Sunday, May 21, 2017

Burial Isle and Hamilton's Rock, Ballyhalbert

Burial Isle is part of a jagged reef just off Ballyhalbert, and is said to contain a Danish Viking burial chamber full of gold. I am planning to kayak round it this summer.

Some interesting news cuttings below, including an 1878 reference to 'Hamilton's Rock' but sadly no-one I've spoken to knows now which rock that is. Of course I am assuming a connection to Sir James Hamilton of 1606 fame.

As you can see from the pics it was very dangerous for ships unfamiliar with our coastline, there have been many wrecks and drownings on it. I know a few locals who have been on the island; again the cuttings below are interesting as they talk about bird-watching trips, and of one local who confronted some bird watchers to make sure they weren't there to steal eggs.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mapping the Scotch-Irish: The 2015 American Community Survey - the 25 largest ancestry groups

Maps are all from this website. I have coloured them to help distinguish them from each other. British, English and Welsh are also distinct categories in the same survey.

Scotch-Irish: Scotch Irish 2015 Survey

Irish: Irish 2015 Survey

Scottish: Scottish 2015 Survey

Chris Stapleton - "I always played music and sang in church with my brother; my dad played the radio a lot and my mom would sing around the house"

He’s one of the finest exponents of (proper) country music today. Raised in Staffordsville, east Kentucky, I have no idea of his ancestry but the geography speaks volumes of his cultural environment. This is often more culturally important than strict 'bloodlines'. To retain or take on cultural traits, when others who were born into the community choose to devalue or reject its traits, is an interesting dynamic that deserves much thought. 

"... my grandmother from Kentucky. She was among the first emigrants to the blue grass, but whether from the Carolinas or Virginia, I do not know.Anyway they were, every mother's son and daughter of them, Scotch-Irish...

Beyond the circle of my relatives in that region, I do not know personally much about our race. The MacMillans, Reids, Grays, Woods, Lynches, and Devers, all one way or another relatives, were evidently, from the names, of the elect race by the male line. But there were others, the Kentucky Robinsons and Martins, also relatives of ours, who were no doubt English people who had been brought into the royal line of the Scotch-Irish by accidentally falling into the clutches of Scotch-Irish girls. Any fellow who did that, whatever his race or faith, was a goner. He had, will-he, nill-he, to obey the scripture injunction to forsake father and mother and cleave to his wife, and his wife clave to the Church and to her clan, and so he had no chance of getting away. He must perforce learn to sing Rouse psalms and argufy theology.

I suppose this same process went on historically and everywhere. 1 do not see how else we are to account for the fact that the people of so small a territory as Ulster should show such a numerical and geographical extension in America and in the British colonies as they did..."

– from 'How God Made the Scotch-Irish' by W.C. Gray (1894) online here

Just two miles from Staffordsville, on the banks of Paintsville Lake, is an open-air museum built around an 1850s farm called Mountain HomePlace, described as "a reconstructed 1800s Scotch-Irish settler’s farmstead with costumed interpreters. All the buildings were moved there from Paintsville. The setting is wonderfully replicated …". The farm was originally built by David McKenzie. Another place to visit in 2018 all being well (DV).


Friday, May 19, 2017

"Woodrow Wilson was actually as close to a dictator as America has ever had"

Shapior Rubin

So says Ben Shapiro in conversation with Dave Rubin. The video isn't embeddable, you have to view it here on YouTube. The Woodrow Wilson quote is at around 10min 50 seconds. Maybe he is an Ulster-American President of the USA we should be more careful about celebrating! 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shamrock, Rose and Thistle

Starting to see these references everywhere. 

William Shamrock Rose Thistle 2

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Foghorn Stringband - from Ballyhalbert to Ballyboughal

Ballyhalbert Ballyboughal

It was a friend’s recommendation. It turned out to be one of the best musical nights ever. The Foghorn Stringband have played in Northern Ireland a few times, but on this tour they were staying down south - Dingle, Baltimore and Clonmel, as well as tiny Ballyboughal north of Dublin. So we set off to see them, a 2hr 45min drive down and the same up again.

The venue was the small St Patrick's Hall, a fantastically basic wee venue maybe not unlike older Orange Halls you get up here. No carpets, no amplification, no windows it seemed, and a room packed with about 50 locals who all apparently knew each other. We were complete strangers, but were made so welcome, the folk were delighted and a bit astonished we had made the trek down. We were all asked to turn our phones off but I snuck a few photos anyway.

St Patricks Ballyboughal

The Foghorn Stringband have quite a lot of gospel stuff in their normal repertoire, but interestingly they didn't do any that particular evening. We had them for about 2 hours of playing time with a short interval, we were sat just across the room from them. My jaw was on the floor. My gasps were a bit too audible at times! Spectacular authenticity, and Caleb Klauder is probably now my favourite mandolin player. He gets the old-timey stuff in a way that a 100mph bluegrass picker doesn't. He has flashes of Bailes Brothers, Blue Sky Boys and even the Stanley Brothers' mandolin players ('Pee Wee’ Lambert and Richard ‘Curly’ Lambert) about him. A great great talent who just knows what's needed.

Carter Family covers, Louvin Brothers covers, Hank Williams covers, trad songs and tunes from the Appalachia of the 1800s, tunes which the band had learned from old-timers, as well as original compositions too. Spontaneous waltzing and 'dosy doe' dancing - we managed to avoid that bit! The very next night, Tim O'Brien (yes, who appeared on Wayfaring Stranger and said good things about the Ulster-Scots) was playing at the Séamus Ennis Centre just up the road at (the) Naul. O'Brien is a West Virginian who grew up singing in church. The Ballyboughal folk were urging us to come back down and see him too - but sadly the tickets were long-gone. The warm welcome was pretty wonderful, a stark contrast to some church events my brother and I have played at I can tell you!

It is just a pity, maybe even a disgrace, that up here in the Scotch-Irish home province of Ulster, that there were no dates and presumably therefore not much demand compared with the rest of the island. Music is for everyone. But I do have this niggling question now about why there isn't a buzzing 'scene' for this type of stuff in Ulster-Scots heartlands such as County Down and County Antrim. (there is of course the annual Bluegrass festival in September at the Ulster-American Folk Park, a place called The Red Room in Cookstown, and the Bronte Music Club near Rathfriland).

On the other hand, there maybe is a demand, but perhaps the present-day gatekeepers of the publicly-funded arts centres and the locally-run community venues are just on a whole different wavelength. It seems to me that these places are doing very little by way of cultural affirmation, appreciation and education.

It was interesting that the folk were a bit incredulous that I had no idea who Séamus Ennis was. Goes to show the huge cultural gulf that exists.

(I should maybe book the Foghorn Stringband for a gospel gig next time they're in the vicinity). IMG 8196 IMG 8209 IMG 8195 IMG 8197IMG 8193IMG 8194

Mary McKeehan Patton – Gunpowder Heroine of the Battle of King's Mountain

Pam lisa pouring blackpowder mary patton

Among the community who settled at Watauga (see previous post) was a Mary McKeehan. She is said by numerous websites to have been born in England in 1751. Where exactly no-one seems to know, but the surname would suggest ancestry in Scotland or Ireland *. She emigrated and in Pennsylvania she married emigrant Ulsterman John Patton in 1772. They had a gunpowder mill and when the skirmishes eventually turned into war the Pattons were kept busy. They left Carlisle in Pennsylvania and headed for the mountains of East Tennessee. A contact called Andrew Taylor set up a new mill for them and the place became known as Powder Branch.

Mary supplied 500 pounds of gunpowder to the Ulstermen who headed off to confront the King’s troops at the Battle of King’s Mountain. There is now a road named after her called The Mary Patton Highway, at Elizabethton, Tennessee.

She features in the Ulster-Scots Community Network booklet Ulster and Tennessee (pdf online here).

In the late 1800s a Charles L McKeehan was Secretary of the Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish Society.

* The English birthplace might be an error which has been repeated over and over again. There are numerous Presbyterian McKeehan graves in Pennsylvania, some of which (such as this one, to Elizabeth McKeehan, born 1745) specify Northern Ireland as the birthplace. This website refers to a Benjamin McKeehan who emigrated to Pennsylvania from County Antrim. Big Spring Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania was founded around 1737 with a John McKeehan as one of its elders. A few Google searches throw up many more examples of Ulster McKeehans in 1700s Pennsylvania.


Monday, May 15, 2017

The first independent government in America? The "Watauga Association" of 1772–1776


It seems that this is in a sense the ‘missing link’, connecting the Regulators of North Carolina of 1771 with the Fincastle Resolutions of Virginia in January 1775.

It was said by President Theodore Roosevelt that these were "first men of American birth to establish a free and independent community on the continent”, up in the Appalachian Mountains. Made up by rural frontier settlers near what is today Elizabethton, Tennessee, the "Watauga Association" straddled Carter County, Tennessee and Watauga County, North Carolina, and was named after the Watauga River which flows through both.

Among the seventy homestead farms who bonded together was that of James Robertson, later one of the founders of Nashville, who might even have suggested the name "Watauga Association”. They were a combination of English, Scot and Scotch-Irish; they had their own Constitution (based on that of Virginia), their own laws, their own court system, and were part of the historic success at the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780.

“…the Watauga colonists were largely Scotch-Irish has been generally accepted, and in view of the fact that the areas from which they came were so largely occupied by this race, the belief seems justified. It is however interesting to note, in this connection, the variety in stock as shown in the leaders, most of them American born …:

Robertson brought a group of around sixteen Regulator families from North Carolina to Watauga after the Battle of Alamance of May 1771 (see recent posts); John C Campbell carries on that quote above by pointing out the English, Welsh and French Huguenot ancestry of some of the thirteen Watauga commissioners. This belter of a quote from the History of Tennessee (1903; online here) by William Robertson Garrett (1839–1904), a former lawyer, then Captain in the Confederate army, and then Chair of American History at the University of Nashville, covers very familiar ground –

“… But whether they came from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Pennsylvania, the first settlers of Tennessee were, in the main, the same type of people— an aggressive, daring, and hardy race of men, raised up in the faith of the Presbyterian Covenanter, and usually comprehended under the general designation of Scotch-Irish, that people forming their largest element … These Scotch emigrants were stern, strict, liberty-loving Presbyterians, who believed in the Westminster Catechism and taught it to their children. They resented the pretensions of the Crown to be the head of the church, and believed with John Knox that the King derived his authority from the people, who might lawfully resist, and even depose him, when his tyranny made it necessary …"

Contrary to modern assumptions, it seems that the Wataugan settlers got on well with the local Cherokees. During the Revolution, Fort Watauga was built, and was recreated in 1976 at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. Eventually Watauga was subsumed into the post-Revolution state of North Carolina.

Another big story for somebody to dig further into. 

The Wataugans by Max Dixon (1976) is online here
• More details available here on
• Wikipedia entry here
This article gives detail on the various individuals and families involved. 

Fort Watauga is shown below



Saturday, May 13, 2017

My grandfather, community activist, Portavogie 1938

William Thompson (1901–1957) was a small-time farmer with 3 fields to his name, and a local poet of some renown. He died when my father was just 14. He wasn’t an Orangeman, but here he is in 1938, aged 37, chairing a local protest meeting at Portavogie Orange Hall to redirect road building funds away from where the government wanted to put it to where the community needed it more.

He had married my grandmother, Madge Coffey, the year before on 30 July 1937. My uncle John was their firstborn child, born just the month before the meeting, on 11 November 1938. These articles are from the Belfast News Letter and the Northern Whig, December 1938.

The road upgrade was eventually carried out, around 1955, as shown in the photo below. The wheels of government turn slowly. 

Portavogie Road Protest NWPortavogie Road Protest

Butterlump Road