Thursday, November 07, 2019

Ulster 1921 - Leslie Montgomery's 'An Ulster Childhood'

The portrait of Montgomery is by William Conor (©NMNI).

As the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland approaches, I am pretty sure there will be two competing political histories presented to us all. I hope that through all of that murk, some solid cultural work can break through.

But what was normal daily life like in 1921? Three years after the end of the Great War how was bloody and bereaved Ulster coping? What was industry like? What were the big employers and brands? Who was thinking big new ideas? What was emigration like? How had agriculture been transformed by the tractor (the Fordson tractor production plant opened in Cork in 1919). How widespread was electricity and running water? Did we have celebrities in an era before mass media? What were the major sporting events and achievements? Who was living in Ulster in obscurity but who would go on to do great things? What music was popular?

Leslie Alexander Montgomery (a.k.a. Lynn C. Doyle) was in his professional life an employee of Northern Bank in Belfast, Lisburn, Bangor, Cushendall, Keady and Skerries in Co. Dublin. In his personal life he was an acute observer of rural life and consequently a writer. He published his famous An Ulster Childhood in 1921. Born in Downpatrick in 1873, his brief bio can be read here on the Dictionary of Ulster Biography. His references to Burns, Presbyterian cousins, Psalm tunes, Covenanter battles, Drums and Fifes, Christmas Rhymers and community relations all paint a superbly vivid picture.

He must have grown up in a fairly well-to-do farming family - however there are no Montgomerys listed as landowners in Downpatrick in Bassett's County Down Guide and Directory (1886), so they must have been a slightly higher class of tenant farmers. Montgomery refers, fondly, to servants who worked on the family farm, yet at the same time he contrasts the small size Ulster farms with the much bigger farms on the rest of the island, and stresses that in Ulster –

'farmers and hands sit at the same table, go afield together, and pick potatoes side by side in the same outhouse. In their working hours there is no social distinction between them, They will sit down amicable in the same ditch side to smoke a pipe together'.

An Ulster Childhood is online here, with illuminating perspectives on country life in the late 1800s, explaining Ulster's distinctiveness. He says in the chapter entitled 'Burns In Ulster' –

'I was reared in the Lowland Scottish tradition of homely realism ...'

and then goes on to tell the story of Paddy Haggarty, a Catholic farm worker to Montgomery's aunt, who was the man that introduced 'Lynn' to the works of Burns, and in particular 'The Twa Dogs'

'when the poem was finished I had become with Paddy a devotee in the worship of Rabbie Burns ... I was wrapt in the discovery that 'thole' and 'snash' were real words, and that I might use them in the future without shamefacedness'

Montgomery then started to read some of Robert Fergusson's poetry to Paddy, who was shaken by the similarities, and famously declared –

'Rabbie'll do for me. Rich or poor, drunk or sober, there's always somethin in him to suit a body. He'll last me my time'

Some of Montgomery's material was broadcast by the BBC in the 1930s; people like Richard Hayward acted in his plays. In 1935 he was appointed to the Eire Censorship Board but resigned after five weeks; living in Malahide he said he loved 'a good crack with old friends'. He died aged 87 in a Dublin nursing home in 1961.

• A sculpture named The Silent Dog in Scotch Street, Downpatrick, commemorates one of Montgomery's early and best-loved stories from his first collection Ballygullion (1908).

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Saint Patrick, Downpatrick and Glastonbury

(It's an entanglement of faith, religion, legend, opportunism, church and state collaboration, tradition and tourism... it's hard to separate the truth from the not-so-true... . Patrick's proven writings are terrific, showing that he was highly educated on Biblical texts, his grasp of theology is crystal clear. I have also gathered up a huge amount of the Scottish traditions about him, stored away and waiting to be written up some time when I get the headspace).

I've been in Downpatrick a few times recently, it's not far from me as the crow flies but there's a ferry ride in between and so I don't head down that way as often as I otherwise might. Around 100 years ago back in the time of the old Rural District Councils in Northern Ireland, the bottom part of the Ards Peninsula was administered from Downpatrick (see the boundary in the map below, running across Strangford Lough and then skirting below Kircubbin and Portavogie).

It's one of the towns which has that culturally meaningful triple-confluence of English Street, Irish Street and Scotch Street. A place where three cultural traditions met, long before two-tribes politics became our predominant framework – now endlessly, unhealthily, reinforced.

Downpatrick also has a terrific museum that I really need to re-visit.

• The Lovely Bones
Driving into Downpatrick, I remembered something I have posted about here before – the amazing coincidence which befell Ireland's new Anglo-Norman overlords. They had arrived in / invaded Ireland in 1169, and under John de Courcy marched north in 1177 and took the town of Dún Dá Leathghlas, establishing their Earldom of Ulster.

Just seven years later, in 1184, their 'rule' benefitted from the remarkable good fortune of discovering the long-lost grave of the island's national icon and patron saint St Patrick – and as a double icing on the cake, also the graves of St Brigid and St Columba. The three were reportedly found buried together, with Patrick in the middle.

Back in England, the French-born (and later French-buried) King Henry II was delighted by the discovery – his son John made his first expedition to Ireland the following year, from April to December 1185 (Wikipedia here).  De Courcy had 'the relics translated' to a new burial location nearby, commissioned by Pope Urban III, overseen by Cardinal Vivian, all with great pomp and ceremony, the Archbishop of Armagh and about 40 bishops.

It must have been around this time that Dún Dá Leathghlas was renamed Downpatrick. The Anglo-Normans may also have given the surrounding district of County Down its name - Lecale - on old maps and documents it is sometimes spelled 'Le Cayle' or 'Le Caile'.

The Glastonbury Dimension - King Arthur, Queen Guinevere... and Patrick too?!
I visited the famous, mystical, historic English town of Glastonbury about 10 years ago - not for the music festival, just as a sightseer. When there, I learned that also in 1184, the very same year of the Downpatrick discoveries, Glastonbury Abbey was destroyed by fire. Lo and behold just five years later, the reputed graves of English national icons King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were found there, as a result of archaeological excavations guided by a story that the late King Henry II had conveniently heard from an elderly bard. The pilgrims flocked back to Glastonbury and the abbey's coffers rang once again.

There's even a tradition that Patrick had himself actually been to Glastonbury in the year 430, as claimed by the document The Charter of St Patrick, but which is said to have first appeared in 1220 (link here). That linked article brilliantly refers to stories 'which have come down to modern readers through the industry of Glastonbury's twelfth-century press agent William of Malmesbury'. Patrick's name appears here and there around Glastonbury still today.

• 1874 article in the Downpatrick Recorder
Thanks to the wonder of the online British Newspaper Archive, I've found that the Downpatrick Recorder of 21 November 1874 (page 2, right hand column) published a long article about the then dire condition of the reputed burial site of St Patrick, and of the locally-popular traditions and superstitions.

The article is pretty detailed and recounts the traditions of the reputed finding of the three remains, noting that the chronicler Gerald of Wales was the first to write down this discovery, in his Topographia Hibernia in 1188 (Wikipedia link here), describing it as 'this threefold treasure discovered by Divine revelation'.

But was the site of the re-interment later somehow forgotten? Because the Recorder article said that some time in the 1770s Samuel Hall (sexton of the Cathedral) and John Neill relocated an old stone cross from elsewhere in the town into the Cathedral graveyard and then –

'in a fit of pleasurable excitement, asserted that this was St Patrick's grave, and, as Hall was the sexton or keeper of the graveyard, he repeated the same to all visitors, and thus the story was spread and established until it acquired a species of sanctity'.

Renewed tradition took hold through repetition. The 1874 article was published following a visit to Downpatrick by Mr Mulholland MP (Lord Dunleath) who assured concerned locals that a suitable monument - 'national and non-sectarian' - should be erected at the reputed, neglected, burial site.

• 1900: Francis Joseph Bigger's memorial stone installed
It was 26 years later in 1900 when the antiquarian Francis Joseph Bigger (1863–1926) had the large inscribed boulder that we see today installed at the site, in time for St Patrick's Day on 17th March. That's it pictured at the top of this post. For all of the great scholarly work that Bigger did to preserve Ulster's heritage, he also had a theatrical imagination and a gift for the memorable. To his credit, he, and private subscriptions, achieved something at the dawn of the new century which has stood the test of time.

• 1900: Queen Victoria and the Shamrock
It was that same year when Queen Victoria approved soldiers from Ireland serving in the British army to wear a sprig of shamrock on St Patrick's Day. An unnamed woman from Downpatrick sent a spray of shamrock, said to have been gathered near the grave site, and sent it to London for the Queen to wear.


Patrick's life, mission and writings are enormously important, and should be remembered and honoured. None of the above takes away from his core purpose – but it's interesting to unpick the industry that has developed around him, many centuries after his time.

PS - Bassett's County Down Guide and Directory (1886; page 193) includes some information about the grave site, which was then 'the object of incessant care' by Robert Henry Bell, the verger and sexton, who had been appointed in 1862.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Ulster-Scots language in east Ulster - the 1911 Census and the 1960 Gregg Survey maps compared

Regular readers here will be aware of previous posts on the anecdotally-notorious unreliability of the language question on the 1911 census, for east Ulster in particular. The niggling concerns of many were confirmed in technicolour by Barry Griffin's mapping which was published just earlier this year. I'll not rehearse all of the issues, you can read the previous posts. (just search for 'census' in the box in the left hand column).

Just this week, as a result of an Ulster-Scots community language workshop session I attended in Ballywalter, I got the famous 1960s Gregg languages survey map out and then decided to compare it with Barry's excellent mapping work which shows the supposed 'Irish' language speaking area of east Ulster as had been self-recorded by households in the 1911 census. As you know, many of us have thought for some time that the folk who completed those forms as 'Irish' had done so in error, because the only two options on the forms were 'English' and 'Irish', and they knew full well that they didn't speak English.

Despite multiple variations in the data compilation – ie a 50 year gap, the self-understanding and self-completion v professional linguist, the vast scale of the census v the individual research of Gregg, as well as all of the linguistic 'erosion' that Ulster-Scots has undergone during the 20th century, the two areas are remarkably similar.

So, I am ever-more convinced that those 'Irish' speakers who filled in their own census forms were in fact Ulster-Scots speakers, but they had no mechanism to record that accurately. The only other possibility is an unthinkably massive east Ulster language population displacement, and then replacement, within just two generations. There are zero records of that ever happening.

It is time that our increasingly bilingual bureaucracy acknowledged our trilingual society. Perhaps the next census, which is scheduled for 21 March 2021, will address that properly. I am glad to see recent moves in Scotland towards a proper trilingual understanding there too (link here).

(PS - in The Laggan district of east Donegal, the census appears to have been pretty accurately completed - and it aligns almost perfectly with Gregg. I expect that this is because Ulster-Scots people there knew what Irish language was, and also knew that whilst their nearby neighbours spoke it, they themselves didn't.)

• There's a lot of enthusiasm, energy and activism around the Irish language these days. It's become fashionable and is part of the new 'progressive' package of values and interests here. I wish Ulster-Scots had a fraction of that. But there is also desire to airbrush the embarrassment and inconvenience of Ulster-Scots away. A proper understanding of the census results for the language traditions of east Ulster – given the vast scale and geography revealed by Barry's mapping – will bring any honest observer to Ulster-Scots as the natural conclusion.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

The Scots-Irish in Missouri: The People of Our Place

This interesting resource was published online by the Bolivar Herald-Free Press of Missouri just yesterday. Link here.  On our side of the Atlantic, the Ozark mountains don't get as much coverage as the Appalachians do - lots of potential here for research, study and connections to be made.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Father James Dalrymple's 'Historie of Scotland' in the Scots language, 1596

The Benedictine abbey of Regensburg or Ratisbon in Bavaria, in south-east Germany, had been founded by Irish monks led by Marianus in the 11th century. After the Scottish Reformation of the mid 1500s it was transferred by the then Pope to host expatriated Lowland Scottish monks. The Scots Monastery of St James or Schottenkirche continued until the 1860s; the building still stands today (Wikipedia here).

So just as parts of Martin Luther’s 1520s Germany had been a refuge for early Scottish Reformers fleeing persecution and the martyrs’ burning stake, this part of 1570s Germany was the destination for some Scottish Catholic clergy after John Knox’s Scotland had become almost fully Reformed.

John Knox's opponent Ninian Winzet was one of those monks who left Scotland for 16th century Regensburg, becoming Abbot there from 1577–92. Winzet would later boast in a letter to Knox that he had not -
'forzhet our auld plane Scottis, quhilk zour mother lerit zou'
Another to settle there was Father James Dalrymple, who may have been from either Stirling or possibly Alloway in Ayrshire. In 1578, their fellow Scot Bishop John Leslie had published a ten volume anti-Reformation / pro-Catholic Latin epic entitled De origine, moribus, ac rebus gestis Scotiae libri decem, usually abbreviated in English to Historie of Scotland. Some images of it are shown here, reproduced from the British Library website.

In 1596, James Dalrymple translated the whole thing into Scots (online here). A few pages are shown below from a later published and typeset edition of Dalrymple's translation (edited by Rev Father E G Cody of the Order of St Benedict, completed after Cody's death by William Murison of Beith in Ayrshire, and published by the Scottish Text Society in 1888), telling the story of King Fergus and his shipwreck at Carrickfergus.

The map detail below shows 'St Ninianus Quhithorn' - ie St Ninian's Whithorn - as well as the Mull of Galloway, Corswell Point, Glenluce – and an interesting distinction between 'Hultonia' and 'Hibernia', ie Ulster and Ireland, which are separated by 'Boandus Flumen', ie the Boyne River, with Ulster dominated by 'Armacana Metrop', ie Armagh city.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ulster-Scots and global finance – Thomas Jackson (1841–1915) of Crossmaglen, and giant of HSBC bank

Hong Kong is in the news constantly just now. Back when it was being established, it was Thomas Jackson (1841–1915) who was responsible for financing the development of the then colony. There is a statue to him in Hong Kong still today, in Statue Square. This photo above shows some the recent protestors trying to put a police helmet on his head.

• Family and ancestry
His parents were David and Elizabeth Jackson. He was born in Carrigallen in Co Leitrim, just a few miles from the border with County Cavan – but the Jackson family were all Crossmaglen folk and he grew up there at the family's tenant farmstead of Urker Lodge, where they had lived since around 1829. It still stands today, but is in a ruinous condition.

His mother, her maiden name Elizabeth Oliver, was said to have been a 'strict Covenant Presbyterian'. The family was well networked with others in the area. A maternal ancestor was William Donaldson of Freeduff, said to have been a leading United Irishman in the 1798 Rebellion. (Freeduff Presbyterian Church had been burned down in an infamous and probably sectarian arson attack in 1743; link here. It was rebuilt and in January 1867 Thomas's sister Bessie Jackson married Thompson Brown there – the meeting house still stands today; Flickr image here).

Elizabeth's sister Margaret was the wife of Rev Daniel Gunn Brown, the Presbyterian minister of Newtownhamilton, who had conducted that 1867 wedding because he was the groom's uncle. Rev Brown was active in the Tenant Right and Land Reform movements. Rev Brown's daughter Elizabeth Sarah married Thomas's brother James Jackson in Blackrock in October 1886. A confusing mesh of interconnections!

Thomas's father, David Jackson, was said to have been an Orangeman who also supported Tenant Right for all - Catholics and Protestants alike.

• Education and Career
Thomas was educated at Morgan School in Castleknock, Dublin. Aged 19, his first job was with the Belfast branch of the Bank of Ireland. He moved to Hong Kong in 1864, becoming Chief Manager of HSBC in 1876, aged just 35 – he most senior executive in the Bank, effectively its CEO, until 1902, establishing it as the premier bank in Asia. He was called the bank's 'Great Architect' and his intuition brought him the nickname 'Lucky Jackson'. He was awarded a baronetcy in 1902, and his statue was unveiled in 1906.

He died at his home in London aged 74 and was buried at Stansted. Three of his sons, and three of his sons-in-law, were killed in battle during the Great War.

There is a very big story here just waiting to be uncovered... 

Further information is online here from Creggan Historical Society

• This magnificent blog by Canada-based researcher Sharon Noddie Brown gives some further biographical background, as does her earlier website here.

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Made In Ulster - Mountain Dew" - 1946 Poteen for the future Queen

When Princess Elizabeth - as she then was - visited Ulster in March 1946 her itinerary included Enniskillen where the local RUC Head Constable David Murray presented her with an unusual gift - as the caption above says it was "a bottle labelled mountain dew after her inspection of an illicit still in operation at a police depot in Enniskillen". One of the articles below says it was in a special box labelled "Made In Ulster - Mountain Dew". 

At first glance I thought this meant that a rogue remote police station was distilling its own spirits, but a visit to the British Newspaper Archive showed that "in a corner of the depot the police had constructed a typical hideout of heather, gorse, moss and turf to give the Royal visitor an idea of the kind of place in which illicit stills were concealed" (The Scotsman, 22 March 1946).

The report also said that, to add a bit of drama to the occasion, some policemen had dressed up as "mountain bandits".