Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Ulster-Scots can be Pro-Orange and Pro-Green at the same time

Complexity in action: Cullybackey Ulster-Scots poet Adam Lynn's "The Twalt O July" is comfortably pro-1690 and in the next verse also pro-1798 'turn-oot'

And below is Adam Lynn's admonishment that to be community-minded "like men", all should "strive tae keep ill-feelin' doon" in order to have a "bricht ... Twalt Day". These are from his 1911 collection Random Rhymes which are online here.

Monday, July 06, 2020

"Galloway Irish" - a confusing name for south west Scots

If you get into Scots and Ulster-Scots language research, you'll soon come across the term "Galloway Irish". Here's a 2012 article from The Herald written by a knowledgable reader from Stranraer. As with the Census of Ireland language question ambiguities that I have referred to here previously, once again you have to be careful with assumptions about what is meant by 'Irish'. It doesn't mean Gaeilge.

And also as with the Census, an understanding of the contextual migrations and demographics is essential in arriving at a right understanding.

"Galloway Irish" refers to linguistic influences from Ireland - Ulster-Scots and Hiberno-English - upon Galloway Scots, giving it a distinct flavour from other dialects of Scots. Due to geographical proximity and frequent migrations from north east Ireland into Galloway over the centuries,  both Ulster-Scots and Hiberno-English have left their mark on the form of Scots that is spoke in Galloway, and it's this which has consequently has been called "Galloway Irish".

Scottish Language, Autumn 1982
An excellent source on this subject is the Autumn 1982 edition of the periodical Scottish Language, which was published by the Linguistic Survey of Scotland. It includes short papers by renowned scholars G.B. Adams, A. J. Aitken and Caroline McAfee.

The late James Milroy's article 'Some Connections Between Galloway and Ulster Speech' is a fine analysis of the term 'Galloway Irish' and how it should be understood. Milroy was born in Portpatrick in 1933 but worked for a time at Queen's in Belfast. His wife Lesley Milroy (link here) is also a respected academic, and has studied the 'social network' of working class communities in Belfast.

• Galloway Gossip (1901)
An earlier, more popular source (which my friend Joe Rae from Ayrshire introduced me to) is Dalbeattie-born and Auchencairn-raised Robert De Bruce Trotter's Galloway Gossip (1901). There are two editions of this, 'Sixty Years Ago' (1877; on here) and 'Eighty Years Ago' (1901) which is the volume that I have. Trotter also recognised that 'Ulster Scotch' itself had variations in dialect, and - as with 'Galloway Irish' - he also observed a 'Glasgow-Irish'. He is on Wikipedia here.

NB – To further confuse things, there was a form of Gaeilge / Scottish Gaelic / Gaidhlig spoken in Galloway.
How much was still evident in the 1600s and 1700s is as you might imagine another area of competing viewpoints and sources. Often this is tied with one's preferred linguistic ideals of the Scots who settled in Antrim and Down after 1606, Donegal after 1607, and then following the 1610 Plantation of the west of Ulster.

Strangely, none of the subsequent migrations of Scots into Ulster get much attention. But those are all different posts for other days.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Steve Earle - 'Union, God and Country'

The expression 'a return to form' is a music reviewer's standard cliché. But for me Steve Earle had gone off the boil a little in recent years. He's one of my all-time favourite writers and performers, I've seen him solo at least twice, and one awesome night at the Ulster Hall with the Del McCoury Band in support of their 1999 joint Appalachian bluegrass album 'The Mountain', all in three piece suits and a single microphone. He's literally back in that territory again - musically, lyrically and geographically -  with his new album Ghosts of West Virginia.

I love Appalachia in so many ways, having been there four times, and am acutely aware of how the people there have so often been scapegoated, maligned and scorned by the 'metropolitan illiberal élites'. The introduction to this song is great - stoutly defending the ordinary people of West Virginia to his fashionable Californian audience. He says "We are not going to stop this nightmare by believing that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is an a****** or a racist - because it's simply not true." Earle's voice goes very much against the grain of the lazy, orthodox, élite media narratives. He sees the intrinsic value of the people.

The title and the lyrical content of this song are powerful representations of a worldview in which to be working class, to practice faith, and to love your country all sit very comfortably together - a combination which those élites (still) can't understand.


Here he is playing the 'hillbilly murder ballad' Carrie Brown with the Del McCoury Band in 1998 - this was on the soundtrack of our family Appalachian road trip in 2016. My sons and I play it on guitar, mandolin and six string banjo now and again. I can just about hit the high notes!

Whiskey, Temperance, FJ Bigger and the Ulster Public House Trust (1901-1930)

I grew up in a teetotal household (apart from a dusty bottle of Bushmills at the very back of the kitchen cupboard). In our wider family there has been alcoholism in living memory, including an uncle who inherited a farm and drank it all away. The more judgemental would criticise from a high horse. But self-medication takes many forms, as an attempt to find ease from many problems. 

The expansion of massive distilleries in Victorian Belfast also brought social damage. An architect friend who was involved in the regeneration of the Belfast Gasworks site told me a few times that when the Gasworks was operating, wives and mothers would congregate at the gates on a Friday afternoon to act as a human barricade to try to stop their men drinking their wages away at the pubs just across the road.

In 1901, renowned Belfast historian Francis Joseph Bigger was one of the founders of the Ulster Public House Trust Company, supported and funded by various prominent backers. As you can see from the photo above its logo was the Arms of the province of Ulster, with a five pointed Irish crown. The Trust had a number of Temperance aims for the improvement and reforming of the worst excesses of pub culture; its headquarters were at 109 Royal Avenue, Belfast and its Secretary was J. Pim Thompson. The article below explains more –

The famous Crown and Shamrock pub in Carnmoney seems to have been the first to adopt the experiment. A Belfast News-Letter article on 1 June 1901, about the opening, said that 'alcoholic drinks will be sold, but they will not form the main attraction of the establishment; on the contrary, while they will be of the best quality, the manager of the establishment will not profit by the turnover from them, but he will from the consumption of food and non-alcoholic beverages'.

Near me, the Trust bought a pub from William John Askin in Ballywalter, demolished it, and built a brand new Dunleath Arms which operated under the standards of the UPHT (it is currently for sale - estate agents website here). The Templetown Arms in Templepatrick was another, as was The Goat Inn at Milltown.

One year later the UPHT reported that 'the written opinions of local clergymen, magistrates, farmers, artisans and others have been received and they all speak in the highest possible terms of the lines on which the inn is now conducted'.

The 1903 Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin commended the scheme – 'amid some laughter Bishop Crozier confessed he had been in the Company's public house at Glengormley a couple of weeks ago, and had tried first to get in by the back door because he did not wish it to be generally known that he had been in it'. The manager was amused, and produced a recent newspaper report of a visit to the pub by the Bishop of Down. Interestingly there were some critical voices from the 'total abstinence' lobby at the Synod.

Earl Albert Grey (Wikipedia here) had introduced the GB scheme, known as 'Gothenburg Experiments' based on an earlier success in Sweden, and 'Public House Trusts'. Similar initiatives were tried in Fife in Scotland (at the mining villages of Hill-of-Beath and Kelty)

The Ulster Public House Trust's work and admirable aims seem to have been caught in the crossfire between the opposite objectives of the drink trade and the hardcore 'total abstinence' teetotallers; Prohibition and a global decline in the legal production of spirits may also have had an effect. Perhaps the Great War, and Partition, also played a role. The UPHT was voluntarily liquidated in January 1930.

Love Thy Neighbour - again

In Matthew 22 v36-40, Jesus organises the unkeepable (yet which must be kept perfectly) Ten Commandments of Moses under two broad headings  – the second of which is "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". Love your neighbour okay fair enough, but as much as you love yourself? Good luck with that. Loving your neighbour goes further, it also means not believing lies about your neighbour.

But in the absence of relationship, the presence of ideology creates a fertile seed bed for lies to be sown and then flourish. YouTube's algorithms offered me this video during lockdown. I watched it late one night. The description of "Pentecostal cabins at the end of street corners" is beyond bizarre. Is the story true or is it mythical? The vocabulary used in that particular segment has a strong aroma of passed-down nonsense.

This cuts both ways across our traditional 'divide'. When you have no actual relationship with your neighbours, and your impression of them is shaped by untruths and devious ideologues, you can easily be persuaded to believe that those neighbours are emissaries of an Evil Empire.

You're a million times more likely to do so if you make the huge mistake of viewing everyone as a member of a 'group', and not as a sovereign individual with their own agency. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

The Union Foundry, Belfast

Some interesting insignia here - once again the 5 pointed Irish crown, as well as a creative usage of the harp. From the amazing shop called On The Square Emporium in Belfast (click here).

Jean or Jane Watson, the Covenanter widow from Killaughey, and William of Orange

A few years ago I was loaned a notebook containing a typescript of a brilliant story about Jean / Jane Watson from Killaughey (near Ballycopeland windmill). It had been written down by her great grandson, 'A.M.' from Greyabbey.

She was a Presbyterian Covenanter refugee from Scotland, fleeing the "Killing Times" from 1661-88. She was a 33 year old widow with six children. When the Duke of Schomberg arrived at Groomsport in 1689, his troops took horses from local farmsteads, including Jean's two which were her only source of income and survival.

Described as "intrepid in manner" the furious Jane pursued Schomberg all the way to Drogheda. She got an audience with William of Orange, who gave her 6 horses for her trouble, and two letters. One was on paper and guaranteed her safe passage home should any soldiers stop her. The other was on vellum and said –

"As a reward for perseverance and bravery I hereby confirm assign and make ever JANE WATSON widow her heirs male for ever free of rent all that parcel of land she now holds in KILLAUGHEY, DONAGHADEE.
Dated this 15th day of July 1690
William Rex.

Jane Watson was buried at Templepatrick graveyard on the shore between Millisle and Donaghadee. Her gravestone is still there today - "here lieth ye body of Jean Watson who died May ye 4th 1749 aged 92 years".

(PS Belfast historian Jason Burke also found the same story, a few years before me, and from another source).

(PPS the whole story was printed in the Newry Telegraph on 26 May 1842, which in turn had been reprinted from the Derry Standard)

Thursday, July 02, 2020

'Uncorked in America' - a Pennsylvania slogan from 1906

It's a famous slogan - 'Brewed in Scotland, Bottled in Ulster, Uncorked in America'. The earliest version of it I have found is from the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine in 1923. It comes from a witty and metaphor-laden speech given to the Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish Society in 1906 by Rev. Dr. William Hamilton Spence, the minister of First Presbyterian Church in Uniontown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania –

"a genuinely Scotch-Irish taste - distilled in Scotland, decanted in Ireland, uncorked in America"

It's on page 88 here. It shouldn't be a surprise that the figure of speech has its origin in the land of the Whiskey Rebellion!

• The full text of the speech is online here. Spence's father was a Donegal man and he throws in some Ulster-Scots expressions. Very quotable material. 

A Huge Gamble? Playing Cards and Partition

To mark the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, The Worshipful Playing Card Company printed two sets of beautiful commemorative playing cards. This website describes them –

"Ireland: Commemorating the establishment of the Irish Free State by treaty with England in December 1921. In the centre of the Celtic design is the National Emblem of Ireland with the words Ireland for ever. The border shows historical landscapes together with the Arms of the four Provinces, the centre being filled by the Imperial Crown – emblem of supreme sovereignty. Design by Edward Cunningham of Goodall & Son. 1250 packs issued. (A) White border. (B) Red border. Double packs were sent to His Grace the Duke of Abercorn, who was Governor of Northern Ireland, and to Mr. T.M. Healey, Governor of the Irish Free State."

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Dark Horse podcast / Alisa Childers podcast

While deskbound I get the opportunity to listen to many YouTube podcasts. Events in the USA of recent weeks continue to dominate the airwaves and online platforms. The two I am posting below are both truly fascinating and educational, but on another level also pretty disturbing. 

"from little acorns" – The oak sapling of the Covenanter Alexander Gordon, "The Bull of Earlstoun"

Back in April 2012 I was invited to give an illustrated Powerpoint talk about the Covenanters in Ulster at the AGM of the Scottish Covenanters Memorials Association, in Fenwick in Ayrshire. From memory I had about an hour, thankfully it went very well. It was one of the stories I was privileged to bring to wider public attention in 2007 during my term as Chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency (with invaluable guidance from others) and had learned so much more in the intervening five years.

The next day I was invited to visit the home of one of the SCMA members, Andrew Blackley from Irvine, who gave me an oak sapling. It was one of a number that he had grown from a famous tree. I had been sent an email a few days beforehand in which he offered me –

"a sapling taken from an acorn of the very tree where renowned Covenanter Alexander Gordon 'The Bull of Earlstoun' hid whilst avoiding his tormentors. If you're interested in having this piece of living history, let me know and we'll arrange something"

The Covenanter Alexander Gordon (1650–1726; Wikipedia here) was known as "The Bull of Earlstoun". Dr Mark Jardine's comprehensive blog 'Jardine's Book of Martyrs' has a post about it here.

In April 2012 we were just about to build our house, but I accepted the kind offer and so the poor sapling was fitted into the car and brought back home with me on the Stena Line ferry. It had to survive in a pot for a few years but thankfully it's been in the ground for a while and is now coming on pretty well. I hope it will one day tower over the plum tree and blackthorn hedge it is beside.

Sadly Andrew Blackley has since passed away, but I am honoured to be growing one of his saplings on this side of the North Channel - which itself is this year for the first time producing its own little acorns.

Monday, June 29, 2020

1926: When entrepreneur John Grant of Glasgow bought Belfast's Grand Central Hotel

The Grand Central Hotel was a virtual palace in the middle of Belfast. It had been funded and founded by Ulster-Scot retailer and department store owner John Robb in 1893. He was the father of Nesca Robb; he introduced her to the books of WG Lyttle and encouraged her to take an interest in local history and our cultural and linguistic links with Scotland. It had 200 bedrooms and electricity and when it opened it was described in the press as "undoubtedly the largest and finest hotel in Ireland, and one of the largest and finest in the kingdom".

But in September 1917 the magnificent hotel and its contents were requisitioned by the Government as part of the war effort. It was then used to provide accommodation for around 500 soldiers and was also a recruiting station where thousands of men from across the island signed up. But when the war ended, Robb didn't get it back. Hopefully he was 'looked after'.

• New Nation, New Future for the Hotel

In 1921 Northern Ireland became a new jurisdiction and the old hotel was a dire eyesore in the middle of Belfast's swish Royal Avenue. The Ulster Tourist Development Association had been set up and had big plans. International events were being planned. The regeneration of the Grand Central would in many ways be emblematic of the new nation, a post-War message to the world. Enter the entrepreneurs.

In early July 1926 the hotel was bought "on behalf of a syndicate" by Hugh Smylie, a chartered accountant and prominent civic figure, and Sir Crawford McCullagh.

In late July it was announced that a 50 year lease for the premises had been agreed with 45 year old Scottish hotelier and restaurateur John Grant of Glasgow, at a rent of £4,500 per year, announcing that "no expense will be spared on decorating and furnishing the hotel".

• The Grant Empire
John Grant might have been related to the William Grant who in 1886 had founded the Glenfiddich Distillery in Banffshire - this 1999 legal case shows how potentially confusing the two brand names became.

John was born somewhere in the north of Scotland in 1881 but moved to Bearsden and set up a laundry, and then a sweet shop and grocers in Maryhill. He opened his first restaurant in Govan, in 1920 bought and redeveloped the Royal Restaurant in Glasgow and in 1923 bought The Rosevale also in Glasgow. Other operations that he and his sons John G. Grant and Daniel (Don) C. Grant owned included the famous Rogano seafood restaurant, the Grant Arms Garden Lounge and Grill and also the Buchanan Arms Hotel in Drymen north of Glasgow near Loch Lomond. The company was later renamed John Grant (Wines and Food) Limited.

I have a jug from the time which I have blogged about before, which commemorates four of the Grant owned businesses:

John Grant already had business interests in Ulster; he had been Chairman of Irish Cold Bitumen Ltd of Stranmillis, Belfast. The firm resurfaced the 13 mile Ards TT motor race course (link here). Days after the agreement of the hotel lease, Grant made a legal application to renew the dormant alcohol licence for the hotel. In the application, he gave his address as Strathearn, Broomhill Park, Stranmillis Road – the address of William Hood Thomson, the owner of the bitumen business. Back in 1913 Thomson had business interests in Scotland with a company called Fergusson Brothers and Thomson which was based in Glasgow and which made and sold various oil, paint and varnish products. So maybe they'd known each other for many years.

In a hearing on August 1926 John Grant's legal representative T. J. Campbell K.C. outlined an impressive vision for the building and the regenerative effect its restoration would have on the city. The licence was approved. An investors prospectus was published in the press at the end of October 1926; the new company was named The Grand Central Hotel (Belfast) Ltd, with five directors. Just one of them -  Thomson - was from Belfast.

• The Official Reopening
The new hotel was officially opened on 31 March 1927 with Viscount Craigavon, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the guest of honour. The Northern Whig report below is packed with cultural resonances –

• "The heartiest good feeling on all sides"
An interesting dimension to all of this is that John Grant was a Catholic and his son Daniel C Grant was educated in Glasgow at St Aloysius School. Today some will insist that Craig's new Northern Ireland was an Orange or Protestant dominated 'regime'. Grant was warmly welcomed to Northern Ireland to take over its most prestigious hotel and, it appears from the article above, that the respect and comfort was mutual. The hotel was the glamorous centrepiece of the city's tourist offering for decades to come.

• Death, Will and Funeral
John Grant died on 5 January 1945, aged 63 at his townhouse home at 40 Kingsborough Gardens in Glasgow. His will left £870,205 and 43,689 gallons of whisky which was auctioned off for a value of £655,342, as well as (according to the Daily Record on 3 February 1945) stocks of port and sherry in the distilleries of Ardbeg, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Carsebridge, Clynelick, Cameronbridge and Strathclyde. Death duties were set at a colossal £430,109.

His funeral took place half a mile from his home at St Peter's Catholic Church at Hyndland Street, Partick.