Friday, October 27, 2017

'Donald McElroy, Scotch Irishman' (1918) a novel by Mrs. Willie Brown Walker Caldwell (1860–1946)


Willie Brown Walker was born in Wytheville in south west Virginia in 1860. She also wrote The Tie That Binds (1895) a love story set during the American Civil War;  and Stonewall Jim, a biography of her father, the Confederate General James Alexander Walker.

She seems to have been what some in Northern Ireland would call a ‘mad Prod’ - she got in trouble in 1928 for declaring that American women needed to save the country from being ‘Romanized and rum-ridden’ following the Democratic Party selecting Al Smith, a Catholic, as a potential candidate for President. She was strongly rebuked for this by Herbert Hoover.

Donald McElroy, Scotch Irishman is interesting as it has touches of attempted Ulster-Scots dialogue and a clear sense of cultural identities. There are tinges of clichéd Ulster Protestant v Irish Catholic tensions for some of the characters (you wonder how those kinds of ideas could still be persisting in late 1800s rural Virginia - these people were probably over 100 years away from an actual experience of living in Ulster). In the story a young Catholic girl called Ellen O’Neil from Baltimore enters the McElroy family circle (her parents had died of smallpox) and the McElroys decide to take her in - they also to try to “make a good Presbyterian of her in no time”.

Donald McElroy and Ellen O’Neil eventually fall in love, get married and agree to tolerate each other’s faith. Although in the final paragraph it seems like she does become Presbyterian. 

Willie Walker married local lawyer Manley Morrison Caldwell in 1887 and the couple moved from Wytheville to Roanoke around 1906, where she became Vice President of the Woman's Civic Betterment Club and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Walker family ancestry is in the Virginia Valley Records (online here), as far back as a John Walker who left Scotland for Ulster in the 1600s.

Donald McElroy, Scotch Irishman is  online here.

Pic below is from the Library of Congress here.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things that need to be done - reprint 'Poems on Different Subjects' by Francis Boyle (1812)

This letter in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of New York in 1916 refers to one poem (in standard English) from this almost-extinct edition. There is one copy in Belfast Central Library, or there was about 5 year ago. There had been one in Linen Hall Library but when I went looking back then it couldn’t be found. Over the years libraries have been the subject of ‘steal-to-order’ rumours but I have no evidence of that. Certainly there used to be books in libraries which now can’t be found. Hence the absolute urgency of getting them back into the public domain again.

I had a call from a reporter a few weeks ago, he wanted some comments for a piece he was writing. The question was “what needs to be done to support the language?”. Dead simple. Put the historic printed literature back into the hands and homes of the places it sprang from in the first place. In a form that people will find engaging, persuasive and relevant.

It’s not a hard thing to do. But it hasn’t been done.

Clipping 14413297

Friday, October 06, 2017

Early Bluegrass / Old-Time String Bands in Ulster, 1900?

This from The Northern Whig, Belfast, 1900. Fascinating, and maybe significant, selection of instruments.

Belfast 1900

Were there Pipe Bands in Ulster before the Great War?

There is a general assumption that pipe bands didn’t really exist here until thousands of soldiers returned from the Great War, where they had seen Highland Regiments being led into battle by pipers and with regimental pipe bands. I have blogged a bit about this before. Certainly there was an upsurge following the War, but it was not the beginning.

Thanks to the Aladdin’s Cave that is the British Newspaper Archive, it is now possible to peel back the layers of history to reveal much deeper stories. A number of Scottish pipe bands visited Ulster in the 1890s, such as Dumfries Pipe Band and the Black Watch Pipers’ Band, but there was also a movement to form local pipe bands, seemingly mostly in Belfast and County Tyrone in particular:

1893 : the Belfast City Pipe Band took part in a works excursion of the Brookfield and Agnes Street Weaving Factories in Belfast
1896 : the 13th Belfast Company Boys’ Brigade Pipe Band (Mountpottinger Presbyterian Church) played at a major BB event in the Ulster Hall
1897 : Fintona LOL 169 founded the Jubilee Pipe Band
1900 : the City Temperance Pipe Band played at half time in a Glentoran v Cliftonville match
1902 : Début concert by Castleton Pipe Band at the Parochial Hall, Greencastle
1902 : Fintona - Killaliss Coronation Temperance Pipe Band founded
1902 : Bushmills - report of a pipe band in the village
1904 : a ‘Band Promenade’ in Botanic Gardens, including Belfast Pipers’ Band 
1905 : Omagh Coronation Pipe Band
1905 : Pipe Band of the Portrush Company
1905 : Throne Pipe Band active in Belfast
1905 : Belfast Total Abstinence Pipe Band played at an Orange concert in the YMCA Hall
1906 : Magheracross Pipe Band parade in Trillick
1906 : Highland Games event in Newtownstewart, with unnamed Pipe Band
1907 : Advert in Belfast Telegraph for ‘instructor for pipe band’ for the east of the city 

These are just a result of a quick surface-skim, and are in addition to visits by regimental and Scottish bands. What they do show is that there appears to be a vibrant pipe band scene in Ulster for a full generation before the Great War.

There is also a reference to a solo piper walking on the 12th July demonstration of 1849 in Downpatrick.


Monday, October 02, 2017

Billy Caldwell, Alexander Robinson and the Treaty of Chicago (1833)


Two mixed race Ulster-Scots & Native Americans: Billy Caldwell (1782–1841) had an Ulster father and a Powatomi mother, and was known as Sauganash. Alexander Robinson (dates uncertain) also had an Ulster father and a Native American mother, joined the Powatomi tribe and was known as Che-che-pin-qua (‘Blinking Eyes’). They were both fur traders, and became the principal negotiators in the ceding of the last Native American lands in Illinois to the United States Government in 1833, known as the Treaty of Chicago. 

• A fuller story is available in this article and also in this one