Monday, November 20, 2017

BBC language controversy, Christmas 1933

On Christmas Day in 1933, the BBC broadcast a programme to the nation, made up of items from its various regions. The Northern Ireland segment was in Ulster dialect, and had an item within it called ‘The Wee Wean o Bathleamm’. When the Belfast newspapers hit the streets on December 27th there was a flood of letters, which are fascinating to read from today’s perspective. Many had their addresses printed alongside, and these show two broad reactions:

1) the urban and suburban middle class reaction was one of equal outrage and cringe.
2) the rural working class reaction was that the dialect didn't sound authentic enough 

It seems that it was a hybrid of Hiberno-English and Ulster-Scots, further interpreted through the hand of a scriptwriter, and so perhaps akin to the writings of WF Marshall. Some of the complaints were also that it was ‘too Irish’. The letters pages raged back and forth until early January, when the editors decided to publish no more. A few weeks later, Mr George Leslie Marshall, the BBC Belfast Station Director, issued a statement defending the decision to broadcast Ulster dialect to the rest of the world. The clipping below is from the Northern Whig on 10 January 1934, via the excellent British Newspaper Archive.

It just goes to show that language/dialect along with demographics and broadcasting has always been a difficult arena!

GL MArshall



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Montgomery, Dunlap & Magee - Quebec, Philadelphia, Belfast (1775)

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1775 - Belfast & Philadelphia - a Fast before Revolution

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'The Psalms in Braid Scots' by Rev TT Alexander (St Ninian's, Leith), c. 1930

My brother was given this by a friend from Donaghadee a few weeks ago. It had been in his mother’s collection of stuff and they thought we might appreciate it. I’d not heard of it before, and so I went for a hoke in Graham Tulloch’s excellent History of the Scots Bible (1989) but it wasn’t mentioned in there either. So it must have been a fairly local edition - pocket sized, priced at one sixpence.

A bit of digging shows that Alexander was minister at St Ninian’s from 1926-1932. In 1931 he stood as an SNP candidate in the East Edinburgh constituency. The BNA has some adverts for him preaching church services in Braid Scots, one of which is below.

Just last weekend my brother and I were in New Cumnock in Ayrshire, playing and singing a bit in the Baptist Church there. We were nearly tripping over folk from Ulster or with Ulster connections. One New Cumnock couple we met are good friends and frequent visitors to neighbours of ours who literally live a few fields away from me.

Maybe four of the church pastors in the town are Ulstermen - certainly we met three of them. One man there was thrilled to hear a few sangs in the hamely tongue, as he was born and raised outside Larne. He recounted a story to me of a time when he was asked to preach in a church in Belfast, and so very naturally just used a brave wheen of Ulster-Scots words in his sermon. However one of the church elders, as we say, 'boned' him at the door and made it very clear that he'd caused great offence by using such irreverent and disrespectful language in the pulpit. Sometimes there are just thran individuals who like to be seen to be in charge.

I am pretty sure that the 'Man of Galilee' spoke like a country man from Galilee. There is much academic and theological writing on the subject (example here and another similar article here). The most famous example of this was when his disciple Peter, then in the metropolis of Jerusalem, denied knowing Christ, he was confronted by a servant girl who said - according to the old King James Version translation of 1611 - "Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee" (Matthew 26:73). Country folk often stand out like sair thumbs in the city.

Rev TT Alexander worked in historic Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh. Language usage has changed a lot in the past 100 years, Scots and Ulster-Scots have been diminished and spread very thin by a whole range of factors. Both remain at their richest in the country, the folk in New Cumnock confirmed this to me over tay and pieces after the meetings.

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Here is the church today, built in 1816: NewImage

And here is the much older manse building. The congregation at Leith dates from 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus is said to have discovered America.St Ninian s Manse North Leith

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Mystery of 'Redemption Songs' hymnbook

Its red cover was in nearly every mission hall and gospel hall when I grew up. The softback ones were like velvet to hold. The hardback ones had posh gold foil blocking on the cover. The music edition was beautifully designed, a real retro classic of its time.

But nobody is sure exactly when it was first published. says 1937 but that’s far too recent, it was definitely older than that. There may have been later additions/editions.

The British Newspaper Archive as ever has some tantalising research references, the earliest being in Scotland in 1910 in Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper, an advert for a place called Gordon Evangelistic Hall which proudly advertised the Sunday evening service with ‘Hymns from Redemption Songs”. The publisher, Pickering & Inglis, was based in Glasgow - “largely for the non conformist church in Scotland with many Brethren publications”.

A few weeks later the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald was advertising the hymn books, with a free sample copy being offered by bookseller R L Allan & Son of Glasgow to any “mission leaders” who applied for one.

The earliest Ulster reference is from October 1912,  where it is listed in an advert from the Northern Publishing Office (NPO) in Ann Street, Belfast, along with Songs of Victory, Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos and various Psalters.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Preachers, Coal Miners and Singers - BBC documentary about the Everly Brothers

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Ulster-Scots in the 'Northern Whig', 1957 (from the British Newspaper Archive)

Whig 1957

Monday, November 06, 2017

Lights, Camera, Action!

Some of you will know that throughout the autumn I have been filming a new 6-part series for BBC Northern Ireland. It’s been bubbling away since first discussions in the month of May, and at the time of writing we have four programmes done and two to go. I’ve been interviewed for a few things over the years, but have never been in a presenter role before. It has been a massive eye-opener, an insight into the vast amount of work, planning and logistics - never mind creativity, flair and expertise - that a quality series demands of its producers, creatives and organisers. I have met so many great people in interesting places, with new stories, and big discoveries. I will say no more for now. It’s not a new day job but it’s been pretty demanding for me as a total novice. Watch this space!

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Portavogie Harbour opening, 1955

Smithfield Plantation House: home of Colonel William Preston and the Fincastle Resolutions


Situated in Blacksburg, Virginia. Find out more at the museum website here. William Preston was from Limavady, born there on Christmas Day 1729. Here's his Wikipedia entry.