Sunday, October 02, 2011

"Ireland requireth rather lasting and warm clothes than gorgeous and dear garments"

So wrote Sir Thomas Smith in 1572, and it was a prophetic statement for our rain-drenched tour of the Upper Ards on Saturday morning! We had called the tour "A Forenoon Doon the Upper Ards", but with the weather forecast we joked about re-naming it "A Forenoon gettin' droont in the Upper Ards!". And by about 10am the forecast came true.

The tour included a visit to Newcastle to see the location where the Smith colony set up their first base-camp headquarters in their failed effort to establish an English community in the Ards which would oust the Clandeboye O'Neills. There were 31 people in total, drawn from four local historical societies (Ards, Loughries, Bangor and Comber), with various friends and other folk as well. We started at 9.00am in Newtownards and made numerous stops the whole way down the Strangford Lough shore to Portaferry and back up the other coast as far as Millisle, before heading back to Ards for 1pm. Plenty of crack and banter, a very welcome tea and scones stop, and great support from Ards Borough Council and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

I hope that the commentary was interesting for folk - we covered over 800 years of history, from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 1177 which brought the Savage family to Ulster, and of their tangles with the Clandeboye O'Neills, with the English Smith colonists and their later interconnections with the Scottish Hamiltons and Montgomeries, and also of 1798. The rendition of the poem 'Betty MacBlaine' went down well! We didn't bother making a few of the stops just because of the weather, but the stories were told and the places can be re-visited some day. Here's a pic of half of the group up in the lecture room building at Kirkistown Castle - the rest were in the castle tower! And Mr Balmoral was generous enough to foot the bill at Knott's Coffee Shop for a light lunch! So it was a wet day, but a good day - local folk visiting local places hearing local stories which can be shared with friends and family. And as usual, I learned as much from the group as they did from me. Great stuff!


Throughout the day quite a few people spoke to me of their frustration at shallow, narrow portrayals of Ulster-Scots heritage, as distinct from the deeply-rooted real stuff. This seems to be quite a widely held view among us plain folk.


An Aul Han said...

An entertaining and highly instructive morning. Which once again highlighted the importance of discovering our 'real' heritage. Can't wait for ' Events which shaped the Ards 1177 - 1918' (hint hint).