Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Unusual voices

Many years ago I was introduced to the writings of Michael JF McCarthy (1864–1928); from memory I think somebody local to us was clearing out their books and I was given a clatter of them, some were big hefty volumes. McCarthy found himself on the wrong side of the religious-political establishment of his time and he became a prolific author. I think the ones I acquired are in a box in the roofspace.

McCarthy's was a dissenting voice, and he is said to have inspired his contemporary Frank Hugh O'Donnell (1846-1916). Born either in Carndonagh in Donegal, or possibly in Devon, O'Donnell appears to have been a bit of a maverick but also a staunch Home Ruler, as the title page of his History of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1910; online here) shows. It lists his credentials as 'formerly MP for Galway and Dungarvan; ex-member of Council of Home Rule League of Ireland; ex-Vice-President of Home Rule Confederation in Great Britain; and ex-President of Glasgow Home Rule Association'. That's him below. He also features in the National Portrait Gallery (see here).

Surprisingly, O'Donnell was a fan of the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, as his letters to various newspapers in Ireland show. Those which appeared in the Belfast News Letter in 1903 were later published as a booklet. More to follow.

Monday, July 22, 2019

"Isn't it all just sectarian?"

I froze in my seat momentarily but tried to not let it show. A while back I was in 'polite company' and one of the people who was there, who I'd never met before but who knew a bit about me, remarked "Ulster-Scots – isn't it all just sectarian?". You expect clever people to choose their words a bit more carefully, but it was in equal parts stupid and yet honest. That perception had been formed in the mind of an otherwise intelligent human being.

Its fellow-traveller remark is "it's all just political". These twin tracks have been relentlessly reinforced ever since the Belfast Agreement catapulted Ulster-Scots from the fringes into the middle of contentious public life in Northern Ireland. I remember life at those pre-1998 fringes. I remember someone back then saying to me something like "no matter what the political future holds, Ulster-Scots is about culture, and cultural confidence".

That was true then and it remains true today and tomorrow, from whatever the Brexit future will present.

Lazy minds in Northern Ireland resort to 'sectarian' and 'political' far too easily. Our past, our future and our complexity demands better.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Two views on the 'Glorious Revolution' in National Review


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"...Ask a decently well-read conservative or classical liberal to put a starting date on modern government (meaning by “modern” something like free and fair, liberal and democratic, decent and respectable) and nine times out of ten he’ll tell you 1688. 
It was in the summer of that year that the Dutch prince William of Orange invaded England and took the throne from his uncle and father-in-law, King James II. Under William (to the extent that anything can be said to have been “under William”), Parliament claimed a near monopoly on governing authority and adopted the Bill of Rights 1689, establishing the system of effective non-monarchy that perdures in Britain to the present day — and, the revolution’s defenders say, laying the groundwork for all limited, democratic governments to follow, including that of the United States..."
 ..........................................

These two articles from National Review have popped into my Twitter feed recently. Neither are in my view coherent summaries of the period. But that they have been published at all shows how formative a moment it was / is. It is an era that needs to be 'reimagined' for our present age.

James P Sutton  - In Defence of the Glorious Revolution - click here

Declan Leary - Conservatives should not celebrate Religious Tyranny and Coercionclick here

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Friday, July 19, 2019

James Connolly, 12th July 1913

James Connolly2.jpg

A few months after the huge public events which saw the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant in September 1912, James Connolly was in Belfast on 12 July 1913, watching what he called the 'Orange Walk' - a term less militaristic than 'march' or maybe even 'parade' – and 'walk' is the term still used in Scotland to this day.

He wrote a lengthy article about what he saw and his reflections upon it. The whole piece makes for fascinating reading and is online here. If you have an interest in such things I would strongly encourage you to read it.

It's not just about the 12th, but goes back to the Plantation era, the Glorious Revolution, and the experiences of the 1700s and 1800s. He was very obviously well-read - how many 'Ulster Prods' either back then or today know about Andrew Stewart's History? It's been reprinted and is available here.

I wonder how much of an influence the Milligan family had been on his thinking? Connolly met Alice Milligan in the mid 1890s and her brother Ernest - who would later publish a small collection of Ulster-Scots flavoured poems – helped Connolly set up socialist organisations in Belfast and sold copies of The Workers Republic for him. (back in early 2018 I posted a series of articles here about the Milligans – see here).

There are points in the article where I disagree with him, there are points where I think he misses key ideas, but overall there's a lot there that I do agree with. He can see the differences of social class between those who carried out the Plantation of Ulster, and those who migrated to people it. He can see the 'three cultural strands' of Irish, English and Scottish. Being Edinburgh-born, to County Monaghan parents, maybe his own circumstances enabled him to understand. He could express admiration for aspects of the 12th and also level criticism. He could see some of the contrasts and contradictions within Ulster Protestant Unionism. He had bothered to read, listen, learn and think.

... The reader should remember what is generally slurred over in narrating this part of Irish history, that when we are told that Ulster was planted by Scottish Presbyterians, it does not mean that the land was given to them. On the contrary, the vital fact was, and is, that the land was given to the English noblemen and to certain London companies of merchants who had lent money to the Crown, and that the Scottish planters were only introduced as tenants of these landlords ... 
... Nor did the victory at the Boyne mean Civil and Religious Liberty… In 1704 Derry was rewarded for its heroic defence by being compelled to submit to a Test Act, which shut out of all offices in the Law, the Army, the Navy, the Customs and Excise, and Municipal employment, all who would not conform to the Episcopalian Church. The alderman and fourteen burgesses are said to have been disfranchised in the Maiden City by this iniquitous Act, which was also enforced all over Ireland. Thus, at one stroke, Presbyterians, Quakers, and all other dissenters were deprived of that which they had imagined they were fighting for at “Derry, Aughrim, and the Boyne.” …

Less than six months after the article was published, by the end of 1913 Connolly had helped to found the Irish Citizen Army, and so began the road which would lead to the Easter Rising, and his death by firing squad. History is full of 'what if' scenarios...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

CS Lewis, Ulster-Scots, and Oxford

On a recent visit to Oxford a friend recommended we should go to see the pub called The Eagle and Child (Wikipedia here) where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein frequently met, from 1933–1949, to discuss the deep-rooted craft of storytelling. Tolkien was convinced that there is only really one story, which he outlines in his 1939 essay On Fairy Stories. Lewis would propose to him that underlying every story is the one True story, a 'true myth'. When we got there it was packed with customers so photography opportunities were limited.

Lewis of course understood that Ulster-Scots was and is a legitimate cultural thread within Ulster's fabric, and used the term himself in his writings. His maternal ancestors were Hamiltons after all. His father Albert Lewis famously encountered Ulster-Scots vernacular being used in a court cases which he acted as a solicitor in - photo attached of the surprising case of Ulster-Italian Maria Volento (sic). A search of the Census of Ireland 1911 shows three households of Valentes living in Belfast.

You'll find various CS Lewis references elsewhere on this blog.



Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Rev John White and the ‘Eagle Wing’ recce

While in England recently I visited the birthplace of Rev John White, a founder of the Massachusetts Bay Company and Puritan colony in 1628. Our own ‘Eagle Wing’ minister John Livingston of Killinchy, and his friend William Wallace, did a recce from Groomsport in 1634 and met with White in the south coast town of Dorchester to plan their ill-fated voyage which took place in 1636. Wikipedia here.





Sunday, June 30, 2019

County Cavan and 1641





I've been 'down south' a fair bit recently, in Cork and in County Cavan. The image here is from an interactive presentation which caught my eye in the multi-narratived excellent Cavan County Museum, about the 1641 massacres. It's not why I was there but it has triggered some thoughts.

Little is said or acknowledged about these events in 'the north' these days. The written eyewitness c. 8000 'depositions' were digitised a few years ago by Trinity College Dublin and are searchable online here. Credit to our southern neighbours for doing so.

Thousands of Protestants were murdered at that time (conservative estimates speculate 4,000–12,000; - some have exaggerated them upwards to over 200,000, whilst others have sought to mitigate and downplay them). The atrocities caused the Scottish Parliament to send a Presbyterian army over to Carrickfergus in 1642.

By that time, among the dead was the Essex-born Anglican, and former Provost of TCD, the Reformation-minded Bishop William Bedell (1571–1642; Wikipedia here), who had translated the Bible into Irish. From 1629 he had been based at Kilmore in County Cavan, and was involved in the layout of the small Cavan town of Virginia. It's an attractive lakeside settlement today. We stayed nearby last week.

• Rebellion and Imprisonment
When the Rebellion and massacres began on 23 October 1641, Bedell's home and property were initially spared from direct attack, but after about eight weeks he, his two sons William and Ambrose, and his Scottish son-in-law Alexander Clogy, were eventually seized. They were imprisoned in Cloughoughter Castle in County Cavan (as were many others, including a young Hugh Montgomery III of the Ards) for around three weeks, during which time Bedell was said to have been tortured.

• Release and Death by Fever
He and his children were released on 7 January 1642, but, weakened by his captivity, he succumbed to an 'ague' (a severe fever) and died exactly a month later on 7 February 1642. He was buried next to his wife in Kilmore graveyard, but only after first being rejected by the new Irish (Catholic) Bishop because he had been a (Protestant) 'heretic'. His life story was eventually written up by his son, and also by Clogy around 1660. Clogy's account was further developed and published in 1685 by Bishop Gilbert Burnet, another Scotsman and a close confidante of the future King William III of Orange (online here). The theology throughout is strong; pages 210–14 in particular are worth reading as these are Bedell's last recorded words.

• James Seaton Reid's accounts - 'pestilential fever'
In James Seaton Reid's monumental History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the detailed descriptions of the 1641 events which appear in Chapter 7 of Volume I (online here) also include an account of Bishop Bedell's imprisonment and death.

In addition to the deliberate killings by drowning, fire, sword and musket, Reid's account of the 'pestilential fever' which swept the war-torn regions of Ulster, due to the piles of unburied bodies, is pretty grim reading, suggesting well over 10,000 further deaths. Bedell's son later wrote that his father had died of a 'pestilential and deadly ague'. Another biography directly links this general disease and fever with the condition which killed Bedell –

"... the illness which carried off Bishop Bedell, it is to be inferred that it was a malignant typhus fever. This with other forms of pestilence prevailed in Ireland as an attendant on the political disasters in that country of 1641 and subsequent years ..." source here.

Reid called Bedell 'The Tyndale of Ireland' – an evangelist-pastor first and a translator because of those desires and convictions. Not only did he translate the Bible but also produced a Catechism in Irish. He was respected among the Irish community within which he lived and served, at least until the hostilities became widespread. Despite the sufferings he had endured at their hands, they formed a guard of honour at his funeral and fired a volley of shots - possibly with muskets which had been used for murderous purpose.

A quick speed-read through the biographies present a picture of Bedell as being similar to his contemporary Archbishop Ussher - evangelism-minded and, despite his Anglicanism and the high-level power-plays of denominational politics of the time, fair-minded towards those with Presbyterian convictions. He is also said to have been the actual author of an essay usually attributed to Ussher - a defence of the historicity of the theology of the Reformation - entitled “Where was your Church before Luther?”.

I am not sure if any museum in Northern Ireland goes near the 1641 events. Yet it is surely critical in our polarised society that we should understand as much of our history as possible. Yes it is complex, but that's what we need - airbrushed simplifications serve dangerous purpose.

(NB: A few years ago I suggested that a Blue Plaque be erected to Bedell. I'm not sure if that was ever progressed. It would be worth doing if permissions could be secured, and a simple but comprehensive biography could be published about his life and times.

His linguistic achievement was enormous, but it in itself is not his while story. His context and era were momentous. We have much to learn).

Memoir of the Life and Episcopate of Dr William Bedell by Clogie (c. 1660; 1862 ed) online here
Life of Bishop Bedell By His Son (c. 1670) online here
• Bishop Gilbert Burnet's The Life of William Bedell DD (1685) online here
Mary Hickson's 1884 volumes on the events of 1641 are online here.





BBC Northern Ireland - 'Links to the Past: Pioneers of Ulster Golf' - presented by Gerry Kelly

I had the opportunity to contribute a bit to this programme, presented by Gerry Kelly and made by Graham Little of NPE Media, which was broadcast last Sunday evening. It's on iPlayer here for the next three weeks. I did my usual in providing a bit of historical content, an old poem, and showed Gerry a few marketing items from the first Ulster Tourism Development Association campaign of 1925.

Golf - and especially depictions of ladies' golf - were a key element in promoting the new state of Northern Ireland to a global audience. Interestingly the newspaper accounts of the time show that a 'cross-border' combined tourism campaign was discussed by the two tourism authorities on the island, with billboards in Times Square in New York proposed.

The location of the 1620s 'green for recreation at goff' in Hugh Montgomery's Scottish town of Newtownards - where golf in Ireland is first recorded - is said to have been somewhere near today's Greenwell Street, which is close to the old Priory and bawn which for a time was his home.

Before the big land reclamation projects of the 1800s, Strangford Lough used to reach right up to that point - good, sandy, well-drained ground. I have seen a better map of the town from that era, than the one I've posted here.

• Go to BBC iPlayer 







Welcome to my new readers

A few weeks ago my page counter quadrupled. So 'hello' to all of the new readers who are now here. But don't expect too much, except for 'brain-dumps', fragments, ideas and hopefully a bit of progress and development from my discoveries and formulating of new thoughts.