Sunday, October 31, 2010

"10,000 persons have left the country": News from Irvine, Episode 1: 1635

In the 1630s, there was a major crop failure in Scotland. Sir William Brereton was in the district of Irvine in 1635 and wrote of two consecutive years when the land had been so "sterill of corne" that the people were "constrained to forsake itt." Guess where the people fled to?

He continued: "We came to Mr James Blare's in Erwin, a well affected man, who informed me of that which is much to be admired: above 10,000 persons have within two years past left the country wherein they lived, which was between Aberdeen and Enverness, and are gone for Ireland: they have come by 100 in Companys through this Town, and 200 have gone hence for Ireland together, shipped for Ireland at one tyde..."

However, their arrival in Ulster was not to the liking of the authorities: "...their swarming in Ireland is so much taken notice of and disliked, as the Deputie hath sent out a Warrant, to stay the Landing of any of these Scotch that come without a certificate. Three-score of them were numbered returning toward the place whence they came, as they passed this Town." Brereton wrote of sailing from Portpatrick to Islandmagee in a 10 tonne ship along with 17 horses - the ship was "soe much overthronged with passengers as wee had nott every man his owne length allowed to lye at ease".

• from Travels in Holland, the United Provinces, England, Scotland and Ireland, 1634-35, by Sir William Brereton, Knight. Click here for GoogleBooks edition.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The mathematics of genealogy

I'm working a bit on the family tree again, with help from some expert friends. Thus far I can get Thompsons at Ballyfrench back into the 1760s, which is pretty good. It coincides with the family tradition of Thompsons arriving near Ratallagh in the mid 1700s, having come from between Kilmarnock and Troon in Scotland. But I'm doing what most people do, which is focus mainly on the strand of ancestors who passed down my surname.*

However, when you see the diagram expanding, the range of surnames increasing, and then do the maths, the number of ancestors that each of us has is mind-boggling.

I have two parents (obviously), and therefore four grandparents, and therefore eight great-grandparents, and therefore 16 g-g-grandparents. Most of them were born in the late 1880s, so that's 4 generations every 100-ish years.

But every time you go back a generation, the number doubles. 16 g-g-grandparents becomes 32 g-g-g-grandparents, which becomes 64 g-g-g-g-grandparents, which becomes 128 g-g-g-g-g-grandparents, which becomes 256 g-g-g-g-g-g-grandparents. So that's us now back another 120-ish years, to around the 1760 date mentioned above.

To leapfrog back another 120 years, to 1640, the numbers get scary: that 256 becomes 512, which becomes 1024, which becomes 2048, which becomes 4096.

So I had 4096 ancestors alive in 1640. Go back one more generation to around 1615 and it becomes 8192 ancestors. And then go back just one more, to before the magic date of 1606, and I had (theoretically, and give or take a generation or two for early mortality, or even possible longevity) 16384 ancestors on the planet.**

And, theoretically, so did you.

So, the odds of just ONE of my ancestors being on the first boats sent across from Scotland to Ulster by Hamilton & Montgomery in 1606 has got to be pretty good, eh?

* so the surname of just one line of descent is really a ridiculously limited picture.
** however, the tree does not expand endlessly, because the numbers don't tell the whole human story. Particularly in small communities, second cousins would have been marrying - in fact, some statisticians think that 80% of the marriages in world history were between second cousins. Google that for yourself!

What Is the Bible Basically About?

Great video clip below, narrated (a bit too quickly) by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York:

"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).

(inspired by this post from Philip)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brief biography: William Hugh Patterson (1835 - 1918)

(Having mentioned Patterson in this recent post, I thought a sketch of his life might be of some interest to readers here at the 'Burn.)

William Hugh Patterson was born in Belfast in 1835. His family had been linen merchants and ironmongers for at least two generations; he was educated at Inst and Queens University and also worked in the family business. His grandfather was Robert Patterson (1750 - 1831). William's father, also called Robert Patterson (April 18 1802 - February 14 1872) was a successful businessman; he also wrote hymns which appeared in John Beard's collection for Unitarians. Robert was famous naturalist, publishing a series of important books on the subject.

William shared his father's interests and also developed a passion for history. In 1858 he married Helen Anderson, daughter of John Crossley Anderson of Knockbreda. In 1863, aged just 28, William was a founder member of the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club, and in 1869 the Club published his booklet entitled "A Notice of some Ancient Tombstones at Movilla". In 1872 he published "The Christmas Rhymers in the North of Ireland". Helped by other correspondents, he published perhaps his most famous work - "A Glossary of Words and Phrases used in Antrim and Down" - in 1880. He described the words in the Glossary as being "in the main of Scottish origin...(which had)... naturally underwent changes consequent upon the lapse of time since their introduction to an alien soil". For Patterson the origin year was "about the year 1607, when... immigration, previously a mere rivulet... became a flood". (The actual year was of course 1606).

His prestigious address was Garranard, Circular Road, Belfast - the same road that C.S. Lewis grew up on, and where Craigavon House had been built in 1870. He was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, the USPCA, and a Board member of the Royal Victoria Hospital and of the Belfast School of Art. Patterson signed the Ulster Covenant at Strandtown Halls, off the Belmont Road in Belfast. (see PRONI digital image). He died in 1918.

• Princess Grace Irish Library entry
• He was a contributor to the Ulster Journal of Archaeology (here's an example of his work from 1896 on the subject of "Ulster Settlers in America")
Dictionary of Ulster Biography entry
• Patterson was the uncle of Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865 - 1953)
• He was brother of Sir Robert Lloyd Patterson (1836 - 1906)

(NB: additions and corrections to this biography are very welcome)

Ulster dialect is not Ulster-Scots

"...The great majority of persons writing on this subject seem to think that by Ulster dialect is meant that form of speech prevalent in County Antrim and the Ards district of Down, and that a story, say, unless written in the Lowland Scottish prevalent in these districts is merely Irish, not Ulster dialect. This mistake, arising from either ignorance or want of thought, upon examination of the question, becomes quickly apparent..."

It's a very convoluted bit of writing, but what he's saying is that general Ulster dialect, and Ulster-Scots, are not the same thing. There is evidence everywhere of people who still need to grasp this simple fact.

(from The Dialect of Ulster by John J Marshall, UJA, 1904. His predictions of the decline of rural speech because of "newspapers and an ever-increasing volume of cheap literature" will mean that "in another hundred years, dialect stories... will be read with the aid of a glossary...")

Monday, October 25, 2010

Promoting Northern Ireland in 1971

I was going through a box of old tourism brochures this morning (I have a collection of them going back to the formation of the Ulster Tourist Development Association in the 1920s - how sad is that?!) and found one from 1971. The scanned page below was the inside front cover. (Click to enlarge).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Lower Lights - A Hymn Revival

Thanks to Philip for sending these to me - beautifully filmed old-fashioned acoustic harmony-based sacred music - spectacular! The track listing reveals The Lower Lights to be a Mormon-based collective of musicians who mix old standard hymns with some specifically Mormon pieces, one of which - If You Could Hie to Kolob - sounds almost identical to The Star of the County Down - listen here for yourself. Visit the website | Visit site

Friday, October 22, 2010

A few slices from


Sacred Sandwich is on my list of links down the left hand side of this blog, but I hadn't been on it in a while. It's beautifully designed, but much of the content is a bit too American to work for a Northern Ireland audience. However, these made me smile this morning:






Thursday, October 21, 2010

Templepatrick, Donaghadee - the Taylor and Skinner maps of 1777

This map of the road from Portaferry to Donaghadee and Newtownards is from Taylor & Skinners Maps of Ireland, 1777. It has some interesting features:

- the road south of Donaghadee turns inland at where today's Millisle is, and goes through where Carrowdore is, but neither Millisle nor Carrowdore were signficant enough to be marked on the map, if they even existed at all

- the coast road south of Millisle (which today goes through Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert, Portavogie and Cloughey) wasn't significant enough to be mapped either. So perhaps that eastern part of the Peninsula was relatively underdeveloped or primitive compared to the upper and western parts

- the close-up is of the Donaghadee area, which shows "Temple Patrick" where St Patrick was reputed to have landed (having sailed from Portpatrick in Scotland, directly across the 18 miles of open sea), but which has been missed by all "official" versions of the Patrick story. It also shows the ruined church which was within the walls of Temple Patrick graveyard, and the house and orchards which had been founded by Patrick Montgomery who arrived from Scotland around 1606, which were big enough to be visible from the sea.

The Montgomery family had deep connections and commercial interests at Donaghadee, Newtownards, Greyabbey and Portaferry going back to 1606. This may be why these particular roads were so well developed and which by the time Taylor and Skinner mapped them had become the most important routes on the Peninsula.

You might be able to see a dotted line running across Strangford Lough just south of Newtownards - "Rd to Comber when the Tide is out" - there's a suicide mission! (Click the images to enlarge)

NB: Taylor and Skinner's Maps are available online here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

River Cottage future

When we were in Devon in the summer, we stopped off in Axminster to visit Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage Café. We arrived at 10am, there were very few people there, which gave me a chance to take some pics of the rustic eclectic interior. It has the feel of a church hall or old classroom, furnished with handmade tables and whatever wooden chairs that the local charity shop had:


The River Cottage series is one of the few things we make a point of watching on tv - the ethic and the aesthetic of what Hugh FW does captures a lot of how I grew up and of how we try to live as a family. However his vegetable patch is far more successful than ours... I also think that there are some markers in his work which show how those who seek to represent "the community" could work, or should work, especially within rural areas.

"...River Cottage is not a charity, but does aim to be a ‘more than profit’ organisation. This means, firstly, that we are ready to re–invest much of our income in developing our ideology and the base of our activities. It also means that we should be ready to hold back from, or turn down, business that conflicts with our ideology and our commitment to ethical business practice. Thirdly, we feel we should also be making links with, and finding ways to support, other organisations who share our ideas..." (from "About Us")

Perhaps our economic climate of cuts might cause us to stop and consider what "rich" really means - an ethic of local produce, sustainable living and homegrown austerity were things that our parents and grandparents treasured. In fact, they didn't actually treasure them at all, it was just how they lived. After all, "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"She roars wi' her elbows tae save her een".

This was a figure of speech used to describe my father's aunt Lucy (1893-1962) - she was renowned as somebody who pretended to cry when she didn't get her own way. Today she might be called a drama queen or an attention seeker. Picture somebody rubbing their fists in their eyes (to hide the lack of tears) and flapping their arms up and down at the same time, almost like wings, and you'll get the idea.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jardine's Book of Martyrs

A few years ago I enjoyed a long lunch in Edinburgh with three young academics, all of whom are deeply knowledgeable about the 17th century, Presbyterianism, the Covenanters and the life and times of the common people of that era. One of them, Dr Mark Jardine, had just completed further studies into the Covenanters' "United Societies", and was also advising BBC Scotland on their television series Scotland's History which was presented by Neil Oliver. Mark recently began to blog in astonishing detail about many of his researches, which you can read here at Jardine's Book of Martyrs. Mark was also involved in the excellent BBC Radio Scotland programme about Alexander Peden which was presented by Richard Holloway (Chair of the Scottish Arts Council) and broadcast in November 2009. Work of this calibre, which informs the output the broadcast media, is badly needed on this side of the water.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Anither wee yin fae Ballyfrenis

Another wee rhyme from my aunt Betty:

"Lift the tither fit, lift the tither fit, lift the tither fit my dear
Lift the tither fit, lift the tither fit, let the watter rin clear"

There were other lines that she can't remember just now - can you help?

Misquoting Macbeth

"Daddy, I know a line from Macbeth", said Charlie (7) to me on Saturday afternoon. "Bubble, bubble, toilet trouble..." - at which point I fell about laughing!

Friday, October 15, 2010

When they hanged Archibald Warwick in Kircubbin

Exactly 212 years ago on 15 October 1798, Rev Archibald Warwick, the 29 year old licenciate of Kircubbin Presbyterian Church was executed by public hanging. The gallows were raised between the church and the manse, in an area which today is a public car park. Thousands gathered to see their beloved minister die. His crime was his role in the 1798 Rebellion and the attempt to overthrow the government. His family were all from Loughriscouse outside Newtownards and he was buried in the family plot at Movilla Cemetery - the grave can still be seen there today.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When Donaghadee was renamed "Montgomery", circa 1626

(Click the pics to enlarge)

Yes, it was, by none other than Sir Hugh Montgomery himself. And at the same time he decided to rename the opposite port, Portpatrick in Scotland, as "Port Montgomery". I've blogged about this stone before, but here's a photograph taken just a few weeks ago. Also below is a close-up from a 1734 book of the list of ministers who attended the famous 1638 Assembly in Glasgow, one of whom was James Blair, minister of "Port Montgomrie". His neighbour at Stranraer was John Livingstone, formerly minister of Killinchy; his colleague at Ayr (spelled here as "Air") was Robert Blair, formerly minister of Bangor. Blair, Livingstone, and John Stewart "late Provest of Air" had all been onboard the emigrant ship EagleWing. And Robert Adair of Kinhilt was probably living in Ballymena.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

America's "Two Nations"

There's an interesting article here on the BBC website, which has some familiar echoes for those of you who, like me, are interested in the history and culture of Ulster. Whilst we have an historic triple-blend (which I'm told is how Lowland Scots produce their whisky) of Irish, Scottish and English, America has been presented as a much more exotic combination of cultural and racial groups - a "melting pot".

However, the article contends that America is "two nations", but neither divided by culture or race, nor neatly divided geographically down the Mason/Dixon line into the North and South of the Civil War / War Between the States of 1861-65. No, the division is by "their attitude to the state and its role in the economy". I haven't been paying much attention to the growth of the Tea Party movement in the US, but this article has made me take notice. Government should serve the people, rather than people serving the government. We only have to look south of our own border to see the impact of reckless economic policy and an out-of-control ruling class. In previous centuries the reaction of the general public would have been rebellion and revolution.

Let's see what next Wednesday brings to us here in the UK.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sir Thomas Smith talk at Comber Historical Society

Last night I was at Comber Historical Society, telling the story of Sir Thomas Smith's forgotten colony of 1572-1575. There were just over 30 people in the audience, and even though the room was very warm, and the Spanish class in the adjacent room was noisy, it went well. 15 copies of the booklet were snapped up, nobody complained or heckled, and I renewed contact with some local people that I hadn't seen in a while. Just before heading out to Comber, I did a wee bit of revision on Smith's story and found this online reference to him which will tickle my Northern Ireland readers - "...he was a man of very uncommon qualities and attainments; an excellent philosopher, physician, chymist, mathematician, astronomer, linguist, historian, orator and architect; and what is better than them all, a man of virtue, and a good protestant..." (!) This is quoted from The Baronetage of England Volume II by William Betham, 1802 (p 300). See here on Googlebooks.

• Summary of the Smith booklet

• Summary of the booklet launch event back in May

• Comber Historical Society website

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Hae a Soo's Snoot Stewed"... (A Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down by W. H. Patterson, 1880)

I was talking to my aunt Betty this evening at Carrowdore Mission Hall, and earlier in the week she remembered a rhyme that her father (my grandfather, William James Wilson, 1906-1982) used to say:


Whither would you rither

Or rither would you whither

Hae a soo's snoot stewed

Or a stewed soo's snoot?


It makes no sense, but is just a bit of a tongue twister - and one that he had great fun with when his 9 weans were wee. So, as you do nowadays, I came home and Googled it. It's included in "A Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down" by William Hugh Patterson, on page 95. Patterson's glossary runs to 188 pages and was published for the English Dialect Society in 1880. Not all of the words he collected are of Scots origin, some are just general Ulster dialect. The introduction makes for interesting reading, telling in a very simple way the story of the huge migrations of "Scotch" and English into Ulster in the early 1600s. He states that some of the words had been gathered from printed sources, but that"most of the words and phrases have been collected orally either by myself or by friends in different country districts..." . Patterson uses the term "Ulster Scots" to describe the people (see his definition of the word "break").

As a certain Mr C.R. keeps rightly reminding me, the Antrim/Down bond is close - we are the two counties adjacent to Scotland - and the older generation in particular has a deep well of folk customs, local history and vocabulary which were carried across the narrow sea and which developed here. Patterson recognised this back in 1880; far more work needs to be done today among rural communities in Antrim and Down.

PS: Anybody for some pig nose stew?

• Patterson's Glossary is available here on


Friday, October 08, 2010

Duncan McNeill's Hymn Book, American edition, 1928

(click on the pics to enlarge)

I've blogged about Duncan McNeill (also spelled as M'Neil and McNeil) before - he was a Glaswegian Baptist Pastor (of a church in Orr Street near Bridgeton Cross) whose singing ministry in the early 1900s resulted in him recording a few 78s and in writing his own songs and hymns, which eventually became his own self-titled hymn book. 100,000 copies were printed and sold in Britain. People both in Ulster and Scotland have given me old copies, I think I have 4 or 5 of them now (you can see a scanned cover of one at the bottom of this post) and Graeme and I have recorded some of his songs over the years.

McNeill came back to mind recently when I was sent an American edition of his hymn book (cover shown here, published 1928). So I did a bit of desk research and it transpired that McNeill travelled across the Atlantic in 1926 and pastored in Kimball Avenue United Evangelical Church in Chicago from 1928 until 1933. As he says in the foreword "during the two years I have been singing and preaching the Gospel in America, I have received thousands of requests for copies of the words and music of my song testimonies. After singing them over the radio, from different stations, I am deluged with requests thru the mail for the book from which I sing..."

During his time at Kimball Street, the church history says that"...under his leadership the church continued to emphasize evangelistic meetings. Outreach continued with outdoor Sunday evening services at the corner of Kimball and Fullerton prior to the evening service at the church. Fellowship groups developed and thrived during this period. The Kimball Young People's Fellowship, led by church's young adults, provided Bible studies and social activities for the church's young adults. Relationships that formed in that group continued long after many of them had moved from the area. Christian Comrades, a group for women, began under the leadership of Grace Linden and others. The 'Cozy Corner' monthly newsletter continued for years and was sent around country, connecting friends to one another and Kimball Avenue. Other organizations included the Protheons, Philathea Club, Excelsiors (for men), Shipmates, Lifesavers, the Women's Missionary Socity and the Ladies Aid Society. The 40 voice choir, under the able direction of George Underwood and Clyde Barton, performed annual concerts and Easter cantatas. Several men entered the ministry..."

Fast forward to the present day. Last Sunday night at Maranatha Mission Hall in Carrowdore, the speaker was a man from Ahoghill in County Antrim. He brought a soloist with him, who sang the Duncan McNeill song "My New Address", which is more usually known as "Along the Glory Road". It was a favourite song of my grandfather's and is in the American edition of McNeill's hymn book, but not in the Scottish one - the chorus goes:

"My house is Free Salvation, tis on a good foundation
The doors are marked with Jesus' precious blood
My house is Free Salvation, near Hallelujah Station
Just a little bit along the Glory Road"

Also in the 1928 American edition of the hymn book is "Happy Joe", which I learned at Sunday School back in the 1970s when it had the very un-PC title "Darkie Joe" (lyrics here) and which might have been recorded in Belfast in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

• There's a compendium of McNeill's Scots language songs over on my "Sacred Scotch Solos" blog.
• Listen to Duncan McNeill singing on
• If you know more about him, and if he has any descendants today, please get in touch.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

True Grit by the Coen Brothers

Here's a trailer from their new movie - it may be a remake but it once again looks visually superb. Music is "Where No One Stands Alone" sung by The Peasall Sisters, it's almost as good as the version by The Calderwood Sisters from County Antrim.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

My great-grandmother, Martha Wallace.

This is a photo of my great-grandmother (on my mother's side), Martha Wallace. This is her in her garden at Ballyfrenis, "flowering" for an Ayrshire embroidery company. Like many women in the Ards, she worked for an agent in Donaghadee who in turn sold her work to companies in Scotland. She was born in 1889 and married on 19 March 1909 In Ballyfrenis Church, died on 20 April 1954 and was buried at Ballycopeland graveyard on the north side of Millisle. She and her husband, Vincent Hamill, had nine children - she taught all four of her daughters how to "flower" too. The last surviving daughter, Agnes, died at Ballyfrenis just a few weeks ago, aged 91 - this photo was found among her personal effects which older folk in the family are now working through.

(A famous account from 1843 calculated that in Ards, Castlereagh and Belfast, up to 16,000 women were employed by Glasgow companies - "...nearly the whole of the work sent from Glasgow to London and other parts of England is produced in this district. It is bleached in Scotland, and sold as “Scotch work"...).

Martha Wallace Flowering LR.jpg

"A Forenoon Aroon the Ards" - review of the bus tour

As you know, back in 2005 I began researching the story of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of 1606. During 2006 these researches became the year's theme project when I was at the Agency (through newspaper articles, events and an embryonic heritage trail). Then came the illustrated Powerpoint talks, which I've now given over 20 times all over the country - most recently back in September to Ards Historical Society.

Yesterday it moved to a whole new level, getting away from the page, screen and lecture to forming the basis of a coach tour of the Ards, organised through Loughries Historical Society. I'll not say much more but will let my good friend Mark Anderson's account tell the story of how our "Forenoon" went.

As with Philip's explorations of Dalway's Bawn, you really need to be in the landscapes to fully grasp the meaning of stories and our history. To stand in the buildings our ancestors built, to hear the words they wrote, to hear stories of their lives and deaths, and in between the "big stories" to share wee nuggets about the places and townlands along the way. What I really enjoyed was that folk in the bus were happy to chip in extra strands into my narrative as we travelled, and who also pointed out other wee things at our stop-off points. The triangle from Newtown(ards) to Greba (Greyabbey) to the Dee is jam-packed with Ulster-Scots history.

No lavish funding is "inventing" this; this is just what happens when local folk who care about our own heritage, supported respectfully by staff at our Council and NIEA, work together. There are probably 3 or 4 other similar tours that could be done within our own locality - initially for local folk, but which then could be tweaked a bit to appeal to history-interested visitors as well.

Friday, October 01, 2010

When your church pastor gives you advice on how to get a Mistress, should that be cause for concern?

I was shocked too, but the more he talked the more I was persuaded. Actually seems like quite a good idea, with a lot of benefits. Great for keeping extra warm in the winter. So I thought about it and decided that if I got one, I'd prefer a black one, just for variety. He 'd had one for years when he was a lot younger, but got fed up with her and dumped her. He could remember helping his dad throw her out the door into the yard... but there was a hint of regret in his voice, she had left him many fond memories. So I looked in the paper and found one in Killyleagh but sadly by the time I phoned she was already taken. So if you know anyone that's getting rid of theirs, let me know. Ideally I'd like one that's about 100 years old but in perfect working order.

Here's a photo of the type I'd like - the Modern Mistress solid fuel stove, made by Smith and Wellstood in Bonnybridge, Scotland (and alternatively by the Columbian Stove Works, Falkirk). Here's another beautiful photo. My granny had one of these when I was wee, as did my parents in the "oul hoose" - I remember sticking my finger in the bright orangey bit when I was about 3. I only did that once.

I really am looking for one, so let me know!