Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Albert Einstein and God

Was sent this video today:

It seems to be a tv ad (made by an advertising agency based in Belgrade called New Moment, New Ideas) for the Government of the Republic of Macedonia as one of a series of commercials aimed at promoting education.

There's no evidence that the story shown in the video ever took place, but it's an interesting piece anyway.

Monday, September 28, 2009

McCravy Brothers, the Gleaner Quartet and the importance of old 78s

Graeme and I were out last night playing/singing at the Iron Hall in east Belfast. We played "Victory in Jesus", a hymn I learned from an old 78 that my aunt Rhoda loaned me a few years ago. The recording was by the Gleaner Quartet from Belfast and recorded in the late 40s / early 50s. So I told that story after we sang it, and to my amazement at the end of the evening 4 or 5 of the older men in the church made a beeline towards us when the meeting was over.

One of them was the son of one of the Gleaners! - and, better still, the folk in the church had found an old reel-to-reel tape of their recordings and had digitised it. So they gave us a CD each of 9 Gleaners recordings, and all really good stuff! The best part of the story is that the old 78 had a song on the B side which wasn't on the old tape, and which these men have never heard. The son told me that his father had died about 3 years ago, and that his mother plays the cd regularly as a reminder of her husband. Poignantly, the song that I have, which they don't have, is "If We Never Meet Again this side of Heaven". So I'll be posting it to them on a CD this week.

Also, the McCravy Brothers were an American (South Carolina) brother duet that Rhoda also had a few 78s of. Both of the Brothers are now dead, but one of their cousins, Paul McCravy, has been in touch with me by email. He's amazed that people across the Atlantic had even heard of the McCravy Brothers, and so he's going to send me photos and information about them that have never been published.

To think of the old recordings, books and photographs that have been dumped over the years... what a legacy they held, and how much has been lost! I'm just fortunate to still have some that were passed down to me, and to be able to make connections with today's families - both here in Ulster and across the Atlantic - through the surviving recordings of 50 years ago.

Clips of both are below, firstly Johnny Cash doing "If We Never Meet Again", and then the McCravy Brothers doing "The Glorious Gospel Train":

Friday, September 25, 2009

Alexander Peden and Alex Salmond

What might these two have in common, apart from their first names? Well, back in 2007 when Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, visited Stormont he gave a speech with a very emotive reference in it. In reference to the links between Scotland and Ulster, he said:

"...You are the blood of our blood and the bone of our bone..."

That made a quite few people really sit up and take notice. He had used the same figure of speech a few days previously on BBC Northern Ireland's "Hearts and Minds" programme in preparation for his visit.

It's not the kind of thing most people say in daily speech. So I was amazed to find when I was reading Alexander Peden's The exact Copy of a Letter from Mr. Alexander Peden to the Prisoners in Dunnottar Castle, in the Month of July 1685, pretty much the same terminology, but in a different context:

" send all the Elect into the world, and to deliver them all fairly to CHRIST; and also to give him a Body, Flesh of their Flesh and Bone of their Bone; and to carry CHRIST through in all his Undertaking in that Work, and to hold him by the Hand..."

Now it could be coincidental (can I suggest coincidence with a Calvinist Covenanter?!) but it is very interesting...

Robert Burns: The People's Poet - on BBC4

Saw this on BBC4 last night - really superb documentary, and more about his life rather than his work. Was about 1 1/2 hrs, highly recommended. But of course the special significance of Belfast was left out. There is DEFINITELY enough good material for a television programme to be made about Burns and Ulster.

Click here to watch it, or even to download.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Satan, your Kingdom must come down

Here's a version of a strange old American negro spiritual:

It was made famous in the early 90s by the American alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, but one of the earliest recordings of it appears on this box set, sung by Reverend Willie Mae Eberhart & Sister Fleeta Mitchell.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stuggy and Wee

As I've posted here before, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family, in a community, in an area, where Ulster Scots words and phrases were part of everyday life, and even though it was more diluted than the Ulster-Scots of my parents, who in turn used a form more diluted than their parents, Ulster-Scots still leavened and coloured our daily speech. Not in the classroom, or even in the closest town (Newtownards), but certainly at hame wi oor ain yins.

Well, fast forward 30 odd years - Hilary took our two boys to get their hair cut yesterday. When they came back, Charlie's looked very uneven, so I brushed my hand through it and said "Charlie, your hair's all stuggy". It was a word often used in our house when I was wee, as my ma used to cut our hair for us - and despite her best efforts, with us as moving targets, stuggy was a regular aftermath!

The definition of stuggy from Chambers Concise Scots Dictionary is "a jagged or uneven cut, anything left coarse by uneven cutting". (Interestingly, stuggy isn't in The Hamely Tongue )

There was a discussion on Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster a few weeks back about the use of the word "wee", as in "put in your wee PIN number", or "what about a wee biscuit" etc. "Wee" is part of everybody's speech in Northern Ireland, and whilst I'll admit it's over-used to a ridiculous degree, it's another example of cultural markers of Scottish origin which permeate everybody's life here. The presenters seemed to be doing all sorts of contortions to NOT describe "wee" as Ulster-Scots though. The closest they got was when one of them said "isn't that a Northern Irish and Scottish word". But maybe even that small acknowledgement of a cultural continuity that stretches across the water is another wee step forward...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rangers story in today's Daily Telegraph

Here's an excerpt from today's paper that will interest some of you. It follows Rangers' very credible 1-1 draw with Stuttgart in Germany on Wednesday night:


Sectarianism alive and well in Stuttgart

Rangers' visit to Baden-Württemberg this week was their third excursion to the area on Champions League business, a fact remarked upon by the Vfb Stuttgart president, Dr Erwin Staudt, when he addressed the Ibrox directors at the lunch traditionally given by the host club for their visitors on the day of the match.

"We specially welcome our friends from Glasgow with whom we are building a bond," said the affable Staudt.

"You have been here three times and we have been in Glasgow three times. We are both football clubs with long histories and passionate supporters."
The Rangers VIPS, who have had to become used to picking their way through the minefield of political correctness in recent years, nodded in agreement at these unexceptional observations.

However, they were bolt upright in their seats when the Herr Doktor went on: "And what is more, you are a Protestant club – and we also are a Protestant club."

Staudt then pointed at one his own directors and boomed: "We only employ one Catholic – and it is him!" At which the nominated director threw his hands in the air and cried out: "I am sorry! I am sorry!"

Altogether now, as they might sing in Baden-Württemberg: "Hallo! Hallo! Wir sind der Billy Boys!"


It's hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins in the piece, but it seems like the allegedly humourless Germans have more humour than the British press. Here are the goals:


Ballyhalbert airfield

Right behind my hoose was a WWII airfield. During my lifetime it was/is a caravan park, now being developed with a massive housing scheme. These pics are available at larger sizes on this website, showing the airfield and also showing just how narrow the Peninsula is.




I've got some original memorabilia from RAF Ballyhalbert - posters for Christmas pantomimes, formal balls in the Officers' mess, that kind of thing. Hamilton, Montgomery and Thomas Smith would have found aerial photography a big help in planning their Ards Peninsula estates 400 odd years ago!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Robert Huddleston of Moneyrea

Robert Huddleston (1814 - 1887) has a great quote about Ulster-Scots language:

"...being a rustic born and bred, where the language in its aboriginal idiom is spoken, it has a peculiar charm above all other modes of speech. What then remains for me but to follow the language which nature brought to my door and handed me at the first dawn of prattle and bade me wear through life? Though it may be dry to the polite of the day I am loathe to change it for any other accent. Prootas in my vernacular is as good as potatoes is to them in theirs..."

Over at NewtonLass, Fiona has posted some of his poems. And has rightly highlighted the need to preserve his gravestone.

Last night on BBC4 - "The Scots: Natural Born Sinners"

Watched a programme/documentary called The Scots - Natural Born Sinners. Theres a wide variety of content but you'll probably get a few wee gems in there. It's on iPlayer for the next 7 days, so carve out an hour and watch it.

Click here to view

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wild Horses

I'm going to take some stick for posting this... but this cover of the Stones classic song is brilliant.

The Clandeboye / Clandeboy / Clanaboy / Clann Aoidhe Buidhe / O'Neills

The story of what east Ulster was like before the massive migration of lowland Scots is bound up in the fortunes of the Clandeboye O'Neills. These O'Neills occupied much of south Antrim and north and west Down from about 1350AD up until 1606 - an area which was then named Clandeboye. As far as I know, the only surviving monument to the Clandeboye O'Neills is at Shane's Castle in Antrim.

The only detailed account of that branch of the O'Neills - Leabhar Cloinne Aodha Buidhe - exists only as an Irish language manuscript which was first written around 1680, and which was published as a book in 1931 by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

It's about 300 pages long. Somebody should definitely produce a contextualised, footnoted English translation.

If Noah were alive today...

Thanks to Laura for this!

In the year 2008 the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in England and said: 'Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me. Build another Ark and save two of every living thing along with a few good humans.'

He gave Noah the CAD drawings, saying: 'You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.'

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard, but no Ark.

'Noah!' He exclaimed, 'I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?'

'Forgive me, Lord,' begged Noah, 'but things have changed. I needed Building Regulations Approval and I've been arguing with the Fire Brigade about the need for a sprinkler system.

My neighbours claim that I should have obtained planning permission for building the Ark in my garden because it is development of the site, even though in my view it is a temporary structure. We then had to appeal to the Secretary of State for a decision..

Then the Department of Transport demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it.

Getting the wood was another problem. All the decent trees have Tree Preservation Orders on them and we live in a Site of Special Scientific interest set up in order to protect the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls - but no go!

When I started gathering the animals, the RSPCA sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.

Then the County Council, the Environment Agency and the Rivers Authority ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.

I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission on how many disabled carpenters I'm supposed to hire for my building team. The trades unions say I can't use my sons. They insist I have to hire only accredited workers with Ark-building experience.

To make matters worse, Customs and Excise seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.

So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark. '

Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun shone, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.

Noah looked up in wonder and asked, 'You mean you're not going to destroy the world?'

'No,' said the Lord. '..........the British Government beat me to it.'

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Northern Ireland mainstream media in "let's kick Ulster-Scots again" shocker!

This time it's the Belfast Bellylaugh. Yawn.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Charlie Sheen, Obama and 9-11

This story is all over the internet, so not wanting y'all to be left out, I thought I'd post it here. Make of it what you will - but when the highest-paid TV star in America makes a video message for the President, and comes out with this sort of stuff - and on the anniversary of 9-11 - it's pretty big news.

About 4min 30 Sheen starts to address the President "representing the families of the victims of September 11th". The last time high-profile American entertainers made such overtly political remarks (albeit on a different subject) which were aimed at the then-President, this is what happened.

Strange days indeed.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tin Tabernacles


If, like me, you grew up in the world of wee mission halls, then this website and book is for you. "Tin Tabernacles - Corrugated Iron Mission Halls, Churches and Chapels of Britain" by Ian Smith is a superb publication. £25 for a magnificently produced hardback 200 page coffee table style volume bursting with over 370 full colour photographs of small (and large) tin churches across the British Isles, but mostly in England and Scotland. Heartily recommended, and well worth the price.

Visit the website here

Ian is still collecting more images of tin halls, so get your cameras out and record the ones in your area and email them to him - make sure Ulster is well represented!

Two Ulster tin halls below, the People's Hall in Portavogie, and also a Church of Ireland hall at Rossknowlagh in Donegal

Monday, September 07, 2009

Before Hamilton & Montgomery - the failed English settlement of 1572

In May 1572, between 700 and 800 people gathered at Liverpool docks in the north west of England, bound for a new life on the Ards Peninsula of County Down.

The venture had been planned with meticulous detail. The English authorities had been considering a scheme like this since at least the year 1515, so there was no shortage of either theory or interest. It was October 1571 when Queen Elizabeth I granted her Secretary of State, Sir Thomas Smith (pictured left), 360,000 acres of land in this most easterly part of Ulster.

Smith and his son, who was also called Thomas, seized their opportunity and had been advertising their new estate ever since to potential tenants across England. But the land was disputed territory, claimed both by the Clandeboye O’Neills since around AD 1350, and also by the English Crown and the Savage family since the late 1100s.

The Smiths' objective was to establish a new English colony, centred around a new fortress town called Elizabetha which was to be located at the upper end of the Peninsula where “it is joined unto the rest of the Island”, and which would be defended by three major forts that the settlers planned to build. But due to delays, by the time they set sail on 30 August of the same year, the number of emigrants had fallen to just over 100.

The project was doomed before it began – but its failure cleared the way for the breathtaking success of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of the same lands which began in 1606. The Lowland Scots would succeed where the English had failed...

...more to follow during the Autumn!

A wee bit of music

Post-Agency, it's great to be back to playing some music a bit more regularly and getting out round the country to meet folk. Our Autumn schedule's now full, so if you want to see us you can get the full list of dates here. We're doing 4 counties over 12 dates from now till Christmas.

Graeme and I don't claim any particular talent or ability - we just enjoy what we do, we hope it has a purpose, and happily other people like it as well. The "brother duet" that we now do is a classic form. The best of the brother duets were the Monroe Brothers and the Louvin Brothers. Here's a series of YouTube clips of the Louvins in action - mighty stuff!

Friday, September 04, 2009

What can you see from Scrabo Tower?

Two recent photos below - one of Scrabo Tower, which overlooks Newtownards. And another of the interpretive sign at the car park there, with a map of the places you can see when you're up there. Click both to enlarge

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Peter's house

Interesting video from

Peters House in Capernaum from Mars Hill Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It was the Scotch-Irish who introduced the Potato to America

Do you know that it was Ulster emigrants who introduced the potato to North America? In that world famous periodical, the American Potato Journal (June 1967) there's a reference which will astonish many of you:

Scotch Irish bring potatoes to Londonderry (Derry) New Hampshire
The most authentic report indicates that the first Irish (white) potatoes grown in North America were planted in Derry (previously Londonderry), New Hampshire during the spring of 1719 by a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants. That the seed was brought from Ireland may be the reason that the potato was called the "Irish potato".

Read it for yourself here!

And there's even a sign to mark the location:


Further details about one of the sixteen Scotch-Irish familes involved was published in 1890, in the Proceedings and Addresses of the Second Congress of the Scotch-Irish Society of America at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 29 to June 1, 1890 in an article entitled Scotch-Irish in New England by Rev. A. L. Perry, Professor of History and Politics, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.

"...the most interesting of the purely Irish families, who came with the Scotch to Worcester, with whom they had contracted relationship during their long residence in Ulster... was the Young family, four generations together. They brought the potato to Worcester, and it was first planted there in several fields in the spring of 1719. The tradition is still lively in Scotch-Irish families (I listened to it eagerly in my boyhood) that some of their English neighbors, after enjoying the hospitality of one of the Irish families, were presented each on their departure with a few tubers for planting, and the recipients, unwilling to give offense by refusing, accepted the gift; but suspecting the poisonous quality, carried them only to the next swamp and chucked them into the water.

The same spring a few potatoes were given for seed to a Mr. Walker, of Andover, Mass., by an Irish family who had wintered with him, previous to their departure for Londonderry to the northward. The potatoes were accordingly planted; came up and flourished well; blossomed and produced balls, which the family supposed were the fruit to be eaten. They cooked the balls in various ways, but could not make them palatable, and pronounced them unfit for food. The next spring, while plowing the garden, the plow passed through where the potatoes had grown, and turned out some of great size, by which means they discovered their mistake. This is the reason why this now indespensable esculent is still called in New England certainly, and perhaps elsewhere, the "Irish potato."

John Young was perhaps the oldest immigrant who ever came to this country to live and die. If the inscription on his tombstone is to trusted, which the American Antiquarian Society, of Worcester, copied and published many years ago, he was ninety-five years old when he landed at Boston. He lived in Worcester twelve years, died in 1730; was buried in the old yard on the common. His son, David Young, an old man when he came, died at ninety-four years, and was buried in the same place. His son, William Young, a stone cutter by trade, erected over their graves a common double headstone, with the following inscriptions in parallel columns, united at the bottom by the rude yet precious rhyming lines:

"Here lies interred the remains of John Young, who was born in the isle of Bert, near Londonderry, in the Kingdom of Ireland. He departed this life, June 30, 1730, aged 107 years.

Here lies interred the remains of David Young, who was born in the parish of Tahbeyn, county of Donegal, and kingdom of Ireland. He departed this life, December 26, aged 94 years.

The aged son, and the more aged father
Beneath (these) stones their mould'ring bones
Here rest together."

Any help in finding out more about the other families would be much appreciated. This webpage says that "...Some names found in the early community are: James McKeen, John Barnett, Archibald Clendennin, John Mitchell, James Sterrett, James Anderson, Randall Alexander, James Gregg, James Clark, James Nesmith, Allen Anderson, Robert Weir, John Morrison, Samuel Allison, Thomas Steele, John Stuart. They paid no money for their land as it was a free gift from King William..."

James Orr and Ballycarry

I was up in Ballycarry last Friday and had the camera in the car. This is the grave/memorial of James Orr, the Bard of Ballycarry (1770 - 1816) - brief biography here. This coming weekend sees the annual "Broadisland Gathering" in the village, with its focus the regular Saturday Ulster-Scots festival. Worth visiting if you can get the time to go up.

Sweet to the boons that blythely enter
At dinner-time, the graise in centre
Champ't up wi' kail, that pey the planter
Beans, pa'snips, peas!
Gash! cud a cautious Covenanter
Wait for the grace

(from James Orr's To The Potatoe)


Here's a run-down of the Festival's activities this year:

September 3, 2009, 8pm
Gathering Reception Night, Ballycarry Community Centre, admission free
featuring the Lost River String Band, re-enactors, presentations, and tea. Come along and help launch the 17th Broadisland Gathering!

September 4, 2009, 7pm
History Hike around Ballycarry, starting at the community centre; visit some of the historic sites of the village and learn more about the local history and stories from the area in the company of Dr. David Hume. Accompanied by a piper, contribution £2.00 per adult. To book a space phone 028 28 274589.

September 5, 2009, 12 noon to 5pm
Enjoy the 17th annual Broadisland Gathering with its rich variety of music, pageantry, stalls, displays and exhibitions. A historical display will be on show in the Old Presbyterian Church. New groups this year include Risin Stour, the Seven Towers Ceilidh Band and Clontibrit Pipe Band from County Monaghan.

September 5, 2009, 8pm
Ballyearl Arts Centre, Newtownabbey
The Broadisland Gathering goes outside Ballycarry with an Ulster Scots concert to celebrate the 17th Gathering. Session Beat will be headline group for the event, along with the Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band and other entertainment, and tickets are only £10.00 and should be pre-booked. This promises to be a fantastic evening, and your support would be welcome. To book tickets phone 028 90 848287.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So what was east Ulster like before the Lowland Scots showed up?

There's a really dire clip on YouTube from a cartoon called "Captain Planet" that Jacob showed me the other day, where the hero visits Belfast. All the usual stereotypes apply - including the old chestnut (at about 2:15) "you Protestants came over here and took our land". Yawn.

With the 400th anniversary of the Plantation of Ulster next year (remember, Antrim and Down weren't included in the Plantation!) there's a danger that a lot of nonsense will be talked about it. People have been coming and going for thousands of years between the two coasts, but as I often say "the trickle became a flood" in May 1606, when boatloads of lowland Scots began to arrive in east Ulster. Tens of thousands would arrive over the coming years.

As far as east Ulster is concerned, Hugh Montgomery agreed a business deal with Con O'Neill for half of his estates - then James Hamilton convinced the new Scottish King to negotiate a share of the estate for him as a repayment for many favours the King owed him, and the rest is history. But what did they arrive to? ATQ Stewart famously wrote in The Narrow Ground that:

"...Hamilton & Montgomery... did not wrest a fertile, cultivated and prosperous region from Gaelic proprietors. They came instead to a country devastated by war and famine... they created the bridgehead through which the Scots were to come into Ulster for the rest of the century...” (p38)

The Montgomery Manuscripts recorded that:

"... in the spring time, Ao. 1606, those parishes were now more wasted than America (when the Spaniards landed there)… 30 cabins could not be found, nor any stone walls, but ruined roofless churches, and a few vaults at Gray Abbey, and a stump of an old castle in Newton...”

Were there many people here? In Colonial Ulster, Raymond Gillespie estimated the population of Antrim and Down at just 243 families (p55), and in The Scottish Migration to Ulster, Michael Perceval Maxwell estimated the entire population of nine county Ulster at between 25,000 - 40,000 people, but that was "before the Irish debacle at Kinsale and before the devastating campaigns waged in the north by the English which caused widespread famine and ensuing plague..." (p17).

It's probably impossible to know for sure to know how many people there were before the huge influx of lowland Scots, but these references clearly suggest a very small population.

However, in terms of buildings, the often-questioned reference that "30 cabins could not be found" might actually be pretty accurate. In the missing chapter of the Montgomery MSS, it gives further information that shines a light on the situation, under the Savages and the O'Neills:

'...Sir Robert Savage (1272 - 1360)... declared his entire faith in the ancient proverb or tradition that "a castle of bones, with the strength and courage of valiant men, was better than the strongest castle of stones that could be erected. "Never," said this daring youth, "shall I by the grace of God, cumber myself with dead walls... the O'Neill's afterwards adopted the same policy of the Savages, and, instead of attempting to strengthen their territories with castles, absolutely prohibited the erection of such buildings. Carrying out this policy of making Ulster untenable to an invader for want of cover and supplies, they are said to have discouraged agriculture, and encouraged people to keep together in creaghts, thus living a wandering pastoral life. Con O'Neill, the first Earl of Tyrone, cursed all of his posterity who should learn the English language, sow wheat, or build houses...'

So if there was an effective pre-Scots policy to not build houses, then it can hardly be a surprise that the earliest Scots records say there were hardly any houses.

These are just five references. There may be 500 other references to consider before the real picture can be seen. Someone out there needs to do a big piece of work on this whole subject. Hopefully someone will, and will publicise it widely.