Thursday, June 29, 2017

Discovering the Dictionary

I was well into my 20s before I knew the one on the left even existed. From that I then discovered centuries of local literature. Much of our problem is a lack of understanding.19467702 10155522165407878 3554944012027741096 o 1

The first to compile a dictionary of Scots is thought to be Rev John Jamieson who published his Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language in 1808. Here is a review of a recent edition. Burns had died just 12 years before, and of course some editions of his works had contained a glossary to explain some of the Scots terms for the unfamiliar reader, which are kind of mini-dictionaries in their own right. Ulster-Scots poets like Hugh Porter (published 1813) did the same.

There have been numerous Scots dictionaries since. Some of the Scots dictionaries use the abbreviation Uls when specifying that particular words are found in Ulster. And there are of course many examples of Ulster-Scots words being collected and published too, from William Hugh Patterson in the 1800s to James Fenton in our own day. There is also an extraordinary online project at UlsterScotsAcademy.com which everyone should know about, a volunteer project every bit as impressive as the online Dictionary of the Scots Language. I'm pleased that some of my literary discoveries of recent years have contributed to the ongoing database for UlsterScotsAcademy.com.

As long as the Scots and Ulster-Scots literary tradition is kept in the dark, people will continue to live in ignorance. And make decisions with no understanding of context or pedigree.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

1826: Scotch Poems for 'the Poor of Belfast'

This advert, from the Belfast Commercial Chronicle newspaper of 4th November 1826 has a great bit of marketing ‘spin' in it, tantalising the reader with a tale of a mysterious anonymous visitor from Scotland, a will, and a bundle of documents including a collection of poems - ‘fugitive pieces, on various subjects, chiefly in the Scotch dialect’ including ‘On a Visit to Grey Abbey’, ‘Bonaparte’s Soliloquy at St Helena’, ‘To A Mountain’, ‘Farewell Verses’. The air of intrigue is upped even further at the end, discouraging the reader from enquiring as to the writer’s identity due to his request ’that his name might not be disclosed’. The philanthropic fund-raising aspect of this is also very interesting. 

I’ve made a few enquiries of people who are knowledgeable on these things, but this seems to be a new find. 

Poor of Belfast

Sunday, June 25, 2017

1690: The Stuart Kings were mostly Protestants

Charles I and James II

Above: a 1647 painting of the Protestant King Charles I and his son James II, who converted to Catholicism c. 1669.

There’s been a lot of fairly standard stereotype-reinforcing again in the past week in the news coverage about Northern Ireland. A BBC Newsnight piece was presented by someone parachuted in from England, and of course began at a King Billy mural on Sandy Row, and spoke of “the victory of a Protestant King over a Catholic King in the 17th century”. Sad voices, sad music, urchin-like children stacking up bonfires on wasteground etc. I’ve pasted it below.

So this got me thinking. Of course the statement is partially true, and a grain of truth is often all that’s needed to carry a narrative. But it’s very far from the whole story. Let’s take a quick look.

• The Stuarts in Scotland: 1371–1567
The Stuart monarchy had ruled Scotland from 1371, and up until the Scottish Reformation they like everyone else were Catholics. The Stuarts remained Catholic up until Mary Queen of Scots. She had become Queen at just six days old, and spent much of her young life in France, with Scotland run by ‘regents’. She came back to a reforming Scotland in 1561 but was forced to abdicate in 1567 in favour of her infant son, King James VI. James had been baptised in a Catholic ceremony but was raised under tutors such as Presbyterian George Buchanan. John Knox preached at James’ coronation in 1567. James was now head of the country, but most definitely not head of the Church - as ministers like Andrew Melville and Robert Bruce famously told him to his face.

• The Stuarts in England and Ireland: 1603–1688 
When this Presbyterian-influenced James VI became King James I of England and Ireland in 1603, he was fond of the new Church of England role which came with the new job, making him Head of the Church as well as of the State. And this is where the problems began, as he set his sights on (potentially) troublesome fellow Protestants. James commissioned a new Bible; one reason for doing so was to get rid of the marginal notes of the existing Geneva Bibles which equated ‘King' with ‘Tyrant'. Conflicts began to open up between King and Parliament. James began to flex his muscles upon the Church back in Scotland. ‘Non-Conformist’ English Puritans began an exodus to New England fleeing persecution. His son Charles I was even worse, and who was famously seized and beheaded in 1649. His son, the eventual Charles II, fled to France, but he deceived Scotland’s Covenanter Presbyterians that he was in fact one of theirs, and they crowned him King of Scotland in 1651. But despite this titular coronation, for 10 years there was no monarchy - the Interregnum - with Cromwell in charge. Charles II was back in England by 1660, was crowned King of England and Ireland at the ‘Restoration' in 1661. He iimmediately began deposing Presbyterian ministers in Ulster and Scotland, and eventually rounding up Presbyterian people in both places too. It was with his dying breaths that Charles converted to Catholicism, in 1685 (so throughout his reign he was Protestant). His brother, now James II, had converted to Catholicism during a time in France around 1669. James reigned until 1688 when William of Orange showed up. (Technically, William, his wife Mary and also Anne were Stuarts. But we’re looking at William v James so let’s stop there for simplicity’s sake).

So, in a nutshell, here are the Stuart kings and their religious backgrounds:

James VI & I  /  reign 1603–1625  /  Church of Scotland & Church of England
Charles I   /   reign 1625–1649  /  Church of England
Charles II  /  reign (Scotland 1651) 1661–1685  /  Church of England
James II  /  reign 1685–1688  /  Roman Catholic 

As Facebook relationship statuses worldwide declare, it’s complicated, but as this quick overview shows, the Stuarts had been increasingly tyrannical and undemocratic Protestant monarchs for a lot longer than they were Catholics - excluding the Interregnum, they had roughly 72 years as a Protestant monarchy v 3 years as a Catholic monarchy. The ratio is 24:1. 

• ‘The Liberties of England and the Protestant Religion I Will Maintain'
This was reputedly the motto on the banner which accompanied William from Holland to England. The Glorious/Williamite Revolution was therefore as much about civil liberty and Parliamentary authority as it was theology. And of course various individuals and groupings seeking to either maintain or acquire power and control … and the universal human conditions of greed and ambition and all that goes with them.

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Stereotypes and sad music depress the viewing audience. But we can’t just blame broadcasters and ‘outsiders’ for this, there are plenty here at home who don’t understand or explain the broader context and who selectively use history to fuel present-day fires. Inform and educate matters as much as entertain. Let’s not perpetuate things which are only partly true. The fuller story is much more compelling.

(PS, the presenter needs to visit Lewes in east Sussex on 5th November)

 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

An Ulster-Scots Gospel Conversion, James Meikle, Killinchy, 1839

Livingston

"It is a new secular religion"

Go to 13 minutes. Outstanding. Peter Boghossian is an atheist academic and Dave Rubin a gay, married, non-religious Jew. Alliances of liberty are emerging across the western world, and across people who aren't 'on the same page' on every issue, but who see common purpose on some big important universal themes. Interesting times. (choice language here and there)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"a hearty Irish Roman Catholic" and "a gentle Scotch-Irish Protestant"

Ronald Wilson Reagan’s parents were described as such in this New York Times obituary (click here).

Reagan

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

John Knox in 'The Orthodox Presbyterian', 1832

Two thistles, a rose and some shamrock. This periodical was published by William M’Comb - known in his day as ‘The Laureate of Presbyterianism’ - for about 10 years.

Knox Orthodox Presb 1832

Monday, June 19, 2017

Multic-Ulster-al (1956) – "the lallans of Antrim and Down"

Sam Hanna Bell (1909–90) was one of our greatest writers, thinkers, folklorist, collector and broadcasters of the 20th century. To understand an Ulster which few today can remember, Sam Hanna Bell’s writing will take you there with a clarity and authenticity that’s hard to find now.

Glasgow-born but reared near Raffrey in County Down before moving to Belfast, I would encourage everyone to get hold of his work and visit a different world. His début collection Summer Loanen (1943) has lovely natural touches of Ulster-Scots vocabulary. The world he presents was not idyllic, but which culturally speaking was far more nuanced and whole than the political perspectives which have come to dominate. An Ulster which seemed to better understand its multiple cultural strands than most do today.

If there is to be a holistic 'Culture Act' in Northern Ireland then Sam Hanna Bell had at least some of the vision for how it could be. He envisaged a ‘Folklore Commission’ and soon after the 'Committee on Ulster Folklife and Traditions’ was set up. It is easy to pass laws. But where are the minds, the hearts, the eyes, the ears, the voices and the pens? Where is today’s “body of trained folklorists”?

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