Tuesday, March 28, 2023

CS Lewis on identity:

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Moriah Formica covers Skid Row's "I Remember You" (1989)

YouTube offered me this recently thanks to its clever algorithms. I like dipping back into the music of my late teens and early 20s - when this first came out in January 1989 I had just turned 17, in Lower Sixth, trying to figure out the future. It's one of those that nearly wore out my Walkman on various bus journeys, and one I learned to play on my first guitar. It was originally by New Jersey rock band Skid Row; it's one of the songs that Norah Jones said made her want to be a musician. This is a really impressive live cover, virtually note-perfect on both the guitar and the soaring, searing, soothing vocal. 

"Wished ever after would be like this".

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

"the blood of the victims streamed under my feet" - Archibald Hamilton Rowan in Paris in 1794, and a new take on "Liberté Egalité Fraternité"

Following on from a previous post, I've been reflecting on a few of Archibald Hamilton Rowan's descriptions. AHR had been tried and found guilty of 'seditious libel' in a court in Dublin. In his closing remarks the judge, Mr Justice Boyd, claimed that AHR's objectives were to bring to Ireland something akin to the carnage of post-Revolution France  – "All are summoned to arms, to introduce a wild system of anarchy, such as now involves France in the horrors of civil war, and deluges the country with blood".

• 1794 Prison sentence, and escape to France
AHR was sentenced to a fine of £500 and two years imprisonment on 29 January 1794; various letters and correspondences from his cell are in his autobiography.

But he escaped from Ireland in May and sailed from the small port of Rush just north of Dublin, landed in France at Roscoff, and headed south to Brest where he was held in a military hospital "which had all the appearance of a prison", on suspicion of being a spy from England. 

• Psalm 23
In Brest, an English sailor called Rodwell gave him a copy of a commentary on the Psalms, entitled An Exposition of the Twenty Third Psalm, Full of Comfortable and Wholesome Doctrine, by the Anglican Bishop John Hooper, printed in 1562 (on Google Books here). Hooper had been a Protestant martyr, burned at the stake in Gloucester in 1555. Hamilton Rowan later wrote that the volume had "afforded me more pleasure than I ever had before received from a single book".

Soon AHR personally witnessed many examples of those alleged "horrors of civil war". His account of what he witnessed from his hospital block window is pretty gruesome –

"one side of the building in which I was confined was occupied by the revolutionary tribunals, and we daily saw from our windows, on the opposite side, waggon-loads of prisoners brought for trial. Those who were condemned returned immediately in the same vehicle to the guillotine, with their arms pinioned and their necks bare, while the crowds were shouting "Vive la Republique." 

• Summer in Paris
AHR was soon released from Brest and was sent with a Mr Sullivan to Paris, via Orleans, where the French leader Robespierre was being celebrated in a public display of cannons, musketry and music "while the multitude responded Vive Robespierre!"

The next day, AHR briefly met with Robespierre in Paris. However, soon after, Robespierre himself was seized and executed, on 27 July 1794. AHR's autobiography tells of the aftermath:  

'... On my first arrival in Paris, there was an immense number of houses on which was painted in large letters, "Propriete Nationale a vendre" and on almost all others, the words "Liberté Egalité Fraternité, ou la mort.” 
After the death of Robespierre, the three last words were decided to be terrorist, and were expunged every where…'
'... In two days after the execution of Robespierre, the whole commune of Paris, consisting of about sixty persons, were guillotined in less than one hour and a half, in the Place de la Revolution ; and though I was standing above a hundred paces from the place of execution, the blood of the victims streamed under my feet. What surprised me was, as each head fell into the basket, the cry of the people was no other than a repetition of "A bas le Maximum!" which was caused by the privations imposed on the populace ...'
'... I  did  not  see  Robespierre going  to  the  guillotine ;  but  have  been  informed that  the  crowd  which  attended  the  waggon  in  which he  passed  on  that  occasion,  went  so  far  as  to thrust  their  umbrellas  into  the  waggon  against  his body. 
From  this  period  every  thing  bore  a  new  face. Marat's  bust  and  the bonnet  de  liberté  were  torn down  and  trampled  upon  in  the  theatres  and  other public  places...  
Being  much  discontented  with  the  distracted state  of  Paris,  where  they  were  too  busy  with  their own  intestine  divisions  to  think  of  assisting  Ireland, or  of  any  thing  beneficial  to  others ... I solicited ... to embark for the United States of America...'

• 1795 Escape to America
"They  were  too  busy  with  their own  intestine  divisions  to  think  of  assisting  Ireland". After less than a year in France, on 17 April 1795 AHR left for America, under the false name 'James Thomson', and arrived in Philadelphia on 18th July.

• 1806 Return to Ireland
He stayed in America until 1800, then travelled to Germany, and eventually came back to Ireland in 1806 upon the death of his father. AHR "chose as his chief place of residence the ancient castle of Killileagh, on his own patrimonial estate in the county of Down".

His autobiography is important reading on the complexity of the period.


On a similar note, Bill Maher touched on the "purifying elixir" of revolutions in this recent, characteristically irreverent, monologue. Human nature and the pursuit of power – If only *I* was in charge, things would be soooooo much better...

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

"For a wheen o days we sat waitin' the word ... But no French ships sailed into Cloughey Bay" - from 1756 to 1798

Cloughey Bay is a great beach, as the video above shows. My grandfather, William Thompson (06.04.1901–07.04.1957), wrote homespun poems and sold them door-to-door to raise funds for a new lifeboat at Cloughey (here's a blog I created years ago about him).  The Constance Calverley was launched in August 1952. The lifeboat station closed in 1965 and was eventually converted into a dwelling house. William's son – my dad – has done some building work on the house over the years for the various people who have owned it since then.

• A shipwreck from 1797: L'Amitié cargo of arms for Rebellion
So, many years ago when I first heard the old 1798 Rebellion era poem The Man From God Knows Where being recited, with its reference to Cloughey Bay, it caught my interest. It was written in 1918 by Bangor woman Florence Mary Addy, later Wilson, who was one of a cadré of Bangor-based creative writers of that era, like the Milligans and Lyttles, who I think it is fair to say had Irish nationalist inclinations (see previous post here). Intellectuals and creatives are drawn to being different. Here is her collection in which it was published.

Historically, the French ship L'Amitié was expected to land somewhere along the east coast of County Down, carrying a supply of arms – but she ran aground and sank, north of Ardglass, on 7 April 1797, near to what has ever since been known as Guns Island. The wreck was still in evidence there in the 1970s, with some salvage recovered by divers.

However, the sandy beaches of the drone video aren't the full picture. Even the name Cloughey comes from the Gaeilge 'an Cloch' meaning 'a stone'.

I'm not 100% sure that L'Amitié was actually bound for Cloughey Bay given just how treacherous the rocks along the shore there are. There are newspaper reports of 'wreckers' at Kearney Point luring ships onto the rocks in order to loot their washed-up cargoes. You wouldn't want to land along there without lots of local intelligence, or maybe to rendezvous offshore with smaller local boats. That's why there was a need for offshore lighthouses, on the North Rock and the South Rock, and a lifeboat.

So maybe the poem reference to Cloughey Bay is a bit of storytellers creative licence, but I am open to further information on this if any readers can affirm. Here is a detail from the famous Dr Kennedy's 1755 A Map of the County of Down with a Chart of ye Sea Coast done from Actual Surveys and Accurate Observations:

But the rocks on the coastline weren't the only things that were treacherous...

• A list from 1756: "our most treacherous enemies the French"
This apparent pro-French alliance on the Ards Peninsula was a volte-face from 40 years earlier - on 13 April 1756 the Belfast News-Letter published A petition from the inhabitants of Ballywalter and Ballyhalbert in response to the threat of danger from "our most treacherous enemies the French", with a list of 78 men who had put their names to it. The next month the French would invade Minorca, beginning the Seven Years War – so Millisle was probably on their list too (Wikipedia here).

No Thompsons are named on the petition, but they weren't living at Ballyhalbert or Ballywalter anyway. It was around the 1750s when my Ayrshire Thompson ancestors came across the narrow sea and settled at Ratallagh (marked on the map as Retalla) at the north end of Cloughey Bay. 

Of course, France had undergone its revolution within those decades between 1756 and 1797. The world had changed. But, as ever, it's important to not presume top-down concepts of nationality. Bottom-up community is where the authentic and interesting is to be found, and where apparent paradoxes can be better explained.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The brothers Fitzgerald – simultaneously Irish Establishment and also Irish Rebellion of 1798 – and representing Ireland in the new Union Flag of 1801

The Fitzgeralds had been in Ireland since 1169, Anglo-Norman in origin, who prior to that had come to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. In Ireland, they had been Earls of Kildare from 1316 onwards, the era of the Edward and Robert The Bruce campaign, with the Fitzgeralds fighting against the Scots.

450 years later, James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare, became the 1st Duke of Leinster in 1766.

James and his wife Emily Lennox (who was English, of Scottish and also Royal ancestry) were among Ireland's uppermost social establishment élite. Emily features in the writing of  Stella Tillyard, whose Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox 1740-1832 included Emily and became a BBC television series (Wikipedia here). Here's a portrait of Emily by Scottish artist Allan Ramsay:

James and Emily had 18 children – including two very contrasting boys.

• Their oldest surviving son, William Robert Fitzgerald (1749-1804), seems to have been the ultimate establishment man. William's entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography describes him as 'somewhat pompous'. He was chosen as Grand Master of the freemasonic Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1770, and on 5 Feb 1783 he was one of the knights of the new Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick - which took upon itself his family crest, the red saltire 'Arms of Fitzgerald' as its insignia. Here he is:

• William had 'procured' the election to Parliament of his 14 years younger brother, James and Emily's fifth son, Edward Fitzgerald (1763–1798), in 1790. Two years later Edward became sympathetic to the French Revolution and also supported the new Society of United Irishmen, which sought to reform, but later to overthrow, Ireland's establishment of which his own family was such a key part. Edward eventually became a member of the United Irishmen in 1796. He was arrested in the early stages of their 1798 Rebellion, but died in Newgate Prison as a result of wounds sustained during that arrest.

(Stella Tillyard's biography of Edward Fitzgerald, entitled Citizen Lord, was published in 1998 on the 200th anniversary of his death. Edward's life story was written by Thomas Moore, and also by Patrick Byrne in his 1955 book Lord Edward Fitzgerald). Here's Edward:

• In the aftermath of the failure of the 1798 Rebellion, on 31 December 1800 the Parliament of Ireland was abolished, and Ireland was governed from a new, combined, Parliament in London from 1st January 1801. The 'Arms of Fitzgerald' were incorporated into a new flag for the new administration, to represent the inclusion of Ireland within the previous design which had visually merged the pre-existing historic flags of both England and Scotland since 1606 (designed for the 'Union of the Crowns' when King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England).

• A red flag with a white shield and red saltire might have been used by the Dublin Volunteers in the 1700s. There is a glimpse of this in a detail of the famous Francis Wheatley painting The Dublin Volunteers on College Green, 4th November 1779, said to be a commemoration of the birthday of King William III, and gathered around the statue of William which was there at that time.

Contemporary prints of the painting include a caption 'To His Grace William Robert Fitzgerald, Duke of Leinster & of the Kingdom of Ireland...' and the Fitzgerald coat of arms. He was a Colonel in the regiment.

• Coincidentally, the family crest of the boys' mother Emily Lennox Fitzgerald (whose roots trace back to the Lennox of Woodhead clan of Dumbartonshire in Scotland) was the very same design - a red saltire, sometimes with 'engrailed' lines, and also often depicted with four roses in the white quadrants. The badge of local football team Clydebank FC is based on it, but with four different locally-relevant emblems where the roses usually appear.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

There is no 'east west' dimension...

... apart from set-piece window-dressing things that make some politicians and some civil servants look and feel important, but which actually deliver nothing, with no organisational infrastructure or resourcing to make things happen within communities and for normal folk. "Strand Three" has no substance. In a previous life I used to get invited to 'important' meetings at which the press releases were approved before the meeting had even begun.

Out of the blue I was contacted recently by one of those. Avoid. It is people and community that matter.

With the current affairs media anticipating a 'deal' ahead of the 25th anniversary, maybe, after a generation of (this is a weird trendy internet politics word) nothingburger, it's time to actually deliver something on an east west basis? I'll not hold my breath.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Alan Rickman

Thankful to Anne for posting this on her Facebook this week. Everyone loves stories. And therefore the mirror to this is, if you let your stories degrade or fade away, so will your community and your humanity.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Archibald Hamilton Rowan's autobiography, 1840 - and the aftermath of the French Revolution

This is a fascinating source (online here) of first-hand accounts of the events prior to, during, and after, the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland. Archibald Hamilton Rowan (1757–1834) was the son of Gawen Hamilton of Killyleagh Castle in County Down, and Jane Rowan, but AHR was born and raised among the "privileged elite" of London society.

AHR had never set foot in Ireland until 1784, aged 27, after some years of living with his mother in Paris. AHR bought an estate at Rathcoffy in County Kildare just west of Dublin - only about 7 miles away from palatial Carton House, (which today is a luxury 5 star hotel and resort, where Real Madrid have stayed - website here).

Carton House was the family seat of AHR's contemporary and fellow United Irishman, Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798), who was one of the sons of the 1st Duke of Leinster, and whom AHR described in his autobiography as a 'high-spirited young nobleman'.

The French Revolution began in May 1789 and AHR was back in France in early 1794. His accounts of what he witnessed and experienced there are illuminating. The high-minded revolutionary ideals had become La Terreur, bloodletting and anarchy, as power shifted from side to side. Here's one example.

"It  now  became  a  measure  of  personal  safety,  to be  able  to  declare  that  one  had  been  imprisoned during  Robespierre's  tyranny.  It  was  dangerous even  to  appear  like  a  Jacobin,  as  several  persons were  murdered  in  the  streets,  by  La  Jeunesse Parisienne,  merely  because  they  wore  long  coats and  short  hair."

AHR left France for America in June 1795, under the pseudonym of James Thomson, and eventually came back to Europe in 1800, and then to Killyleagh in 1806 on the death of his father.

I've been meaning to read this for a very long time, and it's proving a rich source.
More thoughts to follow.

BBC History Extra: The Story of the French Revolution through 7 severed heads (click here)

Monday, February 06, 2023

Address to a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer

I penned these lines on the sofa on Burns Night, just for fun. With apologies to Rabbie...

Fair fa' your honest, stripey paper!
Great chieftain o the caramel wafer!
Aboon them a! There is nane greater,
Tae hae wi tay,
The minimum advised for every cratur's
Aroon five a day

Och an whun ye peel awa the wrapper
The rid an gold looks brave an dapper
If the chocolate’s saft it’ll mak a clabber
All ower yer fingèrs
Sure yer mooth’s near trippin’ ye wi slabbers
Nae chance tae lingèr

But tak yer time noo, crisp an sweet
A blissful peace sae near complete
A near-addiction this Tunnocks treat
Ye cannae share
Ye’ll hiddae jouk tae the shap doon the street
For twa packets mair

Plenty of room for improvement...

Friday, December 09, 2022

"Just because, that's why"

It's the worldwide slogan of disastrously bad parenting, when an adult is unable or unwilling to explain to their child why things are a certain way. The demand for obedience, with no explanation, and therefore stimulating no understanding within the child's mind. And, for the parent, the exercise of explaining why you think something, or why you do something, is a great way to self-examine, to re-assess, and to adapt.

Outside of parenting, it's also an attitude that has come up in some reflective conversations with friends in recent months, who have moved away from the religious, political and cultural contexts of their upbringing, which was often due to the failure of the previous generation to explain why.

When an inquiring mind asks an older practitioner 'why do we do this?' and the only reply is akin to 'just because, that's why', then that inquiring mind soon asks 'why do I do this?'. And soon will stop doing it.

And so, in my own narrow personal context here in Northern Ireland, I know many people from a generation of Christians whose youthful years were caught up in the busy activities of evangelical sub-culture but who can't today explain the Gospel, and perhaps have never actually believed it. Their hands were busy as that was the price of continued participation within that sub-culture. But their heads, and hearts, had never received or believed it for themselves. And so they have stopped.

The 2021 census results caused some excitement in the Northern Ireland media, and evangelical circles, with the concentration of 'no religion' in what would be regarded as traditionally culturally majority Protestant population areas, and all of the denominations have dropped in numbers. Personally I'm not overly concerned about this apparent reduction of the illusion of 'social influence' – because faith should be supernatural, individual and voluntary. A verse of a hymn by Joseph Hart (1711-1768) helps explain:

What comfort can a Saviour bring to those who never felt their woe?
A sinner is a sacred thing; the Holy Ghost hath made him so.
New life from Him we must receive, before for sin we rightly grieve.

It was once socially advantageous to participate in church culture. That is no longer the case, and in fact it might be counterproductive. The old nominalism is disappearing fast. 'My kingdom is not of this world', etc.

To take two topical NI subjects which have come up in these conversations, I know unionists who can't explain why the United Kingdom is Northern Ireland's best option. I know people who enjoy marking the events of 1688-90 but who can't explain why those are relevant today beyond the pageantry and commemorations. 

"Just because, that's why" is a verbalisation of thoughtlessness. It is no wonder that, when presented with such shallowness, those who want to think decide that there is no depth and drift away, or look elsewhere for meaning and purpose.

As Simon Sinek says in the video above, whatever you're trying to communicate to others, you need to start with why? And if you can't do that, then go away and figure it out. Now.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Omnipresence - by one guitar and two voices

Monday, October 24, 2022

Abraham Lincoln's father and the emigrant United Irishmen in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

 Here is Thomas Lincoln (1779–1857). More to follow.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

'Come and See' - Belarus WW2 movie by Elem Klimov, 1985

This horrific and infamous scene, from the harrowing movie Come and See by Russian filmmaker Elem Klimov (Wikipedia here) will have echoes for those in Ireland who know the full story of the 1798 Rebellion here - of the burning of the McKee family in their home at Carrickcessna near Saintfield, and of the burning of around 200 people in Scullabogue barn in Wexford (see previous post here). Klimov had personal experience of World War Two, and Belarus is said to have had over 2 million deaths during the war, over 25% of its population. At the end of the movie a caption says that during the war “628 Belorussian villages were burnt to the ground with all their inhabitants.” Utter barbarity. 

I can't say I would recommend Come and See as an experience, but it a remarkable and utterly horrifying movie, acclaimed as a 'masterpiece' since its release in 1985. It was remastered and rereleased in 2020. Here is a review on YouTube. Its hand-held steadicam camerawork gives it a revolting nauseating realism. 'Soldiers' drunk on whisky, power, and hate. Be very careful of viewing it.

Whatever the era, whatever the ideology, whatever the circumstances, the human heart never changes. As Scottish author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson knew, every one of us is both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see." - Revelation 6:7-8 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Billy Strings & his Father - "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul?"


The Monroe Brothers recorded this in the 1930s, a classic Appalachian 'brother duet'. Outstanding version by Billy Strings. A taster of his forthcoming album, Me & Dad.

And here's a rough version my brother and I recorded at the kitchen table on an iPhone about 12 years ago, with just one guitar, on our old Soundcloud page. Trying to find those primitive harmonies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Part Four – back to Meagher's tricolour and Red Hand in 1848

There are lots of primary sources for how Meagher had designed his version of the tricolour, which, as per previous post, was not in fact the first such design. Here's one from 1848, showing that the inclusion of the Red Hand on the white third was for him a critical component in communicating the message of his flag, and with a harpist playing the melody The Battle of the Boyne.

Just a few weeks ago, at the Northern Ireland v Kosovo international football match, just as Josh Mageniss struck the winning goal, I spotted a Northern Ireland supporters club home-made flag which was a blue saltire on a green field –

Symbols are fascinating. People have some kind of primal need to create them. And over time, their stories can get distorted and misunderstood.