Friday, February 23, 2018

Part 4: Ernest Milligan, aka 'Will Carew', and his Ulster-Scots influenced 'Up Bye Ballads', 1907

IMG 4282• Introduction: A search for a song
In the 1940s, Burma-based Ulster soldier Signalman Eric Clark from Ormiston Drive in Belfast, while convalescing in a hospital tent and ‘in a beleaguered jungle-box on the Assam-Burma border’, wrote and later published three little pocket-sized Ulster Quizbooks. I bought them all in a second hand shop about 20 years ago, fascinated by what must have then been regarded as general local knowledge. A fair amount of it is today knowledge which has long-faded and is no longer in our ‘head space’.

In the first booklet, quiz 45 question 4 asks:
There’s a song about a Carrowdore lady – what is it called?’.

The answer, given in the back pages, is:
‘Kate of Carrowdore’. 

A fair bit of my life is still spent around Carrowdore, through my family involvement in founding, and still running, the mission hall there. My mother's family are all originally Carrowdore and Ballyfrenis folk, as regular readers here will know. My brother lives just on the outskirts, as does one elderly aunt. Many friends and family live in the general area. But nobody I knew had ever heard of the song. Even a now-deceased, but once-renowned, Carrowdore traditional ballad singer, who used to be visited by music students and of whom tape recordings are believed to exist somewhere, wasn’t known to have sung it.

• Discovering ‘Will Carew’, Ernest Milligan’s pseudonym
But then, about a year ago, I encountered a 1907 publication entitled Up Bye Ballads, all written by a 'Will Carew'. It’s a collection of north Down and Ards Peninsula themed ballads, with good authentic Ulster-Scots vocabulary and expressions throughout. And there within its pages was ‘Carrowdore Kate'. So, therefore, for nearly 40 years ‘Kate of Carrowdore’ or ‘Carrowdore Kate' was well enough known that a soldier in the sweaty fearful jungles of Burma recalled it when thinking of home.

It turns out that 'Will Carew' was a pseudonym - a name adopted by the 28-year-old Ernest Henry Marcus Milligan (1879–1954) – a younger brother of Alice Milligan. Like Alice, he was a close friend of James Connolly, with whom Ernest was a founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and Belfast Socialist Society, and on behalf of whom Ernest did a fair bit of street activism in areas of working class Belfast around the turn of the century.

Yet here he was, comfortably and confidently, using lovely touches of Ulster-Scots in a collection of very good poems and ballads - and in doing so, challenging a lot of present-day perceptions.

Ernest Milligan's use of vocabulary in the two verses shown below isn’t perfect. You can tell he was ‘learning’, rather than had grown up with, the language. The same verses written by a ‘native speaker’ would have used different words - ‘tae’ or ’til’ instead of ‘to’, ‘ain’ instead of ‘own’, ‘whaur’ instead of ‘where’, etc. Yet in the subsequent verses he does get some of these important subtleties right - ‘sae’ is used instead of ‘so’, but then falls back into rhyming ‘hold’ and ‘cold’ where it really should have been ‘haud’ and ‘cauld’, or possibly ‘houl’ and ‘coul’.

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But as a collection the poems are really very strong, lyrical, and full of empathy. He must have spent a lot of time observing and absorbing the world of his rural north Down neighbours, a world which - through his writing at least - he briefly became part of. Perhaps Ernest had been influenced by the Ulster-Scots literature of family friend WG Lyttle who had died in 1896; and maybe also George Francis Savage-Armstrong, author of Ballads of Down (1901) who had died in July 1906. In many ways, Ernest Milligan’s modest 1907 collection Up Bye Ballads deserves to be placed alongside them.

More to follow...

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Part 3: Alice Milligan and Ulster-Scots in 'Shan Van Vocht', 1898

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There are two plausible origins for influential Irish Republicans Alice Milligan (1866–1953, shown above) and her brother Ernest Milligan (1879–1954) being interested in Ulster-Scots. It is possible that their mother, Charlotte Elizabeth Burns, who was the daughter of a Samuel Burns (who ran the ‘Scotch Haberdashery Warehouse’ in Main Street, Omagh) may have been of Ulster-Scots or Scots origin themselves. Charlotte married Seaton Milligan on 28 January 1862 at Omagh Wesleyan Chapel. If there’s a biographer out there somewhere who knows I’d appreciate being corrected on this.

The more likely connection is that their County Down summer homes – seaside escapes from their moneyed Belfast lifestyle thanks to their father’s 50-year career with the linen firm Hawkins, Robertson & Ferguson, later renamed Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co in the city centre – brought them into close contact with Ulster-Scots speaking locals. The first of these was described by another brother, Charles Forest Milligan (1883–1983) who served in the Royal Navy during the Great War, later became a Councillor and Alderman for Bangor Council from 1934–1973, and was awarded an OBE in 1966. In his 1975 memoir booklet entitled My Bangor from the 1890s he said it was:

‘a cottage at Donaghadee known as Angus’s Cottage on the Warren Road near the standing stone’.

The standing stone was at the junction of the Warren Road and the Stockbridge Road. Here's an 1800s map of the area, with the stone in the top left corner. A development called ‘Rock Hill’ is there today.Ballywilliam

This is exactly the geography and scenario described by Alice in her tale The True Story of a Grey Mare of Ballywalter, and a member of the Royal Irish Academy - the ‘member' being the Milligans’ father, Seaton Forest Milligan. It was first published in Alice’s periodical Shan Van Vocht on 12 December 1898, which is online here.

She begins with a description of the cottage, confirming Charles’ account –

“Along the coast of North Down there runs a road skirting the sea, from Bangor, past Groomsport, past Donaghadee, and away round to Ballywalter, at the head of the Ards Peninsula. For many summers the chosen sea-side residence of my people was a picturesque cottage a mile or so beyond Donaghadee. It was separated from the road merely by a walled garden, beyond the road was a low wall, and over that wall you could roll into the waves when the tide was in. Honeysuckle and roses grew up the walls and peeped in at the sky-light windows. It was a delightful little cottage, and how we all fitted into it I have often wondered since."

The story continues that one summer evening Seaton was outside reading the newspaper on a garden bench; a horse-drawn cart stopped outside their house; stopped for a while but the people - a red-bearded man and a very old woman all dressed in black - didn’t get out. Seaton was concerned and went to see if something was wrong. 

“Something is wrong with the cart, thought our practical man, and jumping from his seat, he asked if he could be of any assistance. The red-bearded man was gathering words to answer when the old woman got ahead of him and in shrill brisk accents of broadest Co. Down Scotch, gave the following amazing explanation:

“We’re no botherin oursels tae hurry, mon dear. The mare has jist stappit, and I wudnae hae John whup her on. She’s an unco wise beast an’ kens there’s some ill afore us, so we’ll e’en bide here till she gangs on o’ her ain free wull"

She spoke so rapidly there was no chance of interruption, and our practical man fumed with indignation at the idea of anyone delaying by the roadside to humour the vagaries of an old grey mare. He scorned to address himself to the woman who was the victim of so crazy a delusion.

“Good gracious man,” he said, shouting at the son, “How far have you to drive?"

“We hae tae mak Ballywalter the nicht"

And so on. The tension rises, Seaton intervenes, the horse gets cross and bares its teeth

“Obstinate brute,’ said her foe, “Does she bite?"

“I hae never kent her tae bite onybody, but nae doot she wad bite you, guid mon, afore she’d gang on frae here, supposin she kens there’s some danger lourin’.

By this stage a crowd had gathered, both of Milligan family members and ‘some country neighbours’ who ‘shook their heads and advised no interference with the mare, whilst they recounted similar supernatural occurrences and gave instances of the prophetic instincts of sundry collie dogs, cows and ganders’.

Enraged, Seaton then gathered up his sons, and returned with large buckets of water, and lashed them at the horse which took off in fright. The boys then turned the buckets into drums to make a lot of noise, which kept the horse going to escape the din.

The country folk shook their heads in awe and doubt, and which a self-satisfied smile the head of the house returned to the garden seat. Perhaps he drafted in his mind a lecture or paper for a learned society of which he was a member on the subject of ‘Some Surviving Ulster Superstitions’.

It’s a great wee story in itself – but it’s not over yet, because the same horse is back again later that day, with the same passengers, and the old woman speaking yet more Ulster-Scots… read it for yourself. (It was reproduced in the Cork Examiner on 28 April 1900).

The importance of all of this is Alice Milligan’s recognition, and respectful treatment, of the Ulster-Scots speech of her summer neighbours. She could easily have ‘Anglicised’ their words as so many writers of that period were prone to. But we know that the Milligans were friends of W.G. Lyttle, and so perhaps his influence and work had rubbed off on them too.

Tradition matters. Everybody who cares about tradition should value all forms of it, both their own and the traditions of others. Empowering one over another, advantaging one over another, legislating for one over another, is a road to nowhere. In former times, language and culture and politics did not align the way they are presented today. Sometimes it take an old wise grey mare to stop on the road to reflect before going any further.


• In 1888 Seaton Milligan and his daughter Alice co-authored a book called Glimpses of Erin (online here).
• Alice Milligan’s biography by the Royal Irish Academy is online here

UPDATE: Alice’s brother, Charles Forest Milligan, published a standard English version of the same story in his Bangor memoirs booklet Second Thoughts, published around 1980.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Part 2: Alice L Milligan and the Scottish St Patrick traditions

This from Alice L Milligan’s periodical Shan Van Vocht, 6 March 1896. I have tons of research and references to these Scottish traditions, once widely-known, now almost vanished. Another project… more Milligan material to follow.

Milligan Patrick

Monday, January 29, 2018

Part 1: Irish Republicans and 'broadest County Down Scotch' - the writings of Alice L. Milligan and Ernest Milligan

Major blog post brewing which might raise a few eyebrows.

In the recent, wonderful, Radio Ulster broadcast A Birl for Burns (online here) Seamus Heaney remarked in a 2012 interview that ‘the Nationalist side are identified with the Irish language, and the Unionists would be more inclined to Ulster-Scots. That’s a relatively recent development. For senior persons … there was no question of that, it was just part of their language’.

I recently found that the Milligan family, steeped in Irish history through their renowned antiquarian father, Seaton Forest Milligan, had a summer cottage on the shore of Ballywilliam townland just north of Donaghadee, along today’s exclusive Warren Road. His famous daughter Alice was at ease with including Ulster-Scots dialogue in some of her published stories; the less well-known son Ernest published a very strong collection of his own self-penned Ulster-Scots poems and ballads.

Both Alice and Ernest were close to James Connolly. Ernest was a founding member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its Belfast Socialist Society in 1898 - yet around the same time he was also a member of Ballyholme Sailing Club in Bangor where he was photographed sitting next to a young James Craig, future Unionist MP for East Down who would go on to become the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Milligans were upper middle class, you might even say today that they were ‘champagne socialists’. Yet the usages of Ulster-Scots in their writings shows a pretty credible connection with the common folk, a mode of speech that Alice described as 'broadest County Down Scotch’, and the existence of which a 1908 Dublin review of Ernest’s collection said:

“… will come almost as a shock to the Irish-Ireland reader … there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British or shoneen … its speech is not English, but Lowland Scotch … the mother tongue of James Hope and of the congregations of those United Irish Presbyterian worthies Porter, Steele-Dickson, Kelburn and Warwick … we welcome this volume as evidence that the Scotch-Irishman has not lost the gift of song. The subjects are homely and natural; the verses fluent and tuneful ...'.

More to follow...

2018 01 26 08 42 16Ernest Milligan

Monday, January 22, 2018

“Mr. Gookin out of Ireland wholly upon his owne Adventure…” - a Puritan English-Irish settlement at Newport News, Virginia, 1621

There is an old cliché - ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. It’s amusing, but it’s also dangerous, because the short-term gain is very likely to be exposed and therefore discredit any truth that the story contained.

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Winchester, Virginia, is a place that’s been mentioned here a few times. Its Old Stone Presbyterian Church (pic above) still stands, a beautiful building in simple form, in the middle of the historic town. It was built in 1788 and has a classic barn-style form, not unlike Presbyterian churches in Ulster. One of its early ministers was Rev William Hill, who, in 1839, published History of the Rise, Progress, Genius and Character of American Presbyterianism (online here).

The book has lots of interesting stuff, including a reference to a settlement in 1621 at Newport News in Virginia, just south of the Jamestown settlement, which seems to have been the first successful voyage from Ireland to America

In the year 1621 a gentleman of some note came over, with a number of servants and labourers in his train, and, among the rest, eighty Irish settlers, Who these Irish were we are not told; but as Catholics were forbidden to enter the territory, we know they were not of that class. They were not likely to be Episcopalians, for that denomination were rarely found in Ireland in that day among the lower class of society. The probability is, they were Scotch Irish Presbyterians, as far as they had any religious preferences. Where Master Gookins, as he is called, located his plantation, we are not told; it is probably that it was upon some outskirt of the then settlement, where they would be less likely to attract notice, or meet with disturbance for the want of conformity in the established worship … there is reason to believe that they had not become extinct when the memorials Makemie arrived ...'

- from History of the Rise, Progress, Genius and Character of American Presbyterianism, William Hill, 1839 (online here)

What is doubly significant is that this is another pre-Famine usage of the term ‘Scotch Irish’. However… in terms of his analysis, it looks like Hill was making a major creative leap. For it turns out that this settlement wasn’t Scotch-Irish at all, it was English-Irish.

A bit of digging around shows that ‘Master Gookins’ was Daniel Gookin (1582–1633), an English Puritan from Kent, who had briefly relocated to Carrigaline in County Cork, as part of the second Munster Plantation of around 1604, when around 4,000 English settlers relocated to there (others more knowledgable than I can clarify this). He also had some land in County Longford.

(The Winthrops, best known for their activity in Massachusetts in the 1620s & 1630s, had also been part of the Munster Plantation, settling at Baltimore in Cork in 1606. They would later play a key role in the organising of Eagle Wing’s voyage from north Down in 1636)

The Gookins became very influential in Cork society; Daniel’s brother Vincent would become High Sheriff of the County. Daniel Gookin’s transatlantic voyages were primarily to transport ‘fair and large cattle of our English breed’, to sustain the existing English colonies at Jamestown, but some passengers went too.

His neighbours and fellow Englishmen Sir William Newce and Captain Thomas Newce had already founded an English settlement at Bandon, County Cork known as Newce’s Town, and they came forward with a scheme to transport up to 1000 people to Virginia. The Newces' first ship landed in October 1621, naming the location New Port Newce (today Newport News) but the passengers were ‘very few people, sicklie, ragged and altogether without provision’, and all died a few days later.

Gookin’s expedition landed nearby a few weeks later on 22 November 1621 on a ship called The Flyinge Harte, captained by a Dutchman called Cornelius Johnson. News of Gookin's success reached the Virginia Company in London in March 1622, which was ‘hailed with joy’. Gookin bought 150 acres of land outright and named his settlement ‘Marie’s Mount’, after his wife.

His second voyage, on a ship called Providence, arrived in Virginia on 10 April 1623, led by Captain John Clarke, who had famously captained the Mayflower.

Some of the passengers names are given here - but they seem to me to be mostly English names, rather than obviously Scottish or Irish.

Red abbey

Gookin also sought a Royal grant for the mythical Saint Brendan’s Island (Wikipedia entry here), said to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (and thought to have been recently discovered). Gookin returned to Ireland not long after a significant Indian attack on his colony. He is thought to have died in Cork in 1632/33 and was buried at Red Abbey (shown above). However in later years the abbey suffered a major fire and so as far as I can find he has no known grave or memorial there.


Ireland’s stories are not always Irish. Neither are they automatically Ulster-Scots or Scotch-Irish. There is always a need to take a broader view.

•  His son, also called Daniel Gookin (1612–1687), followed in his footsteps and eventually became major general of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (see biography here).
•  A PhD Thesis on Gookin and archaeology in Cork is online here.

PPS: the plaque below from the Old Stone Presbyterian Church shows that it was used by the Baptists from 1834 onwards, and from 1858–1886 by the ‘Old School Baptist Church of Color’. 

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Johnny Cash - from the 19th Century to Nine Inch Nails.

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Johnny Cash was a regular in our house when I was growing up. Not in person of course, but his voice was a frequent soundtrack. I remember being a bit shocked when I first paid attention to the words of Delia’s Gone. Burl Ives or Jim Reeves this was not. I don’t think Johnny Cash ever ‘shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’, but it was easy to believe that he might have done.

As Cash’s long career rose and fell, and rose again and fell away again, it was towards the end that he soared and some of his best work was recorded.

One of his famous American Recordings albums contained the multi-award-winning version of industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails’ track Hurt (released 2002). After he died, a box set called Unearthed was released, including a set of 15 hymns recorded during 2003.

The track listing is below, along with the year the hymns had either been first published or first recorded

1  Where We'll Never Grow Old (1914, James Moore)
2  I Shall Not Be Moved (traditional, first recorded 1929)
3  I Am A Pilgrim (first recorded 1917, Imperial Quartet)
4  Do Lord (c. 1950, V.O. Fossett)
5  When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder (1893, James M. Black)
6  If We Never Meet Again This Side Of Heaven (1945, Albert E Brumley)
7  I'll Fly Away (1931, Albert E Brumley)
8  Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies (first recorded 1928, written by William M Golden)
9  Let The Lower Lights Be Burning (1871, Philip P Bliss)
10  When He Reached Down (1947, JFB Wright)
11  In The Sweet By And By (1868, Sanford F Bennett)
12  I'm Bound For The Promised Land (1787, Stennett)
13  In The Garden (1913, C. Austin Miles)
14  Softly And Tenderly (1880, William L Thompson)
15  Just As I Am (1835, Charlotte Elliott)

For an artist to encompass nearly 200 years of song, from 21st century alternative rock to early 19th century hymns, is utterly remarkable. It is hard to imagine any other performer being able to carry that off, and to in fact make these songs his own.

Perhaps, as track 6 above begins, ‘when we come to the end of life’s journey’, it will be songs which will come to mind, bringing reminiscence, joy, and comfort. Because by that stage, as the emotional sledgehammer line from Hurt says, ‘You can have it all, my empire of dirt’.

Today, in a world where the line between sacred and secular seems to be getting more sharply defined, it is hard to imagine a time when there were crossovers. Yet when you really delve into the history of the music, crossovers were the fertile ground that brought freshness. Many of the writers of popular hymns in the 1800s were also secular songwriters, skilled practitioners, commercially successful, bringing their gifts and talents to a range of genres.

How many of today's songs will still be sung in 200 years' time?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Murray Rothbard and The Ulster Scots – Conceived in Liberty: "the revolutionary and even libertarian roots of America" (1975)


Murray Rothbard’s landmark 4 volume set from 1975 about the birth of American democracy, Conceived in Liberty, (Wikipedia entry here) includes a chapter entitled 'The Ulster Scots'. You can read it on Google Books here. Rothbard (1926-1995) was a hugely influential figure in 20th century libertarian thought (Wikipedia entry here).

‘The Ulster Scots were the largest immigrant group in the eighteenth century. These men were, in the main, intense Presbyterians from lowland Scotland whose families had been settled in Ulster in northern Ireland during the seventeenth century …'

The Mises Institute describes their recent combined edition as follows:

There's never been a better time to remember the revolutionary and even libertarian roots of the American founding, and there's no better guide to what this means in the narrative of the Colonial period than Murray Rothbard.

Rothbard's ambition was to shed new light on Colonial history and show that the struggle for human liberty was the heart and soul of this land from its discovery through the culminating event of the American Revolution. These volumes are a tour de force, enough to establish Rothbard as one of the great American historians.

It is a detailed narrative history of the struggle between liberty and power, as we might expect, but it is more. Rothbard offers a third alternative to the conventional interpretive devices. Against those on the right who see the American Revolution as a "conservative" event, and those on the left who want to invoke it as some sort of proto-socialist uprising, Rothbard views this period as a time of accelerating libertarian radicalism. Through this prism, Rothbard illuminates events as never before.