Sunday, January 17, 2021

Ordnance Survey Memoirs, Donaghadee, 1837

Here's another quote demonstrating the scale of 'Scotch' speech in east Ulster in the 1800s – this is from the Ordnance Survey Memoirs from 1837. When you gather all of the contemporary references up, Belfast was entirely encircled by Ulster-Scots vernacular speech – and it was of course evident within the growing city too when those people moved in for the industrial 'boom', and the children of farmers and weavers became world-class engineers, and the old individual wooden hand-loom cottage weavers became mechanised maestros, running factories and leading battalions of labourers who had mastered vast steel-and-iron monster versions 

When Scotsman Rev Dr James McCosh LLD was at Queen's College in Belfast from 1850–1868. His autobiography says that "The plain people … were earnest in their devotion to the cause of liberty, and so also were their friends and relatives among the Ulster farmers. The classes of Queen's College had many members from among these enterprising, industrious, serious people, and Professor McCosh became deeply interested in them". (online here)

His fellow Scot and Queen's College colleague Professor George Lillie Craik spoke at the Burns Centenary events in Belfast in 1859, and said "we have come over and set up another Scotland here - an Irish or Little Scotland, as it may be called. We have made this Province of Ulster - this Black North - half Scotch, or more than half Scotch, in almost everything – in blood, in language, in religion, even in mind and character ...".

This all sets a far more plausible demographic context for the Census of Ireland in 1911, in which the population was given two options of 'Irish' and 'English' to describe their language, and vast numbers in Antrim and Down opted for 'Irish'. It's extraordinarily unlikely that they meant Gaeilge. Here is Barry Griffin's excellent map again –

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Old Comber Pure Pot Still - "striking display" in Belfast, May 1931

The British Newspaper Archive is a wonderful resource, but when you find something as brilliant as this but with understandably poor quality images, it's frustrating! Maybe somewhere in the world somebody has prints of this photograph of whiskey-laden horse-drawn wagons being toured through Belfast in May 1931.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Madness of Crowds, the Danger of Tribes

Humans form tribes. We also worship. Sometimes we worship our tribe. Eric Weinstein has recently said (in this podcast) from an American perspective, that both 'Woke' and 'MAGA' are cults, the quasi-religious worship of ideology. From a Northern Ireland perspective, everybody knows where social severance can lead to.

However, we are all individuals with our own tastes and preferences and influences and responsibilities. But we too easily allow ourselves to be corralled into 'groups' that have been defined for us – which are then squared up against some 'other' group. We are presented with the most extreme voices from the 'other' and we are affirmed that their group are all just as bad.

In an absence of actual relationship, people believe more and more lies about the 'other' far too easily. And, as Voltaire famously said, "You must first believe in an absurdity before you commit an atrocity." Here is a former US President, talking sense.

The White Star of Ireland? A Londonderry postcard from 1907 - "sweet star of the sea"


Sunday, January 10, 2021

The White Shield of Ulster

The more you look the more you see. A few posts ago I showed various examples of the yellow De Burgh arms being used to represent Ulster in a wide range of usages in the late 1800s right up into the 1950s and beyond. And so the impression forms that the more familiar white version came into usage after the Partition in 1921. As is often the case, that assumption is too neat, and isn't true. Here is a range of postcards from the 'We Will Not Have Home Rule" campaigns circa 1911-12, using a white shield. This isn't due to the printer trying to save costs - they are full colour print and adding a yellow to the shield would have been easy. Using white was a conscious decision.

You'll notice that there are Irish messages being signalled too – with the Irish style coat of arms for Ulster (as per the original Ulster Bank coat of arms) which uses the five pointed crown of Ireland, and, in the example above, a 'clan belt' design with an Irish language message - 'Lamh Dearg Go Bragh'.

This one has echoes of the very famous Erin Go Bragh message which was displayed at the famous Ulster Unionist Convention in 1892, a message which can be found being used right across the political spectrum from the United Irishmen in 1798 to a medal struck for King George IV's visit to Ireland in 1821. In 1861 the renowned Belfast Presbyterian publisher William M'Comb wrote a poem entitled 'To The Queen, On the Occasion of Her Majesty's First Visit to Ireland', in which he used Erin go braghVictoria agragh, cead mille failtie and cushla machree (it's online here).

Looking back from our divided perspective, I think we might be prone to retro-fit too much significance into the 1892 image; the use of non-English language mottoes on heraldic emblems to represent families, counties, and nations was/is pretty standard form on heraldry. Honi soit qui mal y pense; Dieu Et Mon Droit; Nemo me impune lacessit, etc.

It was an earlier time, and in some senses a less divided time. Images and messages were being projected without the prism through which our generation has been shaped to retrospectively interpret them. As always, there is more to learn and discover.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

For Peat's Sake! Bushmills and Ulster's distilleries in 1891

In looking for other things I found online a digitised edition of The Industries of Ireland – Part I, Belfast and towns of the North, the provinces of Ulster and Connaught, published in 1891, available here. It's a superb summary of the large businesses and employers of the time and provides what we might today call a 'backstory' for each of them. Most of the expected big names are in it, including of course a number of whiskey distilleries.

The description of Bushmills sounds like an advert voiceover script –

Far up in the north of County Antrim, close to the Giant’s Causeway, and in the midst of some of the grandest of Irish scenery, stands the little village of Bushmills, a quaint and interesting hamlet in itself, and specially noteworthy from the fact that here is situate the famous old Bushmills Distillery. This establishment is at once the oldest and one of the most celebrated of typical Irish distilleries, and the merits of its product in high-class whiskey are known in every land under the sun.The secret of the success of this whiskey undoubtedly lies in the quality of the water of the river Bush, which flows through peat bogs for a long distance, and thus yields a liquid which is specially suited to the distillation of superior malt whiskey. 

You can see the full description on pages 77 & 78. The reference to peat bog is interesting as 'peated' whiskey is today associated with Scotland, not really Ireland (but there are a few exceptions).

• Young, King & Co. Limited, Distillers of Limavady are in there too – owned by Samuel Young MP who was born near Portaferry – whose brand was Brian Boru (page 81).

• Robert A Taylor Distiller from Malt Only, of Coleraine, has an entry (page 157) - their 'H.C.' brand won the coveted Pure Malt Distillers award at the Edinburgh Exhibition of 1886.

• Duncan, Alderdice & Co of 74 Hill Street Newry are described as being the owners of the "Old Distillery" in Monaghan Street (page 159) with their brands "The Native", "Hand-In-Hand" and "White Label".

• The Irish Whiskey Company Limited of Queen Street Belfast (page 118).

• Strangely there's no mention of the giant of them all – Royal Irish Distilleries / Dunville's

• The Lough Neagh Pure Whiskey Company (page 71) with offices at 105 Royal Avenue, Belfast - this one reads like a hugely ambitious prospectus concept to turn Glenconway Mill on the banks of the Glenavy River into a new distillery, using a new system called 'The Improved Wallace Multiple Pot-Still, patented 17th May 1887, No 7,190) and gives a lyrical description of how this new system would work. And the ultimate seal of approval - the manager of a malt distillery in Scotland did a blind test of Jameson 15 Year Old, Roe 16 Year Old, and a sample from the reputed Wallace still and declared "I must admit that they are not to be compared with whiskey from your still". The founders of the company were Samuel Sandys Briggs, (born in Maryport, Cumbria in 1824, but relocated to Glenavy around 1885) Joseph Wallace (the inventor and patent-holder of the still; he was a 'medical scientist' from Oxford Mansion, Oxford Circus, London) and George Douglas Hughes (engineering businessman from Nottingham but had previously worked in Belfast in the 1840s), with Jackson Totton as company secretary (he was born Portadown but lived in Belfast, an accountant, and according to his obituary he had been both Grand Treasurer and also Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland). However, I can find no other references to this company or the Wallace Still in the online British Newspaper Archive - it's a mystery. 

• The content creeps into County Louth and includes Dundalk – "the industries of the town are also in a progressive condition, and include flax-spinning, tanning, ironfounding, distillery..." (page 51).

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Lexicographer James Murray's Belfast wedding, Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, 12 August 1862

James Murray
was the Scotsman of humble origin who – through talent, graft and resolve – made his way into the academic élite and delivered the ailing Oxford English Dictionary project – I've blogged about him here before. I've just found in the biography Caught in the Web of Words, which was written by his grand-daughter K. M. Elisabeth Murray, that in 1862 James married Hawick-born Maggie Scott. She was an infant school mistress, "refined and talented" and was "resident in Ireland" at the time. The wedding took place on 12 August at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church in Belfast.  Their wedding photograph is in the biography (shown above).

James applied for the post of headmaster of the Parish school at Ashkirk near Hawick, but was unable to apply as "the school managers would only consider a member of the Established Church". The newly weds relocated to Hawick anyway, where they both were employed by Hawick Academy.

Tragically their infant daughter Anna died in 1864, and Maggie died in 1865. (The recent film of James Murray's life – The Professor and the Madman – is excellent).

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Belfast Working Men's Institute and Temperance Hall (built 1873)

I haven't been in Belfast city centre much over the past 10 months due to Covid restrictions, but I think this building is probably still there. Today most folk imagine a "working man's club" to pretty much be a community bar in a working class area. But many references to the ones in Belfast that I've come across over the years show them to have originally been places not only of social life and (often non-alcoholic) refreshment, but of culture, debate, music and learning.

This description is from Historical and Descriptive Guide to the City of Belfast, by John Vinycomb MRIA, published by Marcus Ward, price one sixpence. One of the founders of the Institute, Thomas Gaffikin, delivered a famous lecture here on 8 April 1875 entitled Belfast Fifty Years Ago which was reprinted as a booklet a number of times. His entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography is online here.

A retired man that I only "know" via Twitter posted this photo back in mid October, of the old club on Danube Street just off the Crumlin Road, and said it was where he started brass band tuition in the 1960s – "As a working-class boy in the 60s I don't think I ever appreciated what a rich musical education was being offered to me free as working men (& school boys) played transcriptions of Berlioz, Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Holst, Rossini, Haydn et al. in North Belfast Working Men's Club".

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

John Hewitt & Ulster-Scots, Belfast Telegraph, 19 March 1955

Reflecting on the year that has nearly passed, I remembered that John Hewitt was the subject of some controversy over the figure of speech "The Planter and The Gael" which was the title of his 1970 anthology, co-authored by Hewitt and John Montague. At the time it seems that Brian Friel objected to the terminology, and 50 years later it had the power to provoke us. As with many things, meanings change as time passes. What was meant when something was first written, often becomes something else to future eyes and ears. "The Planter and The Gael" is unhelpful, as it cements the "two tribes" adversarial binary. 

The very existence of poems such as "The Covenanters Grave", "Jenny Geddes" and "The Christmas Rhymers, Ballynure, 1941" shows the breadth of his Ulster-Scots cultural understanding.

Here he is in the Belfast Telegraph, writing not long after he had completed his renowned 1951 PhD thesis about the Ulster-Scots 'Rhyming Weavers'. His tutors were so detached from community tradition that they thought he had made it all up - he had to personally take them to the libraries to show them the old books. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Robert the Bruce, the 'Outlaw King' movie and the Arms of the De Burghs

I watched this 2018 movie again a few days ago, and was struck by how accurate the imagery and heraldry is. This still is from the wedding ceremony where Robert the Bruce (played by Chris Pine) marries Elizabeth De Burgh (played by Florence Pugh). You can see the two very similar family arms on the background banners - the Bruce saltire above the De Burgh cross. 

The De Burghs were the Anglo-Norman Earls of Ulster, and so their family arms came to represent the entire province. The yellow provincial flag of Ulster is based on the De Burgh arms and it is generally viewed as a 'nationalist' symbol these days. However pre-1921 it was a mainstream symbol that was widely used by everyone, such as for the Ulster Unionist Council in 1905. And, as per this recent post, it was used for decades post-1921 too.

Ironically of course, having married Elizabeth in 1302, Robert the Bruce would eventually go to war with her father...

Below is artist John Vinycomb's cover design for the Ulster Journal of Archaeology which he first drew in 1894. Vinycomb was an outstanding commercial artist of his generation; among his vast output he also designed the commemorative medal to mark the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1922.

In an online PDF document entitled Heraldry in Ireland, the National Library of Ireland provides this detail:

Heraldry of the Provinces of Ireland - Armas na gCúigí
The four provinces of modern Ireland – Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, Munster in the south and Connacht in the west – have their origins in pre-Christian Ireland and form the largest units of geographical reference in Ireland today. In the post-Norman period the historic province of Leinster and a fifth province, Meath, gradually merged, mainly due to the impact of the Pale which straddled both, thereby forming our present-day province of Leinster. In the Irish Annals these five ancient political divisions were invariably referred to as Cúigí, i.e. ‘fifth parts’, such as the fifth of Munster, the fifth of Ulster and so on. The English administrators and record-makers, on the other hand, dubbed them ‘provinces’, in imitation of the Roman imperial provinciae and occasionally used them as entities for official surveys of land and estates. 
The arms of the historic province of Ulster are a composite achievement, combining the heraldic symbols of two of that province’s best known families, namely the cross of de Burgo and the dexter hand of Ó Néill. 
Active participants in the First Crusade (1096-99), which ushered in the heraldic era, among them members of the de Burgo family of Tonsburg in Normandy, fashioned crosses in fabric on their apparel before leaving for the Holy Land. One Walter de Burghe is recorded in a thirteenth century roll of arms (Walford Roll) as bearing a red cross on his shield.
When Walter de Burgh, Lord of Connacht, became Earl of Ulster in 1243 the de Burgo cross became inseparably linked with the province of Ulster. The seal of his son Richard, for example, appended to a deed dated 1282, shows the heraldic cross in triplicate together with what may well be a portrait head of the Earl himself.
The celebrated ‘Red Hand’ of Ó Néill may have been based on a mythological motif. On the other hand it may be based on the Dextra Dei, which had long been employed as a Christian symbol. In early Christian iconography God the Father was frequently represented by the open right hand, sometimes within a halo or nimbus. An example of this motif can be seen on the ring of the 10th century High Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice, County Louth. An early heraldic use in Ireland of the open right hand can be seen in the seal of Aodh Ó Néill, King of the Irish of Ulster, 1344-1364. 

  This illustration is from the 1570s-80s Book of the de Burgos, from the library of Trinity College Dublin (Wikipedia here)

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Ahoghill 100-ish Years Ago - the Young family of Galgorm Estate, and poets Adam Lynn and Agnes Kerr

I'm delighted to have got a copy of Poems from Ahoghill by Agnes Kerr just before Christmas, I'd been looking for this for some time. Ahoghill is a village just west of Ballymena, and has many stories to uncover.

The Youngs of Galgorm
Today, the Galgorm Estate is a high-end luxury hotel and spa destination. I posted here a few weeks ago that in 1913 the 87 year old linen and railway entrepreneur John Young (1826-1915, portrait left is online here), who then owned Galgorm Estate, was one of the six signatories of the Ulster Provisional Government Proclamation of 24 September 1913 (previous post here). Edward Carson had inspected the UVF at Galgorm in July that year.

His son, William Robert Young (1856–1933; Wikipedia here), was one of the honorary secretaries of the Ulster Unionist Council and had organised the famous evangelistic 'Fenaghy Meetings' on the Galgorm estate grounds annually in 1887–1892 which attracted crowds of around 20,000 people. I've posted here before about their attempts to get Charles Spurgeon to preach at Fenaghy at amusingly short notice (previous post here). W. R. Young was said to have been well known to village folk as just 'Willie Young'.

• Adam Lynn (1886–1956)
One of W. R. Young's employees was Adam Lynn (1886-1956), a linen worker employed by the Youngs since boyhood, who also wrote poems. In the 1911 Census of Ireland he is given as a Church of Ireland linen beetler aged 45, living with his two sisters. His poems were eventually published his Random Rhymes Frae Cullybackey in 1911, which were dedicated to Mrs Young 'in grateful recognition of the kindness of the family to the author' (PDF edition is online here). The huge Fenaghy meetings are mentioned in some of Adam Lynn's poems, and various Youngs are listed among the subscribers.

(We had filmed a piece about Lynn for the Cullybackey episode of the tv progamme Hame back in October 2017, with a local historian who had met him, but the piece didn't make the edit.) There's a bio of Lynn online here.

• Agnes Kerr (born 1880)
Agnes Kerr of Ballybeg, Ahoghill, was a handloom weaver, and a poet. In the 1911 Census of Ireland she is given as a Presbyterian domestic servant aged 31, living with her sister and their widowed mother. She and Lynn publicly bantered - and overtly flirted - with each other in verse as 'Adam' and 'Eve' in the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph. There's about 15 of these, and as a mini-collection in themselves they're so well-attuned to each other that I have wondered if Agnes Kerr was in fact a pseudonym for Adam Lynn, ie that they were all written by the same person. For the local readership, it must have been quite exciting to see the weekly to-and-fro of a romantic soap opera between the pair, and also the intervention of other suitors!

Agnes' Poems from Ahoghill appeared in 1915 and was described in the Ballymena Observer as 'an unpretentious little volume of poems, chiefly local and personal, and many of which have already appeared in a local paper'. Bab M'Keen, the famed pseudonym of John Wier, the editor and writer of the Ballymena Observer gets a mention among them. 

Some of the Youngs, and Adam Lynn, were among Agnes' subscribers. I've not been able to find out about the rest of Agnes' life. There is a newspaper reference in 1928 that an Agnes Kerr and Sarah M'Gall of Valley of the Bann LOL No. 114 were going to emigrate to Canada and that a special evening for them was held at Portglenone Orange Hall, just a few miles from Ahoghill.

The poems of Adam Lynn and Agnes Kerr are mostly about working class community life, faith, the Boer War, the Great War, love of Ireland, love of Antrim. Any brief glimpses of politics are very much unionist (such as Agnes Kerr praising 'The Union Jack to the Ulster Volunteers') and about the typical country Twelfth (such as Adam Lynn's 'The Twalt O July' and 'The July Day') and passing references to the Boyne.

• 'Young Ireland' - Ella Young and Rose Maud Young
But that's not the whole story. Roger Casement was a regular visitor to Galgorm. The lives and cultural interests of two of the Young sisters – Ella Young (1867–1956; Wikipedia here) and Rose Maud Young (1866–1947; Wikipedia here) – were very different from the family and Ahoghill community. They are renowned for their work in preserving the Irish language, and for Ella's interest in occult-theosophy, her mystical experiences and Irish Republican political activism, their interest perhaps beginning in London where they attended Gaelic League classes in 1903. Linde Lunney's detailed biography of Rose in the Dictionary of Irish Biography is rich with detail.

It's interesting to me when wealthy - we might today say 'privileged' - children can afford to both socially and financially 'rebel' against their family and community norms; the Milligans of Belfast, Bangor and Donaghadee are another contemporaneous example of this that I have mentioned here in the past. Perhaps the wealth means that the potential 'risk' is inconsequential; perhaps that 'risk' brings with it some appeal and excitement; perhaps the family were, just like the Milligans, interested in a diverse range of ideas and cultural influences. Christmas dinner at Galgorm would have been interesting.

Charlotte Young, George C. G. Young and Henry G. Young
Throughout these years, another sister, Charlotte Young, is reported in the British Newspaper Archive as taking part in various Orange events and Royal Coronation commemorations.

A brother, George C. G. Young, was MP for Bannside from 1929 and was County Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. George's brother, Brigadier-General Henry G. Young, was Sergeant-at-Arms in the Northern Ireland House of Commons at Stormont and a District Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary. 

The early 1900s are in interesting time, and Galgorm and Ahoghill have much to reveal. Both Adam Lynn and Agnes Kerr deserve to be better known than they are.

• Back in early 2017 I worked with author Margaret Cameron on the design of Ower The Tuppenny: A collection of Short Stories from, in, and around Gracehill and Ahoghill. She grew up in the area - the book is a 140 page collection of 18 short stories.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hinnae a Heaney

What a shame that Seamus Heaney has been drawn into Northern Ireland's latest politicised controversy. In my normal day job, I had the immense privilege of working on the branding for what became Seamus Heaney HomePlace a few years ago. Of course his wonderful A Birl for Burns is oft-cited; I am thankful to David for directing me some time ago to Heaney's absolutely superb 1996 Burns's Art Speech. It is a diamond mine, of which this gleaming gem is merely one – 

"... I wrote a poem called 'Broagh' which could just as well have been entitled 'Och'. Its immediate subject was my recollection of an outlying part of our farm in the townland of Broagh on the banks of the River Moyola in Co. Derry, its poetic quest was to bring the three languages I've just mentioned – Irish, Elizabethan English and Ulster Scots – into some kind of creative intercourse and alignment, and thereby to intimate the possibility of some new intercourse and alignment among the cultural and political heritages which these three languages represent in Northern Ireland ..."

It is in many ways remarkable, another evidence for pre-GFA recognition of Ulster-Scots as a meaningful literary and vernacular tradition. Heaney's recollections of the renowned Scotsman Professor John Braidwood of Queens University (who I mentioned in this recent post about the 1986 Ballyrashane Primary School booklet Some Handlin') are insightful –

"A Scotsman with a Scots accent ... he not only came equipped with a perfect ear for the Ulster accents that he laboured among, but he also possessed an equally instinctive sense of the cultural, political and religious nuances that were often latent within those accents and idioms..."
The design team (of which I was not a part) who created the brilliant visitor interpretation at HomePlace installed a kinetic mobile of individual words over the central staircase, all gleaned from Heaney's work. I would say that around half of those are obviously Scots and Ulster-Scots in origin. 

In the rush to divide into 'mine' and 'yours', leading voices in society need to also seek the 'ours'. Ulster-Scots belonged to Seamus Heaney as much as it does to anyone else, his work and worldview belongs to us all.

• One of my marker sketches from the project is above, never used publicly, but part of the creative process that became HomePlace, his Conway Stewart pen, and signature.

• I'd recommend readers to have a look at the 1998 Nils Eskestad essay Negotiating the Canon; Regionality and the Impact of Education in Seamus Heaney's Poetry:

"... Heaney also finds that Braidwood occasionally offered 'a glimpse of the possibilities of escape from the entrapments of binary thinking. The Irish/English antithesis, the Celtic/Saxon duality, this was momentarily collapsed ..."

Scotsman Braidwood literally embodied that 'escape', because when properly articulated, Ulster-Scots is a challenge to the binary. This partly explains the hostility with which those of loud voices and limited understandings greet Ulster-Scots - it doesn't fit easily into the 'two tribes' model.

How dispiriting it is to see everything being gradually pulled down into the quicksands of our post-GFA now-institutionalised binary mindsets.

• The Biblical story of King Solomon springs to mind. Whoever is happy for the baby to be cut in half never loved it anyway. The policy buzzword might be 'shared future' but the political behaviour looks a lot like 'severed' or 'segregated'.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Arms of the O'Neills

Symbols are amazing. The O'Neill coat of arms doesn't just have a Red Hand, but also two Red Lions Rampant, three six-pointed 'mullet' stars, and a salmon. There's a law firm office in Belfast city centre that I walked past for years, with the arms on its signage (link here). The famous drawing of the original O'Neill seal shows two creatures on either side of the hand and shield, but they look more like a bird and a dragon. The Lion Rampant is of course most famous for its usage as an emblem of Scotland.

Monday, December 14, 2020

"Are You Washed In the Blood of the Lamb?" – Harry Melling and Pokey Lafarge, from the soundtrack of 'The Devil All The Time' (2020)

A classic gospel song, played here in an aesthetically perfect 1930s style in a strange movie that was released earlier this year. It sounds almost a century old, but is a fresh new rendition.

For Northern Ireland's tiny denominations who grew up singing this piece, its sound was forever indelibly stained with further blood in 1983. During the evening service at Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church it was being sung when gunfire was opened up upon the worshipping congregation by terrorists - the audio recordings of the service were broadcast on radio and television in the days after. My brother and I have sung and played there, they are lovely people. The old bulletholed building is still there, left intact, but the congregation built a brand new building not that long ago.

"Are You Washed In the Blood of the Lamb?" is a classic of the genre – its lyrics strange and gory to the uninformed modern ear, but it of course not only speaks of Christ on the cross, but his fulfilment there as the Ultimate Sacrifice – one which the annual Passover Lambs were mere foreshadows of, all the way back to the Egyptian captivity. For centuries those spotless sacrificial lambs were specifically born and raised on the hills outside the town of ... Bethlehem, at a place called Migdal Eder (Wikipedia here).

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The long-lost unofficial flag of Northern Ireland? 1921–1953

I have come across this picture online a few times, it's not mine and I don't know who owns the flag, but it does look authentic, hung up by clothes pegs on a suburban garden fence panel. As you can see it's a standard Blue Ensign design, with a distinctively Ulster design 'defacing' the blue field. It appears to have been created by the community, not the political establishment, within weeks of Northern Ireland being founded and so for that reason it's significant. I have found written descriptions of the design, and subsequent variations of it, in the British Newspaper Archive

Londonderry Sentinel, 13 August 1921 (article entitled 'The Relief of Derry')

"From the residence of Mr James Blair, Glendermott Road, was suspended a flag of unique design. On the upper corner was the Union Jack, and at the bottom was the Red Hand of Ulster, surrounded by six stars, representing the Six Ulster Counties forming the Northern Parliament"

– NB this is only about 7 weeks after the Parliament was established on 22 June. Alderman James Blair's 1934 obituary described him as 'a staunch unionist and a strong Labour man', a founder member of Hamilton Flute Band, and a member of Waterside LOL 1007.

Ballymena Observer, 20 July 1923 (article entitled 'Ballymena CLB's Holiday Camp in Blackpool')

"On Sunday morning, 8th inst., prior to attending service at St Cuthbert's Parish Church, Lytham, a unique ceremony was performed at the camp, the commanding officer, Lt.-Col. R. Moore having the distinction of breaking from the mast head for the first time in England the new Ulster flag ... has a small Union Jack at the top corner, and upon the dark blue ground is a centre shield of yellow, imposed on which is the Red Hand of Ulster, surrounded by six stars representing the united Northern Counties"

Belfast Telegraph, 13 November 1936 (Letter entitled 'Ulster's Flag')
"Sir – re the flag of Ulster, it may be of interest to the people of the Six Counties that since the Northern Parliament was formed there has been a flag to represent us. It has been seen in Derry on numerous occasions. This flag is blue with Union Jack, Red Hand, Crown and Six Stars"

– NB so now a crown has been added, unless the letter writer was mistaken.

• Belfast News Letter, 16 May 1945 (column entitled 'An Ulsterman's Letter to his friends at home and abroad')
"During our victory celebrations a Service visitor asked the question 'Why is the Ulster flag so little in evidence?'. We might reply, 'The Union Jack is good enough for us', but our viistor too the view that our distinctive flag (a Union Jack quartered on a blue field, the field bearing the St George's Cross with Crown and Red Hand surrounded by six stars) would tell its own tale'

– NB this sounds like the shield is now white, not yellow. However, I have often seen the yellow Ulster arms, based on the De Burgh arms, erroneously described as a 'St George's Cross'.

Londonderry Sentinel, 12 June 1945 (article entitled Ulster Premier in Derry, Great Unionist Rally in Guildhall, Dangers of Socialist Policy Exposed)
"the platform was gaily decorated with Union Jacks, and as a centre piece, the flag of the Province – the blue ensign with six stars and the Red Hand of Ulster on a shield – was draped over the organ console rail"

Belfast Telegraph, 17 March 1948 (article entitled 'Flags that Flew Over Derry')
"from Derry Guildhall floated the Ulster flag, the Union Jack on a blue background with six stars and the Red Hand of Ulster surmounted by the loyal emblem, the Crown".

Northern Whig 29 May 1953 (letter entitled 'Northern Ireland's Flag', by H. Malcolm M'Kee M.C.)
"it is nonsense saying that the Northern Ireland banner never was seen. I have seen it dozens of times, and also the Blue Ensign with the Northern Ireland Arms on the fly"

What the vexillologists call a 'defaced' Ensign has of course been a commonly-used flag design since the 1860s (see Wikipedia page here), in both red and blue.

The Northern Ireland flag design also appears in this Royal Black Preceptory banner that a good friend showed me in Newtownards in 2012; my pics of it are below. Rev Dr William Wright was the minister of First Newtownards Presbyterian Church but he died in 1922. Dr Wright Memorial Pipe Band was named in his memory.

There's a lot of correspondence in the Northern Ireland newspapers about flags in the 1920s, with various letter writers proposing and insisting upon particular designs.

So that's at least a generation of fairly widespread usage of this Northern Ireland / Ulster design (with a few tweaks) across those 32 years from 1921–1953, and its usage probably continued beyond 1953 when the white 'Northern Ireland Banner' flag we are all familiar with was born as part of the Coronation celebrations of that year. I expect that there are dusty faded survivors of this design in personal collections around the country in attics or garages. 


The star as a symbol of a county seems to have originated with the renowned Belfast artist John Vinycomb in his design for the 1921 commemorative medal that was struck by the world famous Belfast department store Robinson & Cleaver

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Elsie Berner's Killyleagh words - from the Northern Whig, 1930s & 1940s

Back in May 2010, a friend introduced me to two renowned ladies from Killyleagh - Elsie Berner and Zena McAllister. I spent an afternoon with them at Killyleagh Parish Church where Elsie was so active, and they gave me a monument-by-monument guided tour of the interior.

Both ladies were very exercised by the loss of heritage in the town, including of old Ulster-Scots street names which had been gentrified/Anglicised during their lifetimes (here is a post I wrote about those street names, from shortly after my afternoon with Elsie and Zena).

They both sent me things in the post a short time later. Zena's was information about the Traill family who came from Scotland and lived at Tullykin / Tullychin near Killyleagh in the 1600s. Elsie's was an envelope with a collection of clippings of the some of the famous word lists which were published in the letters pages of the Northern Whig newspaper, she thought from the 1930s and 1940s. I found them again just yesterday while looking for something else. Here they all are. 

One of the reasons I keep posting here is that so many people have been generous with me and have taken time to inform me, and have shared their knowledge with me. I like to keep the sharing going and to make connections with people around the world who are digging and learning too.