Sunday, July 19, 2009

Turnberry, the Open, and Ulster-Scots

Millions of people around the world have been watching the 138th Open Championship at Turnberry in Ayrshire on tv over the past few days, On Radio Ulster yesterday, Joel Taggart and Michael McNamee were commenting on how many Ulster folk had travelled over on the ferry to be part of the huge crowd - more than had travelled to the K Club in Dublin a few years ago - because for many Ulster people, it's easier to get to Scotland. And, I would argue, for many of our people, sailing to Scotland is a far more emotive journey than driving/training to Dublin.

I don't play golf, but I've been on the Championship tee at Turnberry. Back in October 07 we took a family break to Ayrshire and stayed in an apartment in Turnberry. It's got a great sandy beach, lovely views of Ailsa Craig and across to Antrim.

Turnberry's also where Robert the Bruce was born (on either the 11th or the 12th July, 1274). The famous wee Turnberry lighthouse is built on the site of the ancient Bruce castle - and you can still see some of the ruined stonework in the pics below. Bruce's mother owned land in Scotland and Ulster, and he would later marry the daughter of the Earl of Ulster. Not to mention his refuge on Rathlin Island, the Edward Bruce attempt to become King of Ireland, and many more connections.

Click on the pics below to view them at a larger size:

1. General view of the lighthouse

2. Jacob and the lighthouse

3. Ruins of the castle

4. The Championship tee and Ailsa Craig

5. An old Victorian engraving of Turnberry Castle

Here's a brief excerpt from an article by my good friend Philip Robinson about the origins of golf:

Golf (gowf or goff in Scots) is probably the best-known Scottish traditional sport, now enjoyed by millions throughout the world. There are records of it being played in Scotland since 1457, although most of these documents refer to the breaking of the Sabbath by playing at ‘the gowf’ on Sundays (a clash of two Scottish traditions which we are still aware of today).

Until the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was established in 1744, and the Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews in 1754, the traditional game involved hitting for distance, usually along the back of coastal sand-dunes called links. The oldest surviving golf club was founded by James I (of England and Scotland) in 1608 at Blackheath. James I was the monarch who initiated the Ulster Plantation, and during his reign gowf or goff was played by all classes in Scotland.

In Ulster at this time, one of James I’s most important Plantation landlords was Hugh Montgomery of Newtownards. When Sir Hugh built a ‘great school’ at Newton in County Down, about 1630, he allowed the scholars a ‘green for recreation at goff, football and archery’. Over 150 years later, in the 1780s, Sir Hugh’s successor as landlord of the extensive Ards estates was Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh.

Castlereagh was of Donegal Scottish plantation stock, and in setting out the ‘Mountstewart’ demesne for his new house near Greyabbey, he landscaped an area for playing golf. A portrait of Lord Castlereagh survives at Mountstewart, probably from about 1790, showing him standing with a golf club. Beside him is a golf ball on the ground. This is certainly the earliest illustration of anyone in Ulster actually playing golf.

From A Blad o Ulster-Scotch, Ullans Press 2003.
Click here to order a copy