Before the Anglo-Normans arrived in the 1170s, Ulster was different. Dalriada connected today's North Antrim with Argyll in Scotland. Today's County Down was the confusingly-similarly-entitled Dal-Araidhe.
I had a great night just before Christmas in giving an illustrated talk to Upper Ards Historical Society in Portaferry. They have been very helpful and supportive over the years and it's always good to go and share information with like-minded neighbours. I'd like to get to more of their meetings but the busyness of life gets in the way. Their Journal is an exemplary production, and over the many years it has been published some of my late grandfather's poetry has featured in it.
On the afternoon before I went, I flicked through my copy of An Ards Farmer; or, an Account of the Life of James Shanks, Ballyfounder, Portaferry by James C Rutherford, published in 1913, the year after Shanks' death. Shanks was a renowned collector and antiquarian, fascinated by Ards Peninsula history from Stone Age artefacts to the 1798 Rebellion, with a love of Robert Burns and Presbyterian history. (oh to have a time machine...)
Shanks was a friend of G.F.Savage-Armstrong and they shared a love of ancient historical tales, G.F.S-A. providing Shanks with all of the inscriptions from Ardkeen graveyard. Shanks wrote a letter to the Belfast Morning News in 1908 in which he pointed out that an ancient urn, with human ashes, had been found near the pillar stone of Ballyrusley, said to be those of 'some Cuchullin warrior' who had been 'Chief of Tara'. Locals will know that Tara Hill on the Ards Peninsula is near Millin Bay, just south of Kearney village.
Shanks refers to 'Ferdoman, the Bloody-weaponed King of the Ards' who was involved in the Battle of Moira in AD637 and who is said to have escaped uninjured. Shanks believed that Ferdoman was King of Tara:
'... Is now held up by Congal. The standard of Suibhne, a yellow banner, The renowned King of Dal Araidhe, Yellow satin, over that mild man of hosts, The white- fingered stripling himself in the middle of them. The standard of Ferdoman of banquets, The red-weaponed King of the Ards of Ulster, White satin to the sun and wind displayed Over that mighty man without blemish ...'
– from Congal by Sir Samuel Ferguson
Ireland's history is far more divided and splintered than most people today are allowed to know. Just like in Scotland there have been multiple regional kings and clans and tribes and chieftains and kingdoms through the centuries, fighting with one another long before anyone from England got involved. Narrow nationalism, designed to inflame, aggrieve and 'radicalise' recent generations, is nonsense. The full story needs to be told and understood.
• Click here for some brilliant information about Tara Hill / Tara Fort including a 360˚ panorama of the view from the top. (from the Voices of the Dawn - The Folklore of Ireland's Ancient Monuments website)