Thursday, November 05, 2009

Belfast and the "Scotch"

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is full of great stuff. I was there for most of the afternoon. I found some correspondence between two of Ulster's great Victorian antiquarians - William Pinkerton (1809 - 1871, whose father was from Paisley in Scotland) and George Benn (1801 - 1882, author of A History of the Town of Belfast). While Benn was working on the later edition of the book in the 1870s, Pinkerton wrote to him to advise:

"...Belfast was founded by the English, but the Scotch element gaining the mastery, it became little more than a Scotch trading station in Ireland, the sole aim of the inhabitants being to make money and go back to Scotland again..."

These were men of what has been described as "the first Golden Age of historians of Belfast". When you add to the list men like Robert Magill Young, William Reeves, James O'Laverty, Classon Porter, W D Killen and Rev George Hill, you find that those great historians of 150 years ago were utterly convinced of the profound cultural and historic connections between Ulster and Scotland, and devoted large portions of their lives to researching and publishing these connections.

It is a shame that so many of today's professional historians and educators in Northern Ireland have made it their business to ignore their predecessors' monumental achievements and seek to airbrush Scotland out of our story; in doing so they perpetuate the failed and divisive political "two tribes" narrative, and hide from us our full cultural heritage.