Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Devoys of Portavogie, Anglo-Norman influences, and Mount Stewart


• Extract above from Roots of English; Exploring the History of Dialects, Cambridge University Press (2012)

The townland I live on is called Ballyfrench, but the placename experts think that the ‘French’ part is a corruption of a name like ‘Ballifranish’ or ‘Balleffringe’ - perhaps itself a variant of something like ‘Frenes’ townland’. Some of the names around here do indeed date back to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century - and it’s known that there was a John de Freines and Henry de Frenes in the Anglo-Norman settlement area around Dublin in the 1300s. So maybe some of them came north in the wake of De Courcy & co.

As far as the Ards Peninsula goes, the surname Devoy is pretty unique to the Portavogie and Ballyhalbert area. The tradition I have heard is that sometime in the 1700s a French ship was wrecked off the coast at Ballyfrench and the survivors came ashore, some of who were called Devoy. They were welcomed by the Ulster-Scots inhabitants and settled here. The name does appear elsewhere in Ireland, such as the prominent Irish nationalist John Devoy who was from Kildare (Wikipedia here). There’s a Devoy family today in Dublin in the midst of a high profile crime gangland dispute (see here). So maybe the shipwreck story isn’t true, but has emerged as somebody’s attempt to explain the name.

The book extract shown above is an excerpt of an interview with a Kate Devoy from Ballyfrench about speaking ‘Ulster-Scotch’. The same page compares Cumnock in Ayrshire - a place I know fairly well and visited just a few weekends ago - with Cullybackey, Portavogie and Maryport in Cumbria.

The Anglo-Norman influences here in the Ards Peninsula were on the news during the week, with the discovery of a major motte at the National Trust property Mount Stewart (see BBC report here). No wonder that when the Scots arrived they called it Mount Pleasant for about 150 years, until the Stewart family arrived from Donegal, bought it from the Colvilles, and renamed it after themselves.

Northern Ireland today needs to understand that we have multiple, interwoven, cultural and linguistic influences.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

BBC language controversy, Christmas 1933

On Christmas Day in 1933, the BBC broadcast a programme to the nation, made up of items from its various regions. The Northern Ireland segment was in Ulster dialect, and had an item within it called ‘The Wee Wean o Bathleamm’. When the Belfast newspapers hit the streets on December 27th there was a flood of letters, which are fascinating to read from today’s perspective. Many had their addresses printed alongside, and these show two broad reactions:

1) the urban and suburban middle class reaction was one of equal outrage and cringe.
2) the rural working class reaction was that the dialect didn't sound authentic enough 

It seems that it was a hybrid of Hiberno-English and Ulster-Scots, further interpreted through the hand of a scriptwriter, and so perhaps akin to the writings of WF Marshall. Some of the complaints were also that it was ‘too Irish’. The letters pages raged back and forth until early January, when the editors decided to publish no more. A few weeks later, Mr George Leslie Marshall, the BBC Belfast Station Director, issued a statement defending the decision to broadcast Ulster dialect to the rest of the world. The clipping below is from the Northern Whig on 10 January 1934, via the excellent British Newspaper Archive.

It just goes to show that language/dialect along with demographics and broadcasting has always been a difficult arena!

GL MArshall



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Montgomery, Dunlap & Magee - Quebec, Philadelphia, Belfast (1775)

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1775 - Belfast & Philadelphia - a Fast before Revolution

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'The Psalms in Braid Scots' by Rev TT Alexander (St Ninian's, Leith), c. 1930

My brother was given this by a friend from Donaghadee a few weeks ago. It had been in his mother’s collection of stuff and they thought we might appreciate it. I’d not heard of it before, and so I went for a hoke in Graham Tulloch’s excellent History of the Scots Bible (1989) but it wasn’t mentioned in there either. So it must have been a fairly local edition - pocket sized, priced at one sixpence.

A bit of digging shows that Alexander was minister at St Ninian’s from 1926-1932. In 1931 he stood as an SNP candidate in the East Edinburgh constituency. The BNA has some adverts for him preaching church services in Braid Scots, one of which is below.

Just last weekend my brother and I were in New Cumnock in Ayrshire, playing and singing a bit in the Baptist Church there. We were nearly tripping over folk from Ulster or with Ulster connections. One New Cumnock couple we met are good friends and frequent visitors to neighbours of ours who literally live a few fields away from me.

Maybe four of the church pastors in the town are Ulstermen - certainly we met three of them. One man there was thrilled to hear a few sangs in the hamely tongue, as he was born and raised outside Larne. He recounted a story to me of a time when he was asked to preach in a church in Belfast, and so very naturally just used a brave wheen of Ulster-Scots words in his sermon. However one of the church elders, as we say, 'boned' him at the door and made it very clear that he'd caused great offence by using such irreverent and disrespectful language in the pulpit. Sometimes there are just thran individuals who like to be seen to be in charge.

I am pretty sure that the 'Man of Galilee' spoke like a country man from Galilee. There is much academic and theological writing on the subject (example here and another similar article here). The most famous example of this was when his disciple Peter, then in the metropolis of Jerusalem, denied knowing Christ, he was confronted by a servant girl who said - according to the old King James Version translation of 1611 - "Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee" (Matthew 26:73). Country folk often stand out like sair thumbs in the city.

Rev TT Alexander worked in historic Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh. Language usage has changed a lot in the past 100 years, Scots and Ulster-Scots have been diminished and spread very thin by a whole range of factors. Both remain at their richest in the country, the folk in New Cumnock confirmed this to me over tay and pieces after the meetings.

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Here is the church today, built in 1816: NewImage

And here is the much older manse building. The congregation at Leith dates from 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus is said to have discovered America.St Ninian s Manse North Leith

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Mystery of 'Redemption Songs' hymnbook

Its red cover was in nearly every mission hall and gospel hall when I grew up. The softback ones were like velvet to hold. The hardback ones had posh gold foil blocking on the cover. The music edition was beautifully designed, a real retro classic of its time.

But nobody is sure exactly when it was first published. says 1937 but that’s far too recent, it was definitely older than that. There may have been later additions/editions.

The British Newspaper Archive as ever has some tantalising research references, the earliest being in Scotland in 1910 in Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper, an advert for a place called Gordon Evangelistic Hall which proudly advertised the Sunday evening service with ‘Hymns from Redemption Songs”. The publisher, Pickering & Inglis, was based in Glasgow - “largely for the non conformist church in Scotland with many Brethren publications”.

A few weeks later the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald was advertising the hymn books, with a free sample copy being offered by bookseller R L Allan & Son of Glasgow to any “mission leaders” who applied for one.

The earliest Ulster reference is from October 1912,  where it is listed in an advert from the Northern Publishing Office (NPO) in Ann Street, Belfast, along with Songs of Victory, Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos and various Psalters.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Preachers, Coal Miners and Singers - BBC documentary about the Everly Brothers

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Ulster-Scots in the 'Northern Whig', 1957 (from the British Newspaper Archive)

Whig 1957

Monday, November 06, 2017

Lights, Camera, Action!

Some of you will know that throughout the autumn I have been filming a new 6-part series for BBC Northern Ireland. It’s been bubbling away since first discussions in the month of May, and at the time of writing we have four programmes done and two to go. I’ve been interviewed for a few things over the years, but have never been in a presenter role before. It has been a massive eye-opener, an insight into the vast amount of work, planning and logistics - never mind creativity, flair and expertise - that a quality series demands of its producers, creatives and organisers. I have met so many great people in interesting places, with new stories, and big discoveries. I will say no more for now. It’s not a new day job but it’s been pretty demanding for me as a total novice. Watch this space!

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Portavogie Harbour opening, 1955

Smithfield Plantation House: home of Colonel William Preston and the Fincastle Resolutions


Situated in Blacksburg, Virginia. Find out more at the museum website here. William Preston was from Limavady, born there on Christmas Day 1729. Here's his Wikipedia entry.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Green Grow the Laurels / Willows / etc.

This is another very old song that pops up on both sides of the Atlantic in slightly different guises. I was surprised to find recently there was a Dublin version which has an Orange variation to it. The broadside below is from the Bodleian Libraries website Broadside Ballads Online, and dates from 1858–1885. It is listed in Cox's Folk Songs of the South (1925, online here) as 'The Green Laurels (The Orange and Blue)’, collected in West Virginia. 


Saturday, November 04, 2017

Songs My Mother Bought Me & "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us" - The Everly Brothers (1958)

I was I think about 12 years old. That Christmas my mother bought me a cassette tape of a greatest hits compilation by the Everly Brothers. I wish the cover had been more cool and retro, but it was a late 70s or early 80s re-issue. Ah well. But the music, the songs, the harmonies. Their music was, and still is, a masterclass.

So I was amazed to only recently discover that Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Norah Jones teamed up to record a new version of the Everly Brothers’ second album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, from 1958. It’s a really important album as it connected the brothers back to their father’s childhood - songs like Down In The Willow Garden (which the superb  BBC tv series 'Wayfaring Stranger’ from earlier this year traced back to Coleraine, and Barbara Allen (a song so old it can be found among old song manuscripts from the Scottish Borders and parts of England), Bailes Brothers songs, songs recorded by Bill Monroe and Bradley Kincaid…  it’s wonderful. It was a shocking move in its day, a bold move for the record company, for a couple of fresh-faced chart-topping pop sensations to record oldies and dark murder ballads. 

The Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones update, entitled Foreverly, is very good. Stick it on your Christmas list. Rockin Alone in an old Rockin Chair would bring tears from a stone - for me it brings back vivid memories of a mother who loved music and who once upon a time bought me an Everly Brothers’ compilation album for Christmas.

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Everly brothers