Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Ernest Blythe and Newtownards


Kate. Maybe it's yon Scotch body I heard was stopping with them.

Brown. Aye. Yon Mackenzie. Ach, man, but yon creature would scunder you.

from The Drone


Ernest Blythe is a very significant figure in Irish history. Born near Lisburn in 1889 he became a reporter at the North Down Herald newspaper. Here is a photo of him from that era, taking the lead role in an amateur dramatics production of The Drone by Rutherford Mayne (the pen name of Samuel John Waddell, the Japan-born son of an Ulster Presbyterian missionary and founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre). It had d├ębuted in Dublin at the Abbey Theatre in 1908. Waddell's plays have been described as 'fair-minded portrayals of County Down life'.

In a later time of austerity, when Finance Minister for the new Irish Free State government, Blythe cut the old age pension by 10% in an attempt to balance the books in the face of an oncoming 1925 famine, but which was narrowly averted by a good harvest.

Ernest Blythe 640pxSDC11981

An academic paper says this of the company's objectives:

'...all of the contributions highlight the value of emphasizing the North’s regional identity in negotiating between sectarian oppositions. According to Uladh, Ulster was not Ireland, so Ulster plays would be different from the “national” drama presented at the Abbey. Although most of the key members of the Ulster Literary Theatre were nationalists, the company made a case for an Ulster identity that was pluralist rather than dogmatic. The theater was to be run “on broad propagandist lines,” but “non-sectarian and nonpolitical.” This paradox implied an acknowledgment of the complexity of society, and was only possible because the Ulster Literary Theatre viewed its objective in terms that rejected Ulster’s traditional binary oppositions: Catholic versus Protestant, nationalist versus unionist. Its “propaganda” was for the recognition of Ulster as a region with a distinct identity...'