Thursday, July 15, 2010

Congratulations Londonderry


To be named as the first ever UK City of Culture is a remarkable achievement. I hope that the Scottish / Ulster-Scots contribution to the city's history and culture will be included in the activities and events in 2013.

Whilst the Ards and north Down holds the cherished position of "Birthplace of the Ulster-Scots" (note - awaits backlash from Co Antrim readers :-) ), Derry wasn't far behind. It's important to remember that while Hugh Montgomery was bringing lowland Scottish families into east Ulster (via Donaghadee) from May 1606 onwards, by Spring 1607 his younger brother George Montgomery was doing the same in west Ulster. Specifically, he brought people from Glasgow, Ayr, Largs, Greenock and Irvine into the ports of Donegal, Killybegs and Derry - all a good six months prior to the Flight of the (Gaelic Irish) Earls from nearby Rathmullan.

George had been made Bishop of Derry, Raphoe and Clogher and he took a great interest in the church lands which went with the job and in making them a commercial opportunity; his portrait still hangs in Clogher Cathedral today. George Montgomery is said to have kept records of the seamen and passengers who arrived - I don't know if these papers have survived, but what a discovery it would be to find them! However just a few years later Derry became a centre of English enterprise and the small Scots community was overwhelmed. Here's a glimpse of the early Scots in the city -

"...When Derry was granted to the City of London in 1610, the former residents had to be compensated. Among those were five or six men, about one tenth of the total, who were almost certainly Scots. Their names were preponderantly those of the south west of Scotland, such as Boyd, Patterson and Wray..." (from Perceval Maxwell).

Towards the end of the century, the English authorities' regard for the Ulster-Scots of the area hadn't improved. During the Siege of 1689, when thousands of Ulster-Scots from the surrounding hinterland sought refuge within the walls of the city (an exodus caused by the infamous Comber Letter which was addressed to Hugh Montgomery III, the Earl of Mount Alexander) a comment was made that "No matter how many of them die, they are but a pack of Scotch Presbyterians". Mount Alexander turned to the Covenanters of the Ards, led by their minister David Houston, for protection. So the ever-resolute Houston gathered a force of Covenanters and... headed for Derry, the city that his old friend and colleague Alexander Peden had foretold on 4 February 1685 (while at the mid-Antrim home of a Mr Vernor) as follows - "Oh hunger, hunger in Derry, many a black, pale face shall be in thee and fire, fire..."

So, the Ulster-Scots story of the city is (in my view) the mortar that holds the bricks of its many other stories together. Let's hope somebody does a brilliant job of bringing that story to life for 2013 and beyond.

(PS: it is of course tragic that Ballyhalbert's brave bid for the title was unsuccessful. Perhaps we will stand a better chance next time, now that the water treatment plant is finished. The untreated sewage in the bay meant that the first bid was just going through the motions...)