Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Where do you start?

As if I couldn't be less enamoured with aspects of academia than I already am, this corker comes along to put the cherry on top. 

It's akin to to sort of stuff that was being pumped out around the turn of the 20th century, like this one, to counter the growth in awareness of Scotch-Irishness which was developing on both sides of the Atlantic. The early publications of the American Irish Historical Society had that as a stated aim (see here and search for 'Scotch'). Theodore Roosevelt's very carefully worded letter on page 27 is worth reading.

Today, added to the old familiar prejudices which are all too common on the island of Ireland, are the new-fangled issues of 'intersectionality' and 'critical theory' which manifest themselves in what some have called the 'oppression Olympics' – a race to the top of a kind of victimhood tree. Because today, if you can show that the group you identify with has been historically denied power and influence and status, at the top of that tree all of these and more will now be granted. It's a social justice beanstalk with a great big golden egg laying goose at the top.

The piece is peppered with loaded terminologies - 'so-called "Scotch-Irish"', 'Scotch-Irish myth', 'whiteness', 'racial constructs', 'domination', 'exploitation', 'imperial expansion', 'conquer and colonize' - you get the picture.

It must come as a mighty shock to Appalachians of Scotch-Irish descent, having been scorned and marginalised by élite whites as an underclass for nearly three centuries, (as Meredith McCarroll's fascinating new book Unwhite explores in terms of stereotypical film portrayals - link here) – to suddenly now find that some of today's élite whites have decided to do a complete 180˚ turn and insist that in actual fact the Scotch-Irish have been mighty oppressors all along. Scotch-Irish identity is apparently a construct of 'English colonialism'. A stunning article. And not in a good way. Where do you start?

It is impossible to keep on top of today's campus madnesses. Our middle son, aged 16, is keeping a watchful eye on university antics as he is potentially heading to one in two years' time. He asked me recently if, as well as getting good A level grades, he should also become a communist to be accepted into one.

Ulster-Scots / Scots-Irish / Scotch-Irish studies remain pretty much a hobbyist interest. There is no 'sector' as is normally defined, but a small number of people are doing the best they can with limited resources. There is no climate of mainstream institutional respect even within the natural Ulster-Scots areas of Northern Ireland. Many local Councils even in those areas avoid the subject or give it a merely tokenistic acknowledgement. You'll look long and hard to find any significant mention within museums here. There is certainly no global infrastructure of well-funded university staff capable of thinking, writing, publishing, and making the case. There aren't even authoritative core texts which summarise the overall story. Meanwhile this is a particularly bizarre example of how the story is being selectively mined and misrepresented.

Apportioning fashionable early 21st century notions of guilt and blame to a selectively caricatured presentation of some ‘other’ people group, who are conveniently voiceless (whilst one's own people group is only ever pure and noble) is in itself an ironically colonial and imperialist endeavour. Academic privilege writ large. Punching down.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Allan Ramsay (1684–1758) on snobbery and 'ignorance of native language'

The quote below, from Scottish and Scots language poet Allan Ramsay (1684–1758), is pretty spectacular. His works were reprinted numerous times in Belfast over the centuries; I have a copy that was passed down to me by an aunt some years ago.

"There is nothing can be heard more silly than one's expressing his ignorance of his native language, yet such there are who can vaunt of acquiring a tolerable perfection in the French or Italian tongues if they have been a fortnight in Paris or a month in Rome. 
But shew them the most elegant thoughts in a Scots dress they, as disdainfully as stupidly, condemn it as barbarous. But the true reason is obvious. 
Every one that is born never so little superior to the vulgar would fain distinguish themselves from them by some manner or other and such it would appear cannot arrive at a better method. 
But this affected class of fops give no uneasiness not being numerous for the most part of our gentlemen who are generally masters of the most useful and politest languages can take pleasure for a change to speak and read their own..."

- From the preface of The Ever Green, being a collection of Scots poems, wrote by the ingenious before 1600, Allan Ramsay (1724)

online here
• Excellent article by Philip Robinson on UlsterScotsAcademy.com here


I am persuaded that the only way that there will ever be momentum around Ulster-Scots language will be in appropriate partnership with Scots language in Scotland. As you can see from the both barrels blast above, the issues of class, 'vulgar' speech and disdain for the 'native language' were the same 300 years ago as they still are today.  Ramsay also saw the need to reprint historical Scots language literature to help persuade his contemporary audience of its importance and veracity. And as you can see from the images here, from the 1728 edition of Poems by Allan Ramsay (online here),  Ramsay corresponded with William Starrat from Strabane.

William Starrat's poem to Allan Ramsay was dated 15th May 1722. Surely, almost three years from now and as the first Ulster-Scots language poet, this tercentenary is deserving of commemoration? Perhaps an Ulster History Circle blue plaque at a suitable location in Strabane or Lifford.

Co-operation across the North Channel is our past, and it is also our future.

Migrations from Ireland to America

There are details within this video which could be better, but overall I am glad to see a recognition of cultural and experiential variety between the Scotch-Irish emigrants of the 1700s and the Famine era Irish of the 1800s. It's not about competition, but completion. That is important and is to be welcomed. Hopefully a sign of a better future.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

BBC Northern Ireland - Sam Henry 'Songs of the People'

(What a terrific gate and pillar!) I'm really looking forward to this new series, starting this coming Sunday and available on iPlayer after that. When later musicologists, such as Alan Lomax in the USA, had the ability to transport recording equipment around rural communities to record the song traditions, Sam Henry from Coleraine (1878–1952) was a couple of generations earlier and combined his love of collecting traditional culture with a 'proper day job'. Nevertheless his work is monumental and world-famous - the celebrated song collection Songs of the People (most recently reprinted in 2010 by the University of Georgia Press) and his own photography (link here) in particular. His varied collection reflects the varied cultural life of Ulster.

He was also part of the early interest in Ulster-Scots-American presidents, publishing his research into the President Chester Alan Arthur connections with Cullybackey in the Belfast Telegraph in December 1938 (see previous blog post here), including the 1882 visit of the President's son, Chester Alan Arthur Junior, and President's sister Mary Arthur M'Elroy, to the ancestral cottage which still stands today. Junior got sick from eating gooseberries from a nearby bush, and was then given 'a piece and milk'. Mary had brought her late Ulster-born father's diary with her, which began 'I was born in the Dreen, near Cullybackey'.

In the same article Henry traced the Arthur family's roots back to Dunoon, on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland; he quoted an extract of a song about Dreen which had been written by Dr George Raphael Buick, and told  of how Betty Arthur the President's great-aunt, sat at her spinning wheel at Killycowan near Ballymena singing the old ballad 'Willie's On the Dark Blue Sea', which had been written by Henry S Thompson.

Sam Henry concluded the article with the blockbuster question which those of us who love this stuff frequently ask ourselves in an ever-faster world – "Of what avail is the rehabilitation of these bones of the past?".  For me, these are the things which make us more than just consumers or voters. They make us rooted human beings.


Sam Henry Songs Of The People 
Sunday 21 April
BBC Two Northern Ireland, 10.00pm

A new series for BBC Northern Ireland explores the unique story of Sam Henry and his monumental music collection - Songs of the People - that is often referred to as an ‘Ulster jewel’ and a century later, remains hugely important to folk artists around the world. 

Starting on BBC Two NI on Sunday 21 April at 10pm, Sam Henry Songs Of The People is a two-part series – comprised of a documentary and concert - looking at the man behind the music and how his passion for preserving the past produced a diverse collection of more than 800 songs that is unique to Ulster and recognised internationally. 

Born in Coleraine in 1878, Sam was a noted public speaker, folklorist, photographer, local historian and genealogist.  He began collecting songs and taking photographs while working as a customs and pensions officer. Travelling around small farms and villages, he carried a fiddle and played music to put people at ease, recognising there was a wealth of stories and songs to be shared. 

In this revealing documentary, folklorists, archivists and contemporary music collectors, examine how Sam’s pioneering approach - in an official capacity and later when song collecting - placed him at the heart of rural communities and inspired his greatest work. 

Sam appreciated the diverse cultural heritage of local communities and their traditions, and looked for an outlet to share the huge collection of material he had gathered; between 1923 and 1939 he wrote a column for the Northern Constitution publishing the continuing series Songs of the People. 

In his own words, Sam said the aim was to “search out, conserve, and make known the treasures of the songs of the people” and he collection spanned both Ulster-Scots and Irish traditions.

Sam Henry Songs Of The People has been supported by Northern Ireland screen, through the Ulster-Scots and Irish Language Broadcast Funds. 

The second programme in this two-part series, to be broadcast on BBC Two NI on Sunday 28 April, is a special concert celebrating Sam Henry’s vast and diverse song collection with performances from folk artists including Andy Irvine, Cup O’ Joe, Pauline Scanlon and Scottish folk singer Hannah Rarity.

Songs of the People captured everyday life in the early 20th century and gives us a fascinating insight into the past, reflecting both the Ulster-Scots and Irish traditions that made the north west, where Sam Henry lived, so unique. 

Sam Henry Songs Of The People is a Sonas Productions and Below The Radar TV co-production made for BBC Northern Ireland, starting on Sunday 21 April at 10pm on BBC Two Northern Ireland.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


If your worldview sees only 'power' and 'oppression' then even migrations are perceived or claimed to be 'colonial' invasions or occupations. Migrations between the coastlines of Ireland and Scotland have been going on for thousands of years. Posted here are some maps from William F Skene's Celtic Scotland, published 1876, showing our small part of the world in the 5th and 6th centuries.

As you can see 'Scotia' was the name of the landmass on the west of the North Channel, ie today's Ireland. But people migrated eastward, and so did that name. Eventually the landmass on the east of the North Channel was given the name 'Scotland'.  Sometimes, especially in creative writing, it has also been called 'Scotia' (see here for just one example).

So who 'colonised' who? Which nefarious 'power' contrived this human outrage? Or is migration a natural part of the human experience around the world?

Migration repeatedly brought people back and forth across the water. Migrations and settlement happened before the much-maligned organised Plantation of Ulster of 1610. And migration and settlement continued for centuries afterwards. The first map below (which, as with recent posts is from Barry Griffin's remarkable mapping of the Census of Ireland) shows people born in Scotland who were living in Ireland in 1901. So were these folk colonists or migrants?

We probably need to 'decolonise' the vocabulary we deploy, and use the correct and accurate terminologies, because language shapes perception. And loaded language is dangerous.

PS - there's some very interesting DNA analysis on this whole subject. The Scottish Origenes website has some fascinating content, including the map I've posted at the very bottom here which says that, genetically, the Lowland Scots who arrived into 1600s Ulster were biological descendants of Inishowen Gaels.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

W.A. Ross & Brother Limited - Belfast Beverage producers

William Adolphus Ross (1817-1900) was born in Dublin, a son of a banker called Henry Ross. (Henry was originally from Belfast as confirmed by newspaper reports of the untimely death of his teenage daughter Letitia Isabella, aged 14, in 1829, where he is described as 'Mr Henry Ross, of Belfast, late of Dublin'. When Henry died in 1863, at Holywood aged 77, he was buried at the 'new burying ground' in Belfast).

William had been been the managing director of Cantrell & Cochrane, where his business acumen saw the Belfast soft drinks operation become more profitable than the Dublin headquarters (see here). This article reveals more. There was a fall-out within the firm; William left and set up his own business in summer 1879 - which became a true Belfast global giant.

His new firm became famous simply as Ross's, selling mineral waters and ginger ales around the world from Belfast. Their advertising and giftware is iconic and sought-after still today. You can still find some of Ross's signage high up on the Belfast skyline at the entrance to the Victoria Square shopping mall, where their former head office building still stands.

He lived at a house called Iv-a-Craig in Craigavad, where he died on 22 September 1900 and was buried at Holywood.

His son George Harrison Ross took over the Belfast operation. His other son, and namesake, William Adolphus Ross, had settled in New York some time in the  (at Livingston, Staten Island) and opened up commercial opportunities for the company there. This advert is from the New York Times, 22 June 1910, and the trade card below is from Boston.

But lesser known are their forays into alcoholic beverages. Here's a photo of their 'O.P.S.' brand of unblended old pot still whiskey, clearly sourced from Comber Distilleries (the established 1825 date is the giveaway). You can also see from the label that the firm had operations in Belfast, Liverpool, Leith near Edinburgh and London. Their Liverpool outlet for a time had an arrangement to bottle and supply Guinness.

W.A. Ross junior died in July 1912 in Edinburgh, having just been in Belfast the week before. Even though he had been a resident of New York for many years he remained a member of the Ulster Reform Club.

Eventually, in the 1980s, the story went full circle when the famous firm merged with Cochrane's and the Ross's brand was closed.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Not English dictionaries - "low and vulgar"

This image has been circulating online over the past few days. The original source is page 23 of The Provincialisms of Belfast and the Surrounding Districts Pointed Out and Corrected, by David Patterson (Belfast, 1860 - pdf online here). These are mostly Scots language origin words, but once again their status misunderstood and mocked.

Patterson was a teacher at the Ulster Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, and was himself blind. Even if well-intentioned by Patterson and his ilk, this is the kind of social élitism which causes a society to under-value its own linguistic heritage - reducing a rich vernacular to simply 'not English'.

On page 6 Patterson dismisses 'the half Scotch of the country people, of which we say nothing, as it is not supposed to be in use among the natives of Belfast'. There was no educational or institutional support for Ulster-Scots. Its popularity and publications were despite the efforts of 'the establishment'. Perhaps that is still the case today.

Many of these 'low and vulgar' 'half Scotch' country people would move to Belfast where, two generations later in the early 1900s, they and their rural kinfolk would get the language question on their census forms so badly wrong.

(Below is the Chambers Scots Dictionary definition for 'scrunty' which had been blacked-out above).

Friday, April 05, 2019

(Part Two) Barry Griffin, the Census of Ireland, and the mysterious long-lost Gaeltacht of Antrim and Down?

Barry Griffin's wonderful website / database mapping has been causing some excitement around the internet. In a Facebook group I am involved in, this map in particular has really fired the imagination. It confirms without a doubt my long-held hunch about the questionable reliability of the language question on the census forms as a measurement for Ulster-Scots cultural areas (see my previous post, and the 2017 post linked to within it).

Remember - the Census of Ireland form had only two language options that the respondent could choose - either English or Irish. And as you can see, Barry's mapping technology shows that according to those completed forms, County Antrim and the northern half of County Down had what at first glance looks like a Gaeltacht community, comparable to those of the west and south of the island - made up of people who completed that two-option question on the census form as 'Irish'.

Shown below is a section of the form as completed by my own ancestors - from my May 2017 post here. As you can see it had originally been completed as 'Irish' but this was then scored out, presumably by the official who visited the homes to collect the forms and who realised that this had been entered incorrectly. This scoring out of Irish is known to have been widespread in Antrim and Down. However, the digitised Census, compiled by the National Archives of Ireland which is online here, and which Barry Griffin's mapping is based upon, has disregarded the scoring out.

This example isn't unique to my family or my immediate area. I know people in other parts of the Peninsula and around Newtownards who have found the same thing when researching their family trees. Similarly around villages in South Antrim. But it had never been fully measured until Barry's amazing maps appeared last week - these now show the full extent of the phenomenon for the first time.

Of course there were definitely some Irish speakers in Belfast due to the rapid growth of the city, and I expect that more reliable stats or estimates for those exist – but thickly spread across the enormous hinterland that runs from Ballymoney to Ballynahinch to Ballyhalbert and beyond? To this extent?

Additionally, Barry's Census language map corresponds pretty much identically to the other well-known Ulster-Scots language area maps - with the only exception being east Donegal. Perhaps the proximity of, and therefore familiarity with, the actual Irish language there is a factor.

As you know, my contention since I started looking into the issue in the census forms from my own backyard here on the Ards Peninsula, is that these folk weren't Irish speakers at all, even though they wrote that they were. And the discovery of a vast hidden Gaeltacht in the east of the province is literally in-credible, ie completely lacking in credibility. There is no way a vast phenomenon like that would have 'vanished' from popular awareness since 1911.

The key to understanding this is that these people knew that they weren't English speakers - so they chose 'Irish' on the form. However, it is beyond likely that in actual fact they were Ulster-Scots speakers.

A trilingual society (English/Irish/Ulster-Scots), with a bilingual bureaucracy (only English/Irish), leads to flawed results.

Bear in mind too that 1911 was something of a high water mark of Ulster-Scots publishing output within that same region. There's a long list of authors, poets and newspapers whose work incorporated Ulster-Scots at some level, and which was both popular and commercially successful within those exact same communities, in the c.1880–1910 era.

Barry Griffin has not only produced a remarkable piece of technology, but also a hitherto unparalleled evidence for the scale of Ulster-Scots language usage in that era - the era of my grandparents' childhoods.

• I have a number of friends who have a genuine love for, interest in, and commitment to, the preservation and promotion of the Irish language. So this observation is in no way any criticism of the Irish language on my part. But it is a 'plea' of a kind for the language promoters and commentators out there to come to terms with the fact that the Census language data is, for east Ulster at least, a highly unreliable starting point - and for recognition of the value, importance and historicity of the Ulster-Scots vernacular. It deserves its place.

• For a long time there has been an ongoing need to prove the historical veracity of Ulster-Scots, in the face of opposition and ignorance. This mapping helps with that. But today it is even more important to make it interesting and meaningful for the present generation. So what if somebody's great-grandparents were probably speakers? Today's generation have never met those people. What will make today's generation care?

•  A good example of the linguistic confusion is this extract from the 1844 collection by Robert Huddleston, the Ulster-Scots poet from Moneyreagh, County Down – which appears in the May 2017 post about the census digging I was doing at the time – in which he insists that the language he writes in is 'Ulster Irish' and not 'Scotch' at all)