Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The first football pitch (and golf course) in Ireland - now located?

I have posted about this story before, recorded in The Montgomery Manuscripts, describing a period around 1620 when Hugh Montgomery built a 'great school' with a green – "allowing the scholars a green for recreation at golf, football, and archery..." (page 126). But the precise location of the school, and the green, was until recently a mystery. Montgomery's Ards centred around the old ruined Priory which had been burned down in the 1570s by the O'Neills, and his new Market Cross.

A few weeks ago I found online a reproduction of a 1722 map of Newtownards which shows a 'bowling green' in front of the Old Priory - the ruined church that Montgomery restored for use, also lived in for a time, was eventually buried within, and for which he also built a House, and a Bawn wall which still survives to this day. So I expect that this is indeed exactly where the 'green for recreation' was. Greenwell Street (interestingly mis-named as Cromwell Street) is another clue.

Below is an OS map from the early 1800s showing the green, but which by then had trees on it. The ornamental 'pleasure garden' and 'front garden' of 1722 were still there a century later; the 'kitchen garden' had become a 'castle garden'. Castle Gardens Primary School was built nearby; the CastleBawn retail park with a huge Tesco and Matalan is another naming reference back to Montgomery's time.

Below is a view of the Priory from the green, a pic I took in 2006 around 5:30am one summers day to get the light in the right position!

So, if this detective work is correct, perhaps someone should approach the relevant golf, football and archery associations for a commemorative plaque to be installed at the green. 

The rest of the map is also interesting – another area shows that Newtownards had a 'West Port' and a 'North Port' - close to today's streets of the same names. 'Port' is a Scots term for 'gate' and nothing to do with boats or harbours, so these must have been entry points into the settlement and town.

And below is the whole map. Given that this is a 1943 copy of the 1722 original, and that it was drawn for Robert Colvill (who dominated Newtownards in between the 1600s Montgomeries, and the arrival of the Stewarts from Ballylawn in Donegal in 1744), perhaps the original map this was copied from is in PRONI within the Mount Stewart / Londonderry papers there.

An exciting discovery. Perhaps a gifted illustrator might now be able to reconstruct a depiction Montgomery's Ards one day - maybe his grand Scottish state funeral of September 1636, the day before Eagle Wing set sail for America.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Seán O' Faoláin - community, 'nation', Ireland and Ulster

I am sure there are people out there with PhDs in the subject matter I'm about to paddle into in this post. Perhaps they can forgive these amateur ramblings.

Over the past year I have come across a series of references to Seán O'Faoláin (1900–1991). I had never noticed him or his work at all until these came along. He seems to have been enigmatic, influential and unorthodox.

According to his page on Wikipedia and some other sources he was the publicity director for the IRA during the Irish Civil War. This was an unexpected twist as all of those specific references to him, and his writing, are superb and ideologically pretty much where many of my own inclinations are too. This is a fascinating piece about him; like all of us, he changed his mind about things and circumstances as life went on. 

Canadian academic Donald Harman Akenson, in his often overlooked yet critically important 1979 book Between Two Revolutions; Islandmagee, County Antrim, 1798–1920, which was written as a result of his living on Islandmagee for some years, quotes O' Faoláin in the brilliant Preface (which I plan to post here in full soon) –

There's a laser-precise insight if ever there was one – 'local communities' and 'local consciousness' are more important than the 'nation state' or 'national culture'.

In his huge 1949 biography of Sir James Craig, entitled Craigavon Ulsterman, St John Ervine quotes from O' Faoláin's second biography of Eamon De Valera (the first in 1933 was 'almost sycophantic'; the second in 1939 which is online here was 'more critical than romantic') –

O' Faoláin and Ervine knew each other - both were members of the Irish Literary Academy which was founded in 1932 by WB Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, as were Helen Waddell, Sean O'Casey and Douglas Hyde among others. From a search on the British Newspaper Archive it seems that their paths might also have crossed at the BBC.

Two of Seán O'Faoláin's early books were banned by the Irish Free State's censorship-happy government for 'indecency' - Midsummer Night Madness (published 1932) and Bird Alone (published 1936). 

O' Faoláin also came up in a fascinating conversation I had recently about the life and work of Sam Hanna Bell. The 33 year old Bell's essay 'This We Shall Maintain' was published in O' Faoláin's renowned literary arts journal appropriately entitled The Bell, in a special Ulster edition in 1942. The story would later appear in Sam Hanna Bell's début collection Summer Loanen in 1943. O' Faoláin's editorial introduction to this edition is a great read, a fulsome praise of "... this new Ulster of ours ... Belfast is a city of mixed grills and double whiskies ... I am in danger of losing my head as well as my heart to Ulster." 

I have just a few editions of The Bell, from the 1940s. In July 1941 there had been what I think was the first 'Special Ulster Number'. Look at the list of contributors, but it's O' Faoláin's own editorial which is the standout article, so I've posted every page below. More to follow...  

Below is the summary biography on the back cover of his 1947 book The Irish –

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"We need a new way to run a truly United Kingdom"

In light of a post I published a few days ago, this article in The Guardian today from the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is interesting reading. If only his predecessor John Smith hadn't passed away so prematurely in 1994...

Friday, October 16, 2020

Ulster Medical Hall emblem, Bedford Street, Belfast 1852

 Another combination of Red Hand, shield, and five pointed Irish crown.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Prof Wesley Hutchinson in conversation – "Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination"

I have had the pleasure of meeting Wesley a number of times and have enjoyed talking with him. This is a very interesting discussion from around a year ago, with Connor McKernan of NVTV.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

There's only one united. Or maybe two. Or maybe lots...

This is the masthead of the News Letter from 1986. Somewhere in the depths of the letters pages, sometime in between 1985–1990 (I can't be certain exactly when) there is a letter from a young me. Now and again it was a kind of game that a few mates and I got up to, to see who could get published. I think my real name was on it, but sometimes we used fake ones.

Bear in mind that the Troubles were raging. Back in November 1983 my uncle had preached at Darkley the Sunday night prior to this horror and he knew all of those killed and injured. As a 13 year old I had been with my parents - and about 200,000 others - at the massive Ulster Says No rally at Belfast City Hall in November 1985. It was in response to the sudden revelation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and it was a memorable, electrifying, day out. We got there very early and were about 6 rows from the front right up at the platform. The socio-political temperature of those years was very hot. 

I don't have a copy of the letter, as back then they were handwritten and nobody had a photocopier at home. If anyone ever goes looking for it I expect that it is probably mostly bonkers. Maybe I will get 'cancelled' for whatever those words were. I do recall clearly that in the letter I advised Ian Paisley and James Molyneaux, the two unionist leaders of the time and the key platform speakers, that England didn't want us – and so Scotland and Northern Ireland should get together. I can see Scotland from my window every day. It's natural. We belong together.

I have many Scottish friends who are pro-Independence, or 'Indy'. Just today an IPSOS-MORI opinion poll has reported that a record high of 58% of Scots plan to vote SNP at the next Scottish Parliament election. This is in a context of high profile strife, scandals and controversies around the party. But the even wider UK context for the Scottish population – of Brexit, Boris Johnston and Coronavirus confusion and cronyism – by far trumps any negative baggage there might be around the SNP.

We are 30+ years on from the heady days of my letter writing foray into the pages of the News Letter and the United Kingdom clearly has the potential to unravel. Who knows if politics will permit another Scottish Referendum as a sequel to the 2014 original which finished 55.3% v 44.7%? But is there even one sensible advocate for 'The Union' who speaks credibly and persuasively to each of its constituent nations and regions of being together? Is there anyone doing likewise across the entire UK and also reaching out to the common interests that are shared with the Republic of Ireland? I can't think of one.

UK Devolution of the late 1990s has caused a generation of divergence, and a complex infrastructure of administrators and bureaucrats have institutionalised that divergence. During this year of coronavirus there has been yet more divergence of policy among the nations and regions than ever before, with too many key figures in our various legislatures opportunistically taking advantage of the pandemic to prepare the ground for their next election campaigns – with an eye on the next stage of their political careers rather than caring for the greater good of the people they get paid to represent. 

So, what happens next? Well, if the cliché "the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there" still applies, then the future must also be a place where things are done differently. That future will still require co-operation across our islands - through the ever-presents of geography, trade, health, transport, energy supply, tourism, language, culture, history, natural resources, family ties, and many more factors.

What The Sun tabloid newspaper front page yesterday proclaimed as Disunited Kingdom might not be the end game. In fact, it might create the potential for new unities, a mesh of uniteds in multiple collaborative directions, and not just the binary Ireland v GB options that currently exist. A fabric. A weave. The co-operation, and how to get on with the neighbours, will always be needed. Perhaps those are the very relationships and interconnections that have been badly needed, but missing, for the past 50+ years.

Who knows. There are endless hypotheticals. But championing the ideas and values that truly unite people is the very core of any serious 'unity project', however you choose to define that, and whichever 'United' you support. The cold mathematics of an election or referendum result, or a paper agreement arrived at in secret between politicians, might be presented as a form of 'unity' – but these fall far short of actually uniting people. And nobody is doing that.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Royal Ulster Yacht Club insignia

Another world of symbols and emblems are the sailing clubs that the well-connected did, and still do, frequent. Royal Ulster Yacht Club in Bangor dates from 1866. Sir Thomas Lipton famously sailed his boat Shamrock here. Flags are a critical medium for communication at sea - the triangular shape is a 'burgee'. 


"The Pelt" of Portavogie

I never met her, but she was a real person, and her presence spooked the older generation of fishermen. If they encountered her on their way to the harbour to set off for their week's fishing the superstition was that they couldn't go - they had to go back home and try again some other time to make it to the boat. She lived in the village and wore both strange clothing and a strange demeanour. 

I've no idea what her actual name was, she was only ever called in handed-down stories as 'The Pelt'. And above is the entry from the Concise Scots Dictionary that I came across just yesterday – "a person of little value ... a shabby garment, a worthless rag".

As Victoria Williams and Pearl Jam sang in the 1993 track about someone similar, called Crazy Mary"that what you fear the most, could meet you halfway".

Looking back now I expect that she must have had some trauma or difficulties in her life. I hope some folk were kind to her.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Ulster / Free State Boundary - 'The Seat of All the Trouble' – British Pathé News footage, 1924

This coloured still is from this R.I.C. Facebook group, where someone had captured it from this original British Pathé News silent footage and then colourised it. I think it was filmed on the border bridge in Pettigo, in Donegal/Fermanagh (visit it on Google Streetview here).

Friday, October 09, 2020

Con O'Neill – author Roy Greer interviewed by Stuart Bailie

Back in 2006 when I was oxters-deep in trying to bring the Hamilton & Montgomery story back to public attention, I also wanted to do something about Con O'Neill, whose estates they negotiated a third of each, but none of the appropriate organisations were up for it. So we stuck to the H&M story. In early 2019 Roy Greer contacted me (we'd met each other at least once before) to tell me that he was working on a book about Con. It was published last autumn by noted local publisher White Row Press and is a very fine piece of work, in terms of the depth of research, the quality of writing, and the visual presentation. Here is Roy being interviewed in detail about his journey from discovery to print, just a few weeks ago, as part of the Turas Belfast festival –

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Symbols and meaning - a century apart, a world of both difference and similarities

Symbols have no meaning in themselves - we give them meaning in how we use them, and in how we perceive them. These two representations, of Ulster in 1954, and of Northern Ireland in 1958, are over 100 years apart yet they are in so many ways the same. The five pointed Irish crown and the shield on the left, are superseded by the British crown and the six pointed star on the right. The 'clan belt' on the left becomes an artistic flax flowers border on the right. The meaning is different but the composition is essentially the same.

The six pointed star device was introduced in the early 1920s to represent the six counties of Northern Ireland. As per the clipping below, it was proposed as the sole centrepiece of the new Governor of Northern Ireland flag in 1924, designed by artist William R. Gordon (1896–1951) of the Belfast Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee. He proposed a Union Flag with no Irish Province of Ulster Red Hand element at all.

Gordon was also involved in the design of the 'Ulster Pavilion' at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley that same year, and in the early organised Arts scene in Belfast. 

A year later, in May 1925, the design below was produced by Belfast Rotary Club as a presentational gift for a visit to Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Gerald Anthony Hayes-McCoy's 1979 book A History of Irish Flags from Earliest Times is a great reference on these things, but he doesn't go into real detail on the flags of post-1921 Northern Ireland. Maybe somebody should.

All symbols evolve and change, and will continue to do so. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Barefoot Movement - 'Sin City' bluegrass style

This is a tremendous and fresh new version of the Flying Burrito Brothers / Gram Parsons classic.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The first Northern Ireland postage stamps, July 1958

I am convinced that one day the ancient emblem of the Red Hand of Ulster will once again be restored to mainstream usage here. Many of our sporting bodies use it - Ulster Rugby, hockey, multiple GAA clubs, various schools level athletics organisations, recently Mid Ulster District Council – but, in the main, polite 'establishment' society appears to be frightened of it. GCAS, the design company I worked for and was eventually MD of from 1999–2006, was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to replace the Red Hand from their logo (a brief which was completed just before I moved to GCAS; the rationale was that it was an unwelcoming symbol for international visitors, it visually communicated 'stop, don't go there'.)

In 1958 the Red Hand was regarded as the essential component in Northern Ireland's first ever postage stamps: the 3d designed by 38 year old Liverpool-born Belfast-based commercial designer William Hollywood; the 6d by Bolton-born Leonard Pilton (a lecturer at Belfast Art College); the 1/3d by a 22 year old from Deer Park, Portadown, called T. (Tom?) Collins, who was about to start working life as a 'teacher of arts and crafts at an intermediate school in his native town'.

Collins' is the most insightful as his design went further than the other two by incorporating the classic 5 bar gate and pillars, an icon of our landscape, and a symbol which was adopted as the logo for the first Ulster Folk Museum. His papers about his work on designing the stamp is held in PRONI, Ref No D4552.

A drop of "Wee Still"

Brilliant poteen and whisky story here on Lisburn.com 
(Photo from here)

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Scotch Whisky & Scots Language


Friday, October 02, 2020

1625: The King is Dead, Four Spiritual Revivals Begin in Ulster & Scotland – "ministers who had suffered for their faith under James VI"

King James VI & I is held in (probably too) much esteem in traditional smaller evangelical circles in Northern Ireland. There are many 'King James Only' congregations, that is congregations who have a policy of only ever using the 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible which James commissioned. It is of course majestic language from a defining moment in time. Alongside the works of Shakespeare, the KJV or AV pretty much standardised the English language.

James' translation team drew very heavily upon earlier Reformed versions, most notably by the English translator William Tyndale (1535), and the Geneva Bible (1560) which James wanted to swamp out of circulation. There have of course been many newer translations, in particular over the past 100 years. But the KJV / AV is the one which is easiest to memorise. Maybe that's just through repetition.

However conservative-minded people from within the Reformed community have not always held King James in such high esteem. Rev Dr James Aitken Wylie (1808–90; Wikipedia here) was a Scottish theologian and historian, the son of a Seceder minister, and eventually joined the Free Church of Scotland. His lavish four volume The History of Protestantism (1878) is a Europe-wide epic. He also wrote a three volume The History Of The Scottish Nation (1886). Wylie, towards the end of his life, was shaping the narratives of both faith and nation.

In Wylie's view, it was the death of King James VI & I (on 27 March 1625) that was the spark which ignited the chain of interconnected spiritual revivals which broke out in Ulster and Scotland. Wylie has this to say –

“...the year of the king’s death was rendered memorable by the rise of a remarkable influence of a spiritual kind in Scotland, which continued for years... preachers had found no new Gospel, nor had they become suddenly clothed with a new eloquence; yet their words had a power they had formerly lacked; they went deeper into the hearts of their hearers, who were impressed by them in a way they had never been before... the moral character of whole towns, villages and parishes was being suddenly changed...”

For Wylie, the key to the revivals was this: “...it was distinctly traceable to those ministers who had suffered for their faith under James VI...” Unsurprisingly, the ministers involved in the revivals, and the regions where revival was so strongly experienced, were all closely linked to Ayrshiremen James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery who had settled west of Scotland farming families across into Antrim and Down. This was one community with a group of ministers who travelled back and forth, softly separated by the waves of North Channel.

The four revivals were –

1. Stewarton, Ayrshire 1623–1630

2. Sixmilewater, County Antrim 1625–1634

3. Kirk O’ Shotts, north Lanarkshire, 1630

4. Holywood, County Down 1632/1633

Thursday, October 01, 2020

"the author of two Scottish ballads unsurpassed for tenderness and pathos" - the life of William Motherwell (1797–1835)

This Scottish poet, who wrote in both English and Scots, is a new name to me. He was born in Glasgow the year after Robert Burns died, and shared a mutual friend - Robert Archibald Smith - with fellow poet Robert Tannahill. He edited a five volume set of Burns' work with James Hogg the 'Ettrick Shepherd'. Interestingly it seems that Motherwell was an Orangeman.

The Spenserians website has a number of 19th century biographies of Motherwell (link here), and the Allpoetry website has a selection of his work here, some of which is to me very good. The quote I've used in the title of this post is from this bio by James Grant Wilson. Motherwell's Wikipedia page is a bit of a hatchet job though (link here) with some pretty bizarre assertions. 

The Harp of Renfrewshire (orig 1819; 1873 edition is online here)

Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern (1827; is online here)

Poems, Narrative and Lyrical (1832; is online here)

The Works of Robert Burns, five volumes edited by James Hogg and William Motherwell (1834; volume I is online here)

William Motherwell's Cultural Politics by Mary Ellen Brown (2001; is online here)