Monday, March 31, 2014

Dear independent television companies...

... it must be funding round time again, and you've found this blog. Well done - Google is amazing. Well, don't assume that the many folk like me who know a few things about Ulster-Scots heritage (and others know loads more than I do) are sitting here full of excitement awaiting a phone call or email from a junior researcher so we can have our 'brains picked'. That's got very tiresome.

Most of us know by now you're only looking for us because of the money, it's like the smell of blood in the water and the sharks are circling again. I'm picky about who I waste my time with. If you're serious about doing a good job, about treating the subject with respect, and about presenting it with some empathy then maybe I'm interested. But otherwise, believe me, I'm not interested in being pillaged for knowledge which you won't understand and which you'll then probably butcher and mangle and pump into the public domain.

This knowledge is our cultural crown jewels. You wouldn't hand your car keys to a monkey, would you? So just pause for thought. If you want to pump out the same-old same-old then fire away and get on with it. But if you're genuine, then take some interest outside of the commissioning and funding round deadlines. Invest time to understand what you're seeking to portray,  and we might invest some time with you in return.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Plandáil 1606 - 1640: Settlement to Covenant

The three-part series Plandáil was produced in 2011 for BBC Northern Ireland, backed by the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, and was presented by Neil Martin. It is one of the best televisual accounts of the Scots' arrival in Ulster in the early 1600s that I have seen in recent years  - and importantly, it explains the differences between what Hamilton & Montgomery did in east Ulster, in contrast to how events unfolded in west Ulster.

I have been invited to give a talk next Wednesday evening at the AGM of the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, on the subject of Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter (1600-1666), one of the first ministers to come across. One of the events that Hamilton is renowned for was a public debate with the Bishops in Belfast which was dramatised in Plandáil - you can see at around 29 minutes in to the clip below.

Hamilton's story is one which has interested me for many years, given that he was the first minister in the area where I live, and that - unlike his contemporaries Robert Blair, John Livingstone and Robert Cunningham, nothing has been written about him. The talk will be general, not drilling down into the obscure details, but I hope it will be interesting to the audience. I need to get the full version published and out of my system!

Monday, March 03, 2014

How Can I Keep From Singing? by Robert Lowry

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

This was first published in the 1860s by 'son of Ulster' Robert Wadsworth Lowry, who wrote the words and the tune. I am in touch with one of his descendants who hopes to visit Northern Ireland this summer to visit the townlands and villages of Killinchy and Crossgar where the Lowrys lived before emigrating. Over the years it has been recorded (and its lyrics altered to be more secular) by artists like Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Eva Cassidy and Enya.