Monday, June 29, 2015

Hedley Murphy's 'Ulster-Scottish' evangelism crusade, Garvagh, 1969


My mother became a Christian / was saved / came to faith (whatever the term is these days) in 1963, aged 17, during a mission being held in Donaghadee Orange & Protestant Hall, through the preaching of well-known evangelist Hedley Murphy. Built in 1912, sadly the hall was burned in 2006, in an arson attack. A friend recently showed me this YouTube footage of Hedley's 'Ulster-Scottish' campaign of 1969. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Battle of Waterloo 200 - and Samuel Gillespie of Kircubbin

The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is today (see website here).

A Samuel Gillespie of Inishargy near Kircubbin fought in it. He had been born on 4th March 1796 so was just 2 years old when the 1798 Rebellion took place - and therefore just 17 when he fought at Waterloo. He survived Waterloo and came home, eventually dying on 17 July 1875. He was buried at Kircubbin Presbyterian Church. I have tried a few times to locate his gravestone, but it seems to not be there any more. The inscription once read:

Erected by Sergt S Gillespie in memory of his beloved wife Margaret Gillespie, born 6th Decr 1798, died 12th Decr 1861 Here also lie the remains of the above named Sergt S Gillespie, born 4th March 1796, died 12th July 187[ ].

The Griffiths Valuation for Inishargy lists Samuel Gillespie and also Thomas Gillespie - Samuel had just over an acre of land. James Heaney of Kircubbin leased Samuel's land and house in 1863.

Here is an amazing story of Peter McMullen, a weaver from Downpatrick, who also fought at Waterloo. His pregnant wife Elizabeth was also on the battlefield - she was shot in the leg - and her husband eventually lost both of his arms

The Regimental Museum at Enniskillen Castle has what is regarded as the finest display of Waterloo medals.

"That regiment with castles on their caps is composed of the most obstinate mules I ever saw; they don't know when they are beaten," – Napoleon.

"They saved the centre of my line at Waterloo." – Duke of Wellington

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Milhollands and the NAACP


In a bizarre story which broke the other day, Rachel Dolezal, the President of a branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - website here) is actually white. That's not really a big deal, as the organisation was founded by white people. The issue is that she has been pretending to be black, and has got away with it for years. Her family has just recently exposed her chirade.

The scandal reminded me of John Elmer Milholland (1860 – 1925). He was the NAACP's first Treasurer. His father, John Milholland (1819 – 1895) was an Ulsterman (believed to have been born at Tamlaghtduff / Tamladuff near Bellaghy)  who arrived in America in the 1840s to become a farmer at Lewis in New York State. The 1831 Census has many Mulhollands in the area. John Sr's father was a Protestant and his mother Catholic, with more of the relatives in the area Catholics. John Sr is known to have gone to Scotland for work during harvest season, a common practice well into the 20th century.

After a fire killed his wife and daughter, John Milholland Sr sailed back across the Atlantic with his son and came to Tamlaghtduff for two years. The family have been described as 'Scotch Irish American ... staunch Presbyterian'. (source here).

Returning to the USA, John E became a newspaperman, Editor of the New York Tribune (owned by Whitelaw Reid, and Milholland is said to have assisted Reid's political campaigns) and later set up a pneumatic underground mail tube system in New York, and did the same in Philadelphia - securing lucrative contracts with the US Mail. He married Scotswoman Jean Torry who was then living in New Jersey. Eventually he was so wealthy that he bought a property in London near Kensington Palace.

He was described as "the last of the Lincoln Republicans" and in 1905 published The Negro and the Nation. He campaigned for racial and social reform, founding the Constitution League. He found himself opposing fellow Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, President Woodrow Wilson, and lost the US Mail contract in the aftermath.

He maintained an interest in Irish politics, and was pro-Home Rule (see page 31 here) but seemingly prone to a newspaper man's hyperbole, claiming that Edward Carson had a personal audience with the Kaiser in order to arm the Ulster Volunteer Force.

His daughter Inez inherited his political passion, and was a leading Suffragette, but she seems to have spent much of the family's fortune. Inez died young, and when John E died he left only his property "Meadowbank" and "a few worthless bonds". Another daughter, Veda, was an opera singer and had an Irish Setter dog called Derry. 

• Further reading: The Life and Times of Inez Milholland

• Milholland's NAACP colleague Moorfield Storey had opinions on Ireland too. Here is a 1919 article in the Spectator archive which is interesting, as much for the editor's comments at the end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

217 years ago

... the predominantly Presbyterian "United Irishmen' of the Ards Peninsula attacked the Market House in Newtownards, on the night of 9–10 June, known as 'Pike Sunday'. A similar attack was launched on Portaferry Market House.

A Ballywalter man called William Wallace was in the thick of it. Fellow Ballywalter men William Stuart, James Kain, and brothers Hugh and David Maxwell were killed in the fray, and their gravestones can be seen today at old Whitechurch graveyard - surrounding the old Anglo-Norman church ruins which Sir James Hamilton had restored in the 1620s, and which had been the scene of the public signing of the Solemn League & Covenant in 1644, an event led by Hamilton's nephew and namesake Rev James Hamilton.

As the photos here show, both buildings still stand today and have changed little over the centuries. SR Keightley's 1903 novel The Pikemen, A Romance of the Ards of Down has a chapter entitled "The Prison at Newtownards" - a cell which can still be seen today in the Market House, which is now the Ards Arts Centre. The book has a good smattering of authentic Ulster-Scots speech for some of the characters.

I plan to head south to Enniscorthy in Wexford some time soon to visit the 1798 Rebellion Visitor Centre, in particular to see how the story of the Northern risings in Antrim and Down is told.

Here is an account from the Northern Star on activities in our area here, Ballyhalbert and Portavogie, from just over a year before in April 1797.

Portaferry Market House would make a fine "1798 in Ulster" interpretive centre!

(Harry Allen's 2004 book The Men of the Ards is an outstanding account of the local events of 1798)

"The Ards with its peculiar dialect is rich with anecdotes ... 'by my saul, gin they dinna ca' that a ratrate they may gang tae Hell for ane..." – from Ulster in '98, Episodes and Anecdotes.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

From Ballyfrench to the US Army

My dad bought our farm at Ballyfrench - Ireland's most easterly townland - around 1973. The photo above is of the farm in 1968. All his life he had laboured to the owners, the Johnstons. Prior to the Johnstons a family called Ralston owned it. The Ralstons went to America, and some years ago a bus load of them came back from California to see the old place. In the late 70s my dad had built the family a new bungalow, so the old house was disused then, but still pretty well preserved - the Ralston visitors peeled some of the wallpaper from the walls to take home with them. The old house was renovated a few years ago, and we lived in it for a while during the build of our current house just down the hill.

Christina "Tina" Johnston was the one who hired my dad when he was wee. She had a small table in the corner of the scullery where she'd feed him soda bread and jam after he'd done his morning's work. There's a dignity in working hard to buy something of your own – he inherited nothing, but with sweat and graft he bought the place not long after I was born. It became the second Thompson farm at Ballyfrench; the one he grew up on just two fields away has been lived in by Thompsons since at least the 1750s.

In digging a bit recently I found the Great War memorial of Glastry Presbyterian Church on Barry Niblock's excellent website. It lists a number of Ballyfrench men, including three Johnstons who presumably had emigrated to the USA but signed up to fight.

Browne H – Ballyfrench – Rifleman – Royal Irish Rifles
Donnan H – Ballyfrench – Rifleman – R.I.R. – Gassed
Donnan T – Ballyfrench – Private – U.S. Army
Johnston H T – Ballyfrench – Private – U.S. Army
Johnston J G – Ballyfrench – Private – U.S. Army
Johnston W – Ballyfrench – Private – U.S. Army

The 1901 Census of Ireland includes a large Johnston family at house 18 Ballyfrench, with six sons and three daughters. The sons include a Hugh Johnston (11), a James Johnston (9) and a William Johnston (12). Presumably these are the same men, who would have been aged 24, 22 and 25 when the Great War broke out 13 years later in 1914.

I have no idea what became of them, but they farmed our fields and were born and grew up in our old house. They may even have planted the red fuschia hedge that my dad and I cut on Saturday morning - shown just behind the white garden wall in the photo. They may also have used the scythe sharpening stone I found a broken end of, under the hedge.


From neighbouring Ballyeasboro (I went to Ballyeasborough Primary School) are these men:

Hagan J – Ballyeasboro – Lance Corporal – R.I.R. – Wounded
Hanna W – Ballyeasboro – Sergeant – R.I.R. – Killed in Action
Palmer R – Ballyeasboro – Sergeant – Canadian Expeditionary Force
Tibbs H – Ballyeasboro – Corporal – U.S. Army


It's hard to imagine how the countryside of Ulster was torn apart 100 years ago by the loss of a generation of young men through emigration and war service. And if you survived those, the "white plague" of tuberculosis wasn't too far away.

Ulster Dances - Patricia Mulholland, 1971

Back in 2008 I donated this LP and accompanying booklet to the Belfast Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. I found them on one of my many forays in second hand shops donkeys years ago and they were just sitting on the shelf at home. I thought it had some cultural merit, but folk who know about real traditional dance and music are fairly dismissive of it, describing the dances and the tunes as synthetic and made-up. However the notes on the back cover are interesting. It also shows the awareness of Ulster Tartan in the early 1970s (itself dating from the late 1500s, uncovered near Dungiven by farmer William Dixon in 1956) and a general understanding of the Scottish cultural dimension in Ulster. The LP was produced by LBJ Recordings, 9 Springvale Parade, Belfast 14.

(ps thanks to reader Jonathan who drew my attention to the perhaps unduly harsh terminology I used above. It would be appropriate to state that all traditions are of course at some point "made-up", I was just keen to make less informed readers away that the LP and booklet are not historic dances, but were new compositions created at that time. The Donegal dance can be viewed on YouTube here: 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

She got away

My mother died yesterday morning. She was 68. She had a vast influence on all of us. "She got away" was the simple three word message on manys a phone call yesterday, a figure of speech familiar to country folk  – implying release, freedom, of going to a far better land. She had suffered for 11 years with injuries sustained in a car crash and a litany of illnesses which arose as a result.

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." – 1 Thessalonians 4v13-18

"There is a saying among the Scotch, that an ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy." - often attributed to Rudyard Kipling.

Here is her father's favourite hymn - a crackly version of William MacEwan's landmark 1911 recording of My Ain Countrie.
↵ Use original player

A am far frae ma hame an A'm weary aftenwhiles
For lang'd-for hamebringin' and ma Faither's welcome smile
An A'II ne'er be fu' content, untae ma een dae see 
The gowden gates o' Heaven, an' ma ain countrie.

The earth is deck'd w' floo-ers, mony tinted, bricht an' gay
The birdies warble blithely, fer ma Faither made thaim sae
But these sichts an' these souns wull as naethin be tae me
When A hear the angels singin' in my ain countrie.

A hae His guid word o promise that some glaidsome day the King
Tae His ain royal palace all His ransomed hame will bring
Wi' een an wi' hairt rinnin owre we shall see
The King in aa His beautie in my ain countrie.

Ma sins they hae been mony, an' ma sorrows hae been sair
But there they'll never vex me, nor be remember'd mair
For His bluid has washed me white an His haun shall dry my een
When He brings me hame at last tae my ain countrie.