Sunday, December 15, 2019

Before Makemie? Another reference to Presbyterians in Maryland, 1668

This is a significant reference, from 15 years before Makemie's famous arrival in Maryland. This is solid further evidence that Makemie arrived into a well-established Ulster-Scots emigrant community, and not a spiritual wilderness –

"...The Rev. Matthew Hill, a Presbyterian minister (first settled over a Scottish and English congregation at Patuxent, Maryland), writing to Richard Baxter from Charles county, Maryland, April 13, 1669, states that:
"there are many here of the reformed religion, who have a long while lived as sheep without a shepherd, though last year brought in a young man from Ireland, who hath already had good success in his work."
Concerning the early  congregations in Maryland, very little is known beyond the fact that about 1670, Colonel Ninian Beall emigrated to that colony, settling between the Potomac and the Patuxent. During the next twenty years he induced a  number of his friends in Scotland (most accounts place the number at about  two hundred) to join him. They founded the Presbyterian congregation of  Upper Marlborough, which was first under the care of Rev. Nathaniel Taylor.

Some Scottish Presbyterians were also settled near Norfolk, Virginia, on the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River before 1680. They seem to have been numerous enough to form a congregation, as they had secured a minister from Ireland. His name is not known at this day; but there is some reason for believing it to have been William Traill, who emigrated in 1682-83, and returned to Ireland after the Revolution. The Rev. Josias Mackie, son of Patrick Mackie of St. Johnstone, county Donegal, Ireland, ministered to the congregation on Elizabeth River from 1691 to 1716. 

Many Scottish and Irish Presbyterians were also settled on the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia, in Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester, and Accomac counties, and along the Pocomoke River, which divides Somerset county, Maryland, from Accomac county, Virginia. They were especially numerous in the vicinity of Snow Hill, Dorchester county, Maryland.

To these people, Rev. Francis Makemie, of Ramelton, was sent by the Irish Presbytery of Lagan in 1683-84. He lived and labored among them for a number of years. Makemie was the pioneer Presbyterian missionary in the New World, his labors in that connection carrying him from Virginia to Connecticut, and he is properly regarded as the chief  founder of the Presbyterian Church in America. Before 1690, there were four or more separate congregations in Somerset (which then included Worcester) county, Maryland, with meeting-houses at Snow Hill (1683), Pitt's Creek, Wicomico, Manokin, and Rehoboth..." 

– From Charles Augustus Hanna's landmark The Scotch-Irish; or, The Scot in North Britain, north Ireland, and North America (1902)

Monday, December 09, 2019

Seamus Heaney and Burns's Art Speech

A few years ago I was honoured to create the naming and branding for what became Seamus Heaney HomePlace at Bellaghy. I was recently sent a copy of his 'Burns's Art Speech' which is thematically connected with - and in many ways a precursor to - the concepts he expressed in his magnificent A Birl With Burns poem. The speech was published within Robert Burns and Cultural Authority by Robert Crawford (1997).

The speech contains many glorious revelations, and an understanding of

"three languages – Irish, Elizabethan English and Ulster Scots".

Geographically, he perceived a cultural and linguistic region which straddles the North Channel -

"somewhere north of a line drawn between Berwick and Bundoran".

More thoughts to follow.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Language debates in the 'Derry Journal' 24 April 1950

Depending on your perspective, it will either be a source of reassurance or frustration to see that some of our present-day debates are nothing new. This cutting from the Derry Journal shows that the language and identity issues recur. The optimistic notion of seeing this place as one of intertwined traditions has in the past as much as the present been replaced with more barbed issues of legitimacy and perhaps even power.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

John Hewitt, Belfast Telegraph, 19 March 1955

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sam Henry 'A Critic In The Candlelight' - Summer 1943

'My heart had a vision of Ulster the Land of the Free.
Our fathers shed their blood for the right to think.'

This is by the wonderful and globally-renowned folklorist and photographer Sam Henry, from Ulster Parade Number 5, a periodical that was published during the years of WW2, quarterly from 1942–1947, and which featured a variety of popular Ulster writers of the time. It was published by The Quota Press, which was an interesting and innovative imprint that produced a large amount of local material from around 1927–1952. There are quite a few Ulster-Scots kailyard stories in the editions of Ulster Parade I have.

The use of very natural Ulster-Scots in this story by Sam Henry is joyful, and it's especially interesting to see it in print in the 1940s, which is usually thought of as a period where Ulster-Scots had fallen out of fashion. The storyline, of the hassles of trade barriers and import taxes across the border, is very topical in our current Brexit context!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Bowmore - the most expensive Scotch whisky in the world? – and the Old Comber connection

This article (albeit from 2012) shows just how in-demand whisky from Bowmore Distillery on Islay is. £150,000 for a bottle of spirit is quite some price tag. It was bottled in 1957 when Bowmore was owned by William Grigor & Sons, from 1950–1961. As you can see from the clipping below, when the company's owner James Grigor died, he was the owner of both Bowmore and Old Comber.

A 1980s bottling of 1950s Old Comber is a relative bargain, at just over £500. On 27 October 2019 a bottle of Old Comber, which from the label design looks to date from around 1900, sold on for £2750 (see photo below).

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Rivers and Burns of Belfast: Town Burn, Pound Burn, Knockburn and Mary Burn

Intro: They say that history is written by the 'victors'. That's true in the aftermath of a war. But for the mundane normalities of everyday existence, in every society in the world, daily life is recorded by the dominant culture which has a kind of social power and 'majority privilege'. Ulster-Scots has never been dominant here – it was and is the speech of ordinary folk – and so much of it has gone unrecorded. So finding gold nuggets gleaming out of the dull silt is exciting.

There are still many very familiar 'burns' still today around greater Belfast, such as Minnowburn, Purdysburn, Tillysburn. Further out there are Muttonburn, Woodburn, Redburn, Crawfordsburn and maybe even Lisburn. I am sure there are more. These names reflect the parts of the Belfast hinterland where Lowland Scots settled over the centuries. Here are four more examples I recently came across which are new to me:

• The Presbyterian Banner of Ulster newspaper reported on 29 March 1860 that an old forgotten stone bridge had been discovered during works on High Street, referring to –

'... the turgid waters of the "Town Burn" from the Bank Buildings to the embouchure of the stream, opposite Queen's Square ... The "Town Burn" was perfectly opened down to the river, and navigable, at flood-tide, for very small craft and boats ... The "Town Burn" or "Belfast River" as it was sometimes called, had, it is supposed, an artificial course through the town – as would seem to be shown by its comparative straightness from the Belfast Flour Mills to its junction with the Lagan ...'

Today, that 'straightness' runs from Andrews Flour Mill down Divis Street into Castle Street and Castle Place and then into High Street – certainly the description sounds a lot like the famous final section of High Street which ships used to be able to sail into from the River Lagan, as depicted in the Carey illustration above. It was all culverted and built over in the later 1800s.

• The Northern Whig of 4 November 1902 refers to another, called the Pound Burn. According to Councillor J. N. M'Cammond surface water was 'running like a millrace from the Pound Burn' due to flooding problems in Belfast. It was located between Glengall Street and Grosvenor Street, eventually joining the Blackstaff River. The bad weather had resulted in the Pound Burn being 'in a filthy condition with two or three feet of mud, old tin cans, and refuse of all sorts ... had the Pound Burn and Blackstaff River beds been cleaned out there would not have been the flooding in this district to the same extent, and possibly none at all'. It is marked on the 1957–1986 OS map, close to the junction of the Grosvenor Road and Durham Street.

There was a street called Old Pound Loney there too (link here) - a familiar corruption of the Scots word loanen meaning lane. There is also a Pound Burn in Monkstown in Newtownabbey.

• The Belfast Telegraph of 28 December 1956 front page showed a photograph of houses being severely flooded around the Castleview Road area captioned as 'owing to the rain and thaw, the Knockburn River flooded houses and gardens in the area'. This is just directly across the road from the famous entrance to Parliament Buildings at Stormont. On OS maps it is called the Knock River, but yet must have been known locally as Knockburn – there is a street called Knockburn Park still there today.

• An old OS map I picked up a while ago in a second hand shop shows a Mary Burn in the countryside around Andersonstown which is now West Belfast, and which looks like it might have been a tributary of the Blackstaff River. It seems that a large house of the same name was nearby. The Kennedy Centre retail complex is on the site today.

These are just a few examples of once-familiar Ulster-Scots names in the landscape of Belfast which have fallen into disuse. Urban improvements, Anglicisation (both by officialdom, but also by gradual social erosion) and 'progress' have phased them out of usage. But just because they are not visible today doesn't mean that they never existed. It would be good to collate and record these in some way.