Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"The Psalms - Frae Hebrew Intil Scottis" by P Hately Waddell (1877) - review in the 'Belfast News-Letter', 10 May 1941

It took the Belfast News-Letter a total of 64 years to get round to reviewing it, but all the same their reaction was pretty positive. I wonder who 'Viator' was?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Hunt for Red O’Donnell

“Spanish Archaeologists have discovered human bones in their search for the remains of Red Hugh O’Donnell, one of the great tragic heroes of Irish history...” link here to this recent story in The Irish Times.

This will be a remarkable discovery of a key figure of late 1500s and early 1600s Ulster, around whom so many totemic stories revolve.

But compare the high level national excitement, south of the border, around this potential discovery with the fact that the burial places of James Hamilton (Bangor Abbey) and Hugh Montgomery (Newtownards Priory) have been known for nearly 400 years and neither of them even has a small memorial plaque. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Consigned to history

History can be dull. It can be fascinating. But it is over. What happens today and tomorrow matters more. Because without those, all you have is a fossil, a museum, a nostalgia trip, a dead thing. What’s happening now? And why should anyone care?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

James Kirkpatrick (1676–1743) on Liberty

"Civil Liberty has been always supported by invincible force of Argument; and, Civilized Nations have never reckoned it too dear a purchase, when they could gain and secure it at a vast expense of Blood and Treasure … and with a just Zeal for the Right: of Mankind never to be Sacrificed to Arbitrary Power in any Shape."

So wrote Scottish-born Belfast Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister James Kirkpatrick (1676–1743). His essay A Defence of Christian Liberty was published in 1743, after he died, and is online here on Google Books. His An Historical Essay Upon the Loyalty of Presbyterians was published in 1713 (online here).

biography is online here

Monday, May 18, 2020

Harry Dorrian (b. 1895) and the "Protestant Fenians of Greyabbey / The Green Lodge of Gray'ba""

During the current coronavirus period there have been many examples I've seen on social media of cross-community co-operation and good neighbourliness, folk I know personally being supportive of each other. One of them every week posts positively about all of the places of worship in the locality, and he posts four photos from the Greyabbey and Kircubbin area - of a Church of Ireland building, a Presbyterian building, a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Building and the Catholic chapel -  as he puts it "we are all looking out for each other and thinking of each other". He's well-known and well-respected man of the older generation, has a small family business, and he's an Orangeman. He's a good neighbour to all, which is reflected in the comments that folk post.

He sent me the attached article a while ago, which I hope is legible here, from 1977. It's a biographical interview with Harry Dorrian who was then aged 82. He was raised in Greyabbey and had fond memories of his childhood in the village, and of what we today would call community relations. He's listed in the 1911 Census of Ireland as Henry Dorrian, aged 15, a 'shop boy'. Interestingly it reveals that his mother Mary Jane was from Scotland.

There has not only ever been conflict. Be suspicious of people who claim there has.
Cui bono? Those making those claims usually do.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

"Wha Saw The 42nd" – Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor

I love this hard-driving, banjo, mandolin and double bass version of "Wha Saw the 42nd?",  the story of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, also known as the Black Watch, leaving Glasgow for the front. There are many different versions of the lyrics.

Even though from Scotland the regiment recruited in Ulster in the late 1800s and early 1900s; its band played here, as the 1889 newspaper advert below shows. Also known as the "Gallant Forty Twa" they are referenced in the Ulster regimental song "The South Down Militia". The song is also the basis of our local Greyabbey version "Wha Saw the Greba Lasses?".

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

Some of them had tartan troosers,
Some of them had nane ava,
Some of them wore kiltie clothin,
Sailin’ doon the Broomie-Law.

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

Some o’ them had jeelie pieces
Some were greetin’ for their ma
Some were singin ‘Auld Lang Syne’
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

This cutting below is of a man who lived at the "Pink Brae' outside Portavogie, who joined a Scottish regiment – Lance Corporal George Laidlaw of the Cameronian Highlanders whose postal address was given as Ballyeasborough, Kircubbin. There was still a family of "Ledlies" as it was pronounced still living at the Pinks when I was a boy in the 1970s & 1980s.

James Bruce - philanthropist who built Thompson House, Lisburn

The impressive building shown above was built by James Bruce (1835–1917), who was one of the directors of Royal Irish Distilleries / Dunville's. He traced his ancestry back to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Initally known as the Thompson Memorial Home for Incurables, Bruce built it in 1885 at a cost of £60,000 in memory of his father in law Dr William Thompson FRCSI. On its opening the Northern Whig said "rarely in Ulster has so large a sum been expended by any family on a purely philanthropic project". The architect was Godfrey William Ferguson. Today the building is known as Thompson House Hospital and it is said to have had a memorial to James Bruce inside it, which hopefully is still there.

The building looks very similar to James Bruce's country residence Benburb Manor, shown below, which was built just a few years later in 1888–90. It's a building I know well having completed an interpretative project there in summer 2017. Since 1949 it has been run by the Servite Order as Benburb Priory - it, and the setting of the Valley Park and River Blackwater, are definitely worth a visit when you are in the area.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Ballad of William Bloat - by Raymond Calvert of Helen's Bay (1906-1959)

This famous and brutal old black comedy murder ballad is very well known, but its origin less so. It was written by Helen's Bay man Raymond Calvert, who lived at Banchory House and went to Bangor Grammar. He was a student at Queen's University where he was in the Dramatic Society.

In December 1926 they had just been to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where 20 year old Raymond recited it for the first time at an after-party. He went on to become a stockbroker as a director of Belfast firm Taylor, Calvert and Cox. His wife Irene became an independent MP. Irene later said that "it was conceived as a piece of fun with no political significance whatsoever ... the ballad has passed into the folk memory of Ulster people at home and abroad".

It is thought to have been first printed in the 1950 miscellany Brave Crack, An Anthology of Ulster Wit and Humour, (an interesting and cross-community collection from 30 writers including Marshall, Hayward and Bell) and is set on the 'Shankill Road' (the shocking and comedic cultural reference to 'solemnly cursed the Pope' just belongs in a mythical Shankill setting). The defective razor blade was 'German made' whilst the indestructible sheet was 'Irish linen'.

But when Raymond Calvert died, on 11 July 1959, the Belfast Telegraph reprinted the lyrics a few days later but they oddly say 'Newry Road' rather than 'Shankill Road'.

The 1982 Blackstaff Press edition shown here (illustrated by Hector McDonnell) has the more familiar 'Shankill Road' but this time the razor is more benignly 'foreign made' and again 'Irish linen'. I have, as you might imagine, heard the combination of 'Dublin made' and 'Belfast linen'. Wendy Dunbar won an Irish Book Design Award in 1983 for her work on the Blackstaff edition.

I've no idea who it was who first set it to the melody The Dawning of the Day but it fits perfectly –

Tommy Makem's recording here has the razor blade 'British made' but the rope 'Belfast linen'. The Phil Coulter recitation below has 'Free State Made' and 'Ulster Linen'. A Clancy Brothers version has 'English made' and 'Irish linen'. Just insert your own prejudice!

David Hammond referred to it in his 1978 Songs of Belfast. As an outstanding achievement it was also selected to appear in Kingsley Amis' New Oxford Book of Light Verse in 1979 due to a persistent campaign of persuasion by Gregg Coulson, a retired press officer with the Post Office in Northern Ireland. I wonder what its genteel readership made of it!

However... if I was a Shankill person I might not feel as relaxed about it. Yes it is humourous, but when a drama student from swanky Helen's Bay reinforces a whole panoply of stereotypes - social poverty, nagging wives, domestic violence, religious bigotry – it's worth pausing for thought.

In a mean abode on the Shankill Road

Lived a man named William Bloat;
He had a wife, the curse of his life,
Who continually got his goat.
So one day at dawn, with her nightdress on
He cut her bloody throat.

With a razor gash he settled her hash
Oh never was crime so quick

But the drip drip drip on the pillowslip
Of her lifeblood made him sick.

And the pool of gore on the bedroom floor

Grew clotted and cold and thick.

And yet he was glad he had done what he had

When she lay there stiff and still

But a sudden awe of the angry law

Struck his heart with an icy chill.

So to finish the fun so well begun

He resolved himself to kill.

He took the sheet from the wife’s coul’ feet

And twisted it into a rope

And he hanged himself from the pantry shelf,

‘Twas an easy end, let’s hope.

In the face of death with his latest breath

He solemnly cursed the Pope.

But the strangest turn to the whole concern
Is only just beginning.

He went to Hell but his wife got well

And she’s still alive and sinning.

For the razor blade was German made

But the sheet was Belfast linen.