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. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Tenant Right and Archibald M'Ilroy

This extract from When Lint Was In The Bell is insightful - M'Ilroy's activism around land reform means that he must have known about TW Russell (whose story I need to return to and complete). Nobody owned any land, just the landlords. Not all landlords were evil. But rural people had laboured and toiled and sweated over their few rented acres for generations and there was no greater desire than to actually own it, and to hand it down. Here's what Archibald wrote –

There has been some chat here recently about our religiously segregated school system, and that (surprise surprise) children are being taught two different curriculums and two different versions of history (article from The Guardian is here).

Looking back to my own school curriculum from '83-'90, I learned pretty much nothing about my own place, despite it being full of literature, language, story, tradition and music; no sense of value for where I lived. Anything of that nature I learned outside and after the classroom, so therefore I had perhaps been 'neutralised'. Perhaps others have in some way been 'radicalised'.

Tenant Right is a story that we all share. Nobody owned any land. Perhaps that is why it is not talked about. Maybe there is no real desire to have a common story.

Putting the word 'shared' in a few press releases and project titles is a cosmetic exercise. Taking down statues is similarly easy and symbolic. These things satisfy the chattering classes and give the media a few pieces of footage to loop for a few days, but they don't actually change much at all. The hard work to be done - with relationships and mindsets - is superbly expressed in this joint article by Robert P George and Cornel West. –

"To unite the country, we need honesty and courage. All of us must speak the truth — including painful truths that unsettle not only our foes but also our friends and, most especially, ourselves..."
Read it all and you'll see what vision looks like.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Ulster Anti-Prohibition Council (Northern Whig - Saturday 12 February 1921)

Gellocks and Slatecutters

This is an earwig, but in Ulster-Scots its a gellock. Below is a woodlouse, usually known as a 'slater' across pretty much all of Ulster. But for me in the tiny sliver of the Ards Peninsula we always called it a 'slatecutter'. A Twitter friend who is researching these wee beasties directed me to the fascinating 'socchetre' etymology underneath.

Monday, July 27, 2020

'Old Tyme Gospel' evening, Sunday 12th July

My brother and I were invited to home-record a lockdown session of old gospel songs and hymns and associated stories for 'Radio Boyne' which was a 4 day internet radio broadcast by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, to support their '12th At Home' initiative this year due to coronavirus. It was one-take, no edits, no fancy effects, unscripted and about as raw as you can get.

Our piece was broadcast on the evening of Sunday 12th July and is now available as a 'listen again' feature here, as two half hours. We later recorded a second live version of the final track, The Old Rugged Cross, in a key that worked better for our voices. It is online on Soundcloud here.

All four days of broadcasts are also available, lots of excellent material. (pic above by Graham Baalham-Curry)

1798 Rebellion - the nuances of the 'Turn Oot'

Ballyclare author Archibald M'Ilroy's 1897 book When Lint Was In The Bell has two references to the 1798 Rebellion, on the cusp of the centenary. One is a reference to his grandfather who prayed for the 'misguided rebels' as well as the soldiers –

The other is M'Ilroy's own sense of the events of 100 years before, of oral tradition and also subsequent smears. His use of the term 'Turn Oot' is significant (which also crops up in the poetry of Cullybackey's Adam Lynn as this previous post shows - 'the turn oot fecht').

I had seen 'Turn Oot' used in more recent publications, and I must admit I had thought it might be an Ulster-Scots neologism. But not at all, it is a term with rich County Antrim pedigree. A few searches in the British Newspaper Archive confirm this.

1798 is not simple. It is more interesting than that.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Who's your Evil Empire?

Everybody has an 'Evil Empire'. It might be led by Trump or Boris. Or Corbyn or Sturgeon. Or Carson or Connolly. Hitler has got to feature because everyone's a Fascist, even the supposedly anti-Fascists of 'Antifa' behave a lot like their adversaries. It could be the masterminds of the Chinese germ laboratories or maybe the Russians election-hacking bots. It could be the Hard Left or the Far Right. It might be the 'Western' male patriarchy or it might be the Middle Eastern version. Maybe the Illuminati? Capitalism or Communism? It could be the British Empire or maybe even the Vatican. It might even be all of these. All of them must be in some way evil, because all humans are flawed (aka sinners) and so all human systems are flawed. All systems are ladders for the few to gain to power, and therefore all oppress somebody.

The extract below is from ATQ Stewart's The Ulster Crisis (published 1967) a book I had heard much about but had never bothered reading. I had no idea that the Pope wanted to seize the Belfast shipyards ;). In today's world which is gripped by global conspiracy theories, it seems apt to show that paranoias are a universal human condition. "It is doubtful if the Ulster Protestant had much desire to persecute his neighbour because of the way he worshipped, but he certainly had an excessive fear of ... the powerful and world-wide organisation behind him". 

When your ideology convinces you that your neighbours aren't sovereign individuals, but covertly they are the willing emissaries of an Evil Empire, then you're not far away from a very dark place.