Tuesday, November 05, 2013

From Portaferry to Belfast to Australia


One of the joys of blogging is the contact it has allowed me to have with many people around the world. I have recently been corresponding with a man who now lives in Australia, but who was born and grew up near Portaferry. When he was a boy his family moved (back) to Belfast and much of our discussion has been about the culture shock that this caused him as a child. He has allowed me to post some excerpts here, which I will add little bits of commentary to.

'...I find myself describing the cultural and geographical background of my early childhood in similar happily reminiscent terms as your article; having been born and in early childhood bred environmentally on the Ards Peninsula nearby Portaferry...'

He shares my frustrations at the present-day media insistence of Ulster-Scots as a recent 'invention':

'... I never had personally any impression that "Ulster" and "Scots" effects have only recently been imported from Scotland... I was born on the Ards Peninsula because my mother basically fled Belfast due to the forthcoming Blitz in the war (WW2). But back in Belfast (outer west Belfast) in 1948, my father worked the barges etc., for the Belfast Harbour Commissioners on Victoria Channel and Belfast Lough and quite a familiar familial topic my father regularly commented to us about was the "Portavogie Scots" (he called them) coming up and in effect taking jobs from Belfast's own "local" harbour workers...'

His father was a man more concerned with an invasion of Portavogie men, than he was of the Russians:

'... My parents were oul ones and my father's way of the oul ones was hilarious. We never had news in our house. Everybody round our direction in the 1950s had Moscow as the place of much invisible threat to our future security. But for us with my father it was grim talk at the dinner table about the perils of Portavogie ...'

And he was a man with a long memory:

'... One interesting rival for the much feared Portavogie in our house in the 1950s was always announced by my father in the exact same omen-fraught words. "The Norwegians are in the night". Even the Dutch were a breeze in comparison to the primeval Norwegians as far as my father was concerned. The amazing thing was it didn't matter what part of Belfast you were from out on the Lough, they all never forgot how the Norwegians came and burnt down Holywood and all along the shore towards Bangor and Donaghadee. I think it was 800 AD or round about then. Apparently my father and the other bargehands never got over that. So I always kept out of the road of the Norwegians myself when I got up...'

He described himself to me as 'ethincally Celtic Irish in today's popular observations', but with 'a British birth certificate' who enjoyed childhood on the 'Norman-French estates' of the Ards Peninsula.

'... When I (with my parents) moved to Outer West Belfast in 1948, I felt always an immigrant from the Ards Peninsula and the view of the Mountains of Mourne overlooking the Ards Peninsula encouraged memories of the above background, environment and geographies of the Ards when I was a child ...'

So, a complex, interesting, humourous, down-to-earth series of memories and observations. I'd love to meet him some day, he sounds like a man with oceans of stories to tell.