Wednesday, September 30, 2020


I found this photo again recently, from 2004, a lovely and once-famous old local farmstead. It's gone now but it was one of the many that inspired me when gathering ideas for what we would eventually buildWith modern regulations to comply with and a different shape of site, ours turned out a bit differently. We tried to keep the 'longhouse' notion as best we could, and of course the classic red doors.

Islandmagee Ulster-Scots 'gunrunning' aftermath postcard, 1914

I am reading a lot just now about Islandmagee and I found this again this evening. Multiple complexities here in the aftermath of the Larne gun-running of 1914. Scanned from a book of vintage Ulster postcards, published by Linen Hall Library.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Informers and agents everywhere – G.K. Chesterton's 'The Man who was Thursday'

"A poor man has much more interest in good government than a rich man. A poor man must stay and be misgoverned; a rich man has a yacht".
– G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton (1874–1936) was a renowned writer, still held in high regard today. He was firstly a 'high church' Anglican and later a Catholic theologian. The photo above is of his grave at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, very close to where my in-laws live, and I had hoped to visit it this past summer but coronavirus banjaxed those plans. He is very quotable and has multiple fans on Twitter, tweeting little chunks of Chesterton every day.

Last summer I read his gripping 1908 novel The Man Who Was Thursday (Wikipedia here). It's set in London, and is about a man who is approached by the police to infiltrate an anarchist group who are plotting a terror campaign. He very quickly rises through the ranks to take a seat at the top table of the organisation, where an odd collection of individuals all have codenames which are the days of the week. He becomes 'Thursday'.

As the novel develops it turns out that every single one of these anarchists is also a police agent or informer. It's never been out of print and has been dramatised by BBC Radio Four (iPlayer link here), and also a movie as recently as 2016.

In recent weeks in Northern Ireland we numerous revelations of informers within armed groups of all political shades, from away back at the very start of our Troubles right up to the present day. A sizeable segment in the Radio Ulster current affairs discussion programme Talkback just today was about this story. There have of course been decades of stories like these seeping out. All of which begs the question – if each of those groups was so riddled with agents, then who was pulling the strings, for what reasons, and why was it allowed to drag on for so many bloodied years?

Some have claimed that our conflict was a social experiment and that Northern Ireland was a kind of laboratory where new strategies could be tested. 

Whatever the truth is, I doubt we will ever really find out. As a noted journalist wrote back in January in an article on the subject – "The central truth about Northern Ireland, which stands as the primary enabler that makes the utterly impossible often perfectly probable, is that it is a society based on lies. Everyone lies there. Everyone. They lie to themselves, they lie to one another, they lie to their children, they lie to their friends, they lie to their enemies. Lies are the currency of almost all intellectual exchanges..."

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Ulster Covenant and Charlotte, North Carolina – 12 September 1912

"When the Scotch-Irish have a case of conscience they have it bad" – The Charlotte Observer of North Carolina reporting on the Ulster Covenant, September 1912 –  connecting it back to Scotland's National Covenant of 1638 and their own Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775.


Tyler Childers 'Long Violent History'

 This is a very interesting contextual video to Tyler Childers' new fiddle album

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

'A crack' with Paddy O'Neill – James Craig, their wives, and the importance of relationships

If coronavirus wasn't dominating the phone-in shows, the forthcoming centenary / centenNIal of Northern Ireland would be. It manages to squeeze in between the gaps every once in a while. This recent article by Professor John Wilson Foster is excellent. Today, in looking for something else, my eye caught this extract from St John Ervine's Craigavon, Ulsterman, his biography of James Craig the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Craig and Patrick O'Neill were political opponents, but they were also personal friends. O'Neill was a hotelier in Warrenpoint, and evidently their wives shared a mutual regard too. You can see in the page image below, Craig "liked the man and did not let their differences divide them".

This is an important reminder that relationship can transcend political difference. I hope that in all of the political history we'll get next year, much of which will be divisive and will be deployed by spokespersons to justify century-long events and present-day positions, that there will be also be room to acknowledge that stories like this happened too.

There has not only ever been conflict. Those who insist there was usually benefit in some way from persuading others of that claim.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shamrock, Rose and Thistle – Northern Ireland Parliament Medal – 22 June 1921

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Dublin view of Ulster-Scots, 1914

Rev. Augustine Dillon Cosgrave (1865–1936) was Dublin born and bred, and a member of the Carmelite order. He was a noted historian and his 1906 volume A History of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century (online here) has lots of very interesting material. It's good to read deeply within your own community, but also to read widely beyond it. His perspectives on key events of that century are quite different to the ones I have absorbed.

The 1914 article below, which is on JSTOR here, looks brilliant, showing his understanding that 'Ulsterisms' are overwhelmingly 'really Scotticisms ... a Scotsman may easily be taken for an Ulsterman, or vice versa, if his place of origin be judged by his speech alone ... to a Dubliner, all Ulstermen, whether judged by speech or character, are like Scotchmen'.  

His observation that there is a 'homogeneity of speech which seems to be shared by Ulstermen of all creeds and politics' I think is still largely true a century later, but with regional variations within.

The Catholic Standard of 1 May 1936 paid tribute to Cosgrave as 'not only one of Dublin's most familiar and best-loved figures, but also one of the foremost authorities on its history and antiquities' and went on to say that he 'specialised in modern languages, in which he was highly accomplished'. So his linguistic observations on the Scots influence on Ulster's speech is significant.

He died aged 72, as a result of an accident, and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Thomas Carnduff - "our utter lack of interest in history ... the fault lies with the Government"

"A great failing many Ulster people have is our utter lack of interest in the history and legends attached to almost every strip of land in the North. The fault, perhaps, doesn't lie with the people but with the Government. They have yet to produce a school book giving the reader an outline of Ulster history. A country without history is somewhat like a man without a name; he is born, lives, dies, and is forgotten."

– Thomas Carnduff, from an article entitled "I Think This Stage-Ulsterman Stuff Is About Played Out" in the Belfast Telegraph, 18 November 1942.

From just a few searches in the online British Newspaper Archive I am finding a quite different Carnduff than the standard biographies portray. I have only posted a few here, inspired by his article in The Bell in July 1942 – which it turns out was based on a Belfast Telegraph article from four years earlier on 9 July 1938, which was entitled 'The Literature of Orangeism is No Sham'.

Every editor has either conscious or unconscious bias. With his Blue Plaque on Belfast's famous Linen Hall Library, I think Carnduff has been edited selectively, reduced to a smaller thinker than he was, and a rethink is overdue, by someone capable of doing so. But when you send someone panning for gold, make sure they know what gold looks like.

But his point is key - Northern Ireland was 21 years old, into its second generation, and the Government still had not published a history. 

Thomas Carnduff - 'Ulstermen All' - Belfast Telegraph, 3 August 1923


Thomas Carnduff - 'Wake Up Ulster' - Belfast Telegraph , 6 August 1927

Here Carnduff shows that he must have been drinking from the same fountain as Rev. W.F. Marshall, ticking all the classic boxes - a rallying cry in the early years of Northern Ireland's existence.