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. 

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.