Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Ocean's Seven - the North Channel swimmers


I've done a bit of sea swimming this summer, it's become really popular with our local harbour at Ballyhalbert packed with people when the weather and tides are right. Donaghadee has had a crew of 'chunky dunkers' for a good few years now, who swim there all year round. I have found that the 13˚ is pretty cold until you either go numb-ish or else just adjust, and after that it's not too bad really. The best advice is to bring a hot drink and warm clothes to regain your temperature as soon as you get out of the water.

The route across the North Channel, usually done from Donaghadee and always to Portpatrick, is one of the world's "Oceans Seven" routes (Wikipedia here). You need to be a supreme athlete to try it, as this story shows. Just yesterday, my friend Graham (who swims in the sea very regularly) took the pics below, which he described as "Dina Levačić, 24, from Croatia who attempted to cross the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland. After circa 11 hours of swimming, mother nature denied Dina success this time, a mere 5km from Portpatrick, Scotland".

'Afore Ye Go' - shoulder label from a vintage Bell's bottle


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

St Patrick, the Annals of Ulster, Sir Samuel Ferguson and the Dumbarton birth traditions

"... The Annals of Ulster contain one of the earliest references to a Christian community in Dumbarton. In 314AD it records that three bishops accompanied by a deacon represented Alcyuyd at a conference in Arles, the former capital of Burgundy in south-east France... In the 6th century Modwenna, an Irish princess, endowed a chapel, dedicated to St Patrick, on the south side of Dumbarton Castle. "
So says Wikipedia. This is very interesting as it looks like a further corroboration of the St Patrick traditions from Scotland which say he was born around 386AD near Dumbarton at the extreme west of the Antonine Wall, at the Roman fort, the most remote outpost of the Roman Empire. In later centuries the site was named Old Kilpatrick.

Patrick had a Christian heritage, he was extremely well-read in the scriptures as demonstrated in his own writings which lift significant forms of words directly from the Bible. He was the son of a deacon named Calpurnius, and grandson of Potitus, a presbyter - which are two positions in a local congregation or church community. So were Patrick's family members among those present in Arles?

Sir Samuel Ferguson's very last writings were about Patrick; he agreed with the Dumbarton story. His Remains of St Patrick - The Patrician Documents: the Confession and Epistle to Coroticus is online here, published posthumously by his wife, which she described in the fascinating introduction as 'my husband's last contribution to the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy'

The Patrick Dumbarton traditions were acknowledged as the most likely origin story right across the denominational spectrum, including this 1905 book by Most Rev Dr John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam (my thanks to the friend who directed me to that source a few months back).

That these traditions were once well-known, and published by the Royal Irish Academy and the Roman Catholic Church, but have been largely forgotten is due to many factors. The dividing up of the family of islands that Patrick lived on - and which we now live on, must be the most erosive one. Simplified branding and national messaging, and the geographically-limited remits of tourism promotional campaigns, haven't helped.

As Neil Oliver said in a Radio Ulster interview with Gerry Kelly in October of last year, our archipelago is "one fascinating landscape". 

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Inishargy Irish Whisky - from McKnight, Dickson & Co of Belfast

Inishargy is a small townland in between Kircubbin, Ballywalter and Greyabbey, so I was surprised a while ago to find that there was a short-lived whiskey brand of that name. (photos here not mine)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Neil Oliver: "We Must Learn the Lessons of History" - Triggernometry

Scotland is having its own version of what has become known across 'western' societies as the 'culture wars'. It is interesting to observe it from here, where the constitutional issues of independence and Brexit have added a new velocity and ferocity. I have no desire to take sides in these because, just like on our side of the North Channel, I regard culture to be of more value than politics, and it has been said that politics is downstream of culture anyway. Within our shared cultural inheritance, most of the strong pro-Scots language minds and voices tend to be Scottish Nationalist, whereas over here Ulster-Scots is seen as Unionist. This just shows that shoving culture into a political box doesn't work. 

Recently, Neil Oliver has attracted attention from his critics. He's a tremendous television presenter, but in this audio podcast interview with the excellent Triggernometry he is on far broader matters than just Scotland. Some very insightful thinking here.

• Find out more about Triggernometry here

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Placenames and Ulster-Scots - a wheen o Burns and Rocks

I drive the North Channel coast road of the Ards Peninsula every week. Once you get into North Down to the north of Donaghadee it feels different - more developed and more 'marketed'. There's a kind of line from Donaghadee to Six Road Ends and then down to Newtownards which is the unofficial boundary of the Ards Peninsula. Life feels different on each side.

The coastal road from Donaghadee southwards to Ballywalter now has plenty of caravan parks, and the villages need the summer income that the caravanners bring. It's less than 8 miles and according to Google Maps it takes about 15 minutes to drive. On a clear day the view across to Scotland is very good. But right here, under your feet, or under your wheels, or even under your hull if you are on the water, there are centuries of Ulster-Scots history. Some of that can be found within placenames.

Townland names are almost always Irish in origin. Scots were happy to use them, and the old Con O'Neill estate was shared out and sold off on a townland basi,s which made the continued usage of those Irish names even more essential. But there are some of Anglo-Norman origin too, dating from the old 'Earldom of Ulster' of the 1200s. But within townlands, at the 'hyper-local' level, is where Ulster-Scots can be found.

The road takes you over four small rivers, which are of course called burns – Ganaway Burn (immortalised in a poem by Andrew M'Kenzie), the Mill Burn that flows down to Millisle and which powered at least two of Carmichael's mills, Ballycopeland Burn which reaches the sea at the tiny graveyard of the same name and where there was once a Presbyterian meeting house, and Ballyhay Burn with its wee stone Galloway Bridge. My mother and her parents were buried in the more recent Ballyvester Cemetery which is bounded on the north by Ballyhay Burn, and from the car park there the view of Scotland is superb. 

Many of the larger rocks along the shore have names, many of which show that same Ulster-Scots heritage – Wee Saftlin, Wee Park, Parthan Rock (partan is a name for a large eating crab), yet more Selk Rocks (selk is the word for seal, lots of rocks in east Down are called this), and Bavan Rock (bavan is a name for the wrasse fish; William Montgomery recorded it in 1683). 

The Peninsula was wet boggy ground when Scots families arrived here from May 1606 onwards. The hard work of field drains made a difference, but after a heavy days rain vast ponds still form very quickly. Some of the burns have been culverted by developers and the Water Boards, or straightened by farmers who wanted to maximise machinery access to the edges of their fields.

This is just one wee stretch of road. How many more could be found if someone took the time to look at every part of Ulster?

Rabbie gets the headlines, but there are mair Burns than him.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

"... to preach deliverance to the captives ..." – Belfast's offer of freedom to 12 slaves, 1828 (with thanks to Sam Hanna Bell)

My first encounter with the work of Sam Hanna Bell wasn't his own famous writings, but his 1972 miscellany Within Our Province. Published the year I was born, it's a collection of I'd guess 100 or so extracts from various writers which had caught his eye over the years.

It was in its pages that I first read of Frank Roney's fantastical account of a Confederate & Belfast Orange civic alliance, which he had completely made up to impress his new American friends after emigrating (see previous post here).

The term 'Ulster Scot' appears in another of the extracts. In re-reading the collection recently, this wonderful story jumped out at me. He published it as a self-penned paraphrased summary, almost as a kind of signpost to a future generation.

Thanks to the online BNA, here is the original Belfast News Letter article –

Particularly for the moment we presently live in, the editorial closing paragraph is powerful stuff. 

It is such a pity that the name of the "man of colour who resides in this town" who intervened to secure the offer of liberty is unpublished. I imagine that he would have been fairly well known in the city. Perhaps his name lives on in the 'Society of Friends' Quaker archives somewhere, or perhaps the Moyallen Branch of the London African Anti-Slavery Association, or in family archives of its members Wakefield, Christy, Dawson and Sinton. I also wonder what happened to those who choose freedom – Joshua Edwards, Robert Edwards and Joseph Rollin. 

Sam's summary version is below –

Friday, July 31, 2020

Daft Eddie and the Smugglers of Strangford Lough; a Tale of Killinchy (1914 edition)

I was delighted to pick this up online this week, from a bookseller in England, after many years of searching for this particular edition. When I was about 18 my late aunt Doris gave me a copy of the very familiar 1979 Mourne Observer large format hardback edition which includes an important collection of black and white photos of what were then the continuing traditions of the smugglers' stories (she also gave me a Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down which was also written by WG Lyttle. The character dialogue in Daft Eddie is of course in light Ulster-Scots. It's a very famous book round these parts; Eddie is a folk hero and there is a restaurant named after him near Sketrick Castle.

The edition I have just acquired is the rare Carswell printing from 1914 with the full colour cover depicting a gang of smugglers around a farmhouse table, replete with skulls and candles. Intriguingly, inside is a stamp which reads "Libraries NI Withdrawn from Stock". On the inside has been pencilled "v scarce, £48" but I was happy to pay the website its asking price of just £25 including postage. I wonder how frequently Libraries NI dispose of such rare editions and by what mechanism that is done?

As you can see it was once owned by a Newtownards man called G. Ivan Patterson.