Friday, February 27, 2015

Imagining Ulster

SAM 1902

I make an appearance on this new BBC Northern Ireland series which starts on Sunday night, presented by William Crawley. Can Ulster be re-imagined? Is there more than just the stereotype? I believe so and it is starting to emerge. Late last year I worked on, a new brand and heritage tourism initiative. And the beautiful new magazine Freckle NI is another example.

Politics has an important place in every society, but it should not define everything we are and everything we do. Culture runs deeper and is less subject to change. A cultural understanding of oneself is far more enduring than a political one.

The 'new' Northern Ireland is deeply connected to the success of Game of Thrones. As a friend showed me just the other day:

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Imagining Ulster Ep 1

Thursday, February 19, 2015

William MacEwan - the voice of "The Old Rugged Cross"

William McEwan Graphic

William MacEwan 13 02 1932 Hartlepool

Back in 2011 (to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his first recordings) I posted here a ten-part biography of the Glasgow-born singer William MacEwan (1871-1943). He came back into my head this week when I found the above advert, from Hartlepool on 13 Feb 1932. He last recording session was in London in March of that same year. I also found this online, confirming my own researches:

'... Good sales could not always be guaranteed, but Columbia scored an equally important success with its 1927 American recording of Scottish-born gospel singer William MacEwan's rendition of the hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" coupled with "Let's talk it over bye-and-bye" (Columbia 4148). By 1933 British sales of this record had exceeded 250,000, at a time when all but a handful of the most successful dance and popular music record enjoyed sales of 100,000 and most record companies considered sales in excess of 10,000 copies a "hit" ...' - source here.

MacEwan's voice made The Old Rugged Cross world famous. By the year he died, 1943, it had sold a reported 20 million copies around the globe, both vinyl and sheet music. If you're interested in reading the full biography, here are all ten parts:

- Part One

- Part Two

- Part Three

- Part Four

- Part Five

- Part Six

- Part Seven

- Part Eight

- Part Nine

- Part Ten

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"The temperamental gulf which divides the inhabitants of north-east Ulster from those of south-west Cork, is no wider than that which separates the people of Sutherland from those of Selkirk" - William Cook Mackenzie (1862-1952) - 'The Races of Ireland and Scotland'

SAM 1850

One of the first books I bought when I became interested in Ulster-Scottish history was William C Mackenzie's 1916 400 page volume The Races of Ireland and Scotland (now available on - found in a long-gone second hand bookshop on Gray's Hill in Bangor. It mostly deals with ancient history and perhaps, like many Victorian-era publications of this kind, has been superceded by later discoveries and scholarship. Mackenzie drew upon numerous Irish sources and painted a picture of a regular two-way criss-cross of communication and migrations across the North Channel throughout time. The Picts and Cruthin get numerous mentions, as do linguistic issues.

At the time, in my early 20s, I was a bit disappointed by it. Its history was too long ago, and its geography too far away, to seem relevant to me. I preferred buildings I could touch and take photographs of, words I could still hear and had grown up with myself in my community, surnames I recognised and history which was around my own home turf.

Now, however, the book interests me more. William Cook Mackenzie (1862-1952) argued the case for a regional appreciation of Scotland, and Ireland, and of the multiplicity of cultural influences which had shaped Scotland - such as the Scandinavian / Viking influence of his native Western Isles.

Born on the Isle of Lewis (an island bizarrely claimed by earlier historians to once have been inhabited by a race of pygmies and where pygmy remains had reportedly been found - a theory which Mackenzie, his brother and his cousin investigated and published a paper on in 1905) he was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He was a scholar and speaker of Scottish Gaelic and also fully appreciative of the Norse connections.

He lived in London for a time when he worked for the British India Steam Navigation Company (he wrote a biography of his ancestor, Colonel Colin Mackenzie, the first Surveyor-General of India and renowned antiquarian). William emigrated to Australia and lived in Brisbane from 1884-1888 where he worked for the Bank of Queensland. He then returned to England, became managing director of a cotton importing company, and settled at Richmond Upon Thames. 

• In 1903 he published his first book, the 600 page History of the Outer Hebrides. It refers to the MacNeills of Barra, (see here on page 65) whom I mentioned here a few posts ago and whom Mackenzie interestingly connected back to a Viking called Njal who is said to have been the 'progenitor' of the Barra MacNeills - thereby confirming that very recent DNA discovery. 

• In 1908 he published his 400 page A Short History of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, which is online here.

• in 1916 he expanded his geography further, in The Races of Ireland and Scotland. MacKenzie acknowledges that his book, for its day, was groundbreaking:

'... the main theories advanced in this book are entirely new, and, if I may use the word without fear of being misunderstood, entirely "revolutionary". I am not so sanguine as to suppose they will meet with complete acceptance, not so confident as to believe that they are impervious to criticism. But I have made no important assertions without supplementing them by reasoned proofs that have satisified me...'

• In 1923 Mackenzie declined an invitation to stand for Westminster election as the Liberal candidate for Lewis. 

• In 1931 he published Scottish Place Names - review here.

• In 1932 he published the 350 page The Western Isles; their history, Traditions, and Place-names (which appears to not yet be available online). 


He retired from business in 1934. In 1937 the Moray Press published Mackenzie's 326 page review of his own books entitled The Highlands and Isles of Scotland' and in 1938 he was made a Freeman of Stornoway. He died, aged 91, at his home at St Margaret's-on-Thames, in 1952. I intend to re-read the book over the coming months and will post anything relevant here. In our globalised age, regionalism is dwindling. Regional distinctives are less pronounced than ever before. The excerpt below shows how obvious they once were.

SAM 1853 2

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Carmoney (Carnmoney) Witches - a poem by Francis Boyle, c. 1808

A humorous modern Song, founded on fact,
by F. B. , Cumber, Granfhaw.

Tune "Lovely Molly has an air " 

In Carrick town a wife did dwell,
Who does pretend to conjure witches
Auld Barbara Goats and lucky Bell,
Ye'll no lang to come through her clutches ;
A waefu' trick this wife did play,
On fimple Sawney, our poor tailor,
She's mittimiss'd the other day
To lie in limbo with the Jailor :
This fimple Sawney had a Cow
Was aye as sleekit as an otter
It happen'd for a month or two.
Aye when they churn'd they got nae butter;
Roun-tree tied in the Cow's tail,
And vervain glean'd about the ditches;
These freets and charms did not prevail.
They cou'd not banifh the auld witches:
The neighbour wives a' gather'd in
In number near about a dozen,
Elfpie Dough and Mary Linn,
An' Keat M'Cart the tailor's cousin,
Aye they churn'd an' aye they fwat,
Their aprons loos'd and coost their mutches
But yet nae butter they could get.
They bleft the Cow but curft the witches:
Had Sawney summoned all his wits.
And fent awa for Huie Mertin,
He could have gall't the witches guts
An' cur't the kye to Nannie Barton;
But he may fhow the farmer's wab
An' lang wade through Carmoney gutters,
Alas' it was a fore mis-jab
When he employ'd auld Mary Butters;
The forcereft open'd the fcene.
With magic words of her invention,
To make the foolifh people keen
Who did not know her bafe intention.
She drew a circle round the churn.
An' wafh'd the staff in fouth run water
An' fwore the witches fhe would burn,
But fhe would have the tailor's butter.
When fable night her curtain fpread.
Then fhe got on a flaming fire.
The tailor ftood at the Cow's head
With his turn'd waiftcoat in the byer;
The chimney cover'd with a fcraw,
An' ev'ry crevice where it fmoak'd,
But long before the cock did craw
The people in the houfe were choak'd,
The muckle pot hung on all night
As Mary Butters had been brewing,
In hopes to fetch fome witch or wight
Whas entrails by her art was ftewing
In this her magic a' did fail
Nae witch or wizard was detected;
Now Mary Butters lies in jail,
For the bafe part that fhe has acted.
The tailor loft his fon an' wife,
For Mary Butters did them fmother
But as he hates a fingle life.
In four weeks time he got another;
He is a crufe auld canty chiel,
An' cares nae what the witches mutters
He'll never mair employ the deil,
Nor his auld agent, Mary Butters;
At day the tailor left his poft,
Though he had feen no apparation
Nae wizard grim nae witch nor ghoft,
Though ftill he had a ftrong fuspicion
That fome auld wizard wrinkled wife.
Had caft her cantrips o'er poor brawney
Caufe fhe and he did live in ftrife,
An' whare's the man can blame poor Sawney;
Wae sucks for our young laffes now,
For who can read their mystic matters
Or tell if their fweet hearts be true,
The folk a run to Mary Butters;
To tell what thief a horfe did fteal,
In this fhe was a mere pretender
An' has nae art to raife the deil
Like that auld wife, the witch of Endor
If Mary Butters be a witch,
Why but the people all fhould know it,
An' if fhe can the mufes touch
I'm fure fhe'll foon descry the poet,
Her ain familiar aff fhe'll fen'
Or paughlet wi' a tu' commiffion,
To pour her vengeance on fhe men,
That tantalises her condition.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Irish / Scottish Gaelic clan who have just turned out to be Vikings. Every single one of them.


(Pic above - Barra)

I had a very interesting conversation last weekend with someone I'd only 'met' online - like me, very into Ulster-Scots history - and researching her MacNeill / McNeill roots. We talked for a long time, including about John McNeill the preacher known as 'The Scotch Spurgeon' whose father was from Lisnagunoge near Bushmills in North Antrim. She's now arranging to take her father to Inverkip on the west coast of Scotland to visit McNeill's grave - I located it a few years ago and took plenty of reference photographs to enable it to be found again one day.

The accepted wisdom is that the McNeills / MacNeills were a Gaelic clan who lived in the Western Isles of Scotland - Barra in particular - and migrated back and forth to the north of Ulster, helping to establish a shared culture on both sides of the water. They are said to have descended from Irish hero Niall of the Nine Hostages:

'...  Niall of the Nine Hostages, whose dynasty dominated Ireland between the 5th and 10th Centuries, got his name from taking hostages as a strategy against his opponent chieftains. The King, who died in 405AD, was the founder of the longest and most powerful Irish royal dynasty and known by some as the greatest king that Ireland ever knew...'

That's a common story, and easy to accept due to the way history is often told.

Until DNA ancestral research came along that is. A study by Professor Alex Buchanan at the University of Tasmania, of hundreds of people around the world all descended from Barra's McNeills, has found that every one of them is actually of Viking descent.

Here is an article on HeraldScotland, the original source for the Niall of the Nine Hostages excerpt above.

Stephen McNeil, the Premier of Nova Scotia in Canada seems a bit unhappy about the revelation and has insisted upon his Irishness. Other McNeils - in true online outrage fashion - are said to be 'devastated' and have resorted to large quantities of whiskey to drown their sorrows. Here is another Canadian article.

What does this mean?

Well, as I have blogged about before, Viking ancestry seems surprisingly common, my own DNA ancestry has revealed exactly the same, and as DNA studies continue I do think that 19th century ideas of (nationalistic) identity will be rethought and rewritten. Genetics and culture are not the same thing though - genetics are as ancient as humanity, whereas culture changes and shifts over the centuries through human influence. There is no 'pure' anything.

But then there is this. You want social equality? Here it is, one of Scripture's great democratic levellers. 

"And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" - Acts 17 v 26


PS: the Dublin Penny Journal of 28 September 1833 that the Irish O’Neills had come to Ireland from the Orkneys in the 9th Century, descended from Belus, who was King of the Orkneys before the birth of Christ. Originally their name was O’Nial of Hy Nial, meaning ‘chief’ or ‘prince’. Online here - similar to an article which appeared in the Belfast Monthly Magazine of 1812 which is online here and also in PD Hardy's The Northern Tourist of 1830 online here. Maybe more of Ireland is Viking than we are allowed to know. 

Cleish Castle - maternal home of the Portaferry Monypennys

Dating from the late 1500s, the castle was heightened and extended in the early 1600s. Quite a pad. The Monypenny connection has continued right down in living memory in Hilary's family - her (late) great uncle Colin, a lovely man who gave me some of his theology books, had Monypenny as his middle name.



The Monypennys of Pitmilly and Portaferry

I have been married for nearly 18 years. When I first went to visit my in-laws in Buckinghamshire, Hilary's dad produced a family tree which a relative of his had composed from family archives. Even though Hilary's surname is/was Bowker, the family tree was of the Monypennys of Pitmilly near St Andrews in Fife. It was a huge rolled-up document, and one name jumped off the page at me...


You don't expect to find a Rear-Admiral from Portaferry named on a family tree in leafy Buckinghamshire!

Rear Admiral

Just before Christmas 2014 when I gave a talk to Upper Ards Historical Society, I showed them this. Amy Anderson was kind enough to then send me some information she had on file from the Savage Estate rent roll of 1644. The Savages were an Anglo-Norman family who had been in the Ards Peninsula since the late 1100s.

On the rent roll was an Arthur Monypenny who was renting a considerable amount of land in the area - at:
Ballycam (£7)
half Ballynichol (£5)
half Ballypound (Ballyfounder? £4 5 shillings)
Parsons Hall (£2)
two Parks (20 shillings)
a Park in Ballyphilip (£2 2 shillings), and also
• his house and garden (£1 15 shillings).

An Arthur Monypenny also appears on the Savage Rent Roll for 1641, leasing two unnamed townlands, and also on the Subsidy Roll for 1663, paying £3 12 shillings for Parson's Hall. Presumably this is the father of James Monypenny. Arthur was a high-ranking churchman, the 'Prebend' of St. Andrews Parish in 1620. He succeeded his brother Andrew Monypenny who had been the previous Prebend - according to Reeves' Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore Andrew Monypenny had been 'collated to the Archdeaconry of Connor on 18th March 1616".

St Andrews Parish is here on the Ards Peninsula, dating back to the early Anglo-Norman era (St Andrews Parish Church is at the other end of the road we live on) - and of course there is a St Andrews back in Scotland in Fife, famous worldwide for its university and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

The Monypennys had come to Ulster from Fife. Interestingly so did the local Bishop, Robert Echlin (1576-1635), who was from Pittadro, and would have been the superior of the Monypenny brothers. Echlin arrived in 1615 and set up his home at Ardquin Abbacy. When Echlin died he was succeeded by another Fife-born Prebend - Henry Leslie had been installed as Prebend of Connor (by Echlin) in 1619.

What is interesting about this is that it slays the local myth about a Scottish v Irish quasi-apartheid on the Peninsula in the early 1600s. In fact, there were many Scots living as tenants on the southerly Savage estates - just as there were Irish tenants living on the more northerly Scottish-owned Hamilton estate near Conlig. As ever, the truth erodes the propaganda.

Back to where we began. James Monypenny joined the Royal Navy and by 1697 was a Captain. He became First Lieutenant of Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Rooke's flagship at the capture of Gibraltar and the Battle of Malaga in 1704. He married well - Mary Gybbon of Hole Park - and he purchased the Maytham Hall in Rolvenden, Kent, in 1714. He died aged just 51 but sadly his impressive memorial at St Mary the Virgin Church in Rolvenden skips over his Portaferry origins though. He features on

43887538 137106120372


Back a few generations and the family tree has a James Monypenny who died in 1638, marrying a Eupham Colville, the daughter of Robert Colville of Cleish Castle. This James and Eupham are said to have had "7 sons of whom 3 settled in Ulster between 1612 and 1620". Two of these sons were the above-named Andrew and Arthur. Another son, John, married Susanna Colville, whose father was the Commendator of Culross - another town in Fife which still today has superbly preserved 17th century architecture.

And a few generations before that a David Monypenny was implicated in the murder of his notorious cousin, a certain Cardinal David Beaton who was famously assassinated on 29 May 1546 - just three months after Beaton had ordered the burning of George Wishart on the streets of St Andrews. As the family tree says:

"Having been declared privy to the slaughter of Cardinal Beaton, his kinsman, in 1546, he and his son received in 1553 a pardon from Mary Queen of Scots".

So now the hunt is on to locate the plausible Monypenny residence in Portaferry. Given that they were churchmen, I wonder if the tiny 40 acre townland of Parson Hall might be the place? There is one farm there today. And are there any Monypenny gravestones in Portaferry? The Griffiths Valuation only has one Moneypenny in County Down - a Joseph Monypenny living in Ballymacarrett.

It seems that this Rear Admiral James Monypenny is Hilary's g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather. Mathematics mean that she will have 127 others! But it's interesting to make a connection across nearly 4 centuries of living here in the Ards Peninsula, a place which is still as interwoven with Scotland as it was back then.

Cleish Castle is below. NewImage

Christianity and Islam - "there is no good news"

Michael Horton usually has interesting things to say. His latest book blows the lid off trend-obsessed 'radical' Christianity - the first book of his that I came across was the provocatively-titled Christless Christianity - and he was right, such a thing does exist and is actually pretty widespread. These three short videos make for interesting viewing.

With much of Islam the core message is "keep the rules and you'll get in". The Christian message (if properly told) is "the standards required are beyond your reach. Jesus came to meet those standards on your behalf".

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

'Modern Family' - Heaven and Hell

I don't watch this tv show, but I caught this when 'channel-hopping' a few years ago.

It doesn't want to embed, so here's a link.