Friday, August 28, 2015

Niall MacGinnis as Martin Luther - "this is no sudden doubt, but a growing certainty"

Niall MacGinnis (1913–1977) was Dublin-born, educated at Stonyhurst College (a Jesuit school) in Lancashire and then at Trinity College Dublin. In this 1953 portrayal of Martin Luther's life, MacGinnis does a fine job in the lead role - the movie was nominated for two Oscars. Here is his Wikipedia entry. Interestingly for Northern Ireland readers, MacGinnis had played fictional IRA leader Terence Elliott in the 1936 movie Ourselves Alone (which was directed by Belfast man Brian Desmond Hurst). MacGinnis later served in WW2 as a Royal Navy surgeon.

Go to 30 minutes:– "…and when I found it, it was as if the gates of heaven were opened to me … Christ, man only needs Jesus Christ …"

UPDATE: Thanks to Jack for letting me know that Brian Desmond Hurst was originally named Hans Hurst, he signed the Ulster Covenant at Belfast City Hall in 1912. During the Great War he changed his name to Brian Desmond, perhaps to avoid being thought of as German.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is Robert the Bruce's 1310 sword in an attic in Fermanagh?

HEN M 282 1933 1 Above: an Edwarded Prins Anglie sword, from the collection of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

In 1696, William Montgomery, author/compiler of The Montgomery Manuscripts, was visiting his relative Hugh Montgomery at Derrygonnelly in County Fermanagh. The house had previously belonged to Sir John Dunbar, the high sheriff of County Fermanagh, who had settled in the county in 1615. Hugh Montgomery (1651–1722) was a captain in the army of William III, and had married Dunbar's granddaughter and heiress, Katherine. One of Sir John Dunbar's ancestors, Patrick III, Earl of Dunbar (1213–1289) had married Christiana Bruce (1246–1275), aunt of King Robert the Bruce. So the Dunbars were Scottish aristocracy with a Bruce connection. Here's where it gets interesting… During his three night visit in 1696, William Montgomery wrote that he had seen:

"… a rarity att that house, to witt, a two-edged sword of excellent metall (which this Hugh never caused to be made) … I am of the opinion that no smith in Ireland can forge soe good a blade … the sword is inscribed on ye right hand side of ye blade thus – Robert Bruscius, Scotorus Rex, 1310, and on ye reverse side Pro Christo et Patria D:ER …"
In the mid 1800s a search for the sword was carried out but with no success, and in 1867 a letter appeared in The Scotsman and The Northern Whig, appealing for its whereabouts. In 1899, the sword surfaced and was brought to the Society of Antiquaries in London, but they cast doubt on its authenticity. Charles Alexander, the Baron de Cosson, and a Fellow of the Society, thought that the sword wasn't old enough to be from the time of Bruce. He thought it closely resembled 17th century swords inscribed by Edwardus Prins Anglie. I can't find any other record of the sword since then. I think that folklore is often more valuable that verifiable history, in that folklore reveals what people want to believe and is an insight into their values and aspirations. Forgery or not, presumably the sword is out there somewhere and whoever owns it today is the custodian of an important Ulster-Scots artefact.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Staffa - Scotland's Giants Causeway (How to get there, and the cost involved).


That's not my picture!


Back at the end of June we took a weekend in Scotland to we could do a trip to Staffa, the Scottish end of the Giant's Causeway, and a lifelong ambition of mine. The aim was to go on the weekend with the longest day, so we could enjoy sitting outside till 11pm and beyond in near daylight. Despite that plan, it was damp and overcast, but we made the most of it. Don't go to Scotland looking for sunshine!

It is a good job for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board that Staffa takes a bit of effort and money to get to, because it is far more impressive than the Causeway. It has no visitor centre, just breathtaking terrain miles from the mainland. Here's how we did it. After flying from Belfast to Glasgow, we hired a car and drove 2hrs north to Oban.

1. Stay in Oban the night before
Oban is a popular small Victorian resort town which the ferry terminal does not detract from, with lots of hotel options, but taking a family of 5 is pricey. The best deal we could find was The Royal Hotel in the middle of the town, who had a family room which would sleep five people. A lovely place, and a few weeks after we were there, Roman Abramovich visited on his cruise of the Western Isles.
• B&B per night for the room was £180 x 2 nights = £360.00

SAM 2867 SAM 3017

2. Book the Oban to Mull Ferry well in advance
I had foolishly assumed a ferry to the isles would be regular, and just a case of turning up for the sailing. Nope. There are 7 sailings per day (timetable here) We just managed to get one of the last remaining tickets for the 7.30am ferry from Oban to Craignure. Sailing time was 45 minutes and the ferry was a pretty good standard, not unlike the P&O boat from Larne.
• Cost for car + 5 was £129.85 return

Arriving at misty Craignure SAM 2875

We then drove from Craignure to Tobermory (22 miles, took about 45 minutes), got some grub there in a nice wee café at the seafront, and then drove back to Craignure. The drive is brilliant, like a car advert in places, with views to Ardnamurchan Point. Having retraced our drive back to Craignure we then headed to Fionnphort. That drive took an hour, most of it was on single track roads. 

Oban Mull Map

Abandoned boats on the road to Tobermory SAM 2881

3. Book a trip from Fionnphort to Staffa with Staffa Tours
Arriving at Fionnphort was lovely, small and unspoilt harbour, with Iona and Iona Abbey just across the Sound. There were crowds of people there, easily 200 or so, all waiting for the Calmac ferry to Iona. As we waited 3 coachloads more arrived. We boarded the Staffa Tours boat - probably the cleanest small boat I have ever been on, excellent service, and smooth sailing.
• The cost for 2 adults and 3 children was £105.00 return

Creels at Fionnphort Jun 20 2015 03 18 PM SAMSUNG WB350FWB351FWB352F 4608x3456

Calmac Ferry to Iona, and Staffa Tours boat arriving SAM 2894

Onboard the Staffa Tours boat Jun 20 2015 02 55 PM SAMSUNG WB350FWB351FWB352F 4608x3456

4. Sailing to Staffa
There were maybe 50 or 60 people on the boat, mostly from Spain but some from New Zealand as well as Scots. Sailing through the sound which separates Iona and Mull was quiet, misty, and serene. Then it was about 30minutes across the open sea to Staffa - which due to the mist we didn't see until we were almost there. It loomed out of the mirk like a scene from Jurassic Park.

SAM 2907 SAM 2910 SAM 2916 SAM 2922 SAM 2930 SAM 2976 SAM 2979 SAM 2981

5. On Staffa
Initially, the boat backed up into the mouth of Fingal's Cave, which was a remarkable sight. The concrete steps at the landing stage led up to the grassy top of the island – the walkway route to Fingal's Cave was just a trek along the hexagonal basalt and only a handrail. It was a bit scary in places, maybe because of the suffocating health & safety culture we have all got used to in modern life, but it was also exhilarating. We could have stayed longer on Staffa – we only got around an hour there.  

SAM 2932 SAM 2933 SAM 2937 SAM 2941 SAM 2943 SAM 2960 SAM 2969 SAM 2971 SAM 2972

In terms of the cost, as you can see it's not a cheap family holiday. To these costs you have to add flights, car hire, petrol and food. Despite this, I would recommend anyone to go to Staffa, it's definitely worth doing - but it would be better in clear weather, where the rock formations would have more contrast.  You might also get to see the dolphins and puffins which usually appear in better weather.

Belfast artist Joseph William Carey's paintings of Staffa, circa 1900Carey Staffa 1 LR

Carey Staffa 2 LR Staffa

Charles Spurgeon and Fenaghy, Cullybackey, 1887

Charles spurgeon

Tent meetings have been a feature of Ulster evangelical life for centuries. Methodist missionary Matthew Lanktree's diary of 1818 records that at the bottom of our lane here at Ballyfrench, men would rig up a tent out of ships' sails and hold large Sunday services and communion meetings there.

Later in the 1800s in the Cullybackey area there were large tent meetings called the Fenaghy Camp Meetings, the first of which were held in mid August 1887. Thousands gathered at these meetings for many years - a reported 12,000 in 1889. Special trains from Belfast were laid on to bring people to the 10-tent site, five of which were for refreshments throughout the days of meetings.

The organisers started well, by aiming to bring the most well-known preachers to rural Antrim. D. L. Moody was due to attend in 1892 but was prevented from doing so due to his son falling seriously ill. 

In 1887 it was hoped that Charles Haddon Spurgeon would be the main speaker, but the organisers seem to not have done much forward planning and only wrote to him in July. On the 16th July Spurgeon, a man who seldom minced his words, wrote this amusingly frank reply:


Dear Sir,

I wish I could come to you. But the request almost amuses me. Do you really think that I am waiting about for work, or hanging on a nail to be taken down at a few days notice? Why my dear Sir, I never have a leisure day. When the year begins, it is usual to have every day allotted down to its close, and all arranged to be used if the Lord will.

Engagements for the week you seek have been made so long ago that I cannot tell you when, and the year 1888 is already in great part allotted unless I go to heaven.

It is always impossible for me to leave hom at short notice; and indeed the work of the Lord at home will not often allow for my absence at all.

Yours very heartily,

C. H. Spurgeon


In the end, a Scotsman of County Antrim parentage, Rev John McNeill - known in his day as 'the Scotch Spurgeon', preached that first year instead of Spurgeon, and again in 1892 as a stand-in for Moody.

In 1858 Spurgeon had drawn large crowds to Botanic Gardens in Belfast, with trains bringing people from as far as Dungannon and Monaghan to hear him preach.

(from 100 Years at Portstewart: The Story of a Keswick Convention by Rev Joseph Fell, 2014)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sebastian C Adams - the Man who Charted the World

Adams Sebastian 2
In 1871, Presbyterian Sebastian C Adams produced an astonishing work of art. Entitled A Chronological Chart of Ancient and Modern Biblical History, it was a 20 foot long panorama of world history, exquisitely drawn by Adams himself, and reproduced for sale using the cutting-edge chromolithography printing technology of the time. Further editions would be published during Adams' life, and have been reprinted even recently. The chart starts with the Biblical Adam of Genesis (dated at 4004BC) and ends at 1878, with predictions as to what would happen up to 1900.

Adams was born into a Presbyterian family in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1825, the son of Captain Sebastian Adams (1789–1847) and his wife Eunice. They were from Vermont, and Captain Adams was a ship owner who "sailed on the lakes, meeting with many adventures and engaged in the War of 1812. He was a man of great nerve and courage". Captain Adams' father was Aaron Adams, who served in the 1776 Revolutionary War with the "Green Mountain Boys", a regiment based in Vermont.

Sebastian junior was the youngest son in the family and travelled across the United States in his early years, almost dying at one stage. Reaching Salem, Oregon, on the west coast in 1850, he met up with his brother William who had already been there for two years, and another brother Oliver. Here Sebastian Adams also met his future wife, Martha McBride, the daughter of Tennessee-born Dr James McBride, who had been a missionary in Hawaii. The McBrides said they were cousins of President Andrew Jackson (see here) so therefore were of Ulster extraction.

The chart is one of the most amazing visual artefacts I've ever seen. I am pretty sure a copy of it was once on display at the library of the Ulster-American Folk Park and may still be there.

• a zoomable version of the chart is online here at
• Here is a short biography in the Oregon Encyclopedia
• Here is another short biography on the North West College of the Bible website
• information on Dr James McBride is available here. 





Thursday, August 20, 2015

Old Comber Whiskey - a determination to shun all brands in the future except "Auld Cummer"

This article from the Belfast News Letter in 1893 corroborates an old advert I saw many years ago, but which sadly I didn't acquire at the time. The County Down town of Comber, very much an Ulster-Scots town, was renowned for producing "Old Comber" Whiskey. Production began in 1825 and it was colloquially known as "Auld Cummer". This article describes a swish social occasion at the long-demolished Mount Alexander, a grand home built by the Montgomeries in the 1620s.

Auld Cummer Comber Whiskey Label Pic LR

Comber Whiskey HR

Old Bushmills Jug

Found this on a recent hoke, on a bric-a-brac stall at the Annual County Down Traction Engine Club Rally at Rosemount, Greyabbey, for the princely sum of £4. Made by J.A. Campbell & Son, 64 Royal Avenue, Belfast. Not totally sure of date but from graphical style I would guess early 1950s?

IMG 3647

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ulster 5 bar gates - recovering the vernacular for the 21st century

After a long long wait we now have our restored gates and rustic pillars installed and a layer of stone over the yard. The gates are about 100 years old and have been repaired, primed and painted in Massey Ferguson red. It has taken us a long while to find the right materials, and men with traditional skills who understood what we were trying to achieve, to make this all happen – and to keep within present-day planning and building control regulations. Field entrances are now wider than the old original gates to let heavy machinery in and out – but they are still an ideal width for a regular family car.
It is possible to do a newbuild in a way that honours tradition. There is an Ulster vernacular and I hope other people will also adopt it, in ways which are relevant for modern life, and not limit it to open-air museums – these are places which I greatly enjoy visiting but which can be in their own way a little bit commodified. Ulster vernacular should live and grow in our landscapes.
With many thanks to my friend the architect Doug Elliott who steered us through the early years and brought to bear his own life-long awareness of an Ulster aesthetic. Click the images to enlarge.

(PS - the norm was 5 bars, but as you'll see from the photographs, additional bars would often be added to stop lambs escaping)






And all heavily influenced by  places like this - the Scotch-Irish Farm and Ulster Forge at the Museum of American Frontier Culture, Virginia, which we visited on honeymoon in 1997. (Interestingly it seems to now be just named the 'Irish Farm').

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Fisk Jubilee Singers in Ulster, August 1873 ... and Joseph G McKee of Anahilt & Nashville (1832–1868)

McKee Portrait from Free At Last
Joseph G McKee
Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee was established in 1865 as a result of the earlier influences and pioneering educational work of County Down man Joseph G McKee of Loughaghery (south of Anahilt), among the 'freedmen' - former Black slaves. He emigrated as a teenager and studied at Westminster College in Philadelphia, became an itinerant Presbyterian preacher in Nebraska & Kansas before coming to Nashville in 1863. In Nashville he set up various schools for Black people, which eventually developed into Fisk University. Some years later, Fisk fell upon hard times and needed innovative methods of fundraising to keep its doors open. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were 'born'.

Fisk Singers The Fisk Jubilee Singers come to Ulster 
A group of 11 black students formed the Jubilee choir which toured the US and Europe, including Charles Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and later to Belfast (at the Ulster Hall) and Londonderry (at First Derry Presbyterian Church) as a short hop after their Scottish dates. And of course they visited Portrush and the Giants Causeway, to collect specimens for the University collection.

The coverage of the time, and the warmth and enthusiasm with which they were received, was exemplary. 

"… the Jubilee Singers were esteemed by the citizens of Derry as another company of young people turning back a tide of ignorace, cruelty and prejudice…" – from The Singing Campaign for Ten Thousand Pounds ; or the Jubilee Singers in Great Britain by Rev Gustavus D Pike (1875)

McKee's return to Ulster, and death aged 36
McKee, in poor health, returned to Anahilt to spend the summer and autumn of 1865 with his parents. As you'll see below in the letter written by his uncle, Joseph G McKee died on 25 September 1868 "burned out" by his efforts, at the home of his father in law, Rev. James Arbuthnot, of Harshville, Adams County, Ohio, five years before his young Jubilee Singer protegés visited Ulster. It is a shame we know so little of him here today.

The Singing Campaign for Ten Thousand Pounds can be read online here.
• A PhD dissertation on the subject, and McKee, by Crystal A. deGregory is online here.
• The portrait of McKee above is from Free at Last by Jane Collins (1896), online here.

Postscript - Joseph McKee was interested in his own ancestry, and in his visit home he inspired his relatives at Annahilt to compile a family tree. This was eventually published, in great detail, as A History of the Descendants of David McKee of Anahilt, by Prof James Y McKee in Philadelphia in 1892. It can be read online here, including a dramatic account of how Joseph was almost lost at sea in an Eagle Wing-esque storm.

McKees School

Fisk Singers 2

Fisk Singers 3 Fisk Singers 5 Fisk Singers 4 Fisk Singers 7

Fisk Singers 6

McKees Bio