Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Henry Thomson, Newry MP and Distiller - Gravestone, Billhead and the Scarva 'Bush Man' advert

I have blogged about Henry Thomson a few times here. I was in Newry recently and managed to track down his grave, within the large Thomson family plot at St Patrick's Church of Ireland graveyard. His inscription is on the middle one of the three headstones, where he is described as

Henry Thomson D.L.
Scarvagh House, Scarva
Member of Parliament for Newry
From 1880 to 1885
Who died 30th December 1916
Aged 77 years

The choice of scripture text on the base plinth is interesting too.

Below is a billhead from 1896 which seems to have been issued to Scottish customers via the firm's Glasgow agent, Robert Brown.

Finally, the article below from the Belfast Telegraph on 14 July 1950 tells the story of how Henry Thomson actively advertised his whiskey brand at Scarva railway station, to those visiting the 13th July 'Sham Fight' at his Scarvagh House and Demesne.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Arthur Brooks - Disagree Better

This is really interesting, and is a brilliant articulation of a nagging thought I've had for a while. We've all been in discussions where everyone seems to feel the need to agree, to reach a visible consensus. But you know fine well that they don't really...

Arthur C. Brooks' new book is Love Your Enemies: How Decent People can Save America from a Culture of Contempt (link here)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Groundshift – 'politics trumps faith' / 'I'm homesick for the home I've never had'

Things in Northern Ireland are changing fast, so the currently accepted wisdom says. But I disagree. Like with Ernest Hemingway's famous quote about bankruptcy – "slowly, then all at once" – that's actually a better description of what has happened here.

Crawford Gribben's stimulating piece in The Article - 'Behold, the end of Protestant Ulster' (link here) is worth a read, on the Westminster vote which has paved the way for the introduction of same-sex marriage and the legalisation of abortion law which took place just days before The Twelfth.

For the past 30 years or so, I've been back and forward to England and Scotland a few times every year to see family or to travel, and the 'Britishness' that exists there bears no resemblance to that which many in Northern Ireland imagine. But, ill-equipped for change and without the 'tools' to help them contemplate it, many traditionally-minded folk have retreated into their bunkers and have had their heads buried deep in the sand – trying to shut out the noise, and conjuring up in their imaginations some kind of utopian conservative world which had actually died a long time ago if it ever truly existed at all.

Widespread social change – on these two topical issues but also a huge raft of other ones – has been moving along here for decades, slowly and steadily and not attracting headlines. The barbarities of the Troubles took their bloody and psychological toll, as have all sorts of ongoing repercussions from the political and demographic aftermath of those violent, vulnerable years.

As just two simpler examples:

• Throughout the last 20 years of schooling, most of our childrens' friends come from what used to be called 'broken homes', now single parent families, or parents who never committed to a marriage in the first place – or else families with multiple biological parents. That's just how it is. The 'structural' family is a rarity for the forthcoming generation. It's a middle class luxury of a sort.

• A 'good turnout' at an old-fashioned event - whether religious or secular - is interpreted by its organisers as a great success, thereby staving off thoughts of decline for another day. They're good folk but they have no idea of how to grow, adapt, to release control, to do 'succession planning', to bring on a new generation. "Ach it'll do me my day" is a familiar defeatist drone. Or "we've always done it this way". Survival is seen as a mere numbers game, the emphasis on recruitment and 'bums on seats', rather than anything to do with purpose and meaning and relevance. Few ask themselves "Why do we do the things we do?", or "why should anyone care?".

Crawford's article is right on many levels. Old 'identitarian' Protestant Ulster is long-gone. I recall a story of a parade about 10 years ago, where a wee country accordion band was playing hymns, and they were verbally abused by red white and blue clad onlookers – "take your effing hymns to effing Cornmarket". The lazy public and voluntary sector shorthand of PUL (for 'Protestant, Unionist & Loyalist') makes no meaningful sense.

It has been "slowly, then all at once". The ground has shifted on this island. It will not shift back.

But the silver lining is that in doing so, if these shifts create space for a new and better articulation of what the Reformed faith is actually about, freed from perceptions of social 'power', that will be a good thing.


PS – Crawford's article could be considered an equivalent to his 'Catholic Ireland is Dead and Gone' from 2018, (link here).

PPS – American rock band Soul Asylum have a song called Homesick, with the line 'I'm homesick for the home I've never had'. It challenges notions of rose-tinted nostalgia, and also points us towards an eternal future. As CS Lewis famously wrote –
'If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.'


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

1561: Mary Queen of Scots's return to Edinburgh – presented with the Bible and Psalms 'in Scots language'?

The extract above is from John Maxwell, 4th Lord Herries (1512–83) renowned Historical Memoirs of the Reign of Mary Queen of Scots. These were written in the 1500s and the manuscripts were published in the 1830s. Other references to Mary's return to Edinburgh don't specify that the Bible and Psalms she was presented with were 'in Scots languadge'. She had been in exile in France, and returned to a Reformed Scotland. John Knox's account of the same event says:

When the queen’s hieness was coming through the said port, the cloud openit, and the bairn descended down as it had been ane angel, and deliverit to her hieness the keys of the town, together with ane Bible and ane Psalm-buik coverit with fine purpour velvet.
Domestic Annals of Scotland, Robert Chambers quoting John Knox

As far as I can see there is no reference to this potentially linguistically-significant event in Graham Tulloch's comprehensive A History of the Scots Bible (1989).

Dumfries-born Maxwell was pro-Reformation but yet loyal to Mary Queen of Scots throughout his life. She knighted him in 1567 and he fought for her cause at the Battle of Langside in 1568.

Perhaps Maxwell was mistaken about them being 'in Scots language', but given his devotion to his Queen, it's unlikely that he would have recorded that specific linguistic detail wrongly. So, perhaps there are two remarkable dusty old volumes in a cupboard somewhere in Scotland, awaiting discovery, like these which were found a few months ago.

– More info on Maxwell here.
'Historical Memoirs' online here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Unusual voices

Many years ago I was introduced to the writings of Michael JF McCarthy (1864–1928); from memory I think somebody local to us was clearing out their books and I was given a clatter of them, some were big hefty volumes. McCarthy found himself on the wrong side of the religious-political establishment of his time and he became a prolific author. I think the ones I acquired are in a box in the roofspace.

McCarthy's was a dissenting voice, and he is said to have inspired his contemporary Frank Hugh O'Donnell (1846-1916). Born either in Carndonagh in Donegal, or possibly in Devon, O'Donnell appears to have been a bit of a maverick but also a staunch Home Ruler, as the title page of his History of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1910; online here) shows. It lists his credentials as 'formerly MP for Galway and Dungarvan; ex-member of Council of Home Rule League of Ireland; ex-Vice-President of Home Rule Confederation in Great Britain; and ex-President of Glasgow Home Rule Association'. That's him below. He also features in the National Portrait Gallery (see here).

Surprisingly, O'Donnell was a fan of the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, as his letters to various newspapers in Ireland show. Those which appeared in the Belfast News Letter in 1903 were later published as a booklet. More to follow.

Monday, July 22, 2019

"Isn't it all just sectarian?"

I froze in my seat momentarily but tried to not let it show. A while back I was in 'polite company' and one of the people who was there, who I'd never met before but who knew a bit about me, remarked "Ulster-Scots – isn't it all just sectarian?". You expect clever people to choose their words a bit more carefully, but it was in equal parts stupid and yet honest. That perception had been formed in the mind of an otherwise intelligent human being.

Its fellow-traveller remark is "it's all just political". These twin tracks have been relentlessly reinforced ever since the Belfast Agreement catapulted Ulster-Scots from the fringes into the middle of contentious public life in Northern Ireland. I remember life at those pre-1998 fringes. I remember someone back then saying to me something like "no matter what the political future holds, Ulster-Scots is about culture, and cultural confidence".

That was true then and it remains true today and tomorrow, from whatever the Brexit future will present.

Lazy minds in Northern Ireland resort to 'sectarian' and 'political' far too easily. Our past, our future and our complexity demands better.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Two views on the 'Glorious Revolution' in National Review


"...Ask a decently well-read conservative or classical liberal to put a starting date on modern government (meaning by “modern” something like free and fair, liberal and democratic, decent and respectable) and nine times out of ten he’ll tell you 1688. 
It was in the summer of that year that the Dutch prince William of Orange invaded England and took the throne from his uncle and father-in-law, King James II. Under William (to the extent that anything can be said to have been “under William”), Parliament claimed a near monopoly on governing authority and adopted the Bill of Rights 1689, establishing the system of effective non-monarchy that perdures in Britain to the present day — and, the revolution’s defenders say, laying the groundwork for all limited, democratic governments to follow, including that of the United States..."

These two articles from National Review have popped into my Twitter feed recently. Neither are in my view coherent summaries of the period. But that they have been published at all shows how formative a moment it was / is. It is an era that needs to be 'reimagined' for our present age.

James P Sutton  - In Defence of the Glorious Revolution - click here

Declan Leary - Conservatives should not celebrate Religious Tyranny and Coercionclick here