Tuesday, December 21, 2010

UTV documentary: "Plantation - the Truth and the Legacy"

I caught this programme last week, and very much enjoyed it. So here it is, embedded from Lesley Black's blog on the UTV website. For me, the success of the programme is that it is skilfully presented by knowledgable contributors, who paint a thorough and engaging picture of the events which began in 1610. Lots of folk have been talking about the programme, and have asked if it was part one of a series - but sadly I understand it's just a one-off.

I was particularly glad that Hamilton & Montgomery got a mention, and that their private settlement scheme of 1606 was rightly presented as being very different from the later Plantation. An important inclusion in the programme is the story of the Antrim MacDonnells, as is the underlying theme of Ulster's unique cultural triple-blend of English, Irish and Scottish.

If the video whets your appetite and you want to read in more detail about the period, I found Cyril Falls' The Birth of Ulster (London, 1936) to be a good general introduction (click here for the GoogleBooks edition), with Philip Robinson's The Plantation of Ulster: British Settlement in an Irish Landscape, 1600-1670 (1984) regarded as the standard work on the subject - it is currently published by the Ulster Historical Foundation and is available online here. TM Healy's The Great Fraud of Ulster (1917) (available here on Archive.org) gives another perspective on the era, and is an enjoyable read.

The Plantation is sometimes exaggerated. It is not the whole story - there were bigger, and arguably more important, Lowland Scottish migrations to Ulster throughout the 1600s. But it's a key moment and needs to be better understood. Well done to all involved in the programme!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A song for the snowbound - "You Ain't Going Nowhere"

"The gate won't close, the railings froze
Get your mind on winter time - you ain't going nowhere"

This is a Bob Dylan song, recorded by The Byrds on their classic 1969 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which famously featured Gram Parsons.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Red Mountain Music - "All Things New"

I've mentioned Red Mountain Music from Alabama on previous posts; they've just released their seventh album, available now for download, with CDs available very soon. They are far better musicians than I'll ever be, and their reworking of old hymns is something I very much admire. Listen here for a merging (I think the cool term is "mash-up") of "Alas And Did My Saviour Bleed" with "I'm Not Ashamed to Own My Lord". Absolutely beautiful. Their haunting version of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" would be at home on any Wilco or Uncle Tupelo album. "Come All Ye Pining Hungry Poor" is another standout - it's an old hymn written in England by Anne Steele (1717-1778), originally entitled "Lord We Adore Thy Boundless Grace".

Some of the songs have an almost Low Anthem feel - overall this sounds more ethereal than previous Red Mountain Music albums, softer and more reflective, but that's maybe down to the production style rather than the songs. Sadly this seems to be the last album they intend to release, but hopefully someone else will take up the mantle. The whole album is available to listen to here.

> Full discography here
> Full list of recordings, with chords and lyrics, here

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's amazing what a blanket of snow reveals in the garden

Found these this morning, unintentionally left on the plants - chilly chillies!


A gem from Mark Driscoll

This today from his Facebook page: "There are 2 ways to get attention for yourself & your cause online. 1. Do something; 2. Criticize someone who has done something".

And here he is below on fine form dealing with "Marriage and Men - 1 Peter 3 v 7". Get the kettle on, stay inside from the snow, and get your head around this - 75 minutes of first class stuff.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A cracker from Charlie

Tonight at bedtime I said to Charlie (who's 8) - "nae use haein' a dug an barkin' yersel" - the eyebrows went down and he repeated back "nae use hen dung.... what?!!".

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Harvest Fair

As Mark Anderson mentioned on his blog, he and I are at the initial stages of a project about the annual Harvest Fair in Newtownards (on 23 September), which some folk claim goes right back to the 1613 Royal Charter of Incorporation that the town was granted. Here's a rough clip of me playing the tune for the song The Harvest Fair, passed on to me many years ago by the late George Holmes:

"Turas - a story of strangers in a strange land"

A former client of mine who quickly became a friend, Colin Neill, has written his first novel. I designed the cover for it and I expect that, given its subject matter, the book will attract a lot of interest. Already available for pre-order here on Amazon.co.uk.

From the back cover: "How do you live when that which is most precious is taken away from you? How do you respond when foundational aspects of your faith and your identity are knocked down and shaken to their core? What do you do when nothing is certain any more?

It is 2020 and Ireland has been united. During this year of striking change, a group of men meet together in a church cell group to wrestle with uncertainty through the filters of their faith and God’s word. Mingled with profound transition all around them are tales of friendship, tales of love, and tales of coming to terms with what the past has meant.

This is a story of seven Christians and their spiritual journey together into the unknown. It is also a response to living in an often religious but always divided society, which asks a series of challenging questions, and offers direction as to where answers may be found."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scotland's "Eagle Wing", 1622


(Photo above of the 1956 replica 'Mayflower' at Brixham in Devon - more photos here).

The attempted sailing of "Eagle Wing" from Groomsport to America in autumn 1636 is one of the most celebrated events of the formative Ulster-Scots community. A number of primary sources exist, including the accounts by two of the ministers who commissioned the ship, Robert Blair and John Livingstone. Blair's Autobiography includes an eight page description of the voyage.

Sometimes"Eagle Wing" has been made light of, and even in its own time it was mocked as a madcap plan which could never have succeeded. However a few years ago some documents surfaced which revealed that a similar voyage had been undertaken just 50 miles away, from Kirkcudbright in Scotland in 1622.

The Mayflower had been built along the River Thames in England before her famous voyage to America in 1620. A ship called The Planter had also been built in the same boatyard; the captain of The Planter was Thomas Hopkins, probably a relative of the Hopkins family who had been passengers on the Mayflower. The contract for the voyage of The Planter was for her to sail from Kirkcudbright to America and was signed by Sir William Alexander, whose daughter - "Presbyterian Jean" Alexander - was engaged to marry Hugh Montgomery jr. the next year. They settled at Mount Alexander near Comber - and when Jean died she was buried inside Newtownards Priory. The contract was also signed by John Mason the governor of Newfoundland, and Sir Robert McClelland, who was another hugely significant figure in the early Scots settlements of Ulster, and who married Elizabeth Montgomery, one of Hugh Montgomery's daughters. A relative of Sir Robert was John McClelland - the principal of Montgomery's "great school" in Newtownards, part-time Presbyterian minister and also one of those who commissioned "Eagle Wing". He went back to Kirkcudbright when the ship returned.

So the events of 1636 at Groomsport may well have had their genesis 50 miles away in the events of 1622 at Kirkcudbright. This is yet another example of the global vision and ambition of our ancestors, who were closely linked to the major events of the world they lived in.

• a recreation of the Mayflower is currently underway in England - full story here | project website here
• a replica of the Mayflower was built in the 1950s and sailed across the Atlantic from Brixham in Devon to Plymouth in Massachussetts; there's an exhibition about the project in Brixham Heritage Museum: see BBC Devon video archive clip here
• full article about The Planter is available here at ReportBoston.com
• another article is available here

NB - with thanks to Gail Onesi from Atlanta, Georgia for sending the story of The Planter to me some time ago.

Friday, December 10, 2010

When worlds collide

I took my parents to Belfast this morning. When we'd finished what we'd gone there to do, on the road home we called in at Tesco in Newtownbreda. My da doesn't really do shops and he was impressed both by the scale of the place and that you could get a decent fry for £4 in the café. They bought some stuff and I bought some too, and as we queued at the till my da went first. The checkout girl rang in the total amount and then asked him "Do you have a Clubcard?". Clearly this was an alien world he had entered, with strange customs. So he just looked at her and then silently handed her some money.

I wish he'd said "Naw, but dae you hae a Nuffield or a Fordson Dexta?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Upper Ards Historical Society: Sir Thomas Smith talk tonight

Just back in the door from giving my talk on the forgotten Sir Thomas Smith colony of 1572 to Upper Ards Historical Society in Portaferry. It went really well, and they've asked me to contribute a few items to the next edition of their Journal. This is an honour, as my grandfather's poems have appeared in previous editions, and I've spent many hours going through back issues in Portaferry Library, discovering gems of local history throughout its pages. Despite frosty car parks and slippy roads a good number of folk were there tonight and none of them fell asleep.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Striddlin', stowch and nap

Three great words came up in conversation with my mother yesterday - striddlin is the half-bent-over, jumping from foot to foot, stance that somebody makes when they're busting for the toilet. When you nap your toe you stub it and lift a bit of skin off it, and stowch (with a hard -ch sound like in German) is the heavy greasy bluish atmosphere that's left behind after frying. All part of a Sunday afternoon conversation among Ards Peninsula folk. Let the experts concern themselves with the significance of etymologies - let the normal folk enjoy the words they grew up with, and pass them on with all their simple glory.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

CS Lewis and Narnia


This may be close to heresy in some quarters, but I've never regarded (pictured above) Belfast-born CS Lewis' Narnia Chronicles as the major Christian allegory that other folk talk about with such enthusiasm. Liam Neeson has kicked up a bit of a controversy about them, which you can read here. The broad similarities - a world of perpetual winter living under the curse of an evil force, and a lion King who gives his life, conquers death, and rises victorious - are fair enough, but Lewis' science fiction series The Cosmic Trilogy is far better and has a more obvious theology woven through the storylines. His other writings, like Mere Christianity, are masterful; The Screwtape Letters should be on your Christmas list if you've never read it.

Last night we had a family night in and camped out with duvets and piles of pillows on the front room floor, lit the wood burning stove, made a pile of toast and put on a dvd of the recent movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A nice simple way to spend a coul coul winter's night. I've been told that in one of his books he mentions that his inspiration for Narnia was the snowy view from Craigantlet down towards the Mourne Mountains and the Ards Peninsula. He describes the Ards drumlins as looking like a big basket of potatoes, sprinkled over with soil, on which grass grew and formed the landscape... and said that "Heaven would be like Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of County Down." So he can't be all that bad after all.

(ps - you can read about his Ulster-Scots influences on this previous post)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Not sure what to buy for the (former?) paramilitary terrorist in your life this Christmas?


Well, what about some hand grenade Christmas tree decorations (6 for £12) or a balaclava tea cosy (£25).? Both are available at Suck.uk.com


A Pope joke that hasn't forced the resignation of a high-profile referee

BBC Three has a brilliant Spitting Image style football programme called SpecialOneTV. Presented by José Mourinho, the famously self-declared "Special One", if you're into football this is laugh-out-loud funny stuff. In the episode below, at 2.35, you'll get a very obvious but still very funny Pope joke. Scottish football has got into some trouble because of online humour associated with the Pope's recent visit - a high profile referee felt the need to resign after he was involved in an email joke, and two Aberdeen players' Facebook messages got them into some hot water. The episode also includes an exclusive from Wayne Rooney's ankle treatment in the USA... which turns into an induction into the Church of Scientology by Tom Cruise!

A full list of all of the episodes of SpecialOneTV is here. Be Champions!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Belfast's Royal Charter of Incorporation, 1613


Under the dome of Belfast's City Hall is displayed a 400 year old document - the Royal Charter which was granted on 27 April 1613. It's hidden behind glass and hard to photograph, but well worth a look the next time you're there. 14 charters were granted to towns in NI/Ulster; 5 in RoI/Ulster, and 21 towns across the rest of what is today the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps there is a major piece of historical commemoration to be planned for these?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Hank Williams classic with a tuba

Great clip of The Lower Lights playing the Hank Williams classic "House of Gold":

BBC and the Broadcasting Fund

A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in a BBC panel discussion which was held this morning; we did our best to give them an overview of everything Ulster-Scots from daily vocabulary and historic language literature, to general history and cultural stuff. There were about 40 programme makers in the audience, and they spent much of their time asking us questions - so I asked them a few in return. One of these was "How many of you were reared in rural Ulster - now, reared, not moved out to the country when you made enough money". Only 4 or 5 raised their hands. That lack of natural home-grown cultural understanding within the media, and indeed within the decision makers of Northern Ireland, is a huge part of the future challenge for Ulster-Scots. Projects which are being funded, and managed, by people who don't really "get it" are particularly risky and vulnerable. I threw in a few slightly mischievous comments as well, it'll be interesting to see if these surface elsewhere in coming weeks.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"With so much gone forever, do we not have an ever-more pressing duty to preserve the legacy of older generations?"


(Pic above: High Street, Belfast, late 1800s.) Here's an excerpt from Gail Walker's article in today's Belfast Telegraph (full article here)

"...buildings which should fill us with pride are turning into eyesores. The neo-classical Upper Crescent exhibits serious signs of wear and tear. Garfield Street, off Royal Avenue, once must have been rather beautiful but now looks like something from a cheap zombie flick. Crumlin Road Courthouse — despite big talk of redevelopment and tourism — looks on its last legs. The heart and soul of Belfast has been blown out by the bombers and so “redeveloped” by the developers that you feel you're in the middle of nowhere in particular.

The Grand Central Hotel has been replaced by CastleCourt, which already looks rather weary after a few years. Smithfield is a hollow joke of former glories. North Street Arcade and its muses have been subsumed into Cathedral Quarter. North Street ... well, let's not even go there? No seriously, let's not go there, unless you're a fan of windswept spaces and boarded up shops. Cornmarket, once the imaginative heart of Belfast, is now little better than a waiting room for Victoria Square.

With so much gone forever, do we not have an ever-more pressing duty to preserve the legacy of older generations? I mean the actual bricks, the craftsmanship of our forefathers — their dreams, hopes and aspirations — not just call some area scheduled for demolition a “quarter”. But no. All that's someone else's problem — the Government's, the council's, the private sector's. Nothing to do with us, mate. We're too busy sipping lattes, watching Manchester United in HD in pubs and wondering which shopping centre has the best Christmas parking..."

The article above was a response to this recent "dirty dozen" list issued by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, the worst of 500 important buildings being neglected across Northern Ireland (UAHS website here).


Detail below from the above pic - I wonder what The Scotch House sold? According to some entries here from 1858/1859 it seems to have been a clothes shop. This website lists some "penny tokens" which were issued by the shop, with a decorative design combining shamrocks and thistles. This article gives a full list of all of the shops along the street in the early 1800s.