Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Whore of Babylon

...then again, when the European Parliament depicted itself on a series of stamps in 1992 as a woman riding a beast on seven hills/waves, it looked almost identical to the symbolism of Revelation chapter 17. Hmmmm...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rearranging the Mental Furniture

It's funny how much we just accept as we're growing up. We don't question, we just absorb and accept. It can be a long time before we start to ask questions.

One of the things I soaked up a lot of when I was wee was "dispensationalist theology". What that means in simpler language is a particular type of "Bible prophecy". The Bible certainly has major prophetic elements to it, there's no doubting that. Events were predicted in Scripture which were clearly fulfilled in future years. (For example, some claim that over 1000 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus himself.)

However, in the mid 1800s when the "Plymouth Brethren" were setting themselves up, they fully embraced a more sensationalist approach, which put a whole new interpretation on things. They made specific claims about future events, invented the term "rapture", predicted future world empires, re-wrote the whole the identity of Antichrist etc etc.

These powerful and almost magnetic ideas then filtered into most evangelical churches on both side of the Atlantic, which then in turn spawned a whole raft of fictional books like "In The Twinkling of an Eye" , and more recently the mulit-million dollar"Left Behind" series. Dispensationalism is today a very big money spinner. My e-Friend (we've never met in person) Crawford Gribben has a great book on the subject called "Rapture Fiction" which I can thoroughly recommend.

So this Brethren world was the environment that I, and many tens of thousands of Ulster believers, was brought up in. I was enthralled. Preachers like Hedley Murphy held me spellbound for years between the ages of probably 8 and 14. Dispensational prophecy was preached solidly in Gospel Halls up and down the country. Preachers would arrive with massive home made hand painted wallcharts which were often too long for the small buildings they were preaching in, outlining the history of the world from Genesis to Revelation. Theologically these tens of thousands of Ulster believers are rock solid on pretty much everything - except prophecy. We were waiting with baited breath for the breaking news report that Henry Kissinger, then Gorbachev, then Saddam, and maybe now even Tony Blair, has revealed himself as Antichrist.

Remember, that until the mid 1800s these ideas didn't exist, and biblical Christianity had survived for 1800+ years without them. Make no mistake, Jesus is coming back. But He might not be coming in the way many have been (mis)led to expect. Perhaps the whole thing is a distraction - making some Christians obsess about current affairs and trying to spot the prophetic fulfilments. Perhaps it also gives some Christians the glib opt-out of "why should I worry about the state the world is in? I'm going to be raptured out of it anyway"

So, over recent years I've begun to question these things that I soaked up. As another friend put it, I'm "rearranging my mental furniture". Any advice on good reading material from you sound Reformed believers out there would be much appreciated and will be added to my Christmas list.

(Robin Fairbairn has already suggested "Windows on the World" by Liam Goligher, and "The Momentous Event" by WJ Greer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"...not in device or creed..."

This hymn's been rattling about in my head a lot recently.

(It's number 332 in the "Redemption Songs" hymnbook. The music was arranged by William James Kirkpatrick - his name's a dead giveaway that he was more than likely of Ulster descent. And he was born in Duncannon, Pennsylvania.)

As a struggling believer, trying to live each day as I should but making a mess of it and falling far far short most all of the time, I often wonder about doing "enough". Praying "enough". Giving "enough". Helping "enough". Witnessing "enough".

But no matter what I do - no matter what any believer does - it's never enough. Because "enough" would imply that what Christ did for us has limits and can in some way be measured... and therefore could perhaps be repaid through our own actions and works.

"Enough" only works in one context, and the chorus of the hymn explains its magnificent simplicity:

"I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me..."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Xmas in Niatirb

A Lost Chapter from Herodotus
by C. S. Lewis

"...And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and the north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, and though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from other barbarians who occupy the north- western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas , and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card . But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs.

And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated. Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas.


But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, It is, O Stranger, a racket ; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in..."

Thomas Given

Look weel, though the lang-necket geese o' creation
In envy an' malice may hiss thy dispraise,
Sic acts only prove that beyont demonstration
Their hearts are a leprosy under their claes.

Look weel, for the grave will soon swallow the bubble
What then, after that? ah, there comes the quest,
Will records o' glory or mountains o' trouble
Secure them a passport wha enters His Rest?

I'm pretty sure this is from a book called "Poems From College and Country by Three Brothers" published in 1900. Thomas and his two brothers Patrick and Samuel Fee were from Cullybackey.

Not Another Flag

There are easily dozens of different flag designs on lampposts here every summer, claiming all sorts of allegiances and territories. Here's another one, from the cover of a great wee book I bought lately on eBay. It was published in Virginia in 1905 and has small chapters summarising the various periods of the Covenanter story between 1638 and 1688.

The Covenanters had a selection of flags, many of which still survive in museums. They tend to be based on the Saltire or Cross of St Andrew, with the message "For Christ's Crown and Covenant" and sometimes include pictures of the Bible and other messages too.

This wee book's final chapter is called "Victory! The Revolution of 1688". It says "...they boldly declared for William of Orange, and were the first volunteers in all Britain who appeared in arms, for the glorious Revolution of 1688, by which the nation gained those liberties which have been its boast to this day. All honour to the brave Cameronians. They did not wait to see which would be the stronger side, but proclaimed at once, to all the world, that they were for William, the Protestant King..."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Looking for a Christmas present idea?

Here's a great way to spend a tenner. "The Grassmarket Butchers / Tales of the Covenanters" is a cd of 13 songs, all written by contemporary Scottish singer/songwriters. My good friend David Scott tipped me off about this CD a few months ago, so I ordered a few copies and have hardly stopped playing it since. Really good stuff, mostly acoustic, mostly male vocalists. It was produced by the New Makars Trust in 2005.

The songs I like best on it are "John Craig the Covenanter" and "The Covenanter Soldier", both performed by Billy Stewart, who is part of a band called Haggerdash

Here's a wee taster:


The Covenanter Soldier

Yestre’en A was named outlaw, an A fought against the King
My wife an weans condemn’d wi’ me, for the praises we did sing
Four little words we’ll never say, we’ll no say them at all
An A’ll gie ma life for ma beliefs, against King Cherlie’s law

A’m a Covenanter soldier an A haud tae ma beliefs
Against dragoons an lairds sae fine who are little mair than thieves
But though A was an outlaw when A stairted on this fight
A noo stand for the King sir, on the side of truth and right

At Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge we tried tae make a stand
If they caught us they would hang us, an cut aff oor heids and hauns
Wi' ministers tae lead us and despite the prayers we prayed
Many died in battle through the errors that were made


It was the Graham o' Claiverhoose who hurried through oor land
Cuttin doon the common folk, he’d blood upon his hands
But little did he know then that his line was runnin thin
For soon the Covenanters would be comin efter him!


When William and Mary were crowned the King and Queen
The Kirk it was pit back tae the way that it had been
But Claiverhoose he went an raised an army frae the North
An this time for the King again we had tae prove oor worth


We met at Killiecrankie and ootnumbered though he was
Dundee he was experienced fae fightin many wars
But even though he won the day, history will recall
James Stuart’s plans were thwarted when Claiverhoose did fall


Ma fightin days are over and A’m back home once again
I’ve been outlaw and King’s soldier, I’ve seen my share of pain
But if my life and my beliefs are once more under threat
Then rest assured that once more I’ll defend them tae the death


You can order the cd here

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Covenanters' Scaffold Hymn

This song is from the old Seth Sykes hymnbook "Songs of Salvation" from the 1920s - the same hymnbook as "My Sins are A' Awa". Sykes is best know for writing "Thank You Lord for Saving My Soul". This old song is just another example of how powerful the Covenanter experience has been to the Scottish psyche over the centuries since 1638.

Click on the graphic to get full-size music notation. Let me know if the tune's any good!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Story of Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter – Part Two

And now for Part Two...

The Bishops “Depose” the Presbyterians
A new bishop, Henry Leslie, arrived in Ulster in July 1636. He was opposed to Presbyterianism and so he summoned the young Rev James Hamilton and four other ministers to meet with him in private, to discuss their refusal to use the Service Book of the Established Church. Leslie couldn’t persuade them to dilute their principles.

So on 10th August 1636 he summoned them to a meeting in Belfast, where he put it to them that he would hold a public meeting the next day in the church in Belfast. Perhaps to Leslie’s surprise, the five ministers accepted the challenge.

They selected the young Hamilton to speak on their behalf. He stood before the gathered audience of nobility, gentry and clergy, and spoke with “great readiness and acuteness” during a debate which lasted several hours. Bishops Leslie and Bramhall, frustrated, stopped the meeting and adjourned - two days later on Friday 12th August 1636, the bishops pronounced against the five Presbyterian ministers and deposed them from their churches.

It was no surprise to Hamilton - the Ulster-Scots had seen this coming for some time. In fact, over two years before, some of the Ulster-Scots Presbyterian ministers had been suspended from their churches, and so they wrote to the Puritans in Massachussetts. Rev John Livingstone wrote to John Winthrop, Governor of Massachussetts, in July 1634, to find out about the possibility of the Ulster-Scots being welcomed in the New World; Winthrop’s son visited Ulster in January 1635 and encouraged the Presbyterians to come to America.

A few days later ALL of the Presbyterian ministers in Ulster were deposed.

The “Eagle Wing”
They had already been planning to sail to America. The pressure on them was now so great that on 9th September 1636, Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter, Rev Robert Blair of Bangor, Rev John Livingstone of Killinchy and Rev John McClelland of Newtownards set sail from Groomsport with 136 of their congregation. Also on board was John Stewart, the Provost of Ayr.

As all of you know, “Eagle Wing” didn’t make it. She returned home, having sailed about 1200 miles across the Atlantic and 1200 miles back, on 3rd November 1636. Defeated and scorned by the Bishops, the four ministers went back to Scotland.

The Return to Scotland
Rev James Hamilton moved to Dumfries where he was minister for ten years from 1636 – 1646… a time when Scotland rose up in rebellion against the King on 28 February 1638 with “Scotland’s National Covenant”. You know the rest!

From September to December 1642, Hamilton and Blair were back in Ulster, preaching among the Ulster-Scots and the Scottish army regiments. Then, on 26th March 1644, Hamilton (along with three other Scottish Presbyterian ministers) was sent back to Ulster by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to administer the Covenant. In a letter from the General Assembly to the officers of the Scottish Covenanter Army in Ulster, they wrote:

“…As our cause is one that has common friends and enemies, so we must, with God's assistance, stand and fall together ; and, for our firmer union, the Commissioners of the Assemblie, and we, have sent Master James Hamilton (a faithful minister in this kingdom, and whose integritie is well known in Ireland) with the Covenant to be sworne by the officers and souldiours of our army, and all such others of the British as shall be willing to enter into this Covenant…”

Hamilton and his three colleagues (Rev Adair from Ayr / Rev Henderson from Dalry / Rev Weir of Dalserf) arrived at Carrickfergus by the end of March and visited almost every town in Ulster – Belfast, Comber, Newtownards, Bangor, Holywood, Ballywalter, Broadisland, Derry, Raphoe, Ramelton, Ballyshannon and Enniskillen – administering the Covenant to the people and holding national days of repentance for those who had rejected the Covenant previously and had taken the “Black Oath”. Hamilton spent much of his time back at Ballywalter, renewing friendships with the kinsfolk he had been forced to leave behind 8 years before.

Kidnap, Prayer and Praises in Prison
Their Covenanting mission was completed. On Sunday 2nd July 1644, having preached in Donaghadee that morning on Hebrews chapter 12, Hamilton and Weir were sailing back to Scotland when the ship was captured by supporters of Sir Alexander MacDonnell (the Lieutenant General of Montrose’s anti-Covenanter army). They were held hostage for almost a year in Mingary Castle on the peninsula of Ardnamurchan, near Tobermory (shown above).

Their imprisonment is described in The Hamilton Manuscripts as:

“…They got not liberty jointly to exercise worship together; but every one did as he best might, apart ; only they had now and then conferences of what they read, for their Bibles were spared to them by the good providence of God And, also, when the frigate was pursuing any bark or boat, the said prisoners, being all closed under decks and alone, took opportunity, to pray together. Upon the said 15th of July, the said prisoners were carried from the said frigate to Castle Meagrie, and were all put in one chamber together. Every day twice, the said Mr. Weir and Mr. James Hamilton, did both of them expound a psalm or a part of a psalm, the one praying before, and the other after the said exposition. This they did in the hearing of those other fellow-prisoners, which were above-named, so long as they were together, which was till the twenty-third of September, in which time they had proceeded in expounding to the eighty-first psalm...

...No prospect of relief appeared, and their spirits began to despond; but the consoling truths of that Gospel, which they had so faithfully preached sustained them, and "though their flesh, and their heart failed, God was the strength of their heart, and their portion for ever…”

From the Tower of London to Bangor
Weir died on 16th October, but Hamilton was eventually freed on May 2nd 1645 in an exchange of prisoners and lived out the rest of his life ministering in Dumfries and Edinburgh. He was appointed by the General Assembly as one of the King’s chaplains when he was again taken prisoner – this time at Eliot in Angus, north Scotland, by General Monck’s army. Hamilton was then moved to the Tower of London where Oliver Cromwell held him captive for two years before releasing him.

In 1648 Hamilton and James Guthrie were tasked by the General Assembly to draw up an account of the duties of church elders (Guthrie was hanged and beheaded in Edinburgh in 1661).

Hamilton returned to Edinburgh, and made at least one journey back to Ulster – he presided as Moderator in a meeting of the Presbytery of Bangor on 25th May 1664. He died in Edinburgh on 10 March 1666, leaving 5 children, one of whom – Archibald Hamilton – became minister at Benburb and Killinchy. His daughter Jane married another Archibald Hamilton, minister of Bangor.

His mentor, Rev Robert Blair, died on 27th August of the same year, aged 73.

His Character and Legacy
Hamilton’s cousin William, the author of The Hamilton Manuscripts, wrote:

“…I shall not insist on his character, only as it is evident he was, in providence, from his infancy to his grave, exposed to many afflictions and temptations, so he was helped to carry with great steadfastness, wisdom, and patience—yea, cheerfulness. He was naturally of an excellent temperament, both of body and mind; always industrious, and facetious in all the several provinces or scenes of his life; he was delightful to his friends and acquaintances—yea, beloved of his enemies. Much might be say'd of his boldness for truth, and tenaciousness in everything of moment ; tho' he naturally, and in his own things, amongst the mildest and * sort of men, he was rich in all parts of learning which might contribute for the usefulness and ornament of his ministry; he was intelligent, yea, judicious in all civil and state affairs ; he was great in esteem with the greatest and wisest ; as he was highly valued by the meanest sort of his acquaintances, so he was denied to the favours of great men and popular [assemblies.] His ambition was to be spotless and usefull ; his covetings, to have acceptance with God, the love of his friends, and peace in his own conscience ; he lived always frugally ; bestowed what at any time he had gathered upon his children (who were all married long before his death); was very open-handed to the poor ; and died even with the world…”

I don’t know for sure where Rev James Hamilton was buried - it may have been Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh. I hope he has a memorial or headstone somewhere in Scotland. After all, it’s not a bad life’s work… for a Ballywalter man!

The Story of Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter – Part One

The year was 1626. Sir James Hamilton’s estate was by now well established. He arranged for the London cartographer Thomas Raven to draw a set of maps charting Hamilton’s lands (they’re on permanent display at North Down Heritage Centre in Bangor. The Heritage Centre is holding a lunchtime lecture about the Raven maps on Tuesday 4th December.)

Ballywalter needs a minister!
The new Scottish settlers had by now more or less taken over east Ulster and had done a fine job in farming the land, building villages, homes and harbours. But the ancient church buildings (small by today's standards, stone and originally built by the Anglo-Normans in the 1200s) had been confiscated by King Henry VIII around 1540 and were then burned down in the 1570s by Sir Brian O’Neill.

Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery (by this time they were Viscount Clandeboye and Viscount of the Great Ardes respectively) began a remarkable series of church restoration projects when they arrived in 1606, and the coastal village of Ballywalter was next on the list. So the ruined church of “Whitkirk” or Whitechurch was to be rebuilt. The “Low Country” of the Ards Peninsula was to have a restored church - therefore it also needed a minister.

That's today's Whitkirk/Whitechurch in the photos above - set in a flat area of land overlooking the Scottish coast (look closely at the pic). There's not much of the church left today, which is probably what it looked like in 1626 before it was rebuilt. There are even three 13th Century Anglo-Norman graves still there today.

Just about 9 miles up the road in Bangor was Rev Robert Blair, who was described in a biographical booklet recently published by the Presbyterian Historical Society as “the leader of the Ulster-Scots”. Sir James Hamilton was a member of Blair’s church – today known as Bangor Abbey, and lived just up the hill (on the site of what is today the Town Hall).

Young James Hamilton
Hamilton’s nephew and namesake, also James Hamilton, had been brought from Scotland to look after his uncle’s financial and estate management affairs. Young James’ father, Gawin Hamilton, was a merchant in Glasgow and had estates “at the foot of the River Clyde… Holywood and Coleraine”, and was “…very wealthy and great in his station…”

But young James felt compelled towards the church. He attended Bangor Abbey and was an assistant to both Blair and Rev Robert Cunningham of Holywood (from my last post). Young Hamilton continued to develop his spiritual interests in secret.

But then one Sunday, Blair invited young James Hamilton to preach in the Abbey. Adair’s Narrative tells the story:

“…An honest and godly young man, being a daily hearer of Mr. Robert Blair, showed much tenderness and ability. He being then chamberlain to the Lord Claneboy, his uncle, Mr. Blair, and Mr. Cunningham, (the then minister of Hollywood,) put him to private essays of his gifts, and, being satisfied therewith, Mr. Blair invited him to preach publicly at Bangor, in his uncle's hearing, he knowing nothing till he saw him in the pulpit, (they fearing my lord would be loath to part with so faithful a servant).

But, when my lord heard him in public, he put great respect upon him the same day, and, shortly after, entered him unto a charge at Ballywalter, where he was painful, successful, and constant, notwithstanding he had many temptations to follow promotion, but was graciously preserved from these baits, and made a successful instrument in the work of Christ in these parts."

In Rev Robert Blair’s Life he says of young James Hamilton:

"Being satisfied with his gifts, I invited him to preach in my pulpit, in his uncle's hearing, who, till then, knew nothing of this matter ; for, Mr. Hamilton, having been his uncle's chamberlain, and chief manager of his affairs, we were afraid the Viscount would not part with so faithful a servant. But he, having once heard his nephew, did put more respect on him than ever before. Shortly thereafter (about the year 1625.), Mr. Hamilton was ordained (by Bishop Echlin) to the holy ministry at Ballywalter, where he was both diligent and successful, and notwithstanding he had many temptations to espouse episcopacy, and might easily have obtained promotion in that way, yet the Lord did graciously preserve him from being ensnared with those baits, and made him very instrumental in promoting His work."

Rev John Livingston, described Rev Hamilton as "a learned and diligent man," and that "his gift of preaching was rather doctrinal than exhortatory."

Rev James Hamilton has no “formal” memorials. Today, Whitechurch graveyard surrounds the remains of the old church where young Hamilton preached. And just about a year ago, an old building – a former Presbyterian church hall – in Ballywalter main street was being refurbished to become a new community centre (with some small shop units on the ground floor). In cleaning the old building they discovered a datestone high on the front wall. 1626 – a small but important memorial of the arrival of young Hamilton at Whitkirk.

Part Two...
But this is just the start of the story, for young James’s life is a tale of persecution, failed emigration, exile… and then a triumphant return.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

To be like Robert Cunningham

Robert Cunningham was one of the early Presbyterian ministers to arrive in Ulster. He came across from Scotland in 1615 to minister to the people who'd come as part of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement which had begun in May 1606, and was the minister at Holywood. He later married Hugh Montgomery's daughter Isabel. The old church he preached at is shown here - today known as The Old Priory - and it has a graveyard nearby where many of the Bruces are also buried.

Cunningham had one concern in life. Too many people thought highly of him. This worried him greatly.

In The Six Mile Water Revival of 1625 by W D Bailie, it says:

"...Robert Cunningham of Holywood... coming to Ulster, he was ordained by Bishop Echlin in 1615 and appointed curate of Holywood. Livingstone says he was 'the one man to my discerning, of all that ever I saw, who resembled most the meekness of Jesus Christ in all his carriage, and was so far reverenced by all, even the most wicked, that he was oft troubled with that Scripture "Woe to you when all men speak well of you"...'"

Cunningham is the absolute opposite of our outlook today. We pursue popularity and acclaim from others - Cunningham was alarmed by it.

He died at Irvine, Ayrshire, on 29th March 1637, saying on his death bed "...I see Christ..."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Broon's Cookbook

I bought this in Scotland last week and it's magnificent! I got a Broons or Oor Wullie annual every Christmas when I was wee. For those of you who don't know The Broons, they are a traditional old-fashioned Scottish family who've been appearing in a comic strip in The Sunday Post since the 1930s. Lots of great Scots language too. The Broons are to Scotland what TinTin and Asterix are to France.

The cookbook is a masterpiece of graphic design and is full of sweet, buttery, red meat traditional recipes - all great stuff! So it'll be no surprise to you to hear that the Food Police are already complaining about the book, but it's been supported by folk like Gordon Ramsey and Ewan MacGregor.

Nutritionists change their minds every week anyway - last week it was bacon and red meat that will kill us, next week it'll be mayonnaise. And be careful with the peanut butter, it may contain nuts.

One of the opponents of the book, the hilariously named Professor Mike Lean, the Head of Human Nutrition at Glasgow University, says that the recipes are "potentially lethal"!

Well, as Hank Williams said, "You'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"!, so some clootie dumpling's hardly going to make a whole lot of difference anyway. You can buy the book on Amazon here

Twa Mair Oul Sangs (Two more old songs)

Here are two more old tracks from an 8" 78rpm I got recently - once again by Richard Hayward (pictured here). The tracks are "Along the Shores of County Down" and "The Bard of Armagh". The Vocalion record company introduced its "Broadcast" label in July 1927 and continued producing 8" records until June 1931.

Listening to these now, they sound a bit overly sentimental and contrived - especially the spoken narrative in the middle of "Along the Shores of County Down". But there's an innocence about them too - they're from a bygone generation. "The Bard of Armagh" is often said to be the inspiration behind the famous American song "The Streets of Laredo", and uses more or less the same tune.

Hayward was an interesting character. He was a renowned travel writer, theatrical writer, actor and folk singer, with a particular specialism in the speech and customs of Ulster. He recorded from 1925 until his death in a car accident in 1964, making over 100 records, mainly of traditional Ulster and Irish folk music, including a very famous collection of Orange ballads. There's a Richard Hayward Archive in Belfast Central Library.

(this recording hasn't been cleaned with the Bias SoundSoap software just yet, so it's a bit crackly. Mind you, when I get to 80 years old I'll expect to be a bit crackly too!)

Richard Hayward: Along the Shores of County Down / The Bard of Armagh

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(PS - adding audio to your blog is easy.
1. Digitise the track you want
2. Upload it to an online file hosting service (I use Once it's uploaded it will give you a link to the file
3. Get the code for a Flash audio player (I use
4. Paste the link into the right place in the audio player code
5. Hey presto! Instant audio. (make sure not to breach any copyrights)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Alexander Peden, Cumnock, Ayrshire

A few months ago I posted here about the Covenanter hero Alexander Peden and his memorial in Glenwherry, County Antrim. Last weekend I was in Ayrshire and tracked down his grave in Cumnock. It's right at the entrance to the old graveyard (not the new one).

In the same small fenced area of the graveyard are other Covenanter graves - one of which has the following inscription:

"Here lyes David Dun and Simon Paterson who was shot in this place by a party of Highlanders for ther adherance to the Word of God and the covenanted work of Reformation. 1685"

Just a few miles away in Barrhill, there's a memorial by a wooded riverside to two other Covenanters; the interpretive sign nearby reads:

"...In 1687 John Murchie and Daniel Meiklewrick were pursued by soldiers. They were found to be carrying Bibles, and were shot without trial, their bodies being left where they lay..."

And just a few miles from there, in St John's of Dalry, there's a modern sculpture which commemorates a number of Covenanters, specifically "...two Covenanters, John Grierson and Robert Stewart, who paid the ultimate sacrifice..."

On one of the panels beside the sculpture, it says: "the south west of Scotland and Ayrshire were the parts of Scotland that suffered most severely during the troubles of the Covenanting times. This unhappy period of history came to an end with the "Glorious Revolution" in 1690, which brought William of Orange and Mary Stuart to the throne, and re-established the Presbyterian Church in Scotland..."

Which makes me think that, for all the summer activities there are around the 12th July each year - both in Northern Ireland and Scotland - that it would make sense for those events and activities to be about the freedoms and liberties secured by the Glorious Revolution, and not just about the single military victory at the Boyne?

It is said that Daniel Defoe reported to Parliament that 18,000 Covenanters had been killed in Scotland by the Royal troops of King Charles II and his brother King James II - simply because of their faith and their convictions that despotic kings should be resisted. So it's no wonder that the tyrannical King James II's defeat by William of Orange was welcomed by the Covenanters - in fact many of them had formed regiments to defend themselves, and some later joined William's army. William brought an end to what could well be described in today's terms as the genocide of the Covenanters. (The UN's definition of genocide is "...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group...")

Too much of the history of our wee part of the world has been reduced to an "Ireland-only" history and has been wrongly stereotyped as always being nothing other than a sectarian "Protestant v Catholic" history. Perpetuating these narrow visions will only perpetuate our problems. Broadening our view will also broaden our minds, and will make us all far more aware of deep aspects of our heritage that have almost been forgotten.

The Covenanters' story is one of committed faith and principles, of opposition to tyrannical rulers, and of the ultimate sacrifice. We have much to learn from those who went before.


Another Ayrshire icon, the poet Robert Burns (born in 1759 and who, through his mother, may well have been a direct descendant of the Covenanter martyr John Brown of Priesthill who was murdered in 1685), wrote of the Covenants:

The Solemn League and Covenant
Cost Scotland blood - cost Scotland tears
But it seal'd Freedom's sacred cause
If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneers

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Raising Sand

Back in my heavy metal youth, I never liked Led Zeppelin much. They were for the generation before me - I was a Guns N Roses "Appetite" 1987 metal fan, with a bit of "Master of Puppets" Metallica thrown in too. (That admission might shock some of you!)

And in later life as I progressed into bluegrass, the acclaimed Grammy winner Alison Krauss never really did it for me either. I could certainly appreciate her talent and musicianship, but I like my old-time music to be rawer and simpler than the Krauss polished stuff. Each to their own - it's all down to individual taste I s'pose.

So it was a surprise this morning to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on BBC Breakfast Time TV, promoting their new joint album "Raising Sand". You can listen to it all online at their website here. Just click on the "Listen to Album" button at the top. It's pretty good stuff... the harmonies are great... or maybe I'm just getting mellower in my old age.

(In particular, check out track 13 - "Your Long Journey" . Graeme found this song a few months ago on the cd "The Watson Family" and he's been telling everybody who'll listen to him about how great it is! The review says it's "...spine-shivering music of unparalleled authenticity and sincerity...")