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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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fine Gael badge, 1930s?

So the Republic of Ireland has a new man at the helm, Leo Varadkar from the political party Fine Gael. The badge below is an interesting design choice, as is this flag. I know next to nothing about politics in the south, so other smarter people than I might be able to add comments below to explain this one.

 

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"A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music"

A new film by David Weintraub is about to premiere from the wonderfully-titled Centre for Cultural Preservation. It will also be available on DVD soon.

I have written here before on the many positive interactions between Scotch-Irish and African Americans, and music is an arena where this is particularly identifiable - the musical origins of Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams to name just three have famously strong black influences. It's also excellent to see that the recent BBC Wayfaring Stranger series was tapping in to some of the same contributors, who are therefore recognised and credible practitioners from a US perspective. Many of them were new to me, it is reassuring, but not surprising, that the producers of Wayfaring Stranger were so well-informed in their selecting! This bodes very well for any potential US broadcasts of Wayfaring Stranger in the future. 

Here is the full story, reproduced here from the website Mountain Xpress from Asheville, North Carolina (online here).

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New Mountain Music Documentary’s World Premiere in June
The Center for Cultural Preservation is pleased to announce the world premiere of David Weintraub’s new film on the history of Appalachian Music titled, A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music screening at three venues in WNC in June. The documentary tells the story of the southern mountain’s musical birth and evolution through the strands of the Scots-Irish legacy, oft-overlooked African-American tradition and through the longest lived music in the Americas, the indigenous tradition. 

According to Director/Producer David Weintraub,

“Mountain music is often discussed as a Scots-Irish tradition that came over here by the Ulster-Scots and that’s true. It is a fascinating story.  But what often gets overlooked is that the West African banjo was played in this country by blacks for nearly 100 years before it was ever picked up by white musicians. African-Americans also played a key role in developing the syncopated and rhythmic fiddle styles that symbolic of old time and bluegrass music. The blended cultural result is exactly what makes mountain music as beautiful and captivating as it is.”

The film features the leading luminaries of the ballad tradition including balladeer extraordinaires Sheila Kay Adams, Joe Penland and Bobby McMillon as well as Grammy Award winning founders of the world renowned black string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops including Rhiannon Giddens, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, David Holt, and musicologists and historians who tell the story of the great melting pot that became Appalachian music.

According to Phil Jamison, professor of Appalachian Music at Warren Wilson College and a participant in the film, “The reality of the southern backcountry was a diverse mix of Europeans, African-American and indigenous native peoples. Not racially, culturally or economically homogeneous, it was home to wealthy landowners, poor tenant farmers, sharecroppers, merchants, subsistence farms and enslaved African-Americans.” All of them shaped the music and made it special.

In addition to a film screening, several musicians participating in the film will perform at the start of each program. A brief discussion with the filmmaker and participants follows the screenings. Hendersonville’s world premiere will feature performances by Sheila Kay Adams, local old time band Rhiannon and the Relics and rising star Amythyst Kiah.

The world premiere of A Great American Tapestry will be held at the following locations/date/times:
• Blue Ridge Community College, Bo Thomas Auditorium at 7:00 pm on Thursday, June 22nd
• Fine Arts Theatre, Asheville at 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 29th
• White Horse, Black Mountain at 7:30 pm on Saturday, June 30th

Tickets are $10 and $15. Tickets are expected to sell out quickly so it is highly recommended that they be ordered soon on the Center for Cultural Preservation’s website at saveculture.org. For more information about the program and for group sales call the Center at (828) 692-8062.  For more information about future film screenings, online purchases of the DVD and more information about the film, contact the Center for Cultural Preservation at (828) 692-8062 or www.saveculture.org.

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Somebody should bring this film to our side of the Atlantic. In fact there should perhaps be a film festival...