Sunday, June 29, 2014

A very different Glastonbury

Four summers ago when travelling through Devon and Somerset on a family holiday, we stopped off at Glastonbury. With all the coverage that this year's music festival has had over the weekend, it reminded me of a very different Glastonbury story which you can uncover if you ever visit, but which tends to be overwhelmed by all sorts of very strange 'new age' and quasi-occultic shops and imagery throughout the town.

At Glastonbury Abbey a story is told of an historic local tradition that Joseph of Arimathea visited the area and perhaps brought a teenage Jesus with him. The Abbey interpretative panels, and books and booklets on sale in the gift shop, tell this story time and again. This tradition is not limited to Glastonbury but extends into Cornwall, especially to areas with tin mining history.



Joseph is said to have planted a tree on nearby Wyrral or Wearyall Hill, which is clearly visible from the Abbey, and from which many other trees have been grafted and which are dotted in various places throughout the town. Most of these have a small plaque beside them. Below are some pics of the one within the Abbey grounds, just outside St Patrick's Chapel. These are said to bloom twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. Our tour guide told us that the Queen has a small branch from the Glastonbury Thorn as a centrepiece each year on the Royal Family's Christmas dinner table. SDC15461SDC15463SDC15464

The Church of St John the Baptist is a fine building in the centre of the town, and it has a thorn tree at its entrance.


Inside the church there are some stained glass windows which tell the Joseph of Arimathea story - that he brought two 'cruets' with him, and that the original thorn tree grew when he planted his staff on the hillside.


Also in the north transept of the church is a medieval stone coffin, once-reputed to contain relics or even the remains of Joseph of Arimathea. The church's website says '... In the centre of the transept is what may have been part of a shrine to Joseph of Arimathea, erected in the abbey in the early 15th Century. Displayed in a case on this tomb or shrine is a funeral pall made in 1774 from a cope. This cope was traditionally worn by Abbott Whiting, put to death on the Tor in 1539, although it was probably made during the Abbacy of his predecessor. The 1936 stained glass in the north window is by A J Davies and depicts some of the Glastonbury legends...'


A tree still stood on Wearyall Hill when we visited, but a few months later it was cut down by vandals with a chainsaw. SDC15541SDC15538

Glastonbury is a weird and wonderful place. That Glastonbury Abbey and the Church of St John the Baptist sustain and give some credence to the traditions is interesting. However, most of these seem to have been 'packaged' in the early 1900s following the purchase of the Abbey site by the Church of England, and later by a group of writers and mystics who organised in the town.

These traditions are based on Anglo-Norman stories which are first recorded in the 1200s.

The reputed discovery of the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere was at Glastonbury in 1191 - very convenient if you are a poor monk and you want to boost visitor figures in an age of medieval pilgrimages - sounds a lot like Sir John De Courcy's reputed discovery of the tomb of St Patrick, St Brigid and St Columcille at Downpatrick just five years earlier in 1186.

Both of these discoveries were during the reign of the French-born King Henry II. The chronicler Gerald of Wales wrote of both events. Maybe someone out there can shed more light on the possible connections. Perhaps they are nothing more than the result of an ambitious Anglo-Norman King ingratiating himself with the conquered locals in both countries.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

DJ Wilkinson and the Good Shepherd Church video

(I have no intention of this blog becoming another NI amateur politico soapbox, so sorry for this digression. Normal service will be resumed, sharing history and culture with like-minded folk around the globe)

I've been saddened by, and musing over, the sacrilege which has taken place inside, and on the altar of, the Good Shepherd Catholic Church on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, captured in a music promo video by somebody called DJ Wilkinson which was published on YouTube* ... and the fairly muted local media comment there has been about it.

In our age of the PERPETUALLY OUTRAGED, the media reaction to this has been little more than a whimper. Compare this with the fallout from the incident two summers ago which took place on the street outside St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street. Or the recent Muslim controversy which began with some of the verbal content of a different YouTube clip, published by the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle. Both of these issues jammed the radio phone-in shows and late-night tv panel discussions for weeks, Twitter was ablaze and all the usual commentariat got plenty of coverage opportunities to air their views and opinions. Both incidents will be referred to for years to come when opportunity arises. These are just two examples which spring to mind, I am sure there are many more.

But it seems to me that, unless there is some stereotypical political/sectarian controversy to be inflamed around a particular incident, the majority of our commentators don't really give a fiddlers. If DJ Wilkinson had been a member of a flute band, the whole world would know by now and President Obama would have been on the phone to David Cameron about it. The disrespect and sacrilege would be no different, but the context would be 'juicier', sorry I mean 'newsworthy', and the analysis would be wall-to-wall. You can imagine the headlines and tweets - "Loyalist DJ desecrates Catholic Church" - or indeed, the converse, "Republican DJ desecrates Protestant Church". It's all so predictable.

As I mentioned in this post back in April, it's only the sectarian attacks on churches that attract coverage. As a personal example, about 6 years ago I had my car broken into outside a small church in inner city east Belfast  - the window smashed in, glovebox ransacked, mobile phone stolen. But this was just low-level "Prod-on-Prod" vandalism. Nobody wrote an article about it. Had the very same incident happened, carried out by the very same perpetrators, just a few hundred yards away to a car outside the local Catholic church it would have been deemed 'newsworthy' and a handful of politicians would have been wheeled out to issue statements and fill airtime. photographers and camera crews would have been sent out - on a quiet news day it may have made the front page. All because it would have been presented as 'sectarian'. 

Just as I was formulating some thoughts, Gail Walker, in the Belfast Telegraph, nailed it. Just as Fionnuala Meredith nailed the issue of socially acceptable prejudice in the same paper a few days ago.

It is refreshing to see and read some free thinking in our era of stifling (secular) orthodoxy and highly selective (fashionable) outrage. There are things it is now en vogue or maybe even socially obligatory to express anger about. But don't expect weeks of media outrage about DJ Wilkinson - it's not going to happen.

(* PS: by the way, the music is terrible)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Battle of Bannockburn, 700 years ago today

Led by Ayrshire-born Robert the Brus, the Scottish army triumphed at the two day battle, fought at Bannockburn near Stirling on 23 & 24 June 1314. The following April, Bruce held a Parliament at St John's Church in Ayr (the surviving tower - much like Helen's Tower at Crawfordsburn and therefore also of course the Thiepval Tower in France - is pictured below). One of the function of the Parliament was to approve the Bannockburn army to set sail, under the command of Robert's only surviving brother, Edward Bruce. This Scottish armada sailed from Ayr seafront to Larne Lough on 25 May 1315, with 6,000 men, to join forces with the Bruce's relatives, the O'Neills.

18 months later Robert came across, bringing a further 7,000 men. It was the descendants of these Bruce-supporting clans who would permanently settle in Ulster in the early 1600s and beyond, as demonstrated again recently by this DNA study by Strathclyde University.

The Bruce story is important to Ulster-Scots, and to the history of Ireland generally. The epic poem by John Barbour, a rare copy of which has recently been restored, tells of many of Edward Bruce's escapades in Ireland. This coming weekend sees the first of a series of major historical commemorations in Scotland. Will we do likewise here in 2015?...


SAM 5125

Monday, June 16, 2014

The term Ulster Scot, Macosquin, 1844


(With thanks to the friend who sent me this gem)

In the spring of 1844 a deputation from the Irish Presbyterian Church attended the Synod of the English Presbyterian Church which was being held in Berwick. In addressing this gathering, Rev. Huston of Macosquin said, 'This meeting is invested with additional interest to an Ulster Scot from the place in which it is held - so near the border line between "Auld Caledonia and the sunny south".' Report in Belfast Newsletter, 3 May 1844.
Rev Dr Clarke Huston (1793-1886) was minister at Macosquin near Coleraine for 43 years.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Commentariat and Christians

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag 300x192

Northern Ireland's 'commentariat' has been very busy lately following the Islam / Muslim controversy. Aside from the remarks which were made, the subsequent fallout and media storm from those remarks, and finally the apologies, what was revealing to me throughout it all is how detached that commentariat now is from grasping the simplest terminology and beliefs of orthodox Biblical Christian faith. The BBC's own Ed Stourton described this as an 'allergy' in this article earlier in the week.

When a radio host is seemingly oblivious to the difference between 'adultery' and 'apostasy' and repeatedly says the former when the issue is actually the latter; when a Pentecostal is described as a 1646 Calvinist; when run-of-the-mill ordinary Christian folk are casually painted as 'progressive' society's biggest obstacle, who are all either closet or outright racists, it just shows how far away our present-day 'opinion-formers' are from understanding the evangelical Christian community, across multiple denominations, and what we all believe.

From the moment when the early Christian church was 'born', it has been international and multicultural. Acts chapter 2 speaks of '...Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs...' being present. There's a map below which shows where these places are. As Jesus carried the cross through Jerusalem a man from Cyrene assisted him. As Jesus' disciple Philip travelled he met a government official from Ethiopia who became a Christian as they talked and read the Bible together - Isaiah 53 was an 800-year old text which foretold Jesus' life. Europeans, Middle Easterns, Asians, Africans. People of every colour and ethnicity.

{All of these people, and millions or billions ever since then, were compelled to respond to the message that Jesus came to make us right with God, something that our own efforts can never achieve. The living fulfilment of all of the Laws which the Jews could never keep. His own summary of the Sermon on the Mount - 'Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' - is an utterly unattainable goal. But one which Christ himself meets on our behalf, for all who realise their condition and who then trust in Him alone, and emphatically not in any church or in their own self-imagined merits }

The Apostle Paul famously took this Gospel 'Good News' message of Christ into the Gentile countries and the Roman empire of the European continent. The classic Foxes Book of Martyrs of 1563 records traditions that some of Jesus' disciples travelled east as far as India, up into Ukraine, south into Africa. Fast forward to the last book of the Bible and a scene is painted in the future of 'a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language' all gathered together to worship Christ.

There are uninformed Christians. There are stupid Christians. There are Christians who say the wrong thing in the wrong way. I am not the sharpest pencil in the box so I am one of them too. But the 'inquisitors' are also uninformed - in an age of alleged 'diversity' (but which is ironically quite narrow in its scope) 'orthodoxy' has become the default target. However, Biblical orthodoxy is far more diverse than its opponents acknowledge.

At the time of writing, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is still sentenced to death in Sudan. Here is the Amnesty International webpage in support of her. She is just one example. The work of Open Doors continues across the globe - many of the nations represented in the Acts 2 map below have large Christian communities today, many of whom are under threat of persecution and death.

In Brazil, location of the 2014 World Cup, 600,000 evangelical Christians held a huge event in Rio, and a reported 2 million did likewise in Sao Paolo before the tournament began.

For generations all Sunday School children learned this simple text from John 3v16 -  'For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Christians can sing an old hymn like 'Jesus Shall Lead Me' among the trees of Rwanda just as well as anyone in Ulster.


Pentecost map

"... And hath made of one blood all nations ..." Acts 17 v 26


Monday, June 09, 2014

The more you read, the more you find. (the term 'Ulster Scot' in Pennsylvania again, this time 1905)

Following from the previous post, I remembered my copy of Wayland F Dunaway's The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, first published in 1944. It's an excellent book and in many ways it bridges the gap between the upsurge of Scotch-Irish publishing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the later wave in the 1980s and 1990s up to the present day. It has a huge bibliography, a treasure trove of sources.

One of the sources is The History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, by William W H Davis (1905). It is now available online here. The third volume in the set has numerous usages of the term 'Ulster Scot'. For example:

• GENERAL WILLIAM WATTS HART DAVIS, a veteran of two wars, author, journalist and historian, was born at Davisville, Southampton township, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, July 27, 1820 ... he was either a native of the north of Ireland, or a son of an Ulster Scot, who had made his way to Pennsylvania with the great army of Scotch Covenanters from the province of Ulster in the first quarter of the eighteenth century.

• PROFESSOR A. J. MORRISON, one of the best known educators in Philadelphia, was born in Northampton township, Bucks county, Pennsylvania February 14, 1844 ... John Morrison, the great-grandfather of Professor Morrison, was a native of the north of Ireland, and was one of the great army of Ulster Scots who, having fled from religious persecution and internecine strife in their native Scotia, took temporary refuge in the province of Ulster, Ireland, from whence many emigrated to Pennsylvania in the first half of the eighteenth century.

• CYRUS T. VANARTSDALEN. of Newtown township. Bucks county, was born in Northampton township. April 5. 1823. He is a son of Isaac and Ann (Torbert) Vanartsdalen, the former a descendant through seven generations in an unbroken line from as many Dutch ancestors who emigrated from Holland ... the latter's ancestry traces back to at least four Ulster Scots who found homes in Bucks county a century later.

• JOHN HART, president of the Doylestown Trust Company, and his brother Frank Hart, of Doylestown, retired banker, are the sons of Josiah and Sarah (Brock) Hart. The former was born in Doylestown township, February 3, 1846... On the paternal side they are of Scotch-Irish descent. Among the thousands of Ulster Scots who migrated to Pennsylvania in the first half of the eighteenth century were those who formed two distinct settlements within the present limits of Bucks county...

Yet again, the term 'Ulster Scot'is proven to have a far greater pedigree than many think.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Wallace McCamant (1867-1944) and the Ulster Scot



Wallace McCamant was from Pennsylvania, a judge, and the man who nominated Calvin Coolidge to become 30th President of the United States. McCamant moved to Oregon and eventually became President of the Oregon Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (website here). At their annual meeting in 1913 he recited this poem:

Heaven speed the Ulster Scot;
The land is lean that knows him not,
His banner bright unfurled.

But hark, the Bruce and Wallace cry,
"For liberty we dare or die!",
He echoes through the world.

Heaven speed the Ulster Scot;
He bears free speech, he bears free thought;
He manumits the soul.

Beneath his feet let error die;
Above his head God's guidons fly,
The while the seasons roll.

McCamant was also a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA; he traced his ancestry back to an Alexander McCamant who had emigrated from County Down about 1775 and settled in Pequa Valley in Pennsylvania.