Saturday, March 17, 2018

'Hame' by John Stevenson, aka Pat M'Carty, Belfast (1903)

John Stevenson (1851-1931) is another of our under-appreciated writers. He was one of the partners of the renowned printing firm McCaw Stevenson & Orr, which still exists today as MSO Cleland and was fairly high profile in Ulster business and literary life.

He was born in Rostrevor in 1851 ‘where his family were temporarily residing’. His father, also called John, had been the manager of Linfield Mill in Belfast, and the younger John took a job with Barbour’s Linen Mill at Hilden. He lived in Bangor briefly (the family had a property near the Dufferin Demesne called ‘Everton’ which was sold in 1874) but for most of his life he lived at a house named ‘Coolavin' on the Malone Road in Belfast. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, Chairman of the Board of the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women on Templemore Avenue, a member of the Kirk Session of May Street Presbyterian Church and later Fisherwick Presbyterian Church. He was also involved in the Belfast City Mission.

He died at ‘Coolavin' in early June 1931 and had an ‘eloquent tribute’ at Fisherwick by Rev John Waddell, and was buried at the City Cemetery. ‘Coolavin' had a summer-house decorated in scriptural and literary inscriptions. His wife Catherine died at Coolavin on 28 February 1954; the house was replaced by ‘Queen’s Elms’ in the 1960s.

He wrote the excellent popular history Two Centuries of Life In Down, 1600-1800, published in 1920 (online here) and a number of other books. His first was a collection of poems and short stories using an alter-ego character called Pat M’Carty. These had first appeared in a periodical called The Pen, and so impressed was the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava that he called at Stevenson’s office to find out who Pat M’Carty was!

The full volume appeared in 1903, entitled Pat M’Carty - His Rhymes, and included some Ulster-Scots translations of some of the Psalms. I have made good use of these over the years. An online edition is available here.

Some of the Rhymes were later set to melodies by Sir Charles Stanford, and sung by Harry Plunket-Greene - the British Newspaper Archive refers to ‘Cushendall', 'The Crow', ‘Night' and 'Daddy Long Legs' being performed in the Aeolian Hall in June 1910 as an 'Irish Song Cycle' - and also at Devonshire Park in September of the same year. Following a concert in the Free Trade Hall on 30 January 1911 a review in the Manchester Courier described them as ‘excellent examples of the peasant lore of the country’, giving special mention to pieces entitled 'Did You Ever’ and ‘How Does the Wind Blow?’.

Stevenson’s A Boy in the Country was published in 1912 and is online here. He also published his own 1917 translation of De Latocnaye's A Frenchman’s Walk Through Ireland, which dates from 1796-7 (online here). This includes the now almost immortal line ‘Belfast has almost entirely the look of a Scotch town and the character of the inhabitants has considerable resemblance to that of Glasgow’.

Prominent people of yesteryear were completely comfortable with all aspects of their Ulster-Scots heritage. Here is how John Stevenson / Pat M’Carty expressed the concept of ‘hame’. Really good stuff.

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