Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"The Covenanters Tryst" by Alexander Anderson

Alexander Anderson (1845 - 1909 / shown right) was a poet from the south west of Scotland, and was widely published during his lifetime. Hope you can understand this - my favourite portion is the bold bit in verse 14.


I am auld an' frail, an' I scarce can gang,
Though whiles when I tak' a turn,
It's only when the sun blinks oot
On the braes by the Vennel Burn.
Then I tak' a look at the Kirkland Heichts,
An' up at Glen Aylmer Hill,
Then a kinder look at the auld kirkyaird
Where the dead sleep soun' an' still.

It's a dear kirkyaird at the fit o' the hills,
For it hauds the dust o' ane
Wha was true as the steel o' his ain gude sword,
An' stood by his kith an' kin.
He tak's his rest, wi' nae stane at his heid,
But I ken that Ane in the skies
Could come this nicht to the auld kirkyaird
An' point oot where he lies.

O, sleep ye soun', bauld Patrick Laing,
As ye ha'e been sleepin' for years;
I am frail and feckless, but still in my heart
Your name is saft wi' my tears.
The sands o' my life are unco few,
An' I ha'ena an hour to tyne,
But I ken fu' weel in the auld kirkyaird
Your dust will welcome mine.

An' there we twa will sleep fu' soun'
Wi' the green grass owre oor head,
Till the years bring roun' the richt to a'
For which Scottish bluid ran red.
Then the Lord will come doon in the licht o' the sun,
When the last sweet day shall dawn;
An' we'll rise frae oor graves, an' He'll meet us there,
An' tak' us baith by the han'.

The Cairn Hills lie on the other side
Wi' the sweet Nith rowin' atween,
An' there sleep twa leal frien's o' mine—
Aul' frien's o' the days that ha'e been.
They are waitin' for me as I for them,
An' it canna langer be,
For I ken that baith ha'e a tryst wi' the Lord,
An' He has a tryst wi' me.

I ken fu' weel that they wait an' wait
Till they hear the trumpet ca',
Then Hair an' Corson will rise an' cry—
"The time has come for us a'."
An' I mysel', a frail, auld man
That unco weel can be spared,
Will meet them baith at the fit o' the hill,
At the tree in the auld kirkyaird.

They dee'd as only men should dee,
For their faither's faith an' hame,
An' they lie wi' their face to the open sky,
Wi' nae touch on their cheek o' shame.
It will a' come richt, when the Lord in his micht,
Comes doon frae heaven to see,
For I ha'e a tryst in the auld kirkyaird,
An' the Lord has a tryst wi' me.

I ha'e heard bauld Cameron preach the Word
On the side o' a Sanquhar brae,
While I sat wi' the sword atween my knees,
As ane wha should watch an' pray;
An' I had my plaid drawn owre my heid,
An' open upon my knee
The Word o' Ane that I brawly kenned
Wad keep min' o' His tryst wi' me.

I ha'e lain in hags when the winter nicht
Was bitter an' lang an' cauld,
I ha'e shared my plaid wi' Renwick, too,
When the winds were snell an' bauld;
An' Peden, worn wi' the fire o' the Word,
An' thinly cled for the storm—
I ha'e lain a' nicht wi' my back to the win'
To keep puir Sandy warm.

I ha'e seen dark Clavers turn his back,
On his lips the snarl o' a dog,
An' strike spurs deep in his deein' steed
As he fled frae wild Drumclog;
But I saw him again at Bothwell Brig,
An' the hilt an' point o' his sword
Were red with the blood o' the saints that day
That fell with their trust in the Lord.

I am stiff wi' the midnicht rains that fell
As I lay in Blagannoch Moss;
But little I care for a rickle o' banes—
I gi'ed them a' for the Cross.
I ha'e focht the fecht, I ha'e set my faith
Where I trust though I canna see—
It wad be a ferly, atweel, if the Lord
Should fail in His tryst wi' me.

A' the leal, true hearts that were ance wi' me
They are free frae their care an' pain,
An' I am the last that is left to tell
O' the things that are sunk an' gane.
There is peace ance mair, an' I sleep in a bed
As soun' as soun' can be;
But this nicht I fin' that I canna lie doon,
For the Lord has a tryst wi' me.

Could my wife but lay her han' in mine,
As she used to do langsyne;
But Marion Dryfe is years in her grave,
An' a lanely hearth is mine.
But her dochter's weans are unco guid,
An' do a' they can for me;
I hear her speak an' I hear her fit
As they hing about my knee.

Hark! voices are comin' doon in the win',
I ha'e heard them mony a day—
Peden, Renwick, Corson, an' Hair,
An' Cameron shout for the fray.
But higher an' sweeter abune them a'
A Voice keeps cryin' to me -

"John Harkness, hast thou min' o' our tryst
That I set langsyne wi' thee?"

Pit the weans to their bed—gang a' to your bed,
I canna langer be spared;
I hear a Voice that nane o' ye hear,
An' it comes frae the auld kirkyaird.
It's growin' dark—pit some peats on the fire,
An' lay the Book on my knee;
For I ha'e a tryst wi' the Lord this nicht,
An' the Lord has a tryst wi' me.


(And if you have any weans, you'll enjoy this yin, also written by Anderson. You can read more about him, and his work, here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No Surrender!

US Presidential candidate John McCain has revealed his new campaign slogan - the famous battle cry of the Siege of Derry - "No Surrender!" One American commentator thinks this will alienate the Irish American vote, but maybe it will mobilise the Scotch-Irish vote in a similar way to Senator James Webb's 2006 election on the back of his 2004 book "Born Fighting - How the Scots Irish Shaped America". Like Webb, McCain is of Ulster-Scots descent. And then of course there was the famous McCain versus Gerry Adams incident on St Patrick's Day 2005.

I doubt very much that 99.9% of Americans will automatically link "No Surrender" with Ulster, or Ulster-Scots, anyway - the awareness is nowhere near high enough for it to register. So this is probably a storm in a teacup. But if the choice of slogan creates a media-driven furore in the USA, that's great! Anything that positively raises the popular awareness of Ulster-Scots identity and history to the US public is in my view a good thing.

Anyway, to the (more) important stuff - here's the musical notation for an old American hymn of the same name. (click to enlarge).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Solemn League and Covenant in Holywood, County Down, 7th - 9th April 1644

Thanks to Jack Greenald yet again for pointing me in the right direction on this one!

Just discovered in the collection of the Ulster Museum is a copy of the Solemn League and Covenant:

At Holliwood the 8th Apryll, 1644, and upon
ye nynth herof lykweyes after sermon
delyvered by Mr William Adair upon both
these days the Covenant of religion was
explained and theirafter sworne, subscribed,
and seald w't marks by a number of ye
inhabitants of ye Kingdom of Irland

With 67 signatures, including:

Mr William Adair (the minister who preached)
Master Charles Hall (probably the parish minister at the time)
John Wright
Thomas Reid
Thomas Bailie
Alexander Waddell
John M'Cormick
John Waugh
John Scott
John M'Bride
James Fairlie
Thomas Russel
John Pentland
Alexander Gillespie
John Martin
James Webster
John M'Clelland
(probably of Newtownards, the principal of Sir Hugh Montgomery's "great school" and part-time minister, and who was on "Eagle Wing")

I was sent a scan of a newspaper clipping from 1912 (specific date and specific newspaper unknown, but sometime a few weeks before the Ulster Covenant), entitled Solemn League and Covenant - Original Copy in Belfast - The Signing in Ulster - Historical Sketch". It is subtitled A brave day in Ireland on the last Lord's Day (April 7 1644) at the swearing of the Covenant in Belfast by our army and sundry others .

Make no mistake, this is of MASSIVE historical significance and is cultural gold dust!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ballyfrenis Presbyterian Church

Oh boy. It really should be no surprise - it's been in my blood all along... here's my latest Covenanters discovery!

This church (now closed and turned into a house) is where my mother's side of the family (Wilsons) worshipped at the townland of Ballyfrenis in the middle of the "Low Country", halfway between Carrowdore and Millisle, for many generations up until the 1950s. The church published a small booklet entitled "The Story of a Century" by Rev John Forbes in 1946. I have a photocopy of it.

It was established in 1843, as an offshoot of the "Associate Presbytery of Ireland" which had been formed in 1810 by a Rev James Bryce of Killaig, County Antrim. The booklet says of the new Ballyfrenis congregation that "many of the Covenanting faith of that day joined the new church and took a leading part in its life and work...". Perhaps some of you who understand the politics of Presbyterian history in Ulster can fill me in on the background.

The other member churches of the Associate Presbytery were in County Antrim - Cullybackey, Loanends, Killaig - and for three years the people of Ballyfrenis had no church building to worship in. So "the congregation held their religious services in the open air... there were thirteen communicants at the first celebration of the Lord's Supper, which was held in the "Green". This form of worship was commonly practised by the Covenanters during the persecutions in Scotland, and this may be the reason why the Ballyfrenis people were known as 'Covenanters' at this time..."

The booklet even specifies where the outdoor meetings (and in inclement weather, the farms and barns where the indoor meetings) were held, in the townlands of Ballyfrenis, Drumawhey, Ballybuttle and Islandhill (where the Wilson family home, where my mother and her 8 siblings were reared, still stands - a single storey cottage with a corrugated iron roof)

In 1846, Rev John Ewing was ordained by the Associate Presbytery of Ireland as the first Minister of Ballyfrenis. In 1858 the Associate Presbytery of Ireland was admitted into the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The 1859 Revival hit Ballyfrenis too, "a most promising revival of religion in the neighbourhood, and our little church has occupied the most prominent part in it. The attendance has very greatly increased, being in the forenoon more than double that of what it used to be; in the evening three of four times as great as formerly..."

In 1900, the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Free Churches of Scotland merged to form the United Free Church of Scotland. Ballyfrenis remained with the United Free Church up until 1922, when they joined the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. In 1932, the then Minister Rev Hugh F Kirker, retired having been the minister at Ballyfrenis since 1886 - 46 years! The Wilson family has a deep affection for the memory of Mr Kirker. He even co-ordinated the local signings of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, and signed it himself - see the evidence here.

In 1932 the congregation merged with Carrowdore, where my uncle Vincent is to this day a member of the Kirk Session.

So, a potted history of my mother's folk. And surprise surprise, they were 19th century Covenanters!!