Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The Lowland hatred of the Celtic bagpipes (declared to be a favourite musical instrument of Satan)"


The details shown above are from John Derrick's famous 1581 engravings of 'The Image of Irelande' showing scenes and battles between Irish and English forces of the time. A set of them is available to view here on the Edinburgh University Library website. Two of these feature 'pypers' within the Irish 'woodkerne', one of which has been killed and has his pipes lying beside him.

'Many instances of the Lowland hatred of the Celtic bagpipes (declared to be a favourite musical instrument of Satan) imply no more than that the more musical Saxons could not bear the sound of an instrument which brought to their remembrance ruthless foes who, it is said, also played the pipes during the Irish massacres in 1641. In 1641 Lord Lothian [ William Kerr ] had a piper in every company when his regiment lay at Newcastle, and at the same time there was not a sober fiddler in the Scots army there. The Scots loved the harp, the harpsichord, the viol, and the flute, and still more the sweet voices which sang those martial ballads and love lyrics which still charm the dainty ear'. (thanks to Jack for this reference, from Hewison in 1908).

Pipe bands seem to have been popularised by soldiers returning from the First World War (1914-1918), where they saw and heard Highland regiments of the British Army - for example Gilnahirk Pipe Band from East Belfast was formed in 1919. So nowadays we don't have the same reservations about the pipes as our ancestors did. Time moves on and things change. The story of music and the Ulster-Scots is still to be properly researched and written.

> The Highland Bagpipe by W.L. Manson (1901) on
> Bagpipes in War from the North East Folklore Archive


Thursday, July 28, 2011

European Pipe Band Championships, Belfast, 30 July 2011


A few years ago I was involved with some efforts to attract major pipe band events to Northern Ireland. We wanted to bring the RSPBA World Pipe Band Championships across the water from Scotland, but were just pipped at the post by Glasgow City Council (who retained the event for the umpteenth year). However, later that same year Belfast City Council did manage to secure the European Pipe Band Championships for three years running from 2010 - 2012. Last year's event at Stormont Estate was a good start to the series, and this year's looks like a much bigger affair.

> Belfast City Council web page about the Championships: click here
> Piping is Class Festival: click here

I can't go this year as I'm leading another Ulster-Scots historical bus tour of the Ards and North Down on the same day, but I'd definitely recommend anyone to go to the Europeans (and any of the pipe band contests), it's a great day out. For those stuck at home but close to a computer, there's always the live online stream being arranged through the multimedia department of Lurgan Junior High School- more info on the RSPBA website here. (school has obviously changed a lot since my day!).

The Worlds is being held on Glasgow Green on Saturday 13th. Let's hope the Ulster bands romp home with a truckload of wins - Worlds website here.

Hugh Porter of Moneyslane

I am fortunate enough to have an original 1813 edition of the poems of Hugh Porter. His 'country rhymes' are exceptional - clever, humourous, satirical, witty. Here's the intro of one I read the other day, entitled 'To the Most Noble Marquis of Downshire':

My Lord,
While friends an' folk o' fame,
Wi' compliments salute ye,
I maun contented sit at hame
An' barely think about ye


Friday, July 22, 2011

Musgrave's Patent, Belfast; (a window spotted in England earlier this week)

You can read more about the Musgraves of Belfast here. Click pics to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Newtownards, 11.30pm tonight.

Took this photo tonight of the view at the top end of Strangford Lough, towards Newtownards' massive 11th Night bonfire. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

If you're up at the North Coast this week

...then the Keswick at Portstewart convention is worth dropping in at. It's been running every year since 1913. Very rooted, down-to-earth, neither full of trendy cool types nor dour suited sorts either, it strikes a great balance with an all-ages approach to good clear Biblical teaching. And as it's in a 1000 seater marquee it's informal - and big enough to slip in and out of without causing a rumpus or being buttonholed by anybody. There's also a bookshop and coffee shop on site as well. I help them with their advertising each year (as you can see from the News Letter pic shown here, this ad appeared both yesterday and today). You can find out more on their blog.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

It has somehow become uncool to sound like you know what you're talking about

This is a bit American, but still applies. Thanks to The Resurgence.

From Killinchy to Newtownards to Irvine, March 1637

"...I went by Dean (Castle) and Loudon and Lanerk to Edinburgh, and remained there some space, being at some private meetings every day; and when I returned to the communion at Irvine, which was March 26, I found that my wife having come only ane visit from her mother's house to Newtoun to see the Lady Airds, and finding some of our Killinshie people going by to go to Irvine communion, she presently came along to Scotland with them... (I) sent to Ireland for some of our goods, and stayed in Lanerk till I went to Stranrawer..."

from The Life of Mr John Livingstone, written by Livingstone himself in January 1666

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

When Worlds Collide: An Encounter with a Public Sector Organisation

Joke with a jag caveat warning: This isn’t an actual conversation, and isn’t about any specific organisation. It’s a compendium of many conversations which have been relayed to me over the years by deflated, infuriated ordinary folk (known here as ‘Person’) who have attempted to deal with a wide variety of organisations in Northern Ireland’s public sector (known here as ‘Them’). Thankfully some public sector organisations aren’t like the mythical one below. There are also some very capable individuals in the sector, many of whom I have worked with and am still working with. However…

Person: “I have an idea that I’d like to talk to your organisation about. I understand you support this type of project.”

Them (with a look of horror/disdain): “That may be. But we have no-one who could take it forward, we’re already very busy.”

Person: “Okay, but it doesn’t need any of your people to actually do it.”

Them: “But we don’t have any money to pay for someone else to do it either, our budget for this year is already fully allocated.”

Person: “But we're only one month into the current year!”

Them: “Sorry.”

Person: “Well, I’m not looking for money for myself, but it might need some fairly small production costs to make it happen.”

Them: “But because we’re already fully allocated, we’d have to put in an external funding application to Organisation X under their new Funding Programme Y. However that Programme is closing next month.”

Person: “Okay. How long does that application take?”

Them: “Well, we’ll have to check their funding criteria and, if necessary, distort your idea beyond recognition to make it fit with their criteria. And, depending upon summer holidays and other delays by the time that their assessment and shortlisting process takes a final decision it could be about one year. Once we get written confirmation of the funding then we can talk to you. Hopefully we won't have to put your idea out to tender".

Person: “But it's MY idea!”


Person: “Well, do you want to hear about the idea anyway?”

Them: “There’s probably little point, we’re already busy doing our own projects which are all aligned with our 3 – 5 year corporate plan.”

Person: “But, properly handled, this idea could really capture the public imagination.”

Them (with another look of horror/disdain): “That would create even more work for our already hard-pressed over-stressed staff.”

Person: “But this office is nearly empty. Where are all of your staff?”

Them: “On a course. Or on flexi-time. Or on leave. Or off sick.”


Them: “Well, let’s have a look at your idea anyway.”

Person passes A4 summary document across table, and explains main highlights.


Them: “Well, it looks interesting. However your timeline doesn’t dovetail with ours... your psychic powers are weak. And if we supply the paper for this specific aspect of the project (they said while pointing to a subtitle on the A4 sheet) then later on in the process we’ll probably claim copyright ownership of the words you’ve written and which have been printed on that paper, even though they’ve taken you years of voluntary time and expense to research, craft and perfect. But anyway, we can’t do a, b and c as these are technically not within our remit - or at least how we presently interpret our remit (but that interpretation is under review with an external consultant just now) - and d, e and f are mostly the responsibility of other public sector organisations. So you’d have to go and talk to them and get their written permissions and approvals before we’d even consider this project.”

Person: “But THEY told me I had to meet YOU first, and get in-principle support for the idea before THEY would consider the project! Look, I have a full-time job and this project is just something I’ve come up with voluntarily in my spare time with other local people, who like me have full-time jobs. We don’t have the time to spend our lives in meetings with public sector organisations being bounced from pillar to post and never getting an answer. AND IT'S OUR TAXES THAT PAY YOUR WAGES!” (thumps table).


Them: “But we have no-one who could liaise with those other public sector bodies, we’re already very busy. And we’re not allowed to assist with specific projects – that could lead to complaints from other project applicants. And maybe even legal challenge.”

Person: “So that’s it then?”

Them: “Well, let’s be optimistic for a moment, let’s say we did manage to find some money”.

Person: “Yes?”

Them: “What we’d then do is make sure our logo was as big as possible on everything produced so it would appear to everyone that we had devised this project through our own genius, expertise and hard work. We’d then arrange a swish launch event for the great and the good. Maybe a Z list celebrity would be paid to come along. But we might forget to invite you - that happens now and again. You’d definitely be left out of publicity photo shoots. And afterwards we’d chop your project up as we see fit and publish it in whatever way we wish, edited by someone who hasn’t any understanding of the subject but who needs to be kept busy at their desk for most of the day. Unless they’re off of course. And we might also give copies of your project to others, without consulting you, so that they can build a new (probably heavily funded) project on the back of your voluntary project and with no acknowledgement that it’s your intellectual property in the first place. Of course we will need lots of freebies for the people on our corporate mailing list who we need to impress – these would be sent out first before the general public actually get any whiff of your project at all.”


Them: “Otherwise we have this other small pot of money we could point you towards, to do something else entirely. We have targets to meet for that fund and it’s currently under-performing.”


Them: “Would you like a copy of our corporate plan? You can download it from our website or write to request a hard copy edition which will be sent out within 30 days. And if you subscribe to our mailing list we'll keep you informed about all of the other wonderful projects that we are funding.”

Person: “Is there a bathroom on this floor?”

(this was written as a bit of mischief, but a few friends DEMANDED that I post it here!)

Monday, July 04, 2011

A final point about technology

"Technology of every kind for spreading truth exists, but there are not people to make it work." - JC Ryle (Ryle died in 1900). From John Piper on Twitter.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

...but for some projects, letterpress IS coming back

Here's the companion post for the one immediately below. In some cases, traditional methods can be used beautifully, to make a statement about an ethic, an ethos - with all of the inevitable labour pains of hand-crafted items. This video shows the process of creating the CD packaging for the wonderful Gillian Welch and Dave Rawling's new CD, The Harrow and the Harvest.Sometimes sterile digital perfection, retouched and auto-tuned to death, produces a monstrosity. Doing something the old way makes a virtue of imperfection.

> Gillian Welch website here
> Aardvark Letterpress website here
> A 5 star review of the album at The Guardian here
> for those who are suspicious of The Guardian, here's a 5 star review from The Telegraph.

Friday, July 01, 2011

A different Ulster McIlroy (ie not Rory) - Technology and tradition

#alttext#They are strange bed-fellows at first glance, but there is no doubt that today's technology has proven its potential to open up deep rivers of tradition and history. I can't remember how many times I have text-searched the eBook editions of The Hamilton Manuscripts and The Montgomery Manuscripts. and GoogleBooks are marvellous online library resources. GPS and satnav have helped me to locate some very obscure historical sites over the last few years. The obvious challenge is that the speed of change makes it impossible to 'future-proof' anything - just remember that 18 months ago the world had never even seen an iPad. And a few years before that telephones were only used for talking to other people. Now a special type of barcode can be included on an interpretive panel, and when photographed by a smartphone it launches a specific webpage which tells you the story of the place you're standing in, in words, pictures or even video. Things like this just weren't possible a few years ago. We are not going back to letterpress printing. Technology isn't the future, it's the present.

In that context, it's great to see that the Ulster-Scots Language Society's new reprint of Archibald M'Ilroy's The Auld-Meetin'-Hoose Green (first published in 1898) is available both as a printed book and also as a Kindle edition. M'Ilroy's The Humour of Druid's Island (published 1902) is one of a very few books which have made me laugh out loud. Well done to Derek for championing M'Ilroy over recent years (at least to anyone who would listen!) and from what I hear there are other voluntary and self-funded projects in the pipeline which will combine to put M'Ilroy back on the map.