Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blurring the edges

There's an odd notion that the three main cultural communities in Ulster (English / Scottish / Irish) have hard defined edges which separate them. Whether language, cultural traditions, music, or landscape, this is nonsense. The edges are soft and blurred. One that I hear all the time, because of where I live, is that there's a hard cultural line that cuts across the bottom of the Ards Peninsula below Kir(k)cubbin and across to Cloughey/Kirkistown. Crudely put, the myth goes that around 1606, in an Ulsterised version of the "Operation Passage to Freedom" the incoming Scots struck an arrangement whereby the few resident Irish (that's polite code for Catholics) were moved south of this line to live on the Savage estates, and that all the incoming Scots (that's polite code for Protestants) settled north of this line. It's not true but it gets perpetuated all the time. There are concentrations of Ulster Scots above and Ulster Irish below, but there's not, and never has been, a hard division.

The Savages had arrived in Ireland as one of the new Anglo-Norman families in the late 1100s. Initially they had massive estates within the old Earldom of Ulster which more or less covered County Antrim and County Down, but as the centuries passed their lands were reduced to just the southern tip of the Peninsula and a bit of Lecale. Ongoing attacks from the Clandeboye O'Neills didn't help.

The truth is that there was a significant degree of co-operation between Hamilton and the Savages, and Montgomery and the Savages. In the 1640s a list of tenants on the Savage estates shows that between a half and a third had Scottish surnames. There are loads of examples of well-recorded overlaps and co-operation. The land boundaries of the Savage/Hamilton/Montgomery estates weren't even clearly defined (which is why Hamilton paid big money to get the Royal cartographer, Thomas Raven, onto the job in 1625. The original maps can be seen at North Down Museum in Bangor). And even where the boundaries were well understood, the three families exchanged and leased townlands with one another, with some Irish tenants on Scottish-owned estates, and as shown above, vice-versa. Henry Savage of Ardkeen gradually embraced the Protestant faith of his new neighbours - he was described as"...moderate in his Romish religion, and read the Holy Scriptures; and, on his death-bed, (whereon he lay long) assured me, that he trusted for his salvation only to the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ. He kept no images in his house, and if he had any picture (or such like) he said he would meditate on it, but not worship it. He used to say, that invocation of Saints was needless, although it were supposed they did hear us, or know our wants; because he was sure his Saviour was God all-sufficient..." (Montgomery MSS p 328). As the century drew to a close, in 1690 one branch of the Savages fought for King William III at the Boyne, while another branch fought on the other side for King James II - but some of this branch later changed their minds. Over the following centuries, many became famous high-ranking British military officers.

A while ago, over at Balmoral Perspective, Mark Anderson posted a clip of the slow Irish tune "Raglan Road". I posted a comment that there's a far faster, Ulster, version of the same tune which is used for the Belfast song "The Ballad of William Bloat". Renowned Scottish singer-songwriter Dick Gaughan points out here that the same tune might be Scottish in origin.

But it's easier to claim division and distinction, rather than to take time to explain the blurred edges. The result doesn't turn Northern Ireland into some bland whitewashed cross-community soup, but a place of interesting and myth-challenging contours. Some commentators need to stop pumping out dumbed-down lazy nonsense and take the time to read the early records for themselves. There's a far more interesting, and accurate, story just below the surface.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dave Rawlings Machine sing "He Will Set Your Fields On Fire"

Here's a 100mph bluegrass version of an old gospel song Graeme and I recently recorded on our new CD "Soda Farls and Redemption Songs". Dave Rawlings Machine are playing at the Open House Festival in Belfast in September.

Dave came to prominence as the guitar picker and harmony singer for Gillian Welch. Here they are together performing another gem (which we played at our wedding ceremony back in Sept 1997.) Gillian's album Revival is one of my all-time favourites.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Carrowdore Lambegs

Here are some pics from a Lambeg drum demonstration last night in Carrowdore main street, County Down. Any readers from overseas might be astounded by the scale of the drums - they really are that size. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dalway's Bawn and Cowboy Trail: The Irish Dimension

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, this is a post from my blog) It's great to see Philip Robinson bloggin' away like billyo; he has a great post here which will interest those of you who enjoyed the Sir Thomas Smith booklet, which tells some of the story of the Earldom of Ulster and of the Claneboy O'Neills' activities around Carrickfergus and south and east Antrim. Well worth a read!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

1798 and the massacres in Wexford

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, this is a post from my blog)

Some people eulogise about 1798 as some kind of eutopian cross-community moment. They wish for a time machine so that they, being from community A, could have stood valiantly alongside those of community B, through bonds of brotherhood and common cause that still resonate deep within them. Yawn. It's a nicely airbrushed tale.

I've just finished re-reading David Hume's booklet on the 1798 Rebellion, or "Turn Oot", entitled To Right Some Things We Thought Wrong (Ulster Society, 1998). David rightly points out that, after years of agitation and planning, the eventual Rising in Antrim and Down of June 1798 was suddenly undermined by what had occurred in southern Ireland just days earlier, actions carried out by those who claimed to be fighting for the same cause. Rather than a rising against the state, the headline news from Wexford was of brutal massacres of fellow citizens.

There are two lists online of those who were killed - here and here, giving their names, where they lived and in some cases how they died. Be warned - some make for very grisly reading. (ref: National Library of Ireland, Dublin NLI JLB 94107)

So, when the order was given for Antrim to rise on 7th June, many just stayed at home, hiding in byres, developing instant illnesses, or just staying at work in the fields. Just a week later, at Ballynahinch, hundreds of men deserted the night before the famous Battle at which Betsy Gray and so many others were killed. The Rising was roundly defeated by the government forces; the aftermath was many months of executions and deportations. Shortly afterwards, the Parliament of Ireland was abolished and in 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was born.

As Antrim poet James Campbell (1756-1818) later wrote:

In Ninety Eight we armed again, to right some things that we thought wrong
We got sae little for our pains, it's no worth mindin' in a song.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ulster-Scots and "The State"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, this is a post from my blog)

This week Northern Ireland has been responding to the Saville Report. Some of the reactions are as you would expect. It's got me thinking about the relationship between "The State" and Ulster-Scots throughout history.

At this point in time, Ulster-Scots people are mostly Protestant and mostly Unionist. That cannot be denied and is nothing to be ashamed of. But far too often the modern, unthinking, presentation of Ulster-Scots has - tragically - been a trivial, trashy variety of Ulster Protestantism or Unionism, with a thin veil of newly-applied Scottishness. It might tick the boxes of the many funders out there, but it lacks depth, authenticity and knowledge.

As a result there are widespread false perceptions in the mind of the general public, providing fodder for the critics who demolish it with ease. Of even more concern, it has also dug a deep well of frustration amongst those quiet folk who loved and cherished their Ulster-Scots identity for decades and generations, before the money taps were turned on, and who now are turned off by much of what takes place under the Ulster-Scots label. The problems are not just presentational, but go right to the heart of how heritage is understood, protected and supported by "The State" - if it is at all. But if the apparatus of the state in Northern Ireland only understands the "two tribes" British v Irish political model, then who cares about the "three legged stool" English+Scottish+Irish cultural model?

Over the next few weeks I'm going to mull this over with the view of posting a series like last year's "Objections" series, which will highlight some important historic examples which show how the relationship between Ulster-Scots and the state has shifted over the years.

I'll not be able to examine every strand, but am posting this taster as an invitation for ideas or suggestions. Sharper minds than mine could do a far better job, but I hope to draw attention to some of the issues.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An important oul stane at Café Manor, Donaghadee

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

Hilary and I were in Donaghadee at lunchtime, and went to the Café Manor beside the library (I'd just borrowed a few oul copies of WG Lyttle's Robin's Readings and Sons of the Sod to see if they were any different to my own copies). The sun was shining so we went through to tables in the walled garden. There, on two polished concrete plinths, was a big slab of cut stone about 4 feet long and a foot thick. I had seen it years ago - Donaghadee historian Harry Allen (author of this excellent history of the town) had told me about it, and had helped me track it down. It had been rescued from likely destruction from a back alley in Donaghadee, and bears the following inscription:

"The Manor Pound, Donaghadee, alias MONTGOMERY" - This commemorates Sir Hugh Montgomery's attempt in 1626 to rename Donaghadee as "Montgomery" and Portpatrick (on the opposite, Scottish, coastline) as "Port Montgomery"*.

So I lost all composure and in a loud voice I called out to Hilary - "LOOK - IT'S HERE, THIS IS THE STONE!! IT'S HUGH MONTGOMERY'S STONE!!".

That's not really the done thing on a sedate lunchtime in Donaghadee, and I startled the folk who were already eating their lunches in the garden. So a woman called over to me "So are you going to give us all a history lesson then?". Now I couldn't let an opportunity like that go, so in about 2 minutes I told all of the folk there the story of Hamilton and Montgomery and the attempt to rename the towns. The folk were delighted, and were going to head off to the Parish Church to see the stone above the church doorway which also commemorates Montgomery having built it too. One of the staff came to ask more, and so now she has a great story to tell their customers.

So, next time you're in the 'Dee, go to Café Manor and get a look at a great piece of Ulster-Scots history. However, thrifty Ulster-Scots beware, access to the walled garden costs an extra £1.50 a head!

(* the Glasgow General Assembly of 1638 included a Rev James Blair, minister of Port Montgomery - so the new name hung on for a while at least.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A petition from the inhabitants of Ballywalter and Ballyhalbert in response to the threat of danger from "our most treacherous enemies the French".

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

If you surveyed the World Cup-watching public of Ballyhalbert and Ballywalter today, I think a fair proportion would see the French as their red-white-and-blue allies thanks to this incident!. Back on 13 April 1756 it was very different. On the eve of the Seven Years War, the men of middle of the Ards Peninsula weren't forging pike heads in the blacksmiths shops just yet, but they were concerned about the potential of a French invasion. So much so that they organised a petition and sent it to the Belfast News Letter (which then had been in print for only 19 years), who published all of the names. It's a good genealogical source for the period:

Bailie,William / Bailie,William / Bick,Hugh / Bigham,Archd. / Bodin,James / Boyd,James / Boyd,John / Boyd,Robert / Boyd,Samuel / Brown,Henry / Brown,Hugh / Brown,William / Brown,William / Causey,Andrew / Cauvert,Ed/Jr / Cauvert,Ed/Sr / Corran,Samuel / Corran,William / Coulter,John / Craig,Hugh / Craig,James / Craig,William / Doryan,Jas/Jr. / Doryan,Jas/Sr. / Drysdall,Henry / Dunbar,Francis / Gilmer,William / Glen,James / Glen,Michael / Glen,Robert / Gowan,David / Gowan,Jas/Jr. / Gowan,Jas/Sr. / Grey,William / Kennedy,Andrew / Kennedy,James / Kennedy,T/Jr. / Kennedy,T/Sr. / Kilpatrick,Hugh / Kilpatrick,John / Kilpatrick,John / Kilpatrick,Thos / Leeman,John / Leeman,William / Loughlin,Hugh / McCauvery,Jas. / McClements,Jas. / McClements,Jas. / McClements,Jn. / McCormick,Rob / McCormick,Thos. / McCormick,Wm / McDowell,Wm. / McKee,David / McKee,John / McKelvey,John / McMaster,Wm. / McWhur,Samuel / Miller,Henry / Miller,James / Miller,John / Miller,Rob/Jr. / Miller,Rob/Sr. / Moor,Henry / Murdagh,Robert / Palmer,Robert / Pue,Richard / Read,William / Reed,John / Ross,Robert / Small,Bernard / Stoop,James / Wilson,Hugh / Wilson,James / Wilson,James / Wilson,John / Wilson,John / Wilson,William

Why did they do it? What were they hoping to achieve? We may never know. Other Ballyhalbert men like Matthew Scott were emigrating to America around this time, and probably joined up with George Washington's army. The links between the 1798 Rising of Presbyterian Ulster-Scots in Antrim and Down, and the Presbyterian Ulster-Scots in the American Revolution of 1776, are crystal clear. But maybe this sets some context for the much-written-about sympathies with Revolutionary France.

A 1764 census for the Barony of Ards recorded a total of 16037 people, 15137 (95%) of whom were Presbyterian, 695 (4%) were Church of Ireland and just 85 (0.5%) were "Papists". In 1847, Henry Montgomery wrote that "...the rebellion, at the close of the last century was, in its origin and almost to its end... a Presbyterian rebellion…”.

The best book on the local 1798 events is Harry Allen's "Men of the Ards". I might blog a bit more about 1798 over the next while, but I'll wrap this post up with a story from Rev William Steele Dickson, Minister of Ballyhalbert (and later Portaferry). He was arrested the day before the planned attacks on Newtownards and Portaferry and was imprisoned in Scotland, where there were equivalent groups like the United Scotsmen. Dickson had been under surveillance for some time as he was suspected of forging links with these groups across the water. In prison, he was challenged by a Scottish inmate who had swallowed government misinformation that the rising in Antrim and Down was a "popish rebellion" (by spreading stories like this, the government was probably trying to undermine Ulster/Scottish Presbyterian co-operation). Dickson turned aside and wrote down the names and denominations of 20 of the leading United Irishmen in County Down. The list had 10 Church of Ireland, 6 Presbyterians and 4 Catholics. Dickson handed the list to him and said "look at that, and then tell me what becomes of your popish rebellion?".

In other words, stick that up your jumper!

(thanks are due to my good friend Dr William Roulston for drawing this petition to my attention. William's book - Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors, cites this petition among a huge collection of sources for the genealogy enthusiast who's trying to pin down their Ulster-Scots forebears)

Friday, June 11, 2010

"for twenty-four years I've been living next door to Alice"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

That's the name of an old 70s song. Sir James Hamilton's grandson, Henry Hamilton, was another man who was head-over-heels in love with a woman called Alice. Sadly for Henry, she destroyed his life.

Henry Hamilton was the 2nd Earl of Clanbrassil and had one of the biggest estates and fortunes in east Ulster. He met Alice Moore, a "very handsome, witty and well-bred lady" and was besotted. His mother (as mothers do) sized Alice up and was in "great grief" when Henry and Alice got married in May 1667. Alice was high maintenance and Henry racked up massive debts in trying to meet the costs her lavish, flirtatious, lifestyle. He sold off large parcels of the Hamilton estate to his tenants - and both Henry and Alice were at this stage just 28 years old. The Hamilton Manuscripts describe her as "beautiful and vicious".

In 1669, Alice ordered the Presbyterian meeting house in Bangor (at Fisher’s Hill now Victoria Road), whose minister was Gilbert Ramsay, be torn down. It broke Ramsay's heart. The following Christmas, Alice was among the audience at a new theatre in Smock Alley in Dublin which had three tiers of balconies - it was the Waterfront Hall of its day. The glitterati were there to see a satirical, mocking anti-Presbyterian play called “The Non-Conformist”. During the performance, the upper balcony collapsed into the middle balcony which then crashed down onto the lower balcony. Many people were killed, and Alice was badly injured.

However, that brush with death didn't hamper her selfish ambitions. The Hamilton will had been carefully laid out by Henry's father to ensure that, if Henry died, it would remain in the Hamilton family. Alice persuaded Henry to change his will, making her his sole heir. His mother saw the disastrous potential and warned him - "Son, expect that within three months after you perfect such deeds, you shall lodge with your grandfather and father, in the tomb of Bangor". On 27 March 1674, Henry's will was rewritten - "it is my will and pleasure to leave unto my dear wife, the Countess of Clanbrassil, her heirs and assigns, for ever, all my estate in the kingdom of Ireland..."

Henry had effectively signed his own death warrant. On 12 January 1675 he died suddenly in Dublin - and Alice ordered his body to be disembowelled within 5 hours of his death, and for a rush burial to take place at Christ Church in the city. Some time later, his body was reburied at Bangor, fulfilling his mother's prediction.

The suspicion is that Henry had been poisoned. However, the Hamilton family fought back, and Alice didn't get her hands on the estates. She remarried but died - miserable, alone and childless - on 13 Jan 1678.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Publications and Projects

(Intro: tragically, a lot of what has been done in the name of Ulster-Scots over the past 15 years or so has been ill-informed, trivial, politicised, invented, speculative, money-chasing, egocentric nonsense - which has done untold damage to our deep authentic heritage. I quickly realised I couldn't change the world, but could at least devote what little time I had to help some quality projects to emerge. This is still my aim).

Over the past few years, I’ve taken on the task of bringing important Ulster-Scots stories back to public attention. My background in design and communication, and a commitment to telling authentic, credible stories more or less sums up what I try to do in these projects. Expert historians have been generous with their time and expertise and willingly worked with me in an effort to demonstrate the real depth of Ulster-Scots heritage.

2006: Hamilton & Montgomery 1606 - "The Dawn of the Ulster-Scots".
My first full year as Chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency (June 05 - June 09) was the 400th anniversary of what I still regard as the seminal moment in Ulster-Scots history – when James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, both from Ayrshire, struck a deal with Con O’Neill for two thirds of his estates in Co Down. It wasn’t the first contact between Scotland and Ulster – the links had been going on for centuries, way before the Scottish Reformation of 1560 and the Plantation of Ulster of 1610 – but it was the first permanent lowland Scottish settlement of Ulster, a natural migration of lowland Scottish families. The year included a 50 minute documentary broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland, entitled “Dawn of the Ulster Scots”, presented by Flora Montgomery. A special edition tabloid is available which tells the whole story, as well as a foldout heritage trail. I took care of all of the research, writing, photography and design. With thanks to Dr John McCavitt for his guidance throughout the project, and to the Montgomery and Rowan-Hamilton families for their support.
+ Visit the project website.
+ Order copies of the publications

2007: The Bruces in Ulster
As proof of the pre-Plantation, pre-Reformation links mentioned above, this project went back 700 years to 1306/1307 when King Robert the Bruce spent a winter on Rathlin Island, after which he returned to Scotland to fight a seven year campaign which ended with Scottish independence. His brother Edward then came to Ulster and was declared High King of Ireland for a few years, before being killed in a battle at Dundalk. A special edition tabloid is available which tells the whole story, as well as a foldout heritage trail. I took care of all of the research, writing, photography and design. With thanks to Doug Archibald of The Robert the Bruce Commemoration Trust for his help and quality proofing, and to the Ulster History Circle who installed a commemorative plaque on Rathlin in Summer 2007. The plaque was unveiled by a group of VIPs, including the Earl of Elgin, a lineal descendant of Robert the Bruce.
+ Visit the project website.
+ Order copies of the publications

This website project was produced in the run-up to Northern Ireland's participation at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC in July 2007. A host of expert contributors provided fresh research and articles; the Virginia Tourism Corporation also assisted. The project was launched, using a series of billboard posters in greater Belfast, by the US Consul Dean Pittman. I took care of all of the photography and design and co-ordinated the research and writing.
+ Visit the project website

2008: The Covenanters in Ulster
This 1600s in Ulster are a deeply misunderstood period, usually reduced to the Plantation and the Battle of the Boyne. The story of the Covenanters is one whch goes deep into the psyche of Scots and Ulster-Scots, of Presbyterians who were brutally persecuted for standing up for their faith and for opposing the tyrant Kings. A special edition tabloid is available which tells the whole story, as well as a foldout heritage trail. I took care of all of the photography and design and co-ordinated the research and writing. We also ran a week-long series in the News Letter. With thanks to all of those who helped and supported, in particular Dr William Roulston.
+ Visit the project blog.
+ Order copies of the publications

2008: "Sacred Scotch Solos"
This personal online project is an historical archive of over 80 sacred songs which have been given to me over the years by folk both in Ulster and Scotland. Most are from Scottish printed sources about 100 years old, providing evidence that in previous generations people were comfortable using Scots creatively in worship and outreach. All of the pieces use varying densities of Scots, from a light sprinkling of vocabulary through to much deeper usages. Since the site went live, the Church of Scotland's "Scots Language in Worship Group" have used some of the pieces in their own repertoire. Scots and Ulster Scots are both used by contemporary songwriters as well. The site includes text of the lyrics, and downloadable scans of the original musical notation.
+ Visit the project website

2009: Alexander Peden, Prophet and Covenanter in Scotland and Ulster
Having completed my term at the Ulster-Scots Agency, this book was a natural extension of the “Covenanters in Ulster” project, telling the story of the most enigmatic and famous of the Ulster Covenanters. Peden was born in Ayrshire, but during the “Killing Times” sought refuge at Glenwherry in County Antrim. This 112 page book is centred around a reprint of a 1755 Belfast pamphlet about Peden and includes a collection of essays and historical poems. BBC Radio Scotland produced a half hour programme about Peden, presented by Richard Holloway, around the same time as the book's completion. I took care of all of the photography and design and co-ordinated the research and writing. I also contributed one of the articles, entitled "Publishing Peden - A Chronology of Chapbooks 1712 - 1872". With thanks to all of those who helped and supported, in particular, Dr William Roulston, Jack Greenald and Dane Love of the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association. Thanks also to The Ullans Press for issuing the book under their imprint.
+ Order a copy of the book

2009: Frances Browne Multilingual Poetry Prize
A lighter moment amongst the solid history. I tend to leave the linguistic side of Ulster-Scots to the experts who understand its nuances far better than I do. I enjoy the colour of the words and expressions and have dabbled with a wee bit of poetry. A light hearted poem I wrote for fun, Address to a Nintendo DS, finished as runner-up in this annual competition run by the Finn Valley Voice newspaper in Donegal.

2010: The Forgotten English Colony of Sir Thomas Smith
What happened before the arrival of the Ulster-Scots? In north Down and the Ards, the story of what came before is the failed colony of Sir Thomas Smith. After almost a year of research the first outcome of this project is a 40 page full colour booklet, the printing of which was funded by Ards Borough Council, North Down Museum and the Ulster-Scots Community Network. I took care of all of the research, writing, photography and design. With thanks to a broad range of universities, galleries, museums and libraries across the UK and RoI, all of whom are acknowledged and referenced inside. The booklet has been covered in the News Letter and the Newtownards Chronicle, and there’s a possibility of some television coverage in the near future.
+ Order a copy of the booklet

2010: North Down and Ards Tourism project
I've just finished a major piece of work with the Ulster Historical Foundation to show the tourism potential of the Ulster-Scots heritage of North Down and Ards. Supported by the two local Councils and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's Tourism Innovation Fund the end result was over 300 pages of information, history, genealogy, potential tourism products and a bank of fresh photography.

Digitisation Projects
It's essential that history is made accessible for today's reader and researcher. When still at the Ulster-Scots Agency, I also took the lead on producing digitised versions of:

• The Hamilton Manuscripts (compiled by TK Lowry, 283 pages, first published 1867)
• The Montgomery Manuscripts (compiled by Rev George Hill, 504 pages, first published 1869)
• The MacDonnells of Antrim (complied by Rev George Hill, 515 pages, first published 1873)
• The Plantation in Ulster (compiled by Rev George Hill, 636 pages, first published 1877). This has an accompanying CD of the Thomas Raven maps of the Plantation counties, courtesy of PRONI, with narrative by Professor Raymond Gillespie.

All of these were produced as facsimile text-searchable PDF files, available on CDRom.

2011: Biography of Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter.
Hamilton was one of the first generation Presbyterian ministers in Ulster, one of the four ministers who sailed on "Eagle Wing", and a driving force in the "50 Years Struggle" of the Covenanters. I hope to complete this project by Easter 2011 and to publish later that year. With sincere thanks to Ulrike Hogg at the National Library of Scotland for her ongoing assistance in locating rare archival material. Update - now looking like 2012!

A gospel moment in "Prince of Persia"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog) There's a moment in the new Disney movie "Prince of Persia" that some of you will enjoy (I took Jacob to see it last week). I must admit I wasn't expecting a movie based on a computer game to be much good, but it was a swashbuckling cracker with lots of very scary curved swords, warriors and grisly (implied) deaths.

The hero, Dastan, reveals to his rival Princess Tamina (who of course he ends up falling in love with) that he is not of Royal blood. In the heat of an argument he shouts at her "I wasn't born in a palace like you - I was born in the slums of Nasaf, where I lived and I fought and I clawed". Shocked, she asks, "And how did you become a prince?". Dastan pauses and replies, "The King marched into the market one day and he, I don't know, he found me, he took me in..."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Thoughts on Devolution

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog) At the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh there are various literary quotations on the wall, some of which have a relevance to Devolved Government here in the UK. One is:

"...When we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament-men o' our ain, we could aye peeble them wi' stanes when they werena gude bairns - But naebody's nails can reach the length o' Lunnon..."
- Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) Mrs Howden in Heart of Midlothian

Which got me thinking, if you could choose a text for the wall at Stormont, to make a pithy comment about Devolution in Northern Ireland, what would it be? I know for a few readers of this blog it might be a verse or two from "A Cannae Thole Ye" by GF Savage Armstrong! Here's another contender:

"...A saw naebody that A kenned till A got tae Bilfast. Waens, dear, it's a big toon that!... Whun A got oot at the station-hoose , an' saw the crowds o' fowk rinnin' this road an' the tither road, A got that scaured for feer o' loasin' mysel' that A had a noshin' o' lyin' doon ahint the station-hoose till the train wud be reddy tae birl back hame again..."
- WG Lyttle (1844-1896), Robin's Readings

Suggestions by placing a comment below, or by emailing me, would be very welcome!


UPDATE: an emailer who wants to remain anonymous sent me this from Robert Burns, and has asked for it to be added here as his suggestion for Stormont -
"We're bought and sold for English gold - Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"

Friday, June 04, 2010

"Well Mother I am started to till the soil in Canada" - John Thompson from Ballyfrench, May 1925

John in Canada.jpg

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

My grandfather's brother, John Thompson, emigrated from Ballyfrench, County Down to Canada in 1925 (he's wearing the hat in the pic above). A few weeks ago one of his letters surfaced among some family papers:

c/o Robert Barker, Almonte, Ontario, RR No 1, Canada

Dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know that I arrived allright in Canada and in the best of health at present hoping this will find you all enjoying good health. Well Mother I am started to till the soil in Canada I got a start made on Tuesday so I did not get any holidays on this side. The emigration Officers were at Quebec when we landed there and sent every one their own way so I never saw Davies since we left Quebec so I think he has gone another route so I am about 250 miles from Toronto and about 30 miles from Ottowa of course this place I am in is miles from nowhere. I suppose there will be word from the rest of the boys that went out before - you might get me Wm Bell's address I suppose he is in a fine place too. We landed that night Saturday in Quebec about ten o'clock and had to stop aboard all night and got off the next morning at eight oclock. Well Mother I think this is all the news for this time only. Hope to hear from you soon again with love to all. From your Son John Thompson.

From an Ulster Peninsula to a Canadian Island
A 1904 Business Directory for Almonte is available here - Almonte is in Lanark County and even today still has a Highland Games event each year. About a 2 1/2 hr drive from Almonte is Amherst Island, Lake Ontario. Between 1820 and 1880, 105 families emigrated from the Parish of St Andrews (in the middle of the Ards Peninsula) to Amherst Island. The island was owned by the 3rd Lord Mount Cashell, who also owned estates in Cork, Tipperary, but his largest estate was nearly 50,000 acres in mid Antrim – at Kells, Cullybackey and the countryside around Ballymena. In the 1830s and 1840s he bought over 20,000 acres in “Upper Canada”, following in the footsteps of a number of Scottish gentlemen who had done the same (for example, a William Dickson from Scotland had bought 94,000 acres there in 1816).

The majority of the emigrants were Presbyterians, and until 1851 their minister - an Ulster missionary called Rev McLeiche – preached in the open air. A church was built that year. Cashell sold the island in 1857 to his second cousin, Major Robert Perceval-Maxwell, whose parents owned the Finnebrogue estate near Killyleagh and another at Groomsport. They built churches, schools (where the textbooks from the Ards were used), formed an Orange lodge and also a pub called the "County Down Inn".

There are many detailed stories about specific families, from Adairs to Watsons, in A New Lease on Life, by Catherine Anne Wilson (McGill-Queens University Press, 1994). Some of the Cashell and Perceval-Maxwell papers of the Amherst Island tenants are held at PRONI.

NB - Mary Becker and Lena McVea run both the Ards Peninsula DNA project and also the Amherst Island DNA project.

Here's a Googlemap to show where Amherst Island is:

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