Monday, October 08, 2012

'Ireland for Christ' - Rev John Pollock of St Enoch's Presbyterian Church, Belfast (part 2)

Rev John Pollock (subject of this previous post here back in August) turns out to have been a fascinating character. Thanks to Robert and Margaret who got in touch with me I now have the words and musical notation of 'Ireland for Christ' which he wrote in 1899. A scan is reproduced below, with permission -


The references in the lyrics to 'ancient land of saints and sages', 'from the slavery of ages, rise to liberty', 'Erin's sons and daughters' etc. read today as quite (N)ationalistic. However by way of contrast I've also been sent handwritten tonic sol-fa notation for a piece that Pollock wrote to be the 'Christian Endeavour Convention Song, Derry 1903' entitled 'No Surrender' !. Presumably the words of it had Gospel content and he was just making use of the well-known slogan to catch the attention of the audience at the Convention, in a way that was appropriate for the city.

If these two pieces suggest that Pollock's politics wavered a bit, then he confirmed that in a later speech. I recently came across a very interesting article in the North Down Herald from early 1914 which gives a report of a visit Pollock made to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he spoke at an Orange Hall in North James Street.

'...His opposition to Home Rule was made all the more remarkable by the admitted fact that he was a Scotch Liberal. He confessed that he had already changed his mind on the question twice... at the outset he proclaimed he was "a Home Ruler on principle, but thought Irish self-government impossible under present conditions"..."I have no objection to a free Parliament on College Green in Dublin, but I do object to Italian rule"...'

The article goes on to explain that his only reservation was of 'Rome Rule', ie Catholic church interference in a future 'Home Rule' parliament in Dublin, and suggests that if it weren't for this suspected interference Pollock would have supported Home Rule.

Bear in mind that Pollock was minister of the single largest Presbyterian church in the British Isles at the time. So, whilst not very 'PC' for today, his speech reveals intriguing nuances within the mind of one of the most prominent Ulster Presbyterians 100 years ago, whose speeches in Canada were given newspaper coverage back at home. Whichever side of the political debate Pollock found himself on, his focus remained on the Gospel.