Sunday, September 17, 2017

The 'Ulster Reunions' in Glasgow, 1882–1912 / Gustav Wolff and our three-stranded identity

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Around the same time of the annual Scotch-Irish Society of the USA gatherings in America, there were similar events in Glasgow. The first of these was in 1882 but the earliest record I can find is of the sixth one, held on Friday 9th December 1887 in the Grand Hall of the Waterloo Rooms (shown above), under the auspices of the Antrim and Down Benevolent Association. The Waterloo Rooms were the ‘re-brand’ for the former Wellington Church in Wellington Street; around 1910 the new Alhambra Theatre was built on the site.

The great and the good were there. Lord Kelvin had chaired the 1886 meeting; he spoke at the 1887 event, commenting on his ancestry and his childhood spent around Conlig and Bangor. Thomas Sinclair also gave a speech. There was a lot of Unionist sentiment in the few speeches I've seen, which of course was typical of the time. Psalms were sung, common ancestry and industrial interests were celebrated. Even W G Lyttle gave some performances. Rev Thomas Somerville, the minister of Dennistoun Blackfriars in Glasgow, commented that when on a visit "to a little place outside Ballymena, he was astonished to find Scotch spoken far more purely than they had it in Glasgow".

Gustav Wolff chaired the 1895 event - in his speech he recalled arriving at Ballymacarrett over 30 years before, remembering that 'the cottages were strawroofed, and there were handloom weavers in nearly every one of them', and so much praise given to the subsequent growth of Belfast, and the industrial success of Ulster in contrast to the rest of Ireland. He went on:

'... It is not any natural advantage we have; and the question must therefore be put, What is it? I think to a very great extent it is owing to the different races that inhabit the North of Ireland ... there is nothing like a Scotchman, there is nothing like an Irishman, there is nothing like an Englishman, but what I think is that there is nothing like a happy combination of all three. It is the combination of these three races which has produced one race in Ulster which has the hopefulness of the Irishman, the sturdy perseverance of the Englishman, tempered by, I think, the somewhat canny qualities of the Scotchman ... we are self-relying, and we feel that if we wish to succeed we ought to do it ourselves ...'

There you go, three-stranded identity again, the triple-blend. The newspapers of the time have long and detailed accounts of the Ulster Reunions. They ran for at least 30 years, maybe longer.

There’s a PhD in this for somebody. Or at the very least a good solid publication.

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