Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ulster-Scots understanding in 1950

From This is Ireland: Ulster and the City of Belfast by Richard Hayward (London, 1950):

"...Newtownards, the New Town of the Ards of Sir Hugh Montgomery, owes its rise to the commercial acumen of that wily Scot who got the better of poor Con O'Neill at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The old Mercat or Town Cross still stands... I wonder, Con O'Neill, does your spirit still haunt the groves of Holywood... for sure if we can't find your forgotten grave in Ballymaghan, can't we keep a wee place in our hearts for you and your sorrows? It was you I was thinking of when I wrote a little poem many years ago, a poem of which this is the cadence:

No, there's little known about him round the hills of Castlereagh,
And the grass has hid his grey old home this manys a day
But they tell me out in Holywood they sometimes see a man,
Late afoot and sorrowing for the Yellow-haired clan..."

We can turn our noses up at the writing style, but what this shows is mainstream awareness of the story of Con O'Neill and Hugh Montgomery back in 1950 when the book was published. My parents were just 5 years old when this came out. Their generation, and mine, are still mostly clueless about this origin story of the first Lowland Scottish settlement in Ulster. And just like O'Neill's "grey old home" itself, how much understanding has been demolished or lost over the past two generations?

(NB - Con was buried at the old church of Knockcolumbkille, shown on the 1665 map below as Collum Kill. There is no trace of either the church or the burial ground there today.)


Citizen_69 said...

It's true, I personally wasn't really aware of the Montgomery/O'Neill story until around the 400th anniversary thanks to the website & the Dawn of the Ulster Scots documentary. Like most people i believed the 1609 plantation was the first mass wave of Scots presbyterians.