Friday, April 19, 2019

Allan Ramsay (1684–1758) on snobbery and 'ignorance of native language'

The quote below, from Scottish and Scots language poet Allan Ramsay (1684–1758), is pretty spectacular. His works were reprinted numerous times in Belfast over the centuries; I have a copy that was passed down to me by an aunt some years ago.

"There is nothing can be heard more silly than one's expressing his ignorance of his native language, yet such there are who can vaunt of acquiring a tolerable perfection in the French or Italian tongues if they have been a fortnight in Paris or a month in Rome. 
But shew them the most elegant thoughts in a Scots dress they, as disdainfully as stupidly, condemn it as barbarous. But the true reason is obvious. 
Every one that is born never so little superior to the vulgar would fain distinguish themselves from them by some manner or other and such it would appear cannot arrive at a better method. 
But this affected class of fops give no uneasiness not being numerous for the most part of our gentlemen who are generally masters of the most useful and politest languages can take pleasure for a change to speak and read their own..."

- From the preface of The Ever Green, being a collection of Scots poems, wrote by the ingenious before 1600, Allan Ramsay (1724)

online here
• Excellent article by Philip Robinson on here


I am persuaded that the only way that there will ever be momentum around Ulster-Scots language will be in appropriate partnership with Scots language in Scotland. As you can see from the both barrels blast above, the issues of class, 'vulgar' speech and disdain for the 'native language' were the same 300 years ago as they still are today.  Ramsay also saw the need to reprint historical Scots language literature to help persuade his contemporary audience of its importance and veracity. And as you can see from the images here, from the 1728 edition of Poems by Allan Ramsay (online here),  Ramsay corresponded with William Starrat from Strabane.

William Starrat's poem to Allan Ramsay was dated 15th May 1722. Surely, almost three years from now and as the first Ulster-Scots language poet, this tercentenary is deserving of commemoration? Perhaps an Ulster History Circle blue plaque at a suitable location in Strabane or Lifford.

Co-operation across the North Channel is our past, and it is also our future.

Migrations from Ireland to America

There are details within this video which could be better, but overall I am glad to see a recognition of cultural and experiential variety between the Scotch-Irish emigrants of the 1700s and the Famine era Irish of the 1800s. It's not about competition, but completion. That is important and is to be welcomed. Hopefully a sign of a better future.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

BBC Northern Ireland - Sam Henry 'Songs of the People'

(What a terrific gate and pillar!) I'm really looking forward to this new series, starting this coming Sunday and available on iPlayer after that. When later musicologists, such as Alan Lomax in the USA, had the ability to transport recording equipment around rural communities to record the song traditions, Sam Henry from Coleraine (1878–1952) was a couple of generations earlier and combined his love of collecting traditional culture with a 'proper day job'. Nevertheless his work is monumental and world-famous - the celebrated song collection Songs of the People (most recently reprinted in 2010 by the University of Georgia Press) and his own photography (link here) in particular. His varied collection reflects the varied cultural life of Ulster.

He was also part of the early interest in Ulster-Scots-American presidents, publishing his research into the President Chester Alan Arthur connections with Cullybackey in the Belfast Telegraph in December 1938 (see previous blog post here), including the 1882 visit of the President's son, Chester Alan Arthur Junior, and President's sister Mary Arthur M'Elroy, to the ancestral cottage which still stands today. Junior got sick from eating gooseberries from a nearby bush, and was then given 'a piece and milk'. Mary had brought her late Ulster-born father's diary with her, which began 'I was born in the Dreen, near Cullybackey'.

In the same article Henry traced the Arthur family's roots back to Dunoon, on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland; he quoted an extract of a song about Dreen which had been written by Dr George Raphael Buick, and told  of how Betty Arthur the President's great-aunt, sat at her spinning wheel at Killycowan near Ballymena singing the old ballad 'Willie's On the Dark Blue Sea', which had been written by Henry S Thompson.

Sam Henry concluded the article with the blockbuster question which those of us who love this stuff frequently ask ourselves in an ever-faster world – "Of what avail is the rehabilitation of these bones of the past?".  For me, these are the things which make us more than just consumers or voters. They make us rooted human beings.


Sam Henry Songs Of The People 
Sunday 21 April
BBC Two Northern Ireland, 10.00pm

A new series for BBC Northern Ireland explores the unique story of Sam Henry and his monumental music collection - Songs of the People - that is often referred to as an ‘Ulster jewel’ and a century later, remains hugely important to folk artists around the world. 

Starting on BBC Two NI on Sunday 21 April at 10pm, Sam Henry Songs Of The People is a two-part series – comprised of a documentary and concert - looking at the man behind the music and how his passion for preserving the past produced a diverse collection of more than 800 songs that is unique to Ulster and recognised internationally. 

Born in Coleraine in 1878, Sam was a noted public speaker, folklorist, photographer, local historian and genealogist.  He began collecting songs and taking photographs while working as a customs and pensions officer. Travelling around small farms and villages, he carried a fiddle and played music to put people at ease, recognising there was a wealth of stories and songs to be shared. 

In this revealing documentary, folklorists, archivists and contemporary music collectors, examine how Sam’s pioneering approach - in an official capacity and later when song collecting - placed him at the heart of rural communities and inspired his greatest work. 

Sam appreciated the diverse cultural heritage of local communities and their traditions, and looked for an outlet to share the huge collection of material he had gathered; between 1923 and 1939 he wrote a column for the Northern Constitution publishing the continuing series Songs of the People. 

In his own words, Sam said the aim was to “search out, conserve, and make known the treasures of the songs of the people” and he collection spanned both Ulster-Scots and Irish traditions.

Sam Henry Songs Of The People has been supported by Northern Ireland screen, through the Ulster-Scots and Irish Language Broadcast Funds. 

The second programme in this two-part series, to be broadcast on BBC Two NI on Sunday 28 April, is a special concert celebrating Sam Henry’s vast and diverse song collection with performances from folk artists including Andy Irvine, Cup O’ Joe, Pauline Scanlon and Scottish folk singer Hannah Rarity.

Songs of the People captured everyday life in the early 20th century and gives us a fascinating insight into the past, reflecting both the Ulster-Scots and Irish traditions that made the north west, where Sam Henry lived, so unique. 

Sam Henry Songs Of The People is a Sonas Productions and Below The Radar TV co-production made for BBC Northern Ireland, starting on Sunday 21 April at 10pm on BBC Two Northern Ireland.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


If your worldview sees only 'power' and 'oppression' then even migrations are perceived or claimed to be 'colonial' invasions or occupations. Migrations between the coastlines of Ireland and Scotland have been going on for thousands of years. Posted here are some maps from William F Skene's Celtic Scotland, published 1876, showing our small part of the world in the 5th and 6th centuries.

As you can see 'Scotia' was the name of the landmass on the west of the North Channel, ie today's Ireland. But people migrated eastward, and so did that name. Eventually the landmass on the east of the North Channel was given the name 'Scotland'.  Sometimes, especially in creative writing, it has also been called 'Scotia' (see here for just one example).

So who 'colonised' who? Which nefarious 'power' contrived this human outrage? Or is migration a natural part of the human experience around the world?

Migration repeatedly brought people back and forth across the water. Migrations and settlement happened before the much-maligned organised Plantation of Ulster of 1610. And migration and settlement continued for centuries afterwards. The first map below (which, as with recent posts is from Barry Griffin's remarkable mapping of the Census of Ireland) shows people born in Scotland who were living in Ireland in 1901. So were these folk colonists or migrants?

We probably need to 'decolonise' the vocabulary we deploy, and use the correct and accurate terminologies, because language shapes perception. And loaded language is dangerous.

PS - there's some very interesting DNA analysis on this whole subject. The Scottish Origenes website has some fascinating content, including the map I've posted at the very bottom here which says that, genetically, the Lowland Scots who arrived into 1600s Ulster were biological descendants of Inishowen Gaels.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

W.A. Ross & Brother Limited - Belfast Beverage producers

William Adolphus Ross (1817-1900) was born in Dublin, a son of a banker called Henry Ross. (Henry was originally from Belfast as confirmed by newspaper reports of the untimely death of his teenage daughter Letitia Isabella, aged 14, in 1829, where he is described as 'Mr Henry Ross, of Belfast, late of Dublin'. When Henry died in 1863, at Holywood aged 77, he was buried at the 'new burying ground' in Belfast).

William had been been the managing director of Cantrell & Cochrane, where his business acumen saw the Belfast soft drinks operation become more profitable than the Dublin headquarters (see here). This article reveals more. There was a fall-out within the firm; William left and set up his own business in summer 1879 - which became a true Belfast global giant.

His new firm became famous simply as Ross's, selling mineral waters and ginger ales around the world from Belfast. Their advertising and giftware is iconic and sought-after still today. You can still find some of Ross's signage high up on the Belfast skyline at the entrance to the Victoria Square shopping mall, where their former head office building still stands.

He lived at a house called Iv-a-Craig in Craigavad, where he died on 22 September 1900 and was buried at Holywood.

His son George Harrison Ross took over the Belfast operation. His other son, and namesake, William Adolphus Ross, had settled in New York some time in the  (at Livingston, Staten Island) and opened up commercial opportunities for the company there. This advert is from the New York Times, 22 June 1910, and the trade card below is from Boston.

But lesser known are their forays into alcoholic beverages. Here's a photo of their 'O.P.S.' brand of unblended old pot still whiskey, clearly sourced from Comber Distilleries (the established 1825 date is the giveaway). You can also see from the label that the firm had operations in Belfast, Liverpool, Leith near Edinburgh and London. Their Liverpool outlet for a time had an arrangement to bottle and supply Guinness.

W.A. Ross junior died in July 1912 in Edinburgh, having just been in Belfast the week before. Even though he had been a resident of New York for many years he remained a member of the Ulster Reform Club.

Eventually, in the 1980s, the story went full circle when the famous firm merged with Cochrane's and the Ross's brand was closed.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Not English dictionaries - "low and vulgar"

This image has been circulating online over the past few days. The original source is page 23 of The Provincialisms of Belfast and the Surrounding Districts Pointed Out and Corrected, by David Patterson (Belfast, 1860 - pdf online here). These are mostly Scots language origin words, but once again their status misunderstood and mocked.

Patterson was a teacher at the Ulster Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, and was himself blind. Even if well-intentioned by Patterson and his ilk, this is the kind of social élitism which causes a society to under-value its own linguistic heritage - reducing a rich vernacular to simply 'not English'.

On page 6 Patterson dismisses 'the half Scotch of the country people, of which we say nothing, as it is not supposed to be in use among the natives of Belfast'. There was no educational or institutional support for Ulster-Scots. Its popularity and publications were despite the efforts of 'the establishment'. Perhaps that is still the case today.

Many of these 'low and vulgar' 'half Scotch' country people would move to Belfast where, two generations later in the early 1900s, they and their rural kinfolk would get the language question on their census forms so badly wrong.

(Below is the Chambers Scots Dictionary definition for 'scrunty' which had been blacked-out above).

Friday, April 05, 2019

(Part Two) Barry Griffin, the Census of Ireland, and the mysterious long-lost Gaeltacht of Antrim and Down?

Barry Griffin's wonderful website / database mapping has been causing some excitement around the internet. In a Facebook group I am involved in, this map in particular has really fired the imagination. It confirms without a doubt my long-held hunch about the questionable reliability of the language question on the census forms as a measurement for Ulster-Scots cultural areas (see my previous post, and the 2017 post linked to within it).

Remember - the Census of Ireland form had only two language options that the respondent could choose - either English or Irish. And as you can see, Barry's mapping technology shows that according to those completed forms, County Antrim and the northern half of County Down had what at first glance looks like a Gaeltacht community, comparable to those of the west and south of the island - made up of people who completed that two-option question on the census form as 'Irish'.

Shown below is a section of the form as completed by my own ancestors - from my May 2017 post here. As you can see it had originally been completed as 'Irish' but this was then scored out, presumably by the official who visited the homes to collect the forms and who realised that this had been entered incorrectly. This scoring out of Irish is known to have been widespread in Antrim and Down. However, the digitised Census, compiled by the National Archives of Ireland which is online here, and which Barry Griffin's mapping is based upon, has disregarded the scoring out.

This example isn't unique to my family or my immediate area. I know people in other parts of the Peninsula and around Newtownards who have found the same thing when researching their family trees. Similarly around villages in South Antrim. But it had never been fully measured until Barry's amazing maps appeared last week - these now show the full extent of the phenomenon for the first time.

Of course there were definitely some Irish speakers in Belfast due to the rapid growth of the city, and I expect that more reliable stats or estimates for those exist – but thickly spread across the enormous hinterland that runs from Ballymoney to Ballynahinch to Ballyhalbert and beyond? To this extent?

Additionally, Barry's Census language map corresponds pretty much identically to the other well-known Ulster-Scots language area maps - with the only exception being east Donegal. Perhaps the proximity of, and therefore familiarity with, the actual Irish language there is a factor.

As you know, my contention since I started looking into the issue in the census forms from my own backyard here on the Ards Peninsula, is that these folk weren't Irish speakers at all, even though they wrote that they were. And the discovery of a vast hidden Gaeltacht in the east of the province is literally in-credible, ie completely lacking in credibility. There is no way a vast phenomenon like that would have 'vanished' from popular awareness since 1911.

The key to understanding this is that these people knew that they weren't English speakers - so they chose 'Irish' on the form. However, it is beyond likely that in actual fact they were Ulster-Scots speakers.

A trilingual society (English/Irish/Ulster-Scots), with a bilingual bureaucracy (only English/Irish), leads to flawed results.

Bear in mind too that 1911 was something of a high water mark of Ulster-Scots publishing output within that same region. There's a long list of authors, poets and newspapers whose work incorporated Ulster-Scots at some level, and which was both popular and commercially successful within those exact same communities, in the c.1880–1910 era.

Barry Griffin has not only produced a remarkable piece of technology, but also a hitherto unparalleled evidence for the scale of Ulster-Scots language usage in that era - the era of my grandparents' childhoods.

• I have a number of friends who have a genuine love for, interest in, and commitment to, the preservation and promotion of the Irish language. So this observation is in no way any criticism of the Irish language on my part. But it is a 'plea' of a kind for the language promoters and commentators out there to come to terms with the fact that the Census language data is, for east Ulster at least, a highly unreliable starting point - and for recognition of the value, importance and historicity of the Ulster-Scots vernacular. It deserves its place.

• For a long time there has been an ongoing need to prove the historical veracity of Ulster-Scots, in the face of opposition and ignorance. This mapping helps with that. But today it is even more important to make it interesting and meaningful for the present generation. So what if somebody's great-grandparents were probably speakers? Today's generation have never met those people. What will make today's generation care?

•  A good example of the linguistic confusion is this extract from the 1844 collection by Robert Huddleston, the Ulster-Scots poet from Moneyreagh, County Down – which appears in the May 2017 post about the census digging I was doing at the time – in which he insists that the language he writes in is 'Ulster Irish' and not 'Scotch' at all)

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

(Part One) Search your Surname on Barry Griffin's excellent maps

This website is attracting a lot of interest just now, and rightly so. It is a fantastic resource. Have a dig around it for yourself. One interesting aspect is the mapping of the language details on the censuses, which have also been mapped. Below is the Thompson one for Irish-only speakers.

I am going to stick my neck out a little and reiterate the hunch I expressed here a while back in this post. I think that a lot of the country folk whose understanding of themselves is recorded in the forms were aware that they didn't speak 'proper' English and so they chose the only other alternative that the form provided - 'Irish'.

My hunch is that a significant proportion of them were in fact not Irish speakers, but were Ulster-Scots speakers. And in the case of this map, which shows my Thompson ancestors exactly where I still live here on the Ards Peninsula, that is 100% undoubtedly the case.

That is not to diminish the cultural importance of the Irish language in general, but caution must be exercised in citing the censuses as authoritative linguistic research sources.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Balmore Belfast Scotch Whisky - R&D McAlister

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Brexit, Trump, etc - The Ulsterisation of 'western' politics

(Images here from the 2005 movie V for Vendetta)


I've avoided committing these kinds of thoughts to pixels, apart from briefly here in June 2016, but here goes. I still think that culture is more important, enduring, and flexible, than politics.

Regardless of your stance on Brexit, I think that we are observing the  'Ulsterisation' of UK politics, and perhaps politics across wider 'western' society. But it hasn't happened overnight. It has been developing, ignored, for the past few decades. Like the plot of some sci-fi B movie, unspoken forces were seeded underground a long time ago and have been creaking and hatching ever since. Suddenly they have now broken through. The wreckage is everywhere.

Countries which have for those decades ignored their social fractures and tensions, are now experiencing the sort of 'two tribes' politics which we specialise(d) in here, and for which we used to be chastised by various world leaders. Now their successors are experiencing similar dynamics within their own populations.

Brexit has forged two political communities in the UK which have very little to do with the old party loyalties of the past 100 years. The state of the Conservative and Labour parties show this - both are riven on the issue. The endless diet of coverage galvanises these two communities into hard camps.  'Leave' and 'Remain' are no longer just administrative preferences, they have quickly become badges of personhood, defining the new human tribes of 'Leavers' and 'Remainers'. There are few shades of grey in between. As with here, for generations these tribes have read their own newspapers, listened to their own spokespersons, absorbed their own journalists. They do so even more so now, creating 'echo chambers' of 'bias confirmation', consuming what suits their tastes from the digital media menu, messages which reinforce that you are right and good and they are wrong and bad.

As with here, socially these tribes hardly ever encounter each other. They live in different worlds. When they find themselves in each other's presence, there is a discomfort or near-horror; social etiquette causes them to avoid the big issue and maintain polite small-talk. So there is little or no interaction, little or no empathy. 'They' must be defeated.

The two communities have widely differing life experiences, inherited understandings, lifestyles, and aspirations, and the EU Referendum was simply an outlet for that. David Goodhart has famously described these as the somewheres and the anywheres (BBC video here). Since June 2016 they have become committed opponents, suspicious of each other and unable or unwilling to empathise with the other. Maybe even now forged into enemies. Just listen to the phone-in shows. Watch the social media arguments. Speak to your friends in England in particular. If you make a light-hearted remark on the subject you do so at your own peril.

Once-sensible media voices become fevered. The decline of the traditional media has turned into a dogfight for survival in the online world, where advertising revenue depends upon clicks, and so the outrage machine has developed to generate anger, and to then convert that anger into income. One community gets told lies about the other, about people who were until very recently their neighbours. Hideous caricatures are painted in your mind about the type of people they are. You start to believe the exaggerations. You get radicalised.

Just why did 17.4 million people vote 'Leave'? Are they all - as the mainstream media would have us believe - stupid, gullible, racist, bigots? Gordon Brown's 2010 accusation that 65 year old Rochdale woman Gillian Duffy was a 'racist' comes to mind. Emily Thornberry's similar remarks about 'white van man' in 2014 are another example. Trump voters are similarly characterised by the loudest American voices.

I doubt that these simplistic diagnoses are the full story. Because no 'decent person' wants to be any of those things, perhaps the smears are strategically deployed with the intention of causing a recoil, and thereby stopping some of those people from ever voting that way again. But smarter voices - like this video from the Cato Institute – have a deeper set of thoughts.

The entire UK has been polarised and Ulsterised – along lines that are different than ours, but with similar social effects. And it has of course added a whole new world of complexity here, and the issues around the border and 'backstop'.  Northern Ireland has lived in an ambiguous dual-nationality detente since 1998. There is no room for ambiguity now.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks, the tectonic plates have utterly shifted, releasing huge subterranean pressures, and the future will not just be a simple reset to a pre-2016 world. Whether there is a Brexit or not, the underlying issues which caused Brexit in the first place have never been fully identified and taken seriously by government, not reflected upon by the media and the nation, not considered by neighbours. Those issues still, dare I say it, remain.

But there will be no going back.

(PS: Acclaimed Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi's forthcoming book, Hate Inc. - link here - looks like it will be an important one.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Beware of some academics – "The Globalization of Irish Traditional Song Performance" by Susan H. Motherway (2013)

My rather odd inclusion in this 2013 book (GoogleBooks edition here) came back to mind the other day. I stumbled upon it a few years ago, with some surprise and then bewilderment. The author - who made no contact with me or the other guys in the group (as confirmed by the list of contributors) - dissected the CD booklet notes, and overlaid an analysis, perhaps fulfilled the course requirements and satisfied the publisher's expectations. But this mangling is what can sometimes happen when normal low-key people's lives become 'content':

"the constructivist nature of Ulster-Scots music, the political overtones of this music, and the perceived low standard of performance are preventing Ulster-Scots from entering the global market".

It might come as a surprise to Susan H Motherway, but sometime people of very limited ability simply enjoy music for their friends, families and local communities with not a care in the world for what the politics and sociology fixated few, or the 'global market', think. I would suggest that some of the other references within the chapter are ... revealing in their tone and implication.

The first 'Low Country Boys' CD Gran Time Comin is/was a local effort with limited sales and popularity. So, using it as some kind of cultural quality or legitimacy indicator is like comparing Portavogie Rangers with Real Madrid. I remember the late, renowned, Geoff Harden reviewing one of our performances where he said something like 'vocally okay but instrumentally mediocre'. He was probably right!

This is not an isolated example. Numerous academics have used Ulster-Scots as content fodder for their own purposes, I have experienced and observed this myself, and I know it has been the experience of many others. These academics selectively home in on the themes and material which suit their own momentary interests, but to the exclusion of the wider available canon. On one level it doesn't really matter. But it leaves behind a trail of (potentially) skewed misrepresentations, with a gloss of academic authority. These live for a long time both online and in libraries, and cast a long shadow of influence. But the course is passed, the grades are achieved, and they move on to the next subject.

In my own design and interpretative work, I make very sure to consult and clear people's contributions before printing. Folklorists of times gone by would go to great lengths to treat their contributors with respect and to present them with authenticity. This seems to not apply as an ethic for some academics. Plenty of knowledge but no understanding, and no desire to understand.

In a world now obsessing about 'privilege' (some of which is to me exaggerated and divisive, but some of which is absolutely true) then surely there is academic privilege. This entitles some in the academy to scrutinise and critique people who are much further down the social hierarchy, who have much less power, who don't have access to well-funded career paths, publication contracts and intellectual and social influence - 'punching down' if you will.

Be careful out there.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Liberty first, loyalty second

This is the natural order. Liberty is the essential and, if liberty is provided, then loyalty is warranted. John Brekell (1697-1769) was an English Presbyterian and an inheritor of that tradition which demanded liberty first, and from that, loyalty second.

It makes no sense to be loyal to a state - whether monarch or government - which is restricting individual or community liberty. This is I think the consistent instinctive position of the Ulster-Scots community, even though they/we might not understand that or articulate that. There are numerous examples of this. So it makes no sense to be a 'loyalist', without a commitment from the state - no matter what part of the world you live in, no matter what historical era - that your liberty is secure. Liberty at risk has often galvanised Ulster-Scots to resistance and revolution.

As the 'Father of Black History', and son of freed slaves Carter G Woodson famously wrote in 1916 –

'… the strongest stock among these immigrants, however, were the Scotch-Irish, "a God-fearing, Sabbath-keeping, covenant-adhering, liberty-loving and tyrant-hating race" which had formed its ideals under the influence of philosophy of John Calvin, John Knox, Andrew Melville, and George Buchanan. By these thinkers they had been taught to emphasise equality, freedom of conscience, and political liberty ... when they demanded liberty for the colonists they spoke also for the slaves ... the ideals of the westerners were principally those of the Scotch-Irish, working for "civil liberty in fee simple, and an open road to civil honors, secured to the poorest and feeblest members of society" ... they therefore hated the institution [of slavery] ... on the early southern frontier there was more prejudice against the slave holder than against the Negro ...'

Liberty first, loyalty second. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Alice Milligan and the stoic emigrations of 'Scots of Ulster' - from 'Glimpses of Erin' (1888)

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Presbyterian whiskey - Samuel Wilson Boyd (1860–1932) "... bottled-up happiness, it drives away the heartache..."

Boyd & Company Old Irish Whisky artefacts and memorabilia come up quite regularly.

For about a decade Samuel Wilson Boyd (1860-1932) was Chairman of The Old Bushmills Distillery Company having been the founder and owner of Boyd & Co. Distillers, Belfast. Born in Belfast, his latter years were lived at Fairbourne, Fortwilliam Park in Belfast. He was a member and 'liberal subscriber' at Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church (which closed its doors in October 2018).

His first job was with the Belfast spirits firm Mitchell & Co, who also had interests in Glasgow.  Their founder, William Charles Mitchell, was born in Glasgow in 1834 but came to Belfast in the 1860s to manage the 'crowned king' of Ireland's distilleries, Dunville & Co.. Mitchell was a founder of the St Andrew's Society in Belfast.

Around 1902 Boyd bought Thomas Quinn & Co of Hill Street, which later became Boyd & Co. He was chairman of the Ulster Anti-Prohibition Council and also of the Distillers and Wholesale Wine and Spirit Merchants Association.

The Census of Ireland in 1901 and 1911 shows that the family were then living at Claremont House, 1 Ardenlee Avenue (I think the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church is now on the site). Their son Cecil was killed in the Great War; he is named on the roll of honour in Whitehead Presbyterian Church. The family sold the house in August 1919.

1923 was a big year for Boyd – he bought the Bushmills distillery, and later that year all of the offices and warehouses that Bushmills owned in Hill Street. He also took to the stage that same year as you can see here:

He oversaw Bushmills becoming a limited company in 1930, with two of his sons as co-directors. He toured America for some time, investigating the effects of Prohibition. He died in June 1932, the funeral was conducted at Fortwilliam Presbyterian and he was buried at the City Cemetery.

Edwin Henry Shaw and the Scottish Saint Patrick mosaic in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Edwin Henry Shaw was yarn merchant who lived at Ailsa Lodge, Craigavad. and had business premises in Bedford Street, Belfast. He was the benefactor who paid for the building of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in St Anne’s Cathedral, which includes the spectacular mosaics by sisters Gertrude and Margaret Martin, one of which is a ‘tympanum’ that depicts St Patrick sailing from Scotland, with a Scottish saltire flag at his feet (shown above).

The two London-based artists spent at least 4 years on the Cathedral, from 1928-1932, having previously worked on similar commissions at Westminster Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament (see their Patrick, Columba and Brigid mosaic below).

What is particularly interesting is that none of the newspaper reports remark on the prominent Scottish imagery on the mosaic – suggesting that the traditions of Patrick’s Scottish origins were widely understood and accepted in that era.

The Chapel was consecrated on 5 June 1932 and dedicated on 9 June by the Bishop of Warrington and Bishop of Birmingham, which was a ticketed event. The Belfast News-Letter reported that the Bishop of Birmingham said ‘I take it that we rightly see in the Saint a Christian of Western Britain, whether his home was near the Clyde or in South Wales’. The paper also said that the mosaic showed ‘the coming of St Patrick, and his divinely appointed work of bringing light and liberty to Ireland’.

The Dean remarked that ‘Belfast had not hitherto found much room for the expression of religious emotion in terms of art, architecture, music, warmth and colour, owing in part to the circumstances of its growth, in part to their cold northern climate, and in part to their native Puritanism’.

It seems that Shaw had wanted to remain anonymous, but his identity became known against his wishes.

When Edwin Henry Shaw died in 1944 the newspapers of the time say that he left behind an estate of £216, 153. He had made multiple personal bequests, but the great majority was equally shared among five organisations –  the Cathedral, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Church Missionary Society, the South American Missionary Society, and the Royal United Kingdom Beneficent Association.

Edwin Shaw was the brother of Brevet-Major S H Shaw, who died in 1904 and left his estate to Edwin and their sister Elizabeth. Their father had been Charles Wolfe Shaw.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

James Craig and family, 1921

(photo above from 1921)

Every now and again I dip into the St John Ervine 1949 posthumous biography of James Craig, entitled Craigavon Ulsterman. Ervine frequently uses the term Ulster Scot to describe the Craig family origins. Craig is best known as the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and notorious for his usually decontextualised quote 'Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State'. It came up recently in conversation with a friend, whose perception of Craig has been almost entirely formed by repetition of that infamous 1934 soundbite, but who was unaware of the context, which is on Wikipedia here. Most people don't know that it was said in response to similar remarks from his Southern Ireland counterparts. Others out there will know the sources, I don't have them to hand here.

The biography also includes an interesting extract from 's Seán Ó Faoláin's acclaimed 1939 biography of Éamon De Valera, which appears to confirm that there was discrimination in the South - 'neither north nor south need pretend that the other is alone in this kind of penalisation on account of religion and private opinion'.

Efforts to create what might be called a mono-cultural ethnostate on the island of Ireland, or in one or other jurisdiction on the island of Ireland, should be equally acknowledged, and equally repudiated. It was not restricted to north or south. But our future can be better if we re-examine and critique our pasts, not just reinforce soundbites for ideological advantage. We choose what baggage we carry with us. Inflamed grievances will take us nowhere good.

Ireland is an island of cultural variety, and the province of Ulster arguably contains the most variety of all, if you can think beyond the stereotypes. Vikings, Anglo-Normans, Huguenots, Quakers, Moravians, Jews, Italians, Eastern Europeans - as well as the Irish, English and Scots.

We can also have differing worldviews from our neighbours. Neither is necessarily 'wrong', or 'bad', or 'evil' - but maybe just radically different through experience, understanding, perspective and aspiration. Realising that is important – whether in Northern Ireland specifically, the wider UK in terms of 'remainers' and 'leavers', or in the USA with the issues that led to the election of Donald Trump.

The 2021 centennial of Northern Ireland, handled well, presents an opportunity to improve understanding and relationships - by challenging 'fake news' narratives, by setting aside cherished mythologies, and by trying to improve everyone's cultural future.

As politics across the western world unravels, culture is still where the positive potential is.


Below - a 1929 poster showing the co-operation of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland on the agricultural and fishing industries. The respective tourism bodies openly proposed a joint marketing campaign in the USA including a billboard in Times Square in New York. Yet to listen to today's 'accepted wisdom' we might assume a history of constant conflict. It's not true - be wary of those whose careers depend upon creating that impression.