Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bagpipes in Ulster

I got thinking about the importing of Highland culture into the Lowlands and Ulster, which then got me thinking about bagpipes. Pipe bands are generally believed to have emerged from British Army regiments in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However maybe the origins of bagpipes in Ulster are in fact more authentic, as the following excerpt from The Montgomery Manuscripts might suggest.

This is a description of Hugh Montgomery III, the first Earl of Mount Alexander (c.1625 - c.1663) near Comber, and grandson of Sir Hugh Montgomery, Viscount Ards:

"...Montgomery came accomplished in the French tongue, dancing, fencing, touching the lute, riding the great horse, and other academy improvements; yet he laid aside all courtly recreations, and betook himself to fortification and other martial arts, which (with other parts of the mathematicks) he had learned abroad; he now using no musick (except in the church and in house devotions) but only the drum and trumpet and bagpipe among the soldiers, in which he delighted, for he was conformist to the adage, Dulce bellum inexpertis (transl: war is sweet to the inexperienced)..."

So there we have it. Documentary evidence of bagpipes in Ulster around 1641/1642.

As reading Adair's Narrative will show, this third Montgomery was no friend of the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians who were his tenants, and from whom his father and grandfather had made their fortunes. And his son, Hugh Montgomery IV, the 2nd Earl of Mount Alexander (1651 - 1717), was a friend of the Duke of York (who later became the despised King James II). Montgomery IV had even sent troops to Donaghadee in the days following the Covenanters' disastrous defeat at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June 1679, to capture "Scotch rebels" that might be fleeing for refuge in Ulster. However nearly ten years later when Montgomery IV received a letter - the famous "Comber Letter" - dated 3rd December 1688, he went into a blind panic. It revealed an alleged plot to massacre the Protestants of Ireland:

GOOD MY LORD, — I have written to let you know that all our Irishmen through Ireland are sworn that on the 9th day of this month, being Sunday next, they are to fall on, to kill and murder man, wife, and child, and to spare none; and I desire your lordship to take care of your self, and all others that are adjudged by our men to be heads; for whoever of them can kill any of you, is to have a captain's place. So my desire to your Honour is to look to yourself, and to give other Noblemen warning, and go not out night or day, without a good guard with you; and let no Irishman come near you, whatever he be. This is all from him who is your friend and Father's friend, and will be, though I dare not be known as yet, for fear of my life. Direct this with care and Haste to my Lord Montgomery.

Hugh Montgomery IV sent the letter to Dublin, where it caused such public pandemonium that 3000 people took to the ships at the harbour and sailed for England:

"...there got away about three thousand souls. There happened to be abundance of ships in the harbour at that time, which were so crammed that many were in danger of being stifled. The run of these people happened to be so suddain, and in the middle of the night, that it resembled the flight of the Jews out of Egypt... This fatal news which had so terrified the Protestants of Dublin, as if the dissolution of all things had been at hand, arrived not to several parts of the kingdom, till the very day 'twas to be put in execution, which being Sunday, was brought to the people in the time of Divine Service in some places, which struck them with such suddain apprehensions of immediate destruction, that the doors not allowing quick passage enough, by reason of the crowd, abundance of persons made their escapes out of the windows, and in the greatest fright and disorder that can be represented, the men leaving their hats and perriwigs behind them, some of them had their cloaths torn to pieces, others were trampled under foot, and the women in a worse condition than the men. And this disturbance did not only continue for this day, but for several Sundays after, the Protestants were in such a consternation and terror, that all, or most of them carried fire-arms, and other weapons to Church with them, and the very ministers went armed into the pulpit, and centinels stood at the Church doors all the while that they were in the Church. But whether this were a real thing designed, or whether by that discovery prevented, I leave it to others to judge and determine; but certain it is, that never anything happened in the kingdom... made so great a fright among the Protestants as this..."

The Comber Letter had been read to the population of Londonderry, terrifying the Protestants of the surrounding area who then fled in huge numbers from their homes and farms to the safety of the walled city. With the King's armies now bearing down upon the city, and senior civic leaders inside the walls dithering about what they should do, it fell to 13 young men - known as "Apprentice Boys" - to take action into their own hands, and they shut the gates of the city. One of them, William Crookshanks, is said to have been a relative of the Covenanter minister John Crookshanks who had been killed at the Pentland Rising in 1666. (source: Mackenzie's Memorials of the Siege of Derry p10)

With a tidal wave of public hysteria across Ulster, and in fear of losing his estates (and perhaps his life) in the expected Irish uprising, Hugh Montgomery IV conveniently forgot about his actions of June 1679 and turned to the Covenanters of the Ards area for protection. Sometime in 1689 Montgomery entered into an agreement known as a "bond of compliance" with the Covenanter minister David Houston. The bond said:

"...I do promise that I will use my best endeavour to cause all such persons over whom I have influence to be aiding and assisting to settle the present interest in this country, and will by all means persuade such to join with, and pursue such measures as the Earl of Mount-Alexander shall, from time to time, propose, and give out for safety thereof—providing such persons, with whom I have influence, have liberty to choose their own Captains and inferior officers. And I do promise, if such persons will not be advised by me as aforesaid, and my being here may be accounted obnoxious to the country, I will, upon my Lord Mount-Alexander his command, leave the country upon his order to do so. — As witness my hand, Dd. HOUSTON..."

[all indented quotes above are from The Montgomery Manuscripts]