Monday, September 24, 2018

Judge Joseph Neilson (1813-1888)

"In January, 1888, that well-known American jurist and illustrious Brooklynite, Judge Joseph Neilson, died. He was an old friend of mine, of everyone who came upon his horizon. For a long while he was an invalid, but he kept this knowledge from the world, because he wanted no public demonstration. The last four years of his life he was confined to his room, where he sat all the while calm, uncomplaining, interested in all the affairs of the world, after a life of active work in it. He belonged to that breed which has developed the brain and brawn of American character - the Scotch-Irish."

Neilson’s funeral service took place at 2nd Presbyterian Church, Clinton Street, Brooklyn, in January 1888. His father was Dr Samuel Neilson and his grandfather John Neilson, who emigrated from Ulster in 1760.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

700 Years ago - the death of Edward Bruce and the end of the Bruce campaign in Ireland

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane - 'Nellie Bly' - the journalist who travelled around the world in a record-breaking 72 days (1889-90)

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She was born in 1864 in the town of Cochran Mills in Armstrong County on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. It had been named after her father Judge Michael Cochran (1810-1871). His father Robert Cochran had emigrated to Pennsylvania from County Londonderry. Her father died when she was just a child and her mother re-married, so it’s hard to see a direct family environment of distinctly Scotch-Irish values, but the community and region had been strongly so for over a century.

You’ll find references to her very easily online - a journalist who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Nellie Bly’. She first came to the fore through her championing of women’s causes and challenging what she saw as negative portrayals. She famously pretended to be insane in order to infiltrate an asylum for ten days, which she later wrote up as Ten Days in the Madhouse.

She travelled the world in 1889-90, beating Phileas Fogg’s famous 80 days achievement by doing so in 72 days, which was briefly a world record.

- Wikipedia entry here.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy's time of reckoning

At long last, some of the voices from Appalachia who have been challenging the narrative of Hillbilly Elegy, will be published together in a new book entitled Appalachian Reckoning - A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, by West Virginia University Press, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll from Bowdoin College, where the recent 1718 Migration Ulster-Scots American Migration conference took place.

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Monday, September 03, 2018

The Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Fiddle - Londonderry, New Hampshire

This is from the book entitled Two Hundredth Anniversary Celebration of Londonderry, New Hampshire, 1719-1919 (published 1923). No date given for the incident but the overall context of the chapter would suggest the 1700s.

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Sunday, September 02, 2018

Mike Compton & Joe Newberry - "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul?"

I drove a 5 hr round trip to the annual bluegrass festival at the Ulster-American Folk Park mainly to see these guys in action. Awesome. Their set included this old 1930s classic. They also did an interview discussion session but I missed that sadly, hopefully it was recorded and might appear online.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Diversity and Division

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In recent reading about the history of the state of New Hampshire, I came across this very strange article in the New York Times - 'How Do You Diversify A Whole State?’ (online here). New England appears to be the ‘whitest’ region of the United States, and this is causing some people concern. I am not totally sure that is a ‘problem’ to be ‘fixed’. Those ‘white’ people will themselves be of a multiplicity of nationalities - Scotch-Irish, Irish, Scottish, English, French, Dutch, German, Swedish, etc. I have no time for racism - we are all one human race (see Acts 17:26) - but the article got me thinking. Your understanding of ‘diversity’ depends upon your understanding of ‘difference’.

Today, diversity seems to be measured by biology - that is, ethnicity and gender, as well as sexual orientation - sometimes called immutable characteristics. I’m not getting into the details of those, because some are now claimed to be ‘fluid’ things, but they appear to be the social fault lines by which ‘diversity’ is measured in Western societies generally. However, ‘age’ doesn’t seem to register much and that’s a pretty immutable thing. ‘Old white men’ are fair game in the diversity wars. Maybe I’m feeling that at 46 years old.

On reflection, my relatively sheltered childhood was in its own wee way surprisingly diverse, based on our very local definition of social differences. People are tribal and we group and divide all the time.

Growing up here on the Ards Peninsula, seldom venturing more than a few miles from home, diversity was getting people from two neighbouring - yet multi-generationally bitter rival - villages to co-operate. The only difference the people had was that they came from different places, they were the same in every other way. But bringing them together was a huge social achievement. For example, Portavogie v Ballyhalbert football matches were bloodbaths. Ballyhalbert wore red and Portavogie wore blue. People in each village were forbidden to paint their front doors in the other village’s colour. Marrying across the two villages was rare and maybe even socially unacceptable, as was moving house from one to the other. All of these stories have been passed down to me by my parents’ generation, it’s a bit mellower nowadays. There’s still huge rivalry between neighbouring schools.

To take things up a level, intra-Protestant co-operation was our next ‘diversity’. Getting the Brethren people to turn up at a Methodist or Church of Ireland event was - and maybe still is - unthinkable. Free Presbyterians and Non-Subscribing Presbyterians are ideologically and theologically worlds apart. ‘Protestant’ is a broad but sometimes useless term - the chaos of the many denominations within is almost unfathomable. Elim and Baptist people would be keeping an eye on each other. Maybe not so much as individuals, but certainly as organisations. 

Up another level to the yet broader Northern Ireland context - in religious terms Protestant and (Roman) Catholic co-operation is another ‘diversity’. Or in political terms, Nationalist and Unionist co-operation. Most individuals are neighbourly to one another, as our family always was, but there are still valid social differences to be acknowledged. So ‘cross-community' is another well-known ‘diversity’, and one which Northern Ireland society carefully monitors in employment practice, policing, etc.

Up again, this time to the ’national’ level of the UK and British Isles, we have 5 ‘Home Nations’. That in itself is yet another ‘diversity’, as of course are the cross-border issues on the island of Ireland. Ireland’s inability to come to terms with the cultural diversities on the island are a large part of our historic problems.

You could go on and on with this. Once you firstly ‘divide' people into groups, along whatever lines you decide matter, then ‘diversity’ has its arena.

We all come from and belong to ‘tribes’. But ultimately maybe we’re all individuals and the only diversity that should matter is diversity of thought and ideas, and that by working together we can pool our strengths and talents and make the world a better and slightly more unified place - no matter what our 'immutable characteristics' might be.