot topic right now.

In my own view, culture and race have little or nothing in common. It's the social environment that a person grows up in, and not their genes, that gives someone their culture. Culture is not genetic. It is absorbed from other people's behaviour and beliefs, not inherited through parentage.

Same genes = same culture?
So when scientists show that the DNA of the peoples of Ireland is pretty much the same, it doesn't automatically follow that we are culturally the same. To put it in simple terms, you can't say that an Irish nationalist and an Orangeman are culturally the same, even if their DNA is virtually identical. Their social environments are different, so their cultures are also different.

Different genes = different culture?
And conversely, if DNA shows people are genetically different, neither does it follow that those same people are culturally different. I know plenty of folk who have been born and raised in Ulster-Scots homes and communities in Northern Ireland, who have a "foreign" parent. Nevertheless, they are as culturally Ulster-Scots as someone who can trace their roots back in an undiluted pedigree to the first settlers of 1606 - due to the cultural environment that they were raised in.

Take my own three children, they have an English mother. They've been raised in an Ulster-Scots household, in an Ulster-Scots wider family, in an Ulster-Scots community. Their Ulster-Scots cultural identity is due to their social environment, not their genes. And I know that many of the readers of this blog (you know who you are!) who are in similar "mixed marriage" situations - Englishmen married to Ulster-Scots women, or Ulster-Scots men married to women of exotic extraction! Their children will all grow up as cultural Ulster-Scots.

I have Scandinavian DNA. But I don't have any Scandinavian cultural characteristics - no longboats, horned helmets or broadswords. Culture is what's important, not genetics. Don't confuse the two... and be wary of those who do.

Blood, DNA, Race and Culture

A few years ago a woman from San Diego contacted me. Mary Becker is a woman of limitless energy, a descendant of Portavogie emigrants, and is very into DNA-based geneaology. Back in November 2007, and with remarkable generosity, Mary offered to pay the full costs of a DNA test to see if she might be related to me. I agreed, and a few months later was proved to be in the same "haplogroup" as Mary (haplogroup I1), and we have a 25 marker match, which means there's a 99% chance we have a common ancestor. Having discovered some long-lost Ulster relatives, Mary has even offered to host our family in San Diego if we ever want a Californian holiday! So this means that I have a strongly Scandinavian DNA strain - and having struggled with dazzling white eyebrows my whole life, it comes as no surprise!

• You can view the Ards Peninsula Families DNA Project here, which is run by Mary and my former neighbour Lena McVea. Lena also works away at, where she admins the Ards Peninsula Forum.

• Mississippi man Barry McCain also works on similar stuff over at, and he occassionally syndicates articles from Bloggin fae the Burn for his own online Ulster Heritage Magazine. It's fascinating to see how we can, scientifically, find long-lost branches of the family tree through DNA and technology.

• Some years ago, the Ards Peninsula was used as the basis for a high-level, textbook, genetic study by two genetics professors (Professor Alan Bittles and Dr Malcolm T Smith). I've never read it, but a scientist friend of mine told me about it, and he said the upshot was that there are identifiable, slight, genetic differences between the descendants of "native" Irish and "settler" Scots.

But let's move this a stage further - is culture genetic? And is it unhealthy, maybe even dangerous, to connect the two? You'll hear people from time to time say, for example about music, "it's in the blood". But is it? Racial theory and culture was a heady mix in previous centuries:

“… we are surprised to hear ourselves termed Irish people when we so frequently ventured our all for the British crown and liberties. We are people of the Scottish race in Ulster who have given our strength, our substance, and our lives to uphold the British connection there…”
Rev James MacGregor, circa 1718, New Hampshire, USA. He had fought at the Siege of Derry

“…I classify the Irish and the Scotch-Irish as two distinct race stocks and I believe the distinction to be a sound one historically and scientifically. The Scotch-Irish from the north of Ireland - Protestant in religion and chiefly Scotch and English in blood and name - came to this country in large numbers in the eighteenth century, while the people of pure Irish stock came scarcely at all during the colonial period and did not emigrate here largely until the present century was well advanced…”
Henry Cabot Lodge, 1891, quoted in Henry Jones Ford "The Scotch-Irish in America" (Princeton, 1915) p 521.

But not just previous centuries - I heard very recently of a highly educated academic describe herself as being "pure bred Irish". Well what was she, and the two old quotes above, trying to infer - are they just clumsy language which should have been about culture rather than race? Do they suggest genetic differences, or a sinister racial superiority? If the last one, then I know a book about that. And as recent events in Belfast show, these concepts can manifest themselves in a terrifying form.

More to follow...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What is Ulster-Scots?

This is an issue I've visited before, as part of the "Objections" series. I've done further work on it and this is as concise as I can make it at the moment. I hope it stimulates further discussion:


What is Ulster-Scots? It sounds like a simple question, but it’s actually very complex. Identity is a complicated issue, and even more so with a long-neglected, marginalised and misunderstood identity like Ulster-Scots. There are many important subtleties that this small article can never adequately cover, so this will only serve as a simple introduction, not a comprehensive study. Hopefully others, better qualified than I, can explore the themes outlined here in more detail.

A People and their Heritage
The term Ulster-Scots has, for nearly 400 years, overwhelmingly referred to people, not place - the people who migrated from the Lowlands of Scotland to Ulster, and to the Ulster-Scots communities that they established right across the nine counties.

It is important to recognise that migrations between the two coastlines have been ongoing for thousands of years, but it is generally accepted that it was the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of May 1606 that saw the floodgates open. Tens of thousands of Lowland Scots poured into Ulster:

“…Hamilton & Montgomery... did not wrest a fertile, cultivated and prosperous region from Gaelic proprietors. They came instead to a country devastated by war and famine... they created the bridgehead through which the Scots were to come into Ulster for the rest of the century...”
from ATQ Stewart The Narrow Ground, page 38 – 39

This first large wave of permanent migrants were not soldiers or mercenaries (as was the case in the other major Scottish migrations of the era, for example to Poland or Sweden). They were ordinary Scottish families, seeking a new life. They were overwhelmingly Presbyterian in faith and outlook, and overwhelmingly Scots-speaking in language. As John Hewitt summarised so well, it was:

“…a transplantation of Scots from not very far away to a climate and an economy very like home, and to which the language, folk culture and lore had been carried without dilution…”
from Ancestral Voices; the selected prose of John Hewitt, p66

This was just the beginning - these first Ulster-Scots settlements were built upon over the following centuries, replenished and refreshed through constant fresh migrations which both increased the size of the Ulster-Scots community and enriched our heritage and traditions. The permanent Lowland Scots imprint on Ulster is crystal clear.

Ulster-Scots heritage and traditions
So Ulster-Scots not only refers to these people, and their descendants, but also to their heritage and cultural traditions. The Lowland Scots brought industry, language, music, sport, religion and a myriad of traditions to Ulster. And many of these have become mainstream, not narrow cultural markers, but broad themes in our society.

None of these things were fossilised, frozen in a 1600s timewarp - the traditions have developed, changed and grown over time. In Scotland, what were once only markers of regional Highland identity have over time become markers of national Scottish identity. In the same way, some aspects of Ulster-Scots identity have adopted Highland influences too.

Is “Ulster-Scots” not just about the two places – Ulster and Scotland?
Some people assume that anything that links the two places of Ulster and Scotland should be described as Ulster-Scots. However, this confuses the term and clouds how it has been used over the centuries. Links between the two places might be more clearly described using a different term, such as Ulster/Scottish.

How old is the term “Ulster-Scots”?
Some people think the term Ulster-Scots is a recent invention. This is nonsense – and reveals much about the poor knowledge of our history. The first known written usage of the term Ulster-Scots was in 1640. In the aftermath of Scotland’s National Covenant of 1638, the Presbyterian community in Ulster was seen by the government of the day as a very real threat, and Sir George Radcliffe wrote “…none is so dim-sighted but sees the general inclination of the Ulster Scots to the Covenant…”

The term “Ulster-Scots” in literature
In literature, the term crops up time and again. Here are just five famous examples from the late 1800s – early 1900s:

• Rev Henry Henderson (1820 – 1879) of Holywood wrote a column entitled “Ulster Scot’s Letters to his Friends at Home and Abroad” in the Belfast Weekly News under the pseudonym “Ulster Scot”, from 1869 – 1879. When he died, his son William carried on the column as “Ulster Scot junr”!

• The book Three Wee Ulster Lassies, published in London in 1883 includes three characters – the Ulster-Kelt, the Ulster-Saxon and the Ulster-Scot.

• Edinburgh author John Harrison published a series of articles, and later a book, in 1888 entitled “The Scot in Ulster” where he uses the term Ulster Scot throughout the text.

• In 1912 the US Ambassador to Britain, Whitelaw Reid (himself of Co Tyrone descent) delivered a lecture in both Belfast and Edinburgh entitled The Scot in America and the Ulster-Scot, which was later published as a book.

• In 1914 JB Woodburn published his epic 400 page volume The Ulster-Scot.

The pedigree of the term “Ulster-Scot” is undeniable.

Shouldn’t it just be “Scots in Ulster”?
At what point did the early settlers cease to be simply Scots in a different land, and become something else? Some would say that by the 1650s when the first generation of Ulster-born Scots were becoming adults there were clear signs of them being different than the mainland Scots their parents had left behind.

For example, when some of the Ulster-based Presbyterian ministers went back to Scotland in the late 1630s, the Scottish ministers were not impressed by some of the religious practices they had developed in Ulster; in 1640 the General Assembly criticised many of these practices as "Irish innovations". So even by 1640, the cultural practices of the Ulster-Scots were becoming slightly different from those of their Scottish kinsfolk. And this process of change and adaptation would continue, right up to the present day.*

When you glance across some of the key chapters through history - from King Robert the Bruce’s links with Ulster in the 1300s, to the organic settlements and organized plantations of the early 1600s, the period of Covenants and “Killing Times”, the great popularity of Robert Burns in Ulster, the Scottish Enlightenment of the 1700s and the role played by the Ulster-Scot Frances Hutcheson, and the great industrial partnerships that linked the shipyards of Belfast and Glasgow throughout the 1800s and 1900s – it’s clear that the Ulster-Scots story is of massive significance to both countries, and to people on both sides of the slim stretch of water.

At the narrowest point, only 13 miles of sea separate Ulster and Scotland. In 1606 the sea crossing took just three hours, and today it’s not much faster! Scots and Ulster-Scots folk alike have much to gain by strengthening our deep historic ties, and to understanding the Ulster-Scots story.

* there's a project underway at Trinity College Dublin which will reveal much about the lives of these first generation Ulster-Scots.

The Arab Orange Lodge - by Crawford Howard (again)

Thought I should also post this, believed to also have been written by Crawford Howard, the author of The Diagonal Steam Trap:

A loyal band of Orangemen from Ulster's lovely land,
They could not march upon the 12th - processions was all banned,
So they flew off till the Middle East this dreadful law to dodge
And they founded in Jerusalem the Arab Orange Lodge

Big Ali Bey who charmed the snakes he was the first recruit,
John James McKeag from Portglenone learned him till play the flute
And as the oul' Pied Piper was once followed by the rats
There followed Ali till the lodge ten snakes in bowler hats.

They made a martial picture as they marched along the shore.
It stirred the blood when Ali played "The fez my father wore"
And Yussef Ben Mohammed hit the "lambeg" such a bash
It scared the living daylights from a Camel in a sash!

Now the movement spread both far and wide - there were lodges by the score.
The "Jerusalem Purple Heroes" was the first of many more,
The "Loyal Sons of Djeddah" and the "Mecca Purple Star"
And the "Rising Sons of Jericho" who came by motor car".

The banners too were wonderful and some would make you smile
King Billy on his camel as he splashed across the Nile -
But the Tyre and Sidon Temperance had the best one of them all
For they had a lovely picture of Damascus Orange Hall!

The Apprentice boys of Amman marched beneath the blazing sun,
The Royal Black Preceptory were negroes every one
And lodges came from Egypt, from the Abu Simbel Falls,
And they shouted "No Surrender!" and We'll guard old Cairo's walls!"

But when the ban was lifted and the lodges marched at last
The Arabs all decided for till march right through Belfast
And they caused a lot of trouble before they got afloat,
For they could not get the camels on the Belfast-Heysham boat!

Now camels choked up Liverpool and camels blocked Stranaer
And the Sheik of Kuwait came along in his great big motor car,
But the "Eastern Magic" L.O.L. they worked a crafty move.
They got on their magic carpets and flew into Aldergrove!

When they came to Castle Junction where once stood the wee Kiosk
They dug up Royal Avenue to build a flamin' mosque
And Devlin says to Gerry Fitt, "I think we'd better go!
"There's half a million camels coming down from Sandy Row.

The speeches at the "field" that day were really something new,
For some were made in Arabic and some were in Hebrew,
But just as Colonel Nasser had got up to sing "The Queen",
I woke up in my bed at home and found it was a dream!

The Diagonal Steam Trap - by Crawford Howard

This is an Ulster classic. I found it on the computer tonight so thought I'd pump it up into internetland for anyone that's trying to find it. Apologies for the wee bits o coorse language here and there!

Now they built a big ship down in Harland's
She was made for to sell till the Turks -
And they called on the Yard's chief designer
To design all the engines and works.

Now finally the engines was ready
And they screwed in the very last part
An' yer many says 'Let's see how she runs, lads!'
An' bejasus! The thing wouldn't start!

So they pushed and they worked an' they footered
An' the engineers' faces got red
The designer he stood looking' stupid
An' scratchin' the back o' his head.

But while they were fiddlin' and workin'
Up danders oul' Jimmie Dalzell
He had worked twenty years in the 'Island'
And ten in the 'aircraft' as well.

So he pushed and he worked and he muttered
Till he got himself through till the front
And he has a good look roun' the engine
An' he gives a few mutters and grunts.

And then he looks up at the gaffer
An' says he Mr Smith, d'ye know?
They've left out the Diagonal Steam Trap!
How the hell d'ye think it could go?

Now the engineer eyed the designer
The designer he looks at the 'hat'
And they whispered the one to the other
'Diagonal Steam Trap? What's that?

But the Gaffer, he wouldn't admit, like
To not knowin' what this was about,
So he says Right enough, we were stupid!
The Diagonal Steam Trap's left out!

Now in the meantime oul' Jimmie had scarpered
- away down to throw in his boord -
And the Gaffer comes up and says 'Jimmy!
D'ye think we could have a wee word?

Ye see that Diagonal Steam Trap?
I know it's left out - it's bad luck
But the engine shop's terrible busy
D'ye think ye could knock us one up?

Now oul' Jimmy was laughin' his scone off
He had made it all up for a gag
He seen what was stoppin' the engine -
The feed-pipe was blocked with a rag!

But he sticks the oul' hands in the pockets
An' he say 'Aye, I'll give yez a han'!
I'll knock yes one up in the mornin'
An' the whole bloody thing will be grand!'

So oul' Jim starts to work the next morning
To make what he called a Steam Trap,
An oul' box an' a few bits of tubing
An' a steam gauge stuck up on the top.

An' he welds it all on till the engine
And he says to the wonderin' mob
'As long as that gauge is at zero
The Steam Trap is doin' its job!

Then he pulls the rang outa the feed-pipe
An' he gives the oul' engine a try
An' bejasus! She goes like the clappers
An' oul' Jimmy remarks 'That's her nye!

Now the ship was the fastest seen ever
So they sent her away till the Turks
But they toul' them 'That Steam Trap's a secret!
We're the only ones knows how it works!

But the Turks they could not keep their mouths shut
An' soon the whole story got roun'
An' the Russians got quite interested -
- Them boys has their ears till the groun'!

So they sent a spy dressed as a sailor
To take photies of Jimmy's Steam Trap
And they got them all back till the Kremlin
An' they stood round to look at the snaps.

Then the head spy says 'Mr Kosygin!
I'm damned if I see how that works!'
So they sent him straight off to Siberia
An' they bought the whole ship from the Turks!

When they found the Steam trap was a'cod', like,
They couldn't admit they'd been had
So they built a big factory in Moscow
To start makin' steam Traps like mad!

Then Kosygin rings up Mr Nixon
And he says 'Youse 'uns thinks yez are great!
But wi' our big new Russian-made Steam Trap
Yez'll find that we've got yez all bate!

Now oul' Nixon, he nearly went 'harpic'
So he thought he'd give Harland's a call
And he dialled the engine-shop number
And of course he got sweet bugger all!

But at last the call came through to Jimmy
In the midst of a terrible hush,
'There's a call for you here from the White House!'
Says oul' Jim, 'That's a shop in Portrush!'

There's a factory outside of Seattle
Where they're turnin' out Steam Traps like Hell
It employs twenty-five thousand workers
And the head of it - Jimmy Dalzell!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Charms again

Adding to the recent post on charms, I was talking to a neighbour last night who donkeys years ago personally witnessed a fisherman with a very serious nosebleed ("a dish of blood") which wouldn't stop.

As a last resort one of the crew organised a ship-to-shore radio link with by a woman charmer in Portavogie who specialised in stopping bleeding.

The nosebleed stopped instantly...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Having Been Informed by Mr. J.M.G. that the Author’s Two Calves were Trespassing

What a magic title! This is a poem sent to me by a former Peninsula man, who I went to both school and Sunday School with. It was written by one of his ancestors, and was published with a selection of other poems around 1910:

It’s sair against their master’s will
That they should leave their own green hill
And toddle doon about the mill
To thieve and steal,
But stay at home and take their fill
O’ swede and meal.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wilco - free download "The Jolly Banker"

Great American band Wilco have recorded a cover of the Woody Guthrie track "The Jolly Banker". It's available to download here. Very clever lyrics, which begin with the Banker outlining how wonderful his profession is...

My name is Tom Cranker and I'm a jolly banker
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I
I safeguard the farmers and widows and orphans, singin'
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I

...before slowly revealing just how much he rips the ordinary people off:

When money you're needin' and mouths you are feedin'
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I
I'll plaster your home with a furniture loan, singin'
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I

If you show me you need it, I'll let you have credit
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I
Just bring me back two for the one I lend you, singin'
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I

Overall, it's a good over of a topical song. And, like so many great American songwriters and activists, Guthrie is said to have been of Ulster-Scots descent. (the tune sounds a lot like "Cockles and Mussels Alive Alive-o")

Calvin's Seal / Radio Ulster tomorrow

I was talking to a friend last night - he and his wife are about to take a 3 week train tour of the Continent, and in particular will be stopping off to visit the key sites in the life of John Calvin, who was born 500 years ago this year. I found recently that Calvin had a personal seal, combining a heart and a hand, along with the motto “My heart, I give you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” Here's one depiction of the seal

Calvin Seal.jpg

The "heart in hand" symbol is also associated with the Amish and Shakers in the USA. I also found it on an old Orange collarette a few years ago, in an exhibition in Co Fermanagh:

REMINDER - Radio Ulster programme tomorrow at 1.30 about Calvin


Friday, June 12, 2009

William Moore, Preacher at Newtown, 1617

Sometimes too much emphasis is given to "official" things - implying that "unofficial" things don't count. For example, the first "official" Presbytery in Ulster was at Carrickfergus in 1642 and this tends to be the date that is most commemorated. But right back in the previous generation there were ministers, congregations and preachers working away among the earliest Ulster-Scots communities. So 1642 is a convenient date but not the earliest - and fixating on it means that people miss a whole other, earlier chapter in the story. It's just like in the USA where they mark the arrival of the English Puritan "Pilgrim Fathers" on the Mayflower in 1620 - whereas it was 13 years earlier in 1607 when the first English settlement had been founded at Jamestown.

Newtownards 1607: The old ruined Priory was rebuilt and ready for use as a place of worship. So who was the minister? Well, in 1617, "William Moore, preacher at Newtown" was recorded as a tenant on the Montgomery estate - but like the other tenants he may well have come across with the first waves of settlers in 1606 / 1607. On the other hand, Moore might have been "freelancer", a lone evangelist who preached among the new settlers, with no connection with the restored Priory at all.

Bangor 1609: Rev John Gibson was brought over from Scotland by James Hamilton, to become (as his memorial says "sence Reformacion from Popary") the first Dean of Down and the curate of Bangor Abbey.

Ballycarry 1613: Edward Brice arrived from Duntreath to become (we think) the first Presbyterian minister in Ulster.

Mind you, outside of "officialdom" of Priories, Abbeys, Presbyteries and Curates, I like the idea of William Moore the preacher at Newtown, doing his own thing amongst his own people.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Amy Carmichael and the Shankill Brand

Two great moments today. Over my career I've created more than my fair share of commercial brands, to promote and sell products or sometimes to promote something as nebulous as ideas. These are tough enough challenges, but it's far harder to produce a brand for a real, living, breathing community - for that community to be involved in the process, to feel that it helps define them and present them more effectively, to feel a degree of ownership and pride in it, and to then take it to heart and to use it themselves.

So I'm absolutely over the moon to see today that the folk of the Shankill Road have taken the brand I developed with them last year and have applied it to the first big gable wall that you see as you travel up the Road out of Belfast city centre.

It used to look like this:

Now it looks like this (click to enlarge):

Then, later on this morning, the new panels to commemorate the life and work of Amy Carmichael were installed at Cambrai Street, on the wall of the former mill where she worked and evangelised among the millworker girls in the late 1880s. Amy was originally a Millisle girl and she often wrote about her love of the Ards Peninsula, and of her family's Scottish Covenanter roots. Motivated by her faith, she went on to become a world-famous activist for children's rights in India until her death in 1951. Again, the Cambrai Street community came out in their droves to support the project. The pic below gives you some idea of what the panels looked like once the crowds had dispersed, but you really need to see them for real (click to enlarge):

Branding and design doesn't have to be superficial and commercial - it can really help communities tell their story and take pride in themselves.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Romantic shadow-hunting": The Plantation of Ulster

PoU Logo Col.jpg

There are people who like to rewrite history. I don't mind that when missing pieces are put back into the jigsaw, but when things are just made up with little or no basis in fact then my toes curl up. One of these is the idea that the Plantation period which brought large numbers of Scots to Ulster was actually a kind of "homecoming" - because these people were probably descended from some ancient obscure, unrecorded, largely speculative tribe who had migrated from Ireland to Scotland thousands of years previously. Here's a quote I stumbled upon recently:

"...may I say that the effort to prove that the Scots who came to Ulster in plantation days were really Gaels returning home after centuries of sojourning abroad is just romantic shadow-hunting. The thesis that "the Ulster-Scot is largely of Celtic origin", if it means anything at all, is without historical significance..."
by Prof TW Moody FTCD, The Ulster Scots in Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1944 (published in Studies - an Irish Quarterly Review, March 1945)

I can't see any problem with an entirely justifiable, well recorded, large-scale 1600s migration of Lowland Scottish Presbyterians (and of course English people too) - without the need to backwards-engineer some mythical, unknowable, mystical pre-history into the equation.

The first Ulster-Scots MPs / Royal Charters

With all of the outrage about MPs expenses, I wondered who the first Ulster-Scots MPs were. As usual, the Hamilton Manuscripts and Montgomery Manuscripts are as good a place to start as any;

Borough of Newtown (ards): April 1613
• George Conyngham Esq, Loughriscoll (Loughries?)
• James Cathcart Esq, Ballenyane

Borough of Bangor : April 1613
• Sir Edward Brabazon, Thomas-court, Dublin
(he was James Hamilton's father in law)
• John Dalway Esq, Brayde-Island, Antrim

Interesting that Montgomery was happy to see local men go to Parliament, presumably men who had come over from Scotland with him to become Ulster-Scots, and who knew the experiences of the new Scottish colony in Newtownards. However, Hamilton's Bangor was represented by men who seem to have been political choices - men who did not live in Bangor, who were well advanced on the social ladder, and who would have had long-standing political relationships in pre-Settlement/Plantation Ulster.

As part of the overall modernisation of Ulster at the time, 19 towns were given Royal Charters by King James I between 1610 - 13. Belfast's Charter is on display in the City Hall. The full list of places and dates were:

Cavan 15 Nov 1610
Dungannon 27 Nov 1612
Lifford 27 Feb 1613
Newry 27 Feb 1613
Donegal 27 Feb 1613
Lifford 27 Feb 1613
Killyleagh 10 Mar 1613
Bangor 18 Mar 1613
Strabane 18 Mar 1613
Ballyshannon 23 Mar 1613
Enniskillen 25 Mar 1613
Coleraine, 25 Mar 1613
Newtownards 25 Mar 1613
Armagh 26 Mar 1613
Monaghan 26 Mar 1613
Limavady 30 Mar 1613
Augher 15 April 1613
Belfast, 27 April 1613
Charlemont 29 Apr 1613

Presumably they all had the right to appoint/elect MPS to represent them in the Irish Parliament. With the 400th Anniversaries of these Charters just a few years away, there's probably a commemorative project in this.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Scottish goblin in Ulster

A curious incident is mentioned in The Montgomery Manuscripts, on page 184, describing an encounter with a spirit at the Montgomery's house in Newtownards, some time between 1647 and 1664*:

"...the Earl of Clanbrazil stayed with our Viscount all night in Newtown-house; the Earle had taken medicine enough against fleabitings, but (as the story goes) was abused or rather affrontd by a spirit (they call them 'BROONEYS' in Scotland), and there was one of them in the appearance of an hairy man which haunted Dunskey castle a little before our first Viscount bought it and Portpatrick lands from Sr Robt. Adair, Knt.; which spirit was not seen in any shape, or to make a noise, or play tricks, during any of our Lords' times.

But it pleased his devilship (that night very artificially) to tear off the Earle of Clanbrazill's Holland shirt from his body, without disturbing his rest; only left on his Lord the wristbands of his sleeves and the collar of the shirt's neck, as they were tyed with ribband when he went to bed. The Earle awaking, found himself robbed of his shirt, and lay as close as an hare in her form, till Mr. Hans (afterwards Sr Hans Hamilton) thinking his Lord had lain and slept long enough to digest his histernum crapulum, knocked at the door, and his Lord calling him, he went in, and his Lord showing him his condition, prayed one of his shirts to relieve him in that extremity..."

Clanbrazil paid the shirt provider £100 to keep quiet about the whole episode.

George Hill's footnote to the passage follows:

Brooneys in Scotland: The Brooney or Brownie is a thoroughly Scottish hob-goblin, and was not known in Ulster prior to the plantation period. Just about the time at which the greatest number of Scottish settlers were coming to Ulster, their king (James I) had published his Daemonology, in which he proclaimed that "the spirit called brownie appeared like a rough man, and haunted divers houses, without doing any evill, but doing as it were necessarie turnes up and downe the house; yet some were so blinded as to beleeve that their house was all the sonsier, as they called it, that such spirits resorted there."

In Martin's Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, p334, we read that "a spirit, by the country people called brownie, was frequently seen in all the most considerable families of these Isles and north of Scotland, in the shape of a tall man; but within these twenty or thirty years past he is but rarely seen." Again, at page 391:— "It is not long since every family of any considerable substance in those islands was haunted by a spirit they called browny, which did several sorts of work; and this was the reason why they gave him offerings of the various products of the place. Thus, some, when they churned their milk, or brewed, poured some milk and wort through the hole of a stone, called browny's stone." In Heron's Journey through part of Scotland (1799), vol. ii., p. 227, we have the following:—"The Brownie was a very obliging spirit, who used to come into houses by night, and for a dish of cream, to perform lustily any piece of work that might remain to be done: sometimes he would work, and sometimes eat till he bursted: if old clothes were laid out for him, he took them in great distress, and never more returned."

If there are any Brooneys reading this and looking for something to do, feel free to come round to our house at night and tidy up as much as you want to!

[ * the Earl of Clanbrassil was given his title in 1647, and Newtown House was burned down in an accident in 1664]

Friday, June 05, 2009

RL Mackie M.A., The Story of King Robert the Bruce (1914)

For some reason, Scotland doesn't like sharing much of her history with us in Ulster. You'll not find an Ulster chapter in the vast majority of Scottish books, or in tv programmes, websites or radio broadcasts. The story of King Robert the Bruce on Rathlin Island is a perfect example of this. The earliest, and most detailed account of his life (1274 - 1329) was the 20 book epic "The Brus" written by John Barbour, first published in 1377. Barbour's main patron was Bruce's grandson, King Robert II. Barbour gives a fairly detailed account of the Rathlin exile - so why the denial in Scotland? It's all very strange.

Earlier this year, I found a novel by RL Mackie M.A. entitled The Story of King Robert the Bruce (London 1914), which includes the retelling below of Bruce on Rathlin, clocely based on Barbour's account:

…the question was, whither they were to flee. France or Norway would have been a natural choice, but both were far off and the time of the equinoctial gales was near. Less than a score of miles off, half-way across the North Channel, lay the little island of Rathlin, and to Rathlin the King resolved to go and wait for a happier hour. So after he had stayed only three days in Dunaverty, he ordered his men to prepare for a second voyage.

Sorrowfully they set sail, and were soon battling with the stormy current that runs through the North Channel. We can imagine what the King’s thoughts were like as he looked back to Scotland through the grey welter of the waves. He had staked everything for a kingdom, the lives of his friends, of his wife and daughter, even his own honour, and the game was lost. But though the despair gnawed at his heart, his face gave no sign of it as he sat at the tiller shouting commands and abrupt words of praise.

Meantime there was consternation in the island of Rathlin as the inhabitants saw a fleet of strange ships draw to the land and disgorge company after company of armed men. In haste they collected their cattle and fled in the direction of a castle, but the fleet-footed mountaineers soon ran them down and brought the chief men to the King. He explained that he had no desire to hurt them, all he demanded was that they should become his vassals and supply him every day with food for his three hundred men. If that were done he would not meddle with their persons or their goods. The trembling islanders agreed, and kneeling on the sand swore that they would regard him as their liege lord.

King Robert was now safe for a little, but he did not know how narrow an escape he had had, or how badly things were faring with his friends in Scotland. A few days after he had left Cantire Sir John de Botetourte assailed Dunaverty; in the beginning of September the Prince of Wales had attacked Kildrummie; while on the very day on which the battle of Dalry was fought, de Valence announced to Edward that he had pacified all the land beyond the mountains. Nor did he know his pursuers were hot on his track; though his place of refuge had not yet been discovered, Edward knew that he must be lurking among the islands between Scotland and Ireland, and before the end of winter had despathed fleet after fleet in search of him.

Chapter V – The Return to Scotland

How slowly those days must have passed in that desolate island. Often in the grey winter afternoons the exiles would pace the beach and gaze in the direction of Scotland, often the chiefs would sit long into the night resolving plan after fruitless plan, often despair would seize even the King’s heart. Truly they were in evil plight, defeated, exiled, excommunicated, dependent even for food and shelter on the charity of the poor fishermen of Rathlin. But a the days began to lengthen they grew tired of their inactivity and longed for any venture, however desperate.

Among the most impatient was Sir James of Douglas. “Why should we reamin here?” he asked his friend, Sir Robert Boyd, “herding in wretched huts, making the poor folk of this country still more poor, when within a few miles lies the Island of Arran with its castle garrisoned by English soldiers? They arefar from any other stronghold; what is to prevent us working them harm?”

To this Sir Robert Boyd answered, “If you take this adventure on you, Sir knight, be sure that I shall accompany you, for I know the usland and the Castle of Brodick well. I can guide you to a place near the castle where we shall lie unseen till we discover what mischief we can work on the garrison.”

The plan was laid before the King, who gave his consent to it, and in a short time Douglas and a small body of men had manned a galley and pushed off from the shore. Slowly they crept past the Mull of Cantire till the white peaks of Arran came in sight, and at last, when night had almost fallen, they reached the island…

…it was very quiet there, no twig ever crackled under the tread of a stranger’s foot; only in the branches the birds were beginning to sing, for February was almost at an end. Here they abode, forgotten, it seemed, by friend and foe, till on the tenth day the sound of a horn made each man spring to his weapon and crouch low in the brushwood.

“I should know that sound,” said Douglas to Sir Robert Boyd. Again the horn rang out.

“It is the King!” he exclaimed…

from RL Mackie M.A., The Story of King Robert the Bruce (London 1914) p 58 – 62

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Radio Ulster: Calvin 500 and 1859 Revival

Thanks to Laura for the tip-off on these - they look like excellent programmes:

Calvin at 500
Sunday 14 June 1.30pm

The '59 Revival: The Outpouring
Sunday 21 June 1.30pm

The '59 Revival: The Debate
Sunday 28 June 1.30pm

"...“If you want to understand today’s Northern Ireland, you simply have to understand what happened in 1859. The great Revival of that year changed the religious, moral and political landscape of the north of Ireland and many of the conservative attitudes for which this society
is now famous across the world were shaped by the 1859 Revival. That’s why this is such a fascinating journey - we’re not just visiting the past, we’re trying to make sense of the controversies of the present. In many respects, the ’59 Revival was a Presbyterian phenomenon; it was certainly a mostly northern phenomenon. So, what exactly is a “revival”, how did this one come about and what is its legacy today? Those may sound like academic questions, until you hear some of the amazing stories that surround this chapter in Ireland’s history. Thousands of converts falling to the ground in ecstatic states, people overcome with laughter or great weeping: one person seemed to pass on the revival, like they’d been “smitten” by it, in a kind of domino-effect. It’s a fascinating story, with some surprising implications for our society today.”

All are presented by William Crawley, and all three will be repeated on the following Thursday evening at 7.30pm. For overseas readers, I expect these will be available on the BBC iPlayer. Well done BBC Radio Ulster!

[ edit - thanks to Elaine for pointing out that the iPlayer isn't available outside of the UK. What a shame! ]

The Hamiltons and Tollymore Estate


Tollymore Forest Park is one of Northern Ireland's favourite visitor attractions, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 British picnic sites for 2000. It has a sound Ulster-Scots connection, through a Captain William Hamilton:

- Sir James Hamilton of Bangor (Viscount Clandeboye), had a brother called William. William came over to Ulster, and lived at Newcastle in the Ards (near Cloughey). [update - in the early days, Newcastle was an alternative name for Bangor, see Hamilton Manuscripts)

- This William had a son, also called William (he may have been born in Ayrshire rather than Ulster). The younger William became a Captain in the Army, he fought in the defence of Drogheda in 1642, protecting the town from the Irish uprising. His brother James was killed at Benburb in 1646 and was buried at Benburb Church.

- He moved to Erenagh near Downpatrick, where in 1676 he received a patent which defined his lands as "the Manor of Hamilton's Hill (Ballydargan)". Ballydargan is a townland five miles south of Downpatrick, in the parish of Bright.

- He married Ellen Magennis of Tollymore estate, and when her brother died sometime in the 1660s, Hamilton inherited Tollymore. The Hamilton family owned the estate for four generations, from then until 1798.

- William Hamilton died on 26 January 1680, and was buried in Down Cathedral.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009



don't believe everything the government tells you...!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Charms - "they're a' aff the Divil!"

What do you make of charms? They've more or less died out now round our way, but when I was a wee lad it was quite commonplace for folk to visit the local charmer if they had a specific illness. Charmers seemed to specialise in particular ailments, and they'd get results when the doctor's medical/chemical treatments had failed.

For example, if you had something like a wart then you'd go to the local wart charmer who would give you a very odd daily "ritual" which would result in the wart disappearing. What I remember is the wart charm involved getting an old potato, cutting it into eight pieces, rubbing the open surface of each piece on the wart. The potato was then wrapped up in a new handkerchief and buried deep in soft mud. Within a specified period of time - say a month - the wart would be completely gone. But you couldn't just do this by yourself - it wouldn't work unless you'd been "briefed" on the ritual in person in a private session with the charmer.

The same with shingles - you'd go to the shingle charmer, who'd give you their specialised ritual. I even heard of a knee charmer, an old lady, to whom many of the big local football clubs sent their injured players when the team physio had run out of ideas. I'll even confess to my own family using a charm for whooping cough (cut a bit of your hair, stitch it into a vest in the middle of the chest area); there's also one for jaundice.

The charmer would usually claim to have been given their "gift" from an older charmer just as he or she was about to die. They in turn would choose someone to pass their gift on to, to perpetuate the charm. And never, ever thank the charmer - or the charm won't work!

In the Ards Peninsula charms were dominant around Portavogie, but were shunned in other places. My aunt Rhoda flatly refused to go anywhere near charmers - "it's a' aff the Divil!" she would exclaim. However, I know many believers from local evangelical families who would furtively nip off to visit the charmer, and keep it secret lest any of their fellow believers would find out!

I don't know if these are exclusive to Ulster, or if you get them all over Ireland and Scotland. Maybe they're to be found all over Europe, or all over the world. And maybe there is an occultic aspect to them, or maybe it's just old-time folk medicine. Whatever, they are certainly a bit weird...

> Here's a website from County Waterford that lists some

> Here's another from the Isle of Man

> The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, England, 1947

> Folk Remedies, Cures, Potions and Charms

I'll do a wee bit of local research and post more. Don't try them at home!

PS - I forgot to add, maybe there's a placebo effect at work here, as I've heard many times that the "patient" has to believe that the charm will work, otherwise it won't.