Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Reformation Day - Knox 500, and Luther (nearly) 500


While turnips are being snedded and pumpkins are being carved to mark Hallowe'en, today is also Reformation Day. Today in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg castle door and began the re-awakening of the liberty of the Biblical Gospel. 

There is no greater spiritual burden to lay on someone, than to tell them that their eternal destiny depends upon their own behaviour. There is no greater release than to hear 'Jesus paid it all' , that Christ fulfilled the Law completely, forever, on our behalf.

The Biblical message of faith in Christ, not the Church's message of reliance on supposed 'good works', made Luther right with God. Christ's perfect righteousness, not his own imperfect self-righteousness. The Gospel, not the Law.

Knox 500 has been a relatively low-key project in Scotland this year, marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation. Their conference in Edinburgh starts tomorrow and runs until Wednesday. I am pleased to be assisting in the early stages of a Luther 500 project here at home. All to be revealed in due course.

Alex Salmond was spectacularly wrong on Radio Ulster a few weeks ago. He said this:

“It’s not for us to decide who goes up and who goes down – that lies in other hands… people are judged on the legacy and impact of what they did, and on that basis Ian will be on pretty firm foundations as he meets his Maker.”

Theology fail. As the Getty modern hymn states, "In Christ alone my hope is found."

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. - Ephesians 2 v 8-9

(Image from Davy Morgan Photography)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Offers starting at £80,000

  An original Robert the Bruce seal, from 1322. More details here.31604133 1 x

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cultural humility in action

This book has some title - The Scotch-Irish in History As Master Builders of Empires, States, Churches, Schools and Civilization. An early version of 'We are the People'?!!

Available free on here.


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Monday, October 27, 2014

The greatest of the myths

"... the greatest of the myths is that of the non-existence of the Ulster Scots as a separate people with a distinguished history and rich traditions. Lip service is paid by British and Irish politicians to the idea of a Protestant cultural identity, usually by polite mentions of the Twelfth of July as a folk festival; no attempt is made to probe beneath the cultural surface ..."

– God's Frontiersmen, the Scots-Irish Epic, by Rory Fitzpatrick (1989), p274

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When cousins argue

It is 1500s France. Pierre-Robert Olivetan is translating the BIble into French, from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. He gets into a debate with his cousin, a highly-educated young lawyer called Jean:

'.... "There are but two religions in the world," we hear Olivetan saying. "The one class of religions are those which men have invented, in all of which man saves himself by ceremonies and good works; the other is that one religion which is revealed in the Bible, and which teaches man to look for salvation solely from the free grace of God."

"I will have none of your new doctrines," Jean sharply rejoins; "think you that I have lived in error all my days?" ...'

Jean Calvin of Noyon was soon after brought to realise that Pierre was absolutely right.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 - 300 years of Scots language publishing in Ulster?

Lindsay david

Here's another anniversary. In 1714, the printer James Blow, who had come to Belfast from Culross, Fife, in 1696, printed the first of a series of Scots language poetry books.

Belfast, and Ulster generally,  must therefore have had a large enough 'market' of Scots-speaking residents to make these books commercially viable. The first of these volumes was The Works of the Famous and Worthy Knight, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, alias, Lyon, King of Arms, which had first been published in Edinburgh in 1568. Linen Hall Library in Belfast has one of the original James Blow editions.

David Lindsay (1490-1555) had also lived in Fife, about three miles north of Cupar, but later moved to Haddington. He was attending the Royal Court in Scotland around the time that Patrick Hamilton was martyred at St Andrews in Fife, burned at the stake outside St. Salvator's College where Lindsay had been a pupil in 1508. Lindsay is thought to have been at the siege of St Andrews castle in the 1520s which saw John Knox emerge as the leader of the Scottish Reformation.

In addition to poetry, in 1542 Lindsay also compiled a spectacular album of Biblical, European and Scottish heraldry which is available online here. has a lengthy biography which says that 'until Burns appeared, he was in fact the poet of the Scottish people, and was appealed to as an infallible authority on the Scottish language'. Here is a later edition of his Works. He also appears as part of the 'living history' experience at Stirling Castle. Wikipedia has a detailed entry about his life.

It is interesting that post-Williamite Ulster was reading pre-Reformation Scots language poetry.

Culross is a beautifully-preserved 17th century village and visiting there today gives some idea of what Scottish-built market towns of 17th century Ulster might have looked like. Some pics below from a visit in May 2013.

(UPDATE AND POTENTIAL CORRECTION - There may have been an earlier Belfast printing of Scots language poetry, an edition of Alexander Montgomerie's The Cherrie and the Slae, printed in 1700 by James Blow's colleague and brother-in-law Patrick Neil)

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ulster for your Holidays, 1925

This, as far as I can ascertain, is the first-ever poster advertising Ulster as a tourist destination. I have been collecting this type of stuff for about 20 years and have now got an almost complete set of the annual books which the Ulster Tourist Development Association (UTDA) published. That's a bit geeky and sad, but having worked in advertising and design for that same amount of time, it's interesting to me to consider how images were crafted, and how that developed over the decades. I'll not reveal too much though as this will be on tv sometime soon - my thanks to the individual who shall remain nameless who asked me to get involved, and for the fresh insights that person brought to me as well.

It definitely looks like the UTDA blew the marketing budget on the beautiful colour poster campaign (to attract attention) and then scrimped on the follow-up book - two spot colours on the cover and 136 black and white text pages.

Each county gets a chapter, and then there are sections on Angling, Golf, Bowls, Tennis, Winter Pastimes (football, rugby, hockey, coursing, billiards, boxing, lacrosse and hunting). Motoring and Motor Cycling, Swimming and Aquatics, Yachting and Cricket. Photographs are limited, but maybe reprographic quality back then was an issue.

The editorial slant taken in the book is not what one might expect from the post-Partition era - although it's a bit of a stretch when the Foreword by UTDA Organizing Secretary Ernest Patton compares Ulster with 'Switzerland and Italy, the lure of the Riviera and the beauty of Chamonix' and that Ulster is 'the world's premier pleasure and health resort'. I can see no mention of our current obsession, the Titanic. Funny that.

You could analyse these images forever, and how they were intended to counter the news reports of street violence which were being carried around the world. A newspaper report from 1925 entitled 'Pleasure Province' said 'it is unfortunately too true that for many years now Ireland has been practically a forbidden land to the holiday maker, so uncertain have been the conditions of life and travel therein'.

(The UTDA was founded in 1924 is said to have been masterminded by a Belfast solicitor called Robert Bailie. Almost immediately the LMS Railway bought new trains to service the additional demand it expected for GB visitors wanting to visit NI.)

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1925 Ulster brochure

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

James McGranahan in Glasgow, 1880s - "noo the hale hoose is like a kirk!"

'.... A touching narrative is related by a worker at the Evangelistic Services held in Glasgow by Major Whittle and Mr. James McGranahan, reminiscent of those stirring days in the early eighties. The hymn which wrought so great an impression, as recorded in the following incident, was written by Ellen M. H. Gates. Here is the first verse :

"Oh, the clanging bells of Time! Night and day they never cease ; We are wearied with their chime, For they do not bring us peace ; And we hush our breath to hear, And we strain our eyes to see, If thy shores are drawing near : Eternity! Eternity!"

The narrator observed in Bethany Hall, one Lord's Day evening, an old fellow-workman of his. Knowing that he had been a very irreligious man, he determined to call at the workshop to have a word with his old mate. A day to two later when he called upon John, he soon found that something was working in his mind altogether different from the old things.

"Look here," said John, "I didna think there was muckle truth in religion, but I'm a wee bit staggered aboot it jist noo!"

"I was glad to see you in the Hall," said his friend; "but tell me what has staggered you."

"Weel, ye see, I've a sister, ye ken, an' a wee while ago she was hearing aboot the meetin's in Bethany Hall. So somehow she an' her companion jist like herself, but gey fond o' singin' gaed to the meetin'. Aweel, when she cam' hame, she jist put past her things, an' sat doon by the fire, nae speakin' a word. Syne, the wife noticed her een were fu' o' tears. ' What's the maitter, Aggie ? ' Nae answer. 'Gang tae bed, there's a guid lass ; ye'll hae to be up sune the morn'.

The tears cam' faster.

'Oh, Mary, I canna, I canna gang to bed. I've been hearin' a hymn the nicht I'll niver forget.  Oh, I seem to hear the sound o' bells from somewhere, callin' "Eternity ! Eternity ! " Oh, I'm gaun into ETERNITY ; an' oh, how dark it is jist noo! Gang to my bed ! Na ; I'll gang to my knees.'

An' so she did.

"The wife tauld me this," continued John, " an I gaed ben awhile, but I only glowered at her. Weel, the next night she gaed again, an' she sune came hame wi' her companion, an' they baith seemed sae glad, sae happy the gither, an' talked aboot "I am the Door ; by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved." They declared they had entered in.

Anyhow, they were happy. Next nicht the wife gaed tae, an' noo the hale hoose is like a kirk ! I've been gaun, an' I want tae ken mair aboot these things ; so I an' Wullie here, are comin' on Sabbath nicht, an' Aggie an' some mair o' her companions ; an' mither an' me would like tae hear that song Aggie heard." ...'

- from The Romance of Sacred Song, David J Beattie (Carlisle, 1931). Mr Beattie was an avid researcher of hymn writers, and published a series of books about hymns. His family still live in the Carlisle area and have contacted me a few times over the years.

James McGranahan (1840 - 1907) was born in Adamsville, Pennsylvania, but his grandfather grew up near Belfast and later emigrated to America. McGranahan was a close friend of Ira D Sankey and like Sankey was a world-famous song leader at large evangelistic rallies, as well as a noted hymnwriter and hymn tune composer. In the early 1900s there was a Presbyterian minister in Ulster who shared his name.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Oor Wullie and the National Library of Scotland - new schools website (for weans tae lairn Scots)

Oor Wullie Blog

I remember having this idea nearly 10 years ago (March 2006 to be precise) but the people tasked with trying to get it off the ground didn't get beyond a first meeting. Like many Ulster-Scots folk, I grew up with Oor Wullie and the Broons annuals every Christmas (turn about). Some of the words I didn't completely understand as they are in 'Scottish-Scots' but I was able to follow the majority of it. 

This new website is a collaboration to bring Scots language into the classroom. Braw.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Importance of establishing family traditions

 Click here for a very interesting piece on


Saturday, October 04, 2014

The United Scotsmen - The Trials of James Patterson and David Black, 1798

For all the talk there is on this side of the water about the United Irishmen and their brief Rebellion of 1798 (often romanticised, and even propagandised, but not well understood) there is little or no talk about the United Scotsmen.

On 20 September 1798 the court in Perth heard the trials of two United Scotsmen - James Patterson and David Black, both from Dunfermline. The account of their trial can be read here.

' the course of the years 1796 and 1979, a number of seditious and evil disposed persons did, in different parts of Scotland, and particularly in the county of Fife, form themselves into a secret and illegal association, denominated "The Society of United Scotsmen"... the election of a National Committee of a Secret Committee consisting of seven members...'

Patterson and Black were accused of taking the secret oath of the United Scotsmen at some point in 1797 and of then administering the oath to others from August to October of the same year. In November and December they organised meetings in the houses of various people - John Nicol, Isobel Moutry, James Wilson, James Ritchie, James Henderson and Andrew Rutherford, and up until June of 1798 they distributed pamphlets such as 'The Rights of Man' by Thomas Paine and their own 'Resolution and Constitution of the Society of United Scotsmen'. They tried to persuade a soldier, Henry Keys of the West Lowland Fencibles, to join their cause. 

In denying the charges, Black said he had been directed to a house meeting being conducted by a man from Ireland, who refused to identify himself, but who had sympathisers in Glasgow. He claimed that 'some persons from Ireland were the original founders of the Society of United Scotsmen' - and that their secret means of communication with one another was to put a pin in the left sleeve of their coats, upside-down. There was also a handshake which involved 'clasping the hands together, by intersecting the fingers'.

Patterson was found guilty and sentenced to be 'transported beyond seas', and to be executed if he ever came back to any part of Great Britain.


The same document gives an account of the trial in Edinburgh of another United Scotsman, George Mealmaker of Dundee.


I have posted some articles about the United Scotsmen here over the years. Elaine McFarland's 1994 book 'Ireland and Scotland in the Age of Revolution' is an eye-opener and a refreshing change from 'Hibernocentric' accounts of the period, giving exhaustive details of the interconnections across the water. And William Steele Dickson's Narrative is essential reading, his first-hand account of his involvement when minister of Glastry and Portaferry, and his own role in forging the links with Scotland. You'll also find a contemporary organisation called the United Englishmen.