Monday, August 31, 2009

Tidying up - 4 1/2 year old style

On Saturday past we had a bit of a tidy up around the house - it had been neglected over the summer months. Lots of days away means not enough time at home, and so we rolled our sleeves up and got things ship-shape again.

Our youngest, Maggie-Jane, is four and a half. I went into her room (it was a week or two since I'd been in there) and was shocked by the state of the place! So I called her upstairs to help me sort it out, and to get things underway I handed her a cardigan that was on the floor.

She took it from me, trotted over to the other side of the room, and dropped it in the corner.

She looked at me. I looked at her, gobsmacked, with my chin on the floor.

She said "But Daddy, that's my special corner where I put everything"...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BBC4 tonight - "Folk America"

The series "Folk America" is being repeated tonight. It's been on before (back in January - I blogged about it then too) and whilst there's sadly very little specific reference to Ulster or Scotch-Irish origins of the musical genres, it's an excellent series and a good watch.

The 7 programmes are being broadcast back-to-back, starting at 7.30pm through to 1.40am / then three of the programmes are immediately repeated from 1.40am - 4.00am.

All info available on the BBC4 website.

The missing 26th chapter of "The Montgomery Manuscripts"

Back in 2006, when I had just started my term as Chairman with the Ulster-Scots Agency, we produced cd/text-searchable/facsimile editions of both The Montgomery Manuscripts and The Hamilton Manuscripts. Both are the respective family records of the 1606 Settlement, right up to the early 1700s whe they were first written. Both had been published as books with extensive footnotes in the mid 1800s. The cd editions have been hugely popular and have been ordered by people all over the world.

It's a long story, and one which will feature on a forthcoming episode of "A Kist O Wurds" on Radio Ulster, but just over the past week it has emerged that there were just 8 special copies of the Montgomery Manuscripts printed with an extra chapter, printed as an Appendix. "Sparky" Tollerton, of Stacks Bookshop in Dundonald, has 2 of the 8 copies! He and I were interviewed about the volumes just yesterday, for "Kist".

The extra chapter is entitled "Incidental Remembrances of the Two Ancient Families of the Savages in the lower half Barony called the Little Ards". Sparky let me take high-res digital photographs of all 12 pages, which are as breathtakingly detailed in their footnoting and referencing as the rest of the Montgomery MSS.

So, a little light reading for me, and fresh research material too... but more than that - it's potentially literary gold-dust! First page is below, click to enlarge:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Scotland - attitudes to Ireland/Irishness

Scotland is a great country with great people. Of all the places I've been to, I feel most at home there when I'm not in Northern Ireland. (and parts of the USA as well).

There's a piece of work to be done on Scotland's shifting attitudes to Ireland and Irishness. What brought this to my attention was the following excerpt from John Buchan's book Mr Standfast (1919), which I read over the summer. It's a Bond-style spy thriller, but set during WWI rater than the Cold War - so fewer gadgets and stylish quips, but more adventure. In Mr Standfast, the hero (Cornelius Brand) arrives in Glasgow to gather intelligence on the radical politics of the shipyards.

He meets Andrew Amos, who tells him:

"...But the average man on the Clyde, like the average man in ither places, hates just three things, and that's the Germans, the profiteers, as they call them, and the Irish. But he hates the Germans first.'

'The Irish!' I exclaimed in astonishment.

'Ay, the Irish,' cried the last of the old Border radicals. 'Glasgow's stinkin' nowadays with two things, money and Irish. I mind the day when I followed Mr Gladstone's Home Rule policy, and used to threep about the noble, generous, warm-hearted sister nation held in a foreign bondage. My Goad! I'm not speakin' about Ulster, which is a dour, ill-natured den, but our own folk all the same. But the men that will not do a hand's turn to help the war and take the chance of our necessities to set up a bawbee rebellion are hateful to Goad and man. We treated them like pet lambs and that's the thanks we get. They're coming over here in thousands to tak the jobs of the lads that are doing their duty. I was speakin' last week to a widow woman that keeps a wee dairy down the Dalmarnock Road. She has two sons, and both in the airmy, one in the Cameronians and one a prisoner in Germany. She was telling me that she could not keep goin' any more, lacking the help of the boys, though she had worked her fingers to the bone. "Surely it's a crool job, Mr Amos," she says, "that the Goavernment should tak baith my laddies, and I'll maybe never see them again, and let the Irish gang free and tak the bread frae our mouth. At the gasworks across the road they took on a hundred Irish last week, and every yin o' them as young and well set up as you would ask to see. And my wee Davie, him that's in Germany, had aye a weak chest, and Jimmy was troubled wi' a bowel complaint. That's surely no justice!"...

It jumped off the page at me when I read it, and there are fascinating subtleties within the words. For this character at least, the associations with Ireland were negative, that Ulster folk were different, even though Ulster is a "a dour, ill-natured den" the people are "our own folk all the same".

Maybe someone out there can examine this further.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Sluggerage

Thanks for the tip-off to my good friend UlsterScot over at Aiblins.

Here's the link.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Donaghadee Harbour, last Friday

Here's another photo of the view across to the Mull of Galloway - seen through the break in the harbour wall at Donaghadee. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ulster-Scots and Seamus Heaney

The original article is available here on the Telegraph website.

For all of the nonsense spouted about Ulster-Scots, it's refreshing when a figure of international literary renown treats it with respect and reverence. Seamus Heaney's poem "A Birl for Burns" appears below. Heaney also recently published a volume of translations of the work of 15th century Scots poet Robert Henryson. The Times review is available here.

A Birl for Burns

From the start, Burns' birl and rhythm,
That tongue the Ulster Scots brought wi' them
And stick to still in County Antrim
Was in my ear.
From east of Bann it westered in
On the Derry air
My neighbours toved and bummed and blowed,
They happed themselves until it thowed,
By slaps and stiles they thrawed and tholed
And snedded thrissles,
And when the rigs were braked and hoed
They'd wet their whistles.
Old men and women getting crabbèd
Would hark like dogs who'd seen a rabbit,
Then straighten, stare and have a stab at
Standard habbie:
Custom never staled their habit
O' quotin' Rabbie.
Leg-lifting, heartsome, lightsome Burns!
He overflowed the well-wrought urns
Like buttermilk from slurping churns,
Rich and unruly,
Or dancers flying, doing turns
At some wild hooley.
For Rabbie's free and Rabbie's big,
His stanza may be tight and trig
But once he gets the sail and rig
Away he goes
Like Tam-O-Shanter o'er the brig
Where no one follows.
And though his first tongue's going, gone,
And word lists now get added on
And even words like stroan and thrawn
Have to be glossed,
In Burns's rhymes they travel on
And won't be lost.

(Copyright © Seamus Heaney)

These are just two examples of the world-class, high quality, affirming work that's going on, and which the Northern Ireland mainstream media carefully ignore.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ulster-Scots in the news

Just a few snippets from various news sites:


"...Having only lived in Ireland for 100 years, the Ulster Scots saw themselves as distinct from Irish. Some historians have claimed that the Scots frequently intermarried with the Irish while in Ulster, and others have claimed there was little intermarrying. What is certain, however, is that the culture that emerged was neither Scottish nor Irish..."

from Ulster Scots in the Appalachians on


"...Northern Ireland bands are reaping the benefits of the peace process as Ulster-Scots culture attracts subsidies, "So they get money for instruments and for teaching, and they're dead keen and they work hard at it. I think Scotland has been a wee bit lax in some ways and suddenly the axis of power, you might say, has moved away from here. It's a hell of a state of affairs that we need to do something about. The Ulster people believe in their bands and are really competitive about it, " he says, "but here you'll see maybe a Grade Three band going out on the competition field and there's hardly a cheer for them. It's the old Scottish cultural thing; we don't know what we've got..."

from Why Scots Piping needs Band Aid on


"...Many folks from Anderson claim heritage as Ulster Scots,” Dr. Walker points out. In fact, anyone who has visited Ireland is struck by how similar the people look to South Carolinians, and how similar their open, friendly manners are to our fabled “Southern hospitality.”

from Anderson's New Sister on

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For all you Rangers fans out there...

...and I know there are a few (!) TOFFS (The Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company) have just produced a replica of the earliest known Rangers shirt dating from 1876/1879. It's all white, with buttons on the collar and a blue six pointed star on the chest. Check it out here

Monday, August 17, 2009

The view to Scotland from the Copeland Islands

We took a boat trip this afternoon out to the Copeland Islands just off Donaghadee. It was a beautiful clear day - here's a photo of Scotland taken from the Copelands this afternoon. You can see wind turbines on the hilltop - probably at Artfield, Drumphail - close to the Covenanter Alexander Peden's old home kirk of New Luce. Click to enlarge:

And it wasn't due to some enormous zoom lens - here's another pic with the shoreline of the island in the foreground, so you get a real sense of the distance. Again, click to enlarge:

From Cloughey to Coleraine, everybody who has ever lived along the coastline will know how close Scotland is, and how natural Ulster-Scots is. Shame that the hostile media talking heads all live in suburbia around greater Belfast...

Finally, as we neared the Islands, the boat stopped at a nearby seal colony to feed the seals with fresh mackerel. Short video clip is below. You could fly to SeaWorld in Florida for a similar experience at a cost of many thousands of pounds - but why bother when you can get the same for £6 a head at Donaghadee?!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tomorrow afternoon, if there is any justice in the world, the greatest pipe band on the planet will once again be crowned World Champions

I'm not able to get over this year, but all being well Ulster's finest, the mighty Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, will come home with the Grade One RSPBA Worlds title at Glasgow Green. So far this year they've been crowned Ulster, All-Ireland, Scottish, British and European Champions. Here's a clip of them in action:

The event is being streamed live online by BBC Scotland here.

UPDATE: FMMPB finished second, behind Simon Fraser from Canada. SFU won Grade One last year as well.

The Life of Isaac Watts

Here's another of the hymnwriters stories from, all of which are listed on this page on their site. It tells the story of Watts' publication in 1707 of "Hymns and Spiritual Songs". A beautifully produced short film:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The General Assembly of 1638

Following the tumultous scenes in Scotland with the signing of Scotland's National Covenant on 28th February 1638, a General Assembly was held on 21 November of the same year, at Glasgow Cathedral. It was a revolutionary meeting which saw the Covenanters take control of the Kirk and effectively seize power in Scotland. Of the 204 men gathered there to represent every Presbytery in Scotland were some of Ulster interest:

Eagle Wing passengers:
James Hamilton, Minister at Dumfries (ex Ballywalter)
John Mackleland, Minister at Kirkcudbright (ex Newtownards)
John Livingstone, Minister at Stranraer (ex Killinchy)
Robert Blair, Minister at Ayr (ex Bangor)
John Stewart, former Provost of Ayr

Eagle Wing had returned in failure to Ulster in November 1636. But exactly two years later these five men were at the very centre of the new political power in Scotland.

also of interest are:
James Blair, Minister at Portmontgomerie (the era when Portpatrick was renamed by Hugh Montgomery in honour of himself)
The Earl of Eglinton (Sir Hugh Montgomery's cousin)

The full list is extensive and includes great men such as Samuel Rutherford (Minister at Anwoth) David Dickson (Irvine), Archibald Campbell, James Sharp (later to be assassinated when he switched sides) and Alexander Henderson. With thanks to Stephen Gregory at Union College for his assistance last week, which led to me getting the full list of attendees.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eck Robertson playing "Sally Gooden" - June/July 1922

eck.jpg This from

"...Recorded on June 30, 1922 or July 1, 1922 in New York City. Although it is indeed possible, if not likely, that country or hillbilly performers had been recorded earlier, these sessions with Texas fiddler Eck Robertson are the earliest documented recording sessions of a country performer. The recordings were not released until about a year later. "Sally Gooden" is another ubiquitous old-time fiddle tune that is rivalled only by "Soldier's Joy" in popularity..."

Here's a post from earlier this year about Ulster-Scots music and the fiddle playing tradition.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

At Tollymore

We went there yesterday - pic below is Jacob on the big rock down near Foley's Bridge.

Johnny Cash / Mars Hill Church / The Rebel's Guide to Joy in Temptation

This is part of an exceptional series of videos at the Mars Hill Church website, all of which (except this one) are about historical hymnwriters. I'll post more here later - but for the time being you can enjoy this one about Johnny Cash:

In our house in 70s and 80s rural evangelical Ulster, Johnny Cash was probably the soundtrack to my early life!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Before Hamilton & Montgomery - Sir Thomas Smith's failed English settlement of 1572

I'm almost finished a big piece of research on the Sir Thomas Smith settlement of the Ards Peninsula in 1572. It was a disastrous failure, including the murder of his son and namesake (he was shot, then boiled, then fed to wild dogs) but it paved the way for the huge success of Hamilton & Montgomery in 1606. Once I've finished it I'll start to post excerpts here, and may even start a new website specifically about it.

To understand 1606 fully, it's important to understand some of what came before. The Ards Peninsula is a special wee place!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Who was John Cooper?

John Cooper died in 1608 and was buried at Whitechurch, Ballywalter, aged 92 - all detailed on a recently-uncovered gravestone there. Did a bit of research and found that in 1617 a James Cooper was recorded as being a tenant of Hugh Montgomery's, at Ballyhaskin (just a few miles up the road), so presumably they were related.

John Cooper was therefore born in 1516, lived through the Reformation and the preaching of John Knox - and more than likely came to Ulster around 1606 as a man of 90 years. Quite some feat!


Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Lost Ness Monster - the Ulster-Scots "Grendel" ?!

Just back in from 10 days or so in Brittany. Glad to see "The Ulster-Scots language future" post stimulated a bit of discussion in the comments, and in a good few emails I was sent by folk who'd read it. There are big issues to be faced. I don't have the answers, but hopefully using this platform to raise some of the questions will help stimulate some discussion.

While we were away we visited the excellent Oceanopolis aquarium at Brest - and on the way back I composed a ridiculous poem to entertain the weans. They love monsters, blood and guts, and the "Horrible Histories" series - so here's a poem about a monster that surfaces every 5000 years to eat the folk of the Ards Peninsula. After all, Sir Thomas Smith wanted it, Hamilton & Montgomery wanted it - so why not some terrifying prehistoric Godzilla too?

It's just a rough draft, it's in light-touch Ulster-Scots, and is not for the faint-hearted. It might be a Grendel type monster, and there are subtleties in here that only Peninsula folk will understand - but don't take it too seriously! Thankfully the weans loved it.

The Lost Ness Monster

Twas a coul oul nicht
No a boady in sicht
In the toon o’ Donaghadee
When fae behin the Isles
Cam’ twa terrible gowls
Fae a baste wi a hunner rid teeth

It had echt shinin een
Gien a bluid-curdlin’ scream
An the fowk aa ris oot o their beds
As it cam’ ashore
Gien a fearsome wild roar
It was hungry… an it wanted fed

It ate aa the fowk
Gien a rift an a boke
An then heedit doon tae Millisle
It scoffed thirty weans
An it sucked oot their brains
An for dessert had a big 99

Ballywalter was neext
On the menu o’ feast
An altho’ the fowk heerd it was comin’
The baste munched aa the men
Weans, coos, sheep an hens
An a sweet juicy plump wee roon woman

Ballyhalbert sae pretty
“The yin-sided city”
Had the tastiest fowk o them aa
So the baste wi a gulp
Chowed them aa intae pulp
An then licked aa the bluid aff its claas

Wi the sun comin up
The baste stapped for a sup
Wi the fishin boats at Portavogie
Then begun tae devour
Near a thousand an hour
Sweet wee yins, and chewy oul fogies

Kirkistown? Aye!
Portaferry forbye!
They were drive-thru and buffet in yin
Amang yellin and squeals
He had 10,000 meals
Ivery man, woman, wean he cud fin

Weel that was just starters
So he feasted the harder
On the Peninsula’s sons an its dochters
An roon by Kircubbin
He ate six hunner dizen
An then hoked in his nose for the snotters

Oul Carrowdore harbour
Became the baste’s larder
It ate aa the fish, then the boats
Wi yin sweep o its tail
It harpooned a whale
An gulped the whole thing doon its throat

Through Cardy tae Greba
Where it had a great feed o’
The monks that yinst leeved in the Abbey
He was fechtin a drouth
So he peeled back the roof
An drunk aa the monks’ wine an shandy

Roon bellied an happy
He munched through Greyabbey
Jaws drippin wi bluid, fat and slabbers
But the wee Orange Hall
Didnae taste orange ava
So he smashed the oul village tae clabbers

Efter that he went scootin
On up nearhaun Newtown
Still ragin’ wi’ hunger an anger
Then the Jurassic clart
Lot rip a big fart
An blew oot the wundaes in Bangor

Scrabo Tower like a bap
He ate in yin snap
Then bounded across tae the Cottown
Wi a smash an a tear
He ate a wheen mair
But then sput yin oot - it was rotten!

For every 5000 years
The land’s fill’t wi fear
Whun the monster clim's oot o the watter
That’s a lang time tae soak
So he eats thousands o fowk
Tae settle 5000 year hunger

The Ards fowk were aa ate
But the baste cudnae forget
That he wanted a monster for company
So feelin alane
Brave an far fae his hame
He thocht “A’ll go back whaur A come fae”

So this Lost Ness Monster
Said “Bye Bye” tae Ulster
An heedit himsel back tae Scotlan’
He drapped intae the sea
Near Donaghadee
An swum aff tae see Nessie, his cousin.