Saturday, September 23, 2017

Murdoch Nisbet, Scotland's Forgotten Reformer and Linguist.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

“Moonshine & Thunder – The Junior Johnson Story” - “moonshine and its Scotch-Irish history, and how NASCAR grew.”

This article from The Tribune of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, is interesting. More details here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ballyhalbert Orange Hall, 1972

Thanks to Jackie for sending this find! This is my dad, out fixing up the roof of the hall when I was about 3 months old!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What Is The Gospel? - Ray Cortese

I love this talk. He nails it every step of the way. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The 'Ulster Reunions' in Glasgow, 1882–1912 / Gustav Wolff and our three-stranded identity

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Around the same time of the annual Scotch-Irish Society of the USA gatherings in America, there were similar events in Glasgow. The first of these was in 1882 but the earliest record I can find is of the sixth one, held on Friday 9th December 1887 in the Grand Hall of the Waterloo Rooms (shown above), under the auspices of the Antrim and Down Benevolent Association. The Waterloo Rooms were the ‘re-brand’ for the former Wellington Church in Wellington Street; around 1910 the new Alhambra Theatre was built on the site.

The great and the good were there. Lord Kelvin had chaired the 1886 meeting; he spoke at the 1887 event, commenting on his ancestry and his childhood spent around Conlig and Bangor. Thomas Sinclair also gave a speech. There was a lot of Unionist sentiment in the few speeches I've seen, which of course was typical of the time. Psalms were sung, common ancestry and industrial interests were celebrated. Even W G Lyttle gave some performances. Rev Thomas Somerville, the minister of Dennistoun Blackfriars in Glasgow, commented that when on a visit "to a little place outside Ballymena, he was astonished to find Scotch spoken far more purely than they had it in Glasgow".

Gustav Wolff chaired the 1895 event - in his speech he recalled arriving at Ballymacarrett over 30 years before, remembering that 'the cottages were strawroofed, and there were handloom weavers in nearly every one of them', and so much praise given to the subsequent growth of Belfast, and the industrial success of Ulster in contrast to the rest of Ireland. He went on:

'... It is not any natural advantage we have; and the question must therefore be put, What is it? I think to a very great extent it is owing to the different races that inhabit the North of Ireland ... there is nothing like a Scotchman, there is nothing like an Irishman, there is nothing like an Englishman, but what I think is that there is nothing like a happy combination of all three. It is the combination of these three races which has produced one race in Ulster which has the hopefulness of the Irishman, the sturdy perseverance of the Englishman, tempered by, I think, the somewhat canny qualities of the Scotchman ... we are self-relying, and we feel that if we wish to succeed we ought to do it ourselves ...'

There you go, three-stranded identity again, the triple-blend. The newspapers of the time have long and detailed accounts of the Ulster Reunions. They ran for at least 30 years, maybe longer.

There’s a PhD in this for somebody. Or at the very least a good solid publication.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Homely Words and Songs for Working Men and Women" - Rev Charles Marshall (1795–1882)

Marshall was Scottish, but this volume was published in both Edinburgh (by Constable & Co) and Belfast (by Shepherd & Aitchison) in late 1856. It was favourably reviewed in the Presbyterian newspaper The Banner of Ulster, who described the poems and songs as ‘an excellent little series’, with ‘each article preceded by a song chiefly in the Scotch dialect, in which we often meet with verses of which Burns need not have been ashamed’.

He was born in Paisley in 1795 and it is said that Robert Tannahill was a friend of the family’s. In 1856 Marshall was a Free Church of Scotland minister in Dunfermline; in 1853 he had published ‘Lays and Lectures for Scotia’s Daughters of Industry’, some of which also appeared in ‘Homely Words’. He died in 1882 and was buried at Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh.

Some of his poems are available online here in the Modern Scottish Minstrel (1857)

PS - what this also leads to is the need for someone to catalogue all of what might be called ‘Scottish Scots’ language books which were also printed in Belfast and Ulster generally. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

History of Mission Halls throughout Northern Ireland

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Remembering Betsy: the short-lived memorial to Betsy Gray, the Heroine of the 1798 Rebellion

Betsy 1939

Above: a newspaper photo from 1939, over 40 years after the memorial was destroyed.

Betsy Gray of Six Road Ends* is a heroine who keeps coming back - her name comes up all the time. Just last week an elderly farmer brought her up in conversation with me. WG Lyttle’s book Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down (serialised in 1885; first compiled as a book in 1888, frequently reprinted ever since) was one of those handed down to me by my aunt. Tragically, Betsy's reputed homeplace at Six Road Ends, which is on private property, is today collapsing in on itself. Perhaps that is emblematic of how ill-fitting her tale became among the rapidly-changing Ulster politics of the 1800s and 1900s, yet it is also a tale which has remained deep in the hearts and minds of rural County Down folk ever since.

Her reputed burial place is at Ballycreen near Ballynahinch where she, her brother and her boyfriend were killed and buried on 13 June 1798. A tradition developed that each year locals would visit the grave and lay flowers. The site of the grave was just a field, which a century later in the 1890s was owned by a farmer called Samuel Armstrong, and of which a newspaper report said ‘has always been preserved and not put under cultivation both by the present owner of the farm and his predecessors’. These simple commemorations seem to have been low-key, as a local community thing, and with no issues.

• Plans for a Memorial
In September 1895, at Rosemary Street Lecture Hall in Belfast, Alice Milligan delivered a lecture for the Henry J McCracken Literary Society. In the audience was Rev Richard Lyttle of Moneyrea Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church who, in the remarks at the end of the lecture, proposed that a statue be erected in Betsy Gray’s memory.

Other people were having similar thoughts; a John Clarke regularly gave a lecture at the time entitled ‘The Neglected Graves of the ’98 Ulster Patriots’. Rev Lyttle and some ladies from Moneyrea, on behalf of the Charles J Kickham Society, laid a floral cross on Betsy’s grave in June 1896. That same month the ‘Moneyrea Irish Women’s Association’ organised three car loads of their members to place wreaths on 1798 graves at Saintfield, Ballynahinch, Castlereagh and Moneyreagh. When they arrived at Ballycreen Mr Armstrong ‘received them with sympathetic courtesy’. They installed eight wooden stakes around the reputed grave location, to which they fixed light wire, and then added flowers and garlands. On the grave were laid: a wreath of pansies (by a Miss Macauley), a cross (from Misses Milligan and Johnston), and a wreath and a cross of unusually large dimensions made of blue and white flowers (from Moneyrea Irish Women’s Association). Mr Armstrong was thanked by Mrs McCullough of Moneyrea and Mrs Murray:

‘for his goodness and that of his family in guarding the grave so well for 98 years, and for his kindness in permitting the decorations. He replied that any man, no matter what his politics might be, who could not honour such heroism and unsullied patriotism as that displayed by the victims who fell and were buried on his farm would be dead to all sense of humanity and nobility’. – Newry Telegraph, 4 July 1896

• Memorial Installed
In the middle of August 1896 a formal memorial stone was installed on the site, which was paid for by a James Gray from London. This was described as ‘native granite, a polished oblong block, with margined sides resting on a chamfered plinth, and surmounted with peaked terminal’. The inscription read ‘Elizabeth Gray, George Gray, William Boal, 13th June 1798’ and on the back ‘Erected by James Gray, grand-nephew of Elizabeth and George Gray, 1896’. Wrought-iron railings were also installed. The work was carried out by S & T Hastings of Downpatrick and Newtownards Monumental Works, costing £50. Some pics are shown below.

This new landmark attracted wider attention to the site - it was said to have been ‘visited by a good many people out of curiosity’. In September 1897, another group of visitors including James Murray and Mrs Murray, Rev Lyttle and Alice Milligan were once again at Ballycreen to pay their respects. A gap had been made in the hedge to facilitate access, and at this gathering it was resolved to fund the installation of a turnstile.

• Memorial Destroyed
Momentum was building on the run-in to the 1798 centenary. Ballycreen seems to have become a focus for visits by increasingly large groups of Nationalist-minded visitors who ‘placed on the grave a number of wreaths and emblems bearing offensive and seditious mottoes’. Eventually a large gathering was advertised in the Nationalist-inclined Belfast newspapers, to take place on a Sunday afternoon, 1st May 1898, under the auspices of the Henry J McCracken Literary Society. The first that Mr Armstrong knew about this proposed gathering was when the police sergeant from Ballynahinch called up to the farm to let him know; Armstrong was concerned that a large visit was to take place at all, but especially on the Sabbath Day. He decided to refuse permission for the proposed meeting. There are competing accounts of what actually took place, which vary depending on the editorial stance of the newspapers. You can imagine.

After the gathering had laid floral wreaths and had dispersed, such was the stir in the Ballycreen community that that same night a group of local men visited Armstrong’s farm, equipped with sledgehammers, and smashed the granite memorial to pieces. 

The Irish Independent summarised the events as 'Decorated by Nationalists, and Desecrated by Orange Scoundrels’. The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph said that the police had allowed ‘Armstrong’s rights to be trampled upon, the law broken, and the law breakers protected and encouraged’.

Willie Redmond asked questions in the House of Commons about the incident, which was widely reported in newspapers across Ireland.


* there is a competing claim that Betsy was from Tullyniskey near Dromore.



Betsy memorial

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Live Free or Die" - John Stark's signoff which became the motto for New Hampshire

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An earlier generation of Starks had been Presbyterian Covenanters, who fled to Ulster for a time for refuge. Archibald Stark arrived at Londonderry as a young boy with his family, having been born in Glasgow in 1697. Archibald married Eleanor Nichols in Ulster in 1714. Around 1720, having watched the successful migrations of 1718, Archibald and Eleanor boarded a ship and sailed for New England.

They settled in the new Ulster-Scots settlement of Nutfield (later Londonderry) where their son, and future General, John Stark was born on 28 August 1728. Eight years later in 1736 the family moved to another Ulster-Scots settlement at Derryfield (later Manchester) where John remained until he was 27 years old. When he grew up he became one of Ulsterman Robert RogersRangers, and when revolution was in the air Stark sided with Washington, becoming a military hero of some renown.

After the war he sent a message to a reunion event which famously said ‘Live free or die; Death is not the worst of evils'. New Hampshire adopted this as its official motto in 1945.

• 1949 biography by Howard Parker Moore is online here
• an earlier memoir is online here


Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Twa Hours at Hame" David Kennedy & Family, Ulster Hall, April 1877

David Kennedy

The Kennedy family toured the world with a show which celebrated Scottish culture and music. David Kennedy (1825–86) has been described here as ‘a concert singer who combined traditional Scots song with oratorio and sacred music’. Here is a report of one of their shows, at the Ulster Hall in 1877, one of at least three nights they performed in Belfast on this particular tour.

His daughter Marjory published this biography in 1887, detailing the family’s Perthshire and Presbyterian origins, as well as page after page of Scots language dialogue. It would be interesting to chart all of their appearances in Belfast, as 1877 was around the time of a fresh upsurge in local Ulster-Scots creative writing and publishing.

In 1881, three of his children, all members of the performing family, died in France when the Opera House in Nice was burned to the ground. Kennedy’s Wikipedia entry is here

Twa Hours at Hame 1877

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Friday, September 08, 2017

'The Gate, Newtownards' by Alicia Boyle (1908–97)


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Scotch Night, Bangor, 1938

Scotch Night Bangor 1938 copy

James Collins, the Blind County Down Fiddler (born 1841)

Article from the Irish News and Belfast Morning News, 26 August 1897. County Down born of Scottish parents, Collins found his way to Eastbourne where he sang Robert Burns songs and seems to have become a bit of a celebrity in his day.

James Collins 26 Aug 1897James Collins Fiddler

The inhaled 'aye'

I don't know how widespread this is, but older men, and younger men who are ‘old-school', around here will often inhale an ‘aye’ of approval during a preacher’s sermon. Does anybody else know about this?

Friday, September 01, 2017

Where are all the tourists?

Tourism is a massive subject in Northern Ireland. It’s a news topic almost every day. It’s our economic future and in a sense ‘saviour’. Public policy is geared towards it, bringing much needed inward investment. Hotels are growing up all over the place (well in greater Belfast at least). Which is why this YouGov poll took me by surprise.

From a sample of 8,000 people surveyed across the UK, Belfast is bottom of the list of UK cities they have visited, equal with Sunderland. Twice as many people have been to the hotspots of Leicester, Norwich and Coventry.

We do have the added disadvantage of people having to take a ferry or a flight to get here. And of course a generation or two of ‘bad news’. But it does make you wonder if the weekly diet of pro-tourism publicity is working out in reality.

(NB: It is a pity that the Republic of Ireland isn’t included in the survey, as the comparable stats for Dublin would be really interesting)


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