Thursday, November 04, 2010

Migration, Salvation and Refuge: News from Irvine, Final Episode... for now

In this final instalment in my mini-series about Ulster's links with the Ayrshire port of Irvine, I thought it would be important to provide a reminder of the faith connections.

In Spring of 1607, before the Flight of the Earls from west Ulster, Sir Hugh Montgomery's brother Bishop George Montgomery brought tenant families from Glasgow, Ayr and Irvine into the western ports of Donegal, Killybegs and Derry - copying what big brother was doing at Donaghadee.

Robert Blair was born in Irvine in 1593 and was the revolutionary minister at Bangor from 1623-1636, and according to John Lockington's biographical booklet of the man he was the de facto leader of the Ulster-Scots (published by the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland - click here to order a copy). Two of Blair's brothers - the eldest, John and the second, James, both became Provost of Irvine (one was probably the James Blair who Sir William Brereton met in 1635 - see the first post in this series).

Just up the road from Blair's stomping ground of Bangor is Holywood, where fellow Scot Robert Cunningham had been minister since 1615. Cunningham fled Ulster during the persecutions of the 1630s for Ayrshire - he died at Irvine in 1637 and was buried there, where his memorial can be seen today in the kirkyard. (There are other Irvine / Ulster connections listed on that earlier post)

But those gospel connections are not just relics of the past, because last Saturday Billy Kerr emailed me with the message which inspired this series of posts:

"...Today I experienced an extraordinary Ulster-Scots connection. This afternoon I took my wee Labrador bitch Jasmine down Irvine shore for a walk. Normally, on arriving on the beach I look for a plastic bottle to throw into the sea for her to fetch. On picking up the first bottle I saw, I noticed what appeared to be a scrolled piece of paper inside. I extricated the note and to my amazement it was a message from Bangor,County Down, heralding the same 'Good News' to the people of Ayrshire, that Irvine born Robert Blair proclaimed in County Down nearly four hundred years previously..."

There are probably hundreds, even thousands, of stories about Irvine and Ulster; and probably the same could be said for every port along the west cost of Scotland, from Portpatrick right along the 100 miles to Greenock - never mind the 150 miles of coastline along the eastern route from Portpatrick to Gretna, never mind the Kintyre peninsula and further north.

With a programme of locally-based research a deep river of Ulster-Scottish history could be released, and published in a suitable medium for both present-day and future generations.

(with thanks to Billy for the inspiration and help; his 'message in a bottle' is below. Billy writes the local history column each week for the 'Irvine Times'.)

PS - I phoned the man whose contact details are on the cover of the tract, there was a code on the back, it had been put into the sea in January 2002!