Saturday, February 10, 2018

Alice Milligan and Ulster-Scots in 'Shan Van Vocht', 1898

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There are two plausible origins for influential Irish Republicans Alice Milligan (1866–1953, shown above) and her brother Ernest Milligan (1879–1954) being interested in Ulster-Scots. It is possible that their mother, Charlotte Elizabeth Burns, who was the daughter of a Samuel Burns (who ran the ‘Scotch Haberdashery Warehouse’ in Main Street, Omagh) may have been of Ulster-Scots or Scots origin themselves. Charlotte and Seaton married on 28 January 1862 at Omagh Wesleyan Chapel. If there’s a biographer out there somewhere who knows I’d appreciate being corrected on this.

The more likely connection is that their County Down summer homes – seaside escapes from their moneyed Belfast lifestyle thanks to their father’s 50-year career with the linen firm Hawkins, Robertson & Ferguson, later renamed Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co in the city centre – brought them into close contact with Ulster-Scots speaking locals. The first of these was described by another brother, Charles Forest Milligan (1883–1983) who served in the Royal Navy during the Great War, later became a Councillor and Alderman for Bangor Council from 1934–1973, and was awarded an OBE in 1966. In his 1975 memoir booklet entitled My Bangor from the 1890s he said it was:

‘a cottage at Donaghadee known as Angus’s Cottage on the Warren Road near the standing stone’.

The standing stone was at the junction of the Warren Road and the Stockbridge Road. Here's an 1800s map of the area, with the stone in the top left corner. A development called ‘Rock Hill’ is there today.Ballywilliam

This is exactly the geography and scenario described by Alice in her tale The True Story of a Grey Mare of Ballywalter, and a member of the Royal Irish Academy - the ‘member' being the Milligans’ father, Seaton Forest Milligan. It was first published in Alice’s periodical Shan Van Vocht on 12 December 1898, which is online here.

She begins with a description of the cottage, confirming Charles’ account –

“Along the coast of North Down there runs a road skirting the sea, from Bangor, past Groomsport, past Donaghadee, and away round to Ballywalter, at the head of the Ards Peninsula. For many summers the chosen sea-side residence of my people was a picturesque cottage a mile or so beyond Donaghadee. It was separated from the road merely by a walled garden, beyond the road was a low wall, and over that wall you could roll into the waves when the tide was in. Honeysuckle and roses grew up the walls and peeped in at the sky-light windows. It was a delightful little cottage, and how we all fitted into it I have often wondered since."

The story continues that one summer evening Seaton was outside reading the newspaper on a garden bench; a horse-drawn cart stopped outside their house; stopped for a while but the people - a red-bearded man and a very old woman all dressed in black - didn’t get out. Seaton was concerned and went to see if something was wrong. 

“Something is wrong with the cart, thought our practical man, and jumping from his seat, he asked if he could be of any assistance. The red-bearded man was gathering words to answer when the old woman got ahead of him and in shrill brisk accents of broadest Co. Down Scotch, gave the following amazing explanation:

“We’re no botherin oursels tae hurry, mon dear. The mare has jist stappit, and I wudnae hae John whup her on. She’s an unco wise beast an’ kens there’s some ill afore us, so we’ll e’en bide here till she gangs on o’ her ain free wull"

She spoke so rapidly there was no chance of interruption, and our practical man fumed with indignation at the idea of anyone delaying by the roadside to humour the vagaries of an old grey mare. He scorned to address himself to the woman who was the victim of so crazy a delusion.

“Good gracious man,” he said, shouting at the son, “How far have you to drive?"

“We hae tae mak Ballywalter the nicht"

And so on. The tension rises, Seaton intervenes, the horse gets cross and bares its teeth

“Obstinate brute,’ said her foe, “Does she bite?"

“I hae never kent her tae bite onybody, but nae doot she wad bite you, guid mon, afore she’d gang on frae here, supposin she kens there’s some danger lourin’.

By this stage a crowd had gathered, both of Milligan family members and ‘some country neighbours’ who ‘shook their heads and advised no interference with the mare, whilst they recounted similar supernatural occurrences and gave instances of the prophetic instincts of sundry collie dogs, cows and ganders’.

Enraged, Seaton then gathered up his sons, and returned with large buckets of water, and lashed them at the horse which took off in fright. The boys then turned the buckets into drums to make a lot of noise, which kept the horse going to escape the din.

The country folk shook their heads in awe and doubt, and which a self-satisfied smile the head of the house returned to the garden seat. Perhaps he drafted in his mind a lecture or paper for a learned society of which he was a member on the subject of ‘Some Surviving Ulster Superstitions’.

It’s a great wee story in itself – but it’s not over yet, because the same horse is back again later that day, with the same passengers, and the old woman speaking yet more Ulster-Scots… read it for yourself. (It was reproduced in the Cork Examiner on 28 April 1900).

The importance of all of this is Alice Milligan’s recognition, and respectful treatment, of the Ulster-Scots speech of her summer neighbours. She could easily have ‘Anglicised’ their words as so many writers of that period were prone to. But we know that the Milligans were friends of W.G. Lyttle, and so perhaps his influence and work had rubbed off on them too.

Tradition matters. Everybody who cares about tradition should value all forms of it, both their own and the traditions of others. Empowering one over another, advantaging one over another, legislating for one over another, is a road to nowhere. In former times, language and culture and politics did not align the way they are presented today. Sometimes it take an old wise grey mare to stop on the road to reflect before going any further.


• In 1888 Seaton Milligan and his daughter Alice co-authored a book called Glimpses of Erin (online here).
• Alice Milligan’s biography by the Royal Irish Academy is online here

More to follow...

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Alice L Milligan and the Scottish St Patrick traditions

This from Alice L Milligan’s periodical Shan Van Vocht, 6 March 1896. I have tons of research and references to these Scottish traditions, once widely-known, now almost vanished. Another project… more Milligan material to follow.

Milligan Patrick

Monday, January 29, 2018

Irish Republicans and 'broadest County Down Scotch' - the writings of Alice L. Milligan and Ernest Milligan

Major blog post brewing which might raise a few eyebrows.

In the recent, wonderful, Radio Ulster broadcast A Birl for Burns (online here) Seamus Heaney remarked in a 2012 interview that ‘the Nationalist side are identified with the Irish language, and the Unionists would be more inclined to Ulster-Scots. That’s a relatively recent development. For senior persons … there was no question of that, it was just part of their language’.

I recently found that the Milligan family, steeped in Irish history through their renowned antiquarian father, Seaton Forest Milligan, had a summer cottage on the shore of Ballywilliam townland just north of Donaghadee, along today’s exclusive Warren Road. His famous daughter Alice was at ease with including Ulster-Scots dialogue in some of her published stories; the less well-known son Ernest published a very strong collection of his own self-penned Ulster-Scots poems and ballads.

Both Alice and Ernest were close to James Connolly. Ernest was a founding member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its Belfast Socialist Society in 1898 - yet around the same time he was also a member of Ballyholme Sailing Club in Bangor where he was photographed sitting next to a young James Craig, future Unionist MP for East Down who would go on to become the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Milligans were upper middle class, you might even say today that they were ‘champagne socialists’. Yet the usages of Ulster-Scots in their writings shows a pretty credible connection with the common folk, a mode of speech that Alice described as 'broadest County Down Scotch’, and the existence of which a 1908 Dublin review of Ernest’s collection said:

“… will come almost as a shock to the Irish-Ireland reader … there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British or shoneen … its speech is not English, but Lowland Scotch … the mother tongue of James Hope and of the congregations of those United Irish Presbyterian worthies Porter, Steele-Dickson, Kelburn and Warwick … we welcome this volume as evidence that the Scotch-Irishman has not lost the gift of song. The subjects are homely and natural; the verses fluent and tuneful ...'.

More to follow...

2018 01 26 08 42 16Ernest Milligan

Monday, January 22, 2018

“Mr. Gookin out of Ireland wholly upon his owne Adventure…” - a Puritan English-Irish settlement at Newport News, Virginia, 1621

There is an old cliché - ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. It’s amusing, but it’s also dangerous, because the short-term gain is very likely to be exposed and therefore discredit any truth that the story contained.

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Winchester, Virginia, is a place that’s been mentioned here a few times. Its Old Stone Presbyterian Church (pic above) still stands, a beautiful building in simple form, in the middle of the historic town. It was built in 1788 and has a classic barn-style form, not unlike Presbyterian churches in Ulster. One of its early ministers was Rev William Hill, who, in 1839, published History of the Rise, Progress, Genius and Character of American Presbyterianism (online here).

The book has lots of interesting stuff, including a reference to a settlement in 1621 at Newport News in Virginia, just south of the Jamestown settlement, which seems to have been the first successful voyage from Ireland to America

In the year 1621 a gentleman of some note came over, with a number of servants and labourers in his train, and, among the rest, eighty Irish settlers, Who these Irish were we are not told; but as Catholics were forbidden to enter the territory, we know they were not of that class. They were not likely to be Episcopalians, for that denomination were rarely found in Ireland in that day among the lower class of society. The probability is, they were Scotch Irish Presbytesrians, as far as they had any religious preferences. Where Master Gookins, as he is called, located his plantation, we are not told; it is probably that it was upon some outskirt of the then settlement, where they would be less likely to attract notice, or meet with disturbance for the want of conformity in the established worship … there is reason to believe that they had not become extinct when the memorials Makemie arrived ...'

- from History of the Rise, Progress, Genius and Character of American Presbyterianism, William Hill, 1839 (online here)

What is doubly significant is that this is another pre-Famine usage of the term ‘Scotch Irish’. However… in terms of his analysis, it looks like Hill was making a major creative leap. For it turns out that this settlement wasn’t Scotch-Irish at all, it was English-Irish.

A bit of digging around shows that ‘Master Gookins’ was Daniel Gookin (1582–1633), an English Puritan from Kent, who had briefly relocated to Carrigaline in County Cork, as part of the second Munster Plantation of around 1604, when around 4,000 English settlers relocated to there (others more knowledgable than I can clarify this). He also had some land in County Longford.

(The Winthrops, best known for their activity in Massachusetts in the 1620s & 1630s, had also been part of the Munster Plantation, settling at Baltimore in Cork in 1606. They would later play a key role in the organising of Eagle Wing’s voyage from north Down in 1636)

The Gookins became very influential in Cork society; Daniel’s brother Vincent would become High Sheriff of the County. Daniel Gookin’s transatlantic voyages were primarily to transport ‘fair and large cattle of our English breed’, to sustain the existing English colonies at Jamestown, but some passengers went too.

His neighbours and fellow Englishmen Sir William Newce and Captain Thomas Newce had already founded an English settlement at Bandon, County Cork known as Newce’s Town, and they came forward with a scheme to transport up to 1000 people to Virginia. The Newces' first ship landed in October 1621, naming the location New Port Newce (today Newport News) but the passengers were ‘very few people, sicklie, ragged and altogether without provision’, and all died a few days later.

Gookin’s expedition landed nearby a few weeks later on 22 November 1621 on a ship called The Flyinge Harte, captained by a Dutchman called Cornelius Johnson. News of Gookin's success reached the Virginia Company in London in March 1622, which was ‘hailed with joy’. Gookin bought 150 acres of land outright and named his settlement ‘Marie’s Mount’, after his wife.

His second voyage, on a ship called Providence, arrived in Virginia on 10 April 1623, led by Captain John Clarke, who had famously captained the Mayflower.

Some of the passengers names are given here - but they seem to me to be mostly English names, rather than obviously Scottish or Irish.

Red abbey

Gookin also sought a Royal grant for the mythical Saint Brendan’s Island (Wikipedia entry here), said to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (and thought to have been recently discovered). Gookin returned to Ireland not long after a significant Indian attack on his colony. He is thought to have died in Cork in 1632/33 and was buried at Red Abbey (shown above). However in later years the abbey suffered a major fire and so as far as I can find he has no known grave or memorial there.


Ireland’s stories are not always Irish. Neither are they automatically Ulster-Scots or Scotch-Irish. There is always a need to take a broader view.

•  His son, also called Daniel Gookin (1612–1687), followed in his footsteps and eventually became major general of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (see biography here).
•  A PhD Thesis on Gookin and archaeology in Cork is online here.

PPS: the plaque below from the Old Stone Presbyterian Church shows that it was used by the Baptists from 1834 onwards, and from 1858–1886 by the ‘Old School Baptist Church of Color’. 

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Johnny Cash - from the 19th Century to Nine Inch Nails.

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Johnny Cash was a regular in our house when I was growing up. Not in person of course, but his voice was a frequent soundtrack. I remember being a bit shocked when I first paid attention to the words of Delia’s Gone. Burl Ives or Jim Reeves this was not. I don’t think Johnny Cash ever ‘shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’, but it was easy to believe that he might have done.

As Cash’s long career rose and fell, and rose again and fell away again, it was towards the end that he soared and some of his best work was recorded.

One of his famous American Recordings albums contained the multi-award-winning version of industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails’ track Hurt (released 2002). After he died, a box set called Unearthed was released, including a set of 15 hymns recorded during 2003.

The track listing is below, along with the year the hymns had either been first published or first recorded

1  Where We'll Never Grow Old (1914, James Moore)
2  I Shall Not Be Moved (traditional, first recorded 1929)
3  I Am A Pilgrim (first recorded 1917, Imperial Quartet)
4  Do Lord (c. 1950, V.O. Fossett)
5  When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder (1893, James M. Black)
6  If We Never Meet Again This Side Of Heaven (1945, Albert E Brumley)
7  I'll Fly Away (1931, Albert E Brumley)
8  Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies (first recorded 1928, written by William M Golden)
9  Let The Lower Lights Be Burning (1871, Philip P Bliss)
10  When He Reached Down (1947, JFB Wright)
11  In The Sweet By And By (1868, Sanford F Bennett)
12  I'm Bound For The Promised Land (1787, Stennett)
13  In The Garden (1913, C. Austin Miles)
14  Softly And Tenderly (1880, William L Thompson)
15  Just As I Am (1835, Charlotte Elliott)

For an artist to encompass nearly 200 years of song, from 21st century alternative rock to early 19th century hymns, is utterly remarkable. It is hard to imagine any other performer being able to carry that off, and to in fact make these songs his own.

Perhaps, as track 6 above begins, ‘when we come to the end of life’s journey’, it will be songs which will come to mind, bringing reminiscence, joy, and comfort. Because by that stage, as the emotional sledgehammer line from Hurt says, ‘You can have it all, my empire of dirt’.

Today, in a world where the line between sacred and secular seems to be getting more sharply defined, it is hard to imagine a time when there were crossovers. Yet when you really delve into the history of the music, crossovers were the fertile ground that brought freshness. Many of the writers of popular hymns in the 1800s were also secular songwriters, skilled practitioners, commercially successful, bringing their gifts and talents to a range of genres.

How many of today's songs will still be sung in 200 years' time?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Murray Rothbard and The Ulster Scots – Conceived in Liberty: "the revolutionary and even libertarian roots of America" (1975)


Murray Rothbard’s landmark 4 volume set from 1975 about the birth of American democracy, Conceived in Liberty, (Wikipedia entry here) includes a chapter entitled 'The Ulster Scots'. You can read it on Google Books here. Rothbard (1926-1995) was a hugely influential figure in 20th century libertarian thought (Wikipedia entry here).

‘The Ulster Scots were the largest immigrant group in the eighteenth century. These men were, in the main, intense Presbyterians from lowland Scotland whose families had been settled in Ulster in northern Ireland during the seventeenth century …'

The Mises Institute describes their recent combined edition as follows:

There's never been a better time to remember the revolutionary and even libertarian roots of the American founding, and there's no better guide to what this means in the narrative of the Colonial period than Murray Rothbard.

Rothbard's ambition was to shed new light on Colonial history and show that the struggle for human liberty was the heart and soul of this land from its discovery through the culminating event of the American Revolution. These volumes are a tour de force, enough to establish Rothbard as one of the great American historians.

It is a detailed narrative history of the struggle between liberty and power, as we might expect, but it is more. Rothbard offers a third alternative to the conventional interpretive devices. Against those on the right who see the American Revolution as a "conservative" event, and those on the left who want to invoke it as some sort of proto-socialist uprising, Rothbard views this period as a time of accelerating libertarian radicalism. Through this prism, Rothbard illuminates events as never before.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Coming soon: Samuel Rutherford Crockett Society – 'Glenhead Stories' by Joe Rae


I am thankful to my freen Joe Rae who lives near Beith in Ayrshire for this information. Over the years Joe has introduced me to countless stories, songs, traditions, places and histories, including the writings of Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1859–1914). He was a master storyteller, a bestselling author in his day, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of his books. He has been described as ‘Galloway’s Best Kept Secret’, doing for Galloway what Sir Walter Scott did for the Borders. Crockett was a friend and correspondent of Robert Louis Stevenson - Crockett dedicated The Stickit Minister to Stevenson, who in turn dedicated Songs of Travel to Crockett. Unsurprisingly, adverts and reviews of Crockett’s works appear hundreds of times in the Ulster newspapers of his day.

Joe has been working lately with the S.R. Crockett Society (society website here) to help with a new publication called Glenhead Stories, which is due out in April 2018. The book will feature fifteen stories, in Scots, remembered and retold by Joe.

Rutherford was a prolific author (see bibliography here) but one story which really stands out for me is the tradition mentioned in a recent post here about John Thomson leading Bruce’s defeated troops back to Scotland, giving rise to the expression in south west Scotland that ‘we’re aa Jock Tamson’s bairns’.

The story was told to Crockett by John MacMillan, a farmer from Glenhead. Glenhead is near Glen Trool, the scene of the Bruces’ famous victory in 1307 right after they returned to Scotland after wintering on Rathlin Island. There is a Covenanter memorial still at their farm of the Caldons, again close to Glen Trool, erected by the famous ‘Old Mortality'

NB: The very first Reformed Presbyterian minister was also called John MacMillan. He was born at Minnigaff just 14 miles from Glenhead, and was one of the founders of the Reformed Presbytery in 1743. He is known to have come to Ireland to minister to ‘United Society’ Covenanters in 1707 and 1715. Crockett wrote a dramatised account of MacMillan’s life, a novel entitled The Standard Bearer in 1898. There is a monument in Dalserf to MacMillan with numerous inscriptions, including:

A public tribute to the memory of the Rev. John Macmillan,
minister of Balmaghie in Galloway, and afterwards first
minister to the United Societies in Scotland, adhering at
the Revolution to the whole Covenanted Reformation in
Britain and Ireland, attained between 1638 and 1649. An
exemplary Christian ; a devoted minister ; and a faithful
witness to the Cause of Christ : died December First,
1753, aged eighty-four.


Carrick wis for lang counted pairt o Gallowa an the premier title o the heir tae the Scottish throne wis Earl O Carrick. The Bruce an his youngest, an only surviving, brither, Edward, Earl O Carrick, gaed ouwre tae Irelan in the year 1316 an met wi a wheen o the native chiefs. At the final getherin it wis agreed thit Edward wid return the neist year wi an airmy an jine forces, ourthrow the English usurpers, an then he wad be crooned king o irelan.

The Yearl an King agreed that the airmy wad be recruited fae Gallowa an word wis sent aa roon the cuntryside that ilk able man atween the age o saxteen an saxty wid hae tae gether et the Turnberry on the 21st.o Mey 1317, this gein time tae get the lammin bye an the feils plood an sawn. Whun the carls hid aa gethird the force cam tae 2000 men, noo boys ye micht think that this wis a gey smaa numer fur the hale o Gallowa, bit jist conseeder this, for twenty years the Southerin hid been butcherin Scotsmen like lambs et the slaughter an the hale population o Scotland et that time numbered 220,000 say 2000 fae sic an ootbye laun wis nae sae bad. Amang the thrang there wis thirty lords wha wur mounted.
Sailin fae Turnberry the airmy landed at Carrickfergus an sterted thir mairch Sooth aa the wey bein jined bi the native chiefs wi thir followers. Cumin tae the breist o a brae et a place caad Dundalk, an luikin doon there they saw a sicht thit garred some o them grue, fir

Doon the brae lined up in rank upon rank wis 20,000 Englishmen airmed tae the teeth an led bi a chiel caad Sir Jhone De Bermingham a notar loon. Weel the native Irish wi scant thoucht meltit awa like snaa aaf a dyke, bit whit dis thet daft chiel Edward dae? raisin his sword an gein it a sweep roon cries follow me men, an wi his thirty muntit men gaes gallopin doon the brae like some gommeril taen wi a brain storm, The Gallowa men on fit hadny gotten faur on there wey effter him whun even they could see it wid be like cuttin their ane thrapples tae gyang ony further. Say there they ur stottin aboot like a heedless corps whun oot o the thrang  steps ane Jock Tamson an he wi a voice like a foghorn gars them tak heed gin they didna move richt smert back the wye they hid cum they wid gang the wye o their faaen leader, naethin like self preservation tae spur a man on an ye cun be gye share they didna count the thistles on their wye back tae Carrickfergus an wi a guid win they wur nae lang in reachin Turnberry an sae hame wi very few missin et the hinneren.

Noo fur generations efter whun fermers an herds fae Gallowa met et mairkets or fairs they wad drink a toast, an the toast they drank wis:--We”re aa Jock Tamsons Bairns”----aye an ye ken it wis literally true, fir hud it nae been for Jock Tamson there widna hae been an indigenous buddy in Gallowa this day.

Meanwhile Sir Jhone De Bermingham examinin the bodies o the thirty slayn horsemen, discoverin thet yin wis the corps o yin o the hated Bruces, cuts aaf the heid pits it in a pyock an maks speedy arrangements tae gyang ouwre tae Lunnon wi his trophy.

Arrivin in the kings chaumer he coups the heid oot o its pyock ontae a table fornent the king an sez, whit dae ye think o that my liege, {this bein that English king wha cam tae a painfu en et the hauns o his ain courtiers, a rid hot poker bein involved.}  man, man sez the king aa hae lang soucht the sicht aa see noo.  Weel as a reward he fills the empty pyock wi goud, dubs Sir Jhone on the shooder an sez arise Sir Jhone, Earl O Meath wi the braid lans o Meath tae you an yours fir as lang as grass grouws an waater rins.

Back hame in Irelan ye wad hae thoucht thit the new Earl wid hae hid nae a care in this worl, bit ye ken things in this life dinnae aye turn oot as ye plan or expect.

Nae lang efter the new Earl tuik possession o his new launs, did his faimily no aa gyang native an they refused to speak English an wid only communicate in Erse which garred the faithers blood pressure rise tae sic a level thit he sune deit. Efter that did they no chinge the faimily name tae McJorris an they leived as sic tae the middle o the 18th.C. whun they decided tae emigrate, an whaur did they emigrate tae---why Gallowa, an there they thoucht the name McJorris a wee bit outlandish even fur they pairts an they chinged their name again—this time tae McGeorge an this name is still quite common in Gallowa even untae this day.         


• Wikipedia entry for S.R. Crockett is here

• You can join the S.R. Crockett Society for free here, which will give you access to regular updates and stories.