Thursday, March 04, 2010

Patrick and the Ulster Scots

Over the next few weeks the annual St Patrick stuff will be ratcheted up. I'll freely admit to having mixed views about Patrick - there's certainly a story in there somewhere, but it's buried under centuries of mythology, mumbo-jumbo and a heavy dollop of nonsense added for good measure. Efforts have begun already to prevent a repeat of last year's drunken riot in a specific part of Belfast.

Outside Donaghadee is a tiny coastal graveyard called Templepatrick. My mother's family are from that general area, in fact the Reids who lived in the wee cottage next door to the one she grew up in are both buried there. Local tradition has always held that Templepatrick was where Patrick arrived - probably from Scotland. One of the earliest chroniclers of the Ulster-Scots, William Montgomery (1633 - 1706), a nephew of Sir Hugh Montgomery, wrote the following in 1683:

It was a younger brother of Sir Hugh, a Patrick Montgomery, who was granted the land at Templepatrick. You can imagine the conversation at Donaghadee when they arrived in the sunshine of May 1606:

Sir Hugh M: "Weel Patrick, you're looking for some of my new Ulster estate eh? Well, my new friend Con O'Neill, whose family have been here for sixteen generations, says that your namesake, Patrick the evangelist, arrived just a mile or two from here in a wee spot that the locals call Templepatrick near Creboy (Craigboy). Would that do ye?".

Patrick M: "Aye, that's a nice wee spot. And on a clear day I'll be able to look across to Portpatrick in Scotland, which is named after him forbye - it's the port that all of our new tenants are sailing from. Y'know, Hugh, if you made enough money here in Ulster maybe you could even buy Portpatrick from the Adairs!"

Sir Hugh M: "Patrick, ye're no as daft as ye look..."

And so on. Joking aside, it is of significance that William Montgomery recorded the Templepatrick story in 1683, and said that there were "other traditions among ye Irish concerning it". William Montgomery was a close friend of the local Savage family, who by then had been living in the Ards for about 400 years and who provided much of the content for his writings.

It would be ironic if, with all of the money and attention lavished on Downpatrick, Armagh and Slemish, if a forgotten and overgrown wee burying ground just south of Donaghadee was actually the place where he arrived.

(NB: The original stone coat of arms from Patrick Montgomery's home can still be seen today on a house at the foot of the Craigboy Road. A friend of my da's got the job of cementing it into place.)