Tuesday, December 29, 2015

James Cleland and the Snake Experiment

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In 1831, James Dowsett Rose Cleland (1767-1852) of Rathgael near Bangor decided to test the legend that St Patrick had not only driven the snakes from Ireland, but that he had also made the island uninhabitable by them. Cleland went to Covent Garden in London, bought six snakes (natrix torquata), and brought them home where he released them in his own garden.

Within a week one of them was killed six miles away at Milecross near Kiltonga outside Newtownards, causing great excitement and concern among the local population. It was taken to the naturalist Dr James L Drummond (1753-1853), Professor of Anatomy at Belfast Inst, who was horrified by the discovery of a snake in Ireland. One minister preached on the subject, suspecting the end of the world was nigh, and another linked the snake’s appearance to cholera.

Rewards were offered for the other snakes - three were soon killed fairly close to Rathgael, but the whereabouts of the other two was unknown. However, according to the Belfast News Letter of 9 December 1831, Cleland gave two specimen snakes to the Belfast Natural History Society.

The story has been printed in many publications ever since, most of which are based upon a detailed account in Edinburgh author Robert Chambers' (1802–71) famous volume Book of Days which was published in 1864. The writer of this account said that he had ‘resided in that part of the country at the time, well remembers the wild rumours' – locals are said to have called the dead snake a ‘rale living sarpint’. Another of his publications - Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, regularly published stories from Irish history.

Here’s the relevant article from Book Of Days, which interestingly also contains many of the other Scottish traditions of St Patrick which I have mentioned here often before.

In 1847 Chambers wrote this of a visit to Dublin:

When lately in Ireland, I was, like all other tourists, struck with, and interested in, two things the opposite of each other — one, the surprising number of objects of antiquity, indicating a former age of wealth, literature, and refinement ; the other, the absence of all present moral vigour, with a wretchedness the very nearest thing to an entire negation of property and comfort. You see the remains of ecclesiastical edifices with the most gorgeous carvings ; stone crosses lying prone in the dust, any one of which would be the marvel of an English county ; and in museums you are shown books of vellum, in the ancient Irish character, bound in gold and silver, and ornamented with precious stones, which are said to be worth, in the present day, thousands of pounds.

In the collection of the Royal Irish Academy I was shown a copy of the gospels which had belonged to St Patrick ; an almost coal-black little vellum book, that could not be a day less than fourteen hundred years old ; and also a similarly antique copy of the Psalms of David, which had been the property of the pious Columba, who went as an apostle to Scotland about the year 563. The eventful history of these literary relics was of course duly verified, and afforded, among other things, room for much melancholy reflection.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Glenfield & Kennedy (Kilmarnock) water pumps

I've been noticing these over the past while. Here on the Ards Peninsula two are in Cloughey (pink and brown) and one in Millisle (green). There's a more elaborate one in St Johnstown in Donegal with a lion's head. Glenfield & Kennedy were a huge firm in Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, selling products around the world. It seems that they were suppliers to local authorities in Ulster, and Ireland as a whole. SAM 4762 SAM 4761 SAM 4769 SAM 4768 SAM 3881 SAM 3879 Bradley 0498

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

"We'r Needin tae Talk Aboot Wir Language" – Michael Dempster | TEDxInverness

The Ulster Irish Society of New York (founded 1926)


Founded in 1926, the Ulster Irish Society of New York seems to have been an influential group in its day, hosting swish annual banquets at top hotels in New York, with guest speakers such as pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. It is interesting that there was a time when 'Ulsterness' was chic and fashionable, even in the New York City of the 'Roaring Twenties'.

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At the top table in the pic above is typography legend, Illinois-born Frederic William Goudy who presumably must have been of Ulster ancestry. His family surname was originally spelled Gowdy but this was changed in 1883, his parents were John Fleming Goudy and Amanda Truesdale.

One of the big Gowdy histories, published in the USA in 1919, says this –

'… The pioneer ancestors of this branch of the Gowdey-Goudey family, like so many other early American settlers bearing the name, represented the sturdy Presbyterian stock who carried their "Articles of Faith" with them when they left the vales of Ayrshire in Scotland for their new home in the "Ards" on the Peninsular in the County of Down in Ireland; and the elements of moral and religious character conspicuous in unnumbered generations of their fore-fathers were cherished by them and transmitted as a priceless heritage to their posterity …' –source here

As for Amelia Earhart, here's what she said in her 1933 address to the Society, who presented her with a roll of linen woven from flax from the field she landed in, near Londonderry –

" I never had greater hospitality than was shown me in Ireland, " concluded Miss Earhart. " I am going back some time, and I am going to take Mr. Putnam (her husband) with me to see if it is as beautiful as it looked to me on landing. And now I am going to tell you something which may be of interest to you - my mother's father's parents came from Londonderry."

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The first church building in Portavogie

Fishermans Hall

The Fishermen's Hall, or Fishermen's Mission Hall, was built in late 1886 and opened in 1887, on a site on the Warnock's Road. I remember being in it on at least one occasion in the 1970s. A 'tin tabernacle', it is long-gone, finally demolished in the 1980s. One of the leading men in its establishment was Thomas Shaw, an Elder of Kircubbin Presbyterian Church. A newspaper advert in 1886 said that –

"… it is intended that the Building will be used for Weekly Services, Prayer Meetings, Sunday Schools, and Bible Classes, all to be conducted on Evangelical Principles. Subscriptions from those interested in the moral and spiritual welfare of our Fishermen, and who may desire to show practical sympathy with this praiseworthy effort, sholl be thankfully acknowledged ...".

For 40 years this was the only evangelistic outreach in the village, apart from the occasional event in the Orange Hall, of which an 1885 newspaper article said "… in addition to its legitimate uses, serves admirably for either a religious service or a 'whisky ball' ...". Perhaps this accelerated the desire for a distinct place of worship!

The village had flourished in the mid 1800s. In the 1850s it was said that there was only a few houses, but by 1885 there were nearly 300, and a population of around 1000 people with 400 men employed at the fishing in the summer herring season.

Portavogie Presbyterian Church, and the non-denominational People's Hall, both opened in Portavogie in 1926.

As far as the wider locality is concerned, at nearby Butterlump a Gospel Hall had been founded - also in the 1880s - by James Patton, a watchmaker of Newtownards following a trip he had made to Stranraer to meet a preacher named John Walbran. In later years my grandfather was involved at Butterlump. Cloughey Presbyterian Church dates from 1841, and St Andrews Parish Church at Ballyeasborough from 1850.