Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Michael JF McCarthy (1864–1928)

Having mentioned Cormac Mac Cárthaigh in yesterday's post, I was reminded of Cork-born TCD graduate Michael JF McCarthy who I touched on in this post from last year.

Here's a magnificent cover of one of his popular paperbacks. A visually superb illustration, conveying the might and wealth of the church that McCarthy saw as dominating the people. It's a graphic version of a primitive, but quite convincing, cut-and-paste using actual photographs which appeared in his 1902 hardback edition. In the author's note he explains the choice of imagery –

"... the frontispiece is an ideal picture ... the church is a real church, expensive and ostentatious ... the village is a real one not many miles away from the church ... but a reluctance to hurt the feelings of the inhabitants of any stated locality induced me to adopt the idea..."

In his 1905 Catholic Ireland and Protestant Scotland - A Contrast he observed that –

... Ireland and Scotland are in come respects like Siamese twins. Scotland overlaps into Ireland, and Ireland overlaps into Scotland. There is a Scotch settlement in Ireland and there is an Irish settlement in Scotland. Ireland is more than leavened with Scotchmen; and its most prosperous province, Ulster, is ruled by men who are proud to own their consanguinity with the Scot ... yes Ireland and Scotland are sisters ...
100+ years on, religion is diminished. In today's largely secular Ireland, you might have expected the old tribalisms to have receded. But sometimes cracks appear in the veneer. Various stories on the news cycle on this island over the past while, and of course various social media furores, might suggest that tribalism is still very much with us. It now wears less-religious clothes.

McCarthy's final chapter in Priests and People in Ireland is entitled 'Is Christ Responsible?'.
You don't need religion to have tribes.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The five pointed Crown of Ireland

This motif crops up all over the place, it's one of those things that once you notice it you see it everywhere. It can be found on early Irish documents (there's one on Wikipedia from 1651) and is a detail on a thirteenth-century crosier which was found in the Rock of Cashel Cathedral.

The crosier is said to have belonged to a bishop called Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster (d 1138) and that it was found during excavations at the cathedral around his grave around 1730. It passed through various people's hands before its origin story was written down by a Joseph Cooper Walker, who put it on public display via the Royal Irish Academy in 1786. The photo above is of a 19th century replica (from this website).

It appears to symbolise the era before the arrival/invasion of the Anglo-Normans in 1169. Which of course is an era far more complex than the 19th century nationalistic interpretations of the story that still hold such a grip on perceptions here.

The five-pointed side view of the crown (therefore 8 or 10 points in total?) famously features on the Munster coat of arms but its usage reaches far beyond that province, with many in Ulster. Various depictions of it are shown below, from Brian Boru to Edward Bruce to the Ulster Bank and the Ulster Women's Declaration and a pavement mosaic outside an old chemist's shop, now The Central Hotel, in Donegal town.

The 'Éirinn go Brách' Lisburn postcard c. 1905 shown below is from my own collection. I'm sure there are umpteen other usages of this out there.

John Macoun (1831–1920) : from Magheralin to Manitoba and beyond

John Macoun (1831–1920) lived in relative poverty at Magheralin in County Down for the first 19 years of his life, but emigrated to Canada in 1850. In his autobiography he wrote that his paternal 'family was Scotch' and his mother's people were 'Scotch immigrants of the usual fighting clans'. He plotted their story from Scotland to the Siege of Derry. Even though Macoun was pro-Orange, his grandfather had built a Catholic church on his own land; the Macouns were even visited by Father Mathew the renowned Catholic temperance campaigner.

An Ulster Presbyterian of Scottish descent, his new life in Canada began as a farmer, then a teacher, and eventually he began to correspond with world-famous botanists and naturalists. He made epic explorations of western Canada and was eventually appointed the Canadian Government's official 'Explorer of the North West Territories'. Over 100,000 of his collected flora samples are in the Canadian Museum of Nature.

From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

"...John Macoun (pronounced Macown) was raised on family land that had been granted to one of his father’s ancestors almost two centuries earlier for military service. It was an ideal setting for a boy with an insatiable curiosity, and he developed a great passion for the outdoors and the natural world. Fatherless from the age of six, he became independent and exceedingly stubborn, almost self-righteous, in his determination to succeed. His education at the parochial school of the Presbyterian Church strengthened this faith in his capabilities. 
Macoun was a pompous young man who considered himself morally superior, because of his virtues, and seldom wrong. As well, he was prepared to fight for his beliefs, confident that he would prevail. 
By the time he had assumed a clerk’s position in Belfast, in his teens, he also held the same values as his fellow Ulstermen: allegiance to the crown, dedication to union with Britain, and support for the Conservative party and the Orange order..." (link here)

From Craigavon Historical Society

"... John Macoun's ancestors settled in Maralin, or Magheralin, in the seventeenth century and probably came from Linlithgowshire in Scotland where the name exists in burial and marriage registers up to 1672. His son, William Terrill Macoun, searched the Linlithgowshire records in Edinburgh in 1905. He sent a summary of his records to various members of the Macoun family. He states that James Macoun, born in Linlithgowshire in 1639, married Elizabeth Montgomery and emigrated to Ireland in 1672, and was killed at the Boyne in 1690. This is also stated on the Macoun pedigree constructed by Reginald Blackwood, who was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Linenhall Library, Belfast. 
However, the first Macoun may have come to Ireland before 1672. The name of Ens. James McEwne appears in the list of the "Forty-nine" officers, along with that of several members of the McGill family from whom the Macouns later held leases for land in Maralin. 
In the old graveyard at Maralin there is a tombstone with the inscription "Here lyeth the body of James Macoun who was departed this life the 15th of March anno Dom 1706 aged 105 years also his wife departed this life the 6th of March 1706." This James may have been the father of the James Macoun who was born in Linlithgowshire in 1639, and died at the Boyne in 1690, and had sons Samuel and James. The descent of the John Macoun with whom we are concerned from Samuel Macoun is shown in the accompanying pedigree. John had two sons and three daughters and the sons had issue in Canada..." (link here)

Hans Sloane rightly gets a lot of attention, but it is lazy to not think and look further. Macoun is perhaps just one of a range of similar Ulster botanists and naturalists. Yet more work to be done.

Wikipedia entry here

Image result for "john macoun" ontario

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Scots language toast – "Here's Tae Ye"

This expression pops up now and again on old Scotch whisky ephemera, and seems to be the Scots language equivalent of the more familiar Gaelic toast 'Sláinte' which is widely used today across the world.

The firm of Gilmour, Thomson & Co. Ltd. of Glasgow used "Here's Tae Ye" frequently as an advertising slogan. It is probably an abbreviation of the expressions "here's tae ye, wha's like ye", and of course "Here's tae ye! Here's tae us, wha's like us? Gey few, an' they're a' deid".

Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Ulster Overcoat - invented by John McGee, Belfast

Sherlock Holmes made it world famous but the Ulster overcoat was a Belfast invention. Wikipedia here. Another story to be uncovered. The late Jack McCoy's article is online here.

NB: Note the five pointed crown. More on that to follow.

Friday, January 31, 2020

"They are unworthy of freedom who expect it from other hands than their own" - the Calton Weavers, 1787

(image above from this blog)

In Burns-era Ulster and Scotland there were tremors of social revolution emerging from weavers' looms, shuttles and pens. Our own 'Weaver Poets' captured the mood of the country of the 1798 Rebellion and some of them were personally involved. In our modern day land-locked mentality we forget that, just across the water, the simultaneous 'United Scotsmen' movement and the weavers of Scotland had similar experiences and convictions.

Calton today is part of Glasgow but in the 1780s it was a small weaving village. The Calton Weavers went on strike in 1787 and on 2nd September six of the weavers were killed by soldiers of the 39th Regiment who opened fire on a crowd of several hundred. Three of them - John Page, Alexander Miller and James Ainsley, were killed instantly. Three more died later of their wounds. A crowd of around 6000 people attended the funerals.

Fifty years later, a memorial at Abercromby Street in Bridgeton was erected, with the inscriptions:

"They are unworthy of freedom who expect it from other hands than their own"
"They Though Dead Still Liveth. Emulate Them." 

(Given what day it is, this post is not a Brexit-related metaphor, but Brexit will not be the last of the changes ‘these islands’ will experience...)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Alexander Ales / Alane / Alesius and the Bible in the 'Scotish Language', 1500s

I have posted about Edinburgh-born Alexander Ales / Alane / Alesius (1500–65) before (see 2016 article here) an early Scottish reformation convert who sought refuge in Luther's Germany in 1530, where he changed his surname and where he is still today remembered through a street name in Leipzig. From Germany he wrote to the then King of Scotland –

"in two eloquent Latin epistles, indited and printed in Wittenberg itself, in behalf of liberty to his Scottish countrymen, to read and to teach the Word of God in their mother tongue" – Peter Lorimer, Precursors of Knox, p168 (1857) 
Interestingly he addressed the King as "To the renowned King of Scots, James the Fifth, Duke of Albany, Prince of Ireland and the Orkneys". These two letters were entitled Alexandri Alesii Epistola contra Decretum quoddam Episcoporum in Scotia quod prohibet legere Novi Testamenti libros lingua vernacula (1533) and Alexandri Alesii Scott Responsio ad Cochlaei Calummas (1534). This chapter on seems to include translations of each; his aim seems to be to bypass the bishops and appeal directly to the King to campaign for religious liberty for the people of Scotland.

Alesius' great opponent Johann Cochlaeus, claimed that Alesius was about to produce a bible in the 'Scotish language', to be translated from Luther's German edition, but Alesius pointed out to the King in one of the letters that 'I do not know the German' (p 460 in this book).

I do wonder if, someday in an archive somewhere in Germany, an unpublished manuscript of an Alexander Alesius Scots language Bible translation might be found.

Dictionary of National Biography entry here
• 62 original Alesius manuscripts are listed here
• 98 original Alesius manuscripts are listed here
• This biography by the Tudor Society is succinct
• A chapter about him in The Scots in Germany (1902) is online here
This short reference is also interesting:

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Robert Burns and Portaferry - the friendship of James McManus and James Shanks

Patrick McManus (1863–1886) was a poet from Kearney, a small coastal clachan between Cloughey and Portaferry, shown in the pics above. It is now owned by the National Trust.

He had attended Ballyphilip National School on the outskirts of Portaferry. Politically speaking was an Irish Nationalist. His poems appeared under the pseudonym 'Slieve Donard', the highest mountain of the Mournes. Culturally though he had a strong Ulster-Scots influence from living in the Upper Ards. His father James McManus was described as 'the staunchest of Catholics' but was also huge Robert Burns fan, who once said that ‘had Burns been a Catholic, he would have been a saint’. This cultural overlap and intermingling is very reminiscent of the Lynn C Doyle story I posted here recently. Patrick arrived in Philadelphia in April 1886 but tragically he died there just a few months later in August of that same year, aged just 23.

This story was written down by another Portaferry man, John McGrath (1864–1956) in an 1890 article in The Irish Monthly of March 1890 (see below). McGrath was the literary editor of the Irish National Land League publication called United Ireland from 1891–1902 and a friend of WB Yeats.

Their contemporary, the Portaferry Presbyterian farmer, botanist, geologist and antiquarian James Shanks (1854–1912), was a close friend of James McManus. Shanks attended Portaferry National School in the village opposite the Presbyterian church (which in recent years has been refurbished and rebranded as Portico Ards). Like McManus and McGrath, Shanks was also in favour of land reform and he became a leading light in the local Tenant Right Association. In a biography written by James C Rutherford, this scene is recalled –

"... one day I spent several hours behind the quay were James McManus was repairing a boat, listening to his talk. He ranged over the whole gamut of knowledge from navigation to Bobby Burns; but he left on my mind the impression that if anything in the world were compared to Burns, it would be 'as moonlight unto sunlight and as water unto wine'... Burns threw light upon navigation, mathematics, classics, religion, everything. No matter what formed the body of a subject, Burns formed the tail, and the tail always wagged the body... in my boyish enthusiasm I believed that Burns was the short cut to everything, and the open sesame to the doors of knowledge..." 

James Shanks and James McManus were of different religious backgrounds but yet were in many ways cut from the same cloth, with similar convictions and interests. They are described in the Rutherford biography as "literary comrades", a David and Jonathan combination, who would spend hours talking to each other in the streets of Portaferry. When McManus died "Shanks was left for a time companionless and disconsolate". Rutherford quoted a verse of a poem that Shanks wrote for McManus, which was written in the 'standard habbie' format made famous by Burns.

• McGrath's entire article 'An Ulster Poet' on the life and writings of Patrick McManus can be read here