Sunday, September 29, 2019

George Washington and the obstinate, dastardly Scotch-Irish

Washington's famous, admiring, quote about the heroic Scotch-Irish of Virginia is often cited (see my July 2017 post here, tracing the earliest source I have ever found for it). If he said it, it was around the 1770s during the American Revolution. But here is an earlier one, from 1755, with a very different slant. Washington was just 33 years old, and a volunteer aide-de-camp to notorious General Edward Braddock.

"... After surviving the disastrous Braddock expedition, Washington was raised to the position of Colonel and commander in chief of Virginia forces on the western frontier in August 1755. He returned to Winchester to take command on October 10, and was not impressed, calling the town "this vile post" and complained of the "obstantcy and dastardliness" of the Scotch-Irish settlers of the area. Nevertheless, Winchester was a vital link in a defensive chain intended to counteract French forts like Duquesne and defend settlers from Native American raids ..."
This was the very same year that Winchester's Ulster-Scots emigrant population were described as 'a spurious race of mortals known by the appelation Scotch-Irish' (see previous post here). As more of George Washington's papers are researched and digitised, I expect that more and more Scotch-Irish / Ulster-Scots material will be unearthed.

Source here

A "company of Ulster-Scotch" - Northampton County, Pennsylvania, 1765

This extract is from the Founders.Archives.Gov website:

"... Capt. William Craig, the son of Thomas Craig, was a tavern keeper and the first elected sheriff of Northampton Co., 1752; commissioned by Hamilton, December 1755; passed through Nazareth on the 20th with his “company of Ulster-Scotch”; performed guard duty along the frontier, January–February 1756. He drew £256 13s. 3d. pay for himself and company March 15; thereafter was stationed at Fort Hamilton. There is no record of his service after mid-1756 ..."
It is within correspondences from the Benjamin Franklin papers, part of notes accompanying a letter from Pennsylvania Deputy Governor Robert Hunter Morris to Franklin, giving an account of events during the French and Indian War.

1700s Pennsylvania was of course overflowing with Ulster-Scots emigrants - to find the terminology 'Ulster-Scotch' documented is very important.

Source here.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Another Ulster-Scots distillery brand - Mitchell's of Belfast and Glasgow

There's an excellent blog devoted to Mitchell's here, so I'll not repeat all of the history.

They were two brothers, both Scots, one of whom, William Charles Mitchell (1834 – 22 July 1894), came to Belfast in 1863 to run Dunville's. He had previously worked in a distillery at Port Dundas near Glasgow, said to have been the biggest in Scotland. Eventually he left to do his own thing and around 1871 formed Mitchell & Co Ltd Belfast. He also teamed up cross-North Channel with his brother David Mitchell (1838– April 1917) who was back in Glasgow and they formed Mitchell Brothers Ltd. David also later became managing director of United Distillers Ltd of Belfast. The brothers took design 'inspiration' from the classic Dunville's VR label for some of their own products.

The Mitchells were Liberal Unionists; David chaired public meetings in 1891 in Falkirk for Polmont Liberal Unionist Association.

Their Irish brand was Cruiskeen Lawn (the name of an old traditional song), their Scotch brand was Greybeard Heather Dew. Their famous printed ceramic/stoneware jars are still pretty easy to get hold of today. As you can see below they even produced a pocket encyclopedia - a 'Dictionary, Atlas and Gazetteer' - among their range of promotional items.

As well as multiple commercial and civic roles in Belfast, William Charles was a founder of the Ulster Reform Club, a founder of the Belfast Benevolent Society of St Andrew, President of the Belfast Scottish Association, a member of Belfast Burns Club and a member of Belmont Presbyterian Church in the east of the city. He died in London on 22 July 1894. Almost a decade later, a grand organ in his memory was presented by the Mitchell family to Queen's University Belfast in 1903 and was installed in the Great Hall, with an inscription in his memory. The Northern Whig account of the presentation said that he was 'one of those Scotsmen to whom Belfast owed so much', and that he had been a champion within the Presbyterian Church for the introduction of organs - 'one of those who stood in the forefront of the long fight for liberty to use the aid of musical instruments in the worship of the Irish Presbyterian Church'.

 His son, Robert Armstrong Mitchell (1868–1950), seems to have taken over the Belfast business and was also a director of the Glasgow one. In 1886 he purchased a house called Marmont in Strandtown, East Belfast. In 1961 it became Mitchell House School, offering specialist education for children with physical disabilities - its website is here. Robert's son, and namesake, died in 1982 aged 80.

(PS these Mitchells are not the same as the Mitchell & Son of Dublin who sell famous whiskeys such as Green Spot still today.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"The best Ulster-Scots television programme ever"

So I was told at the weekend, by someone who is generally a bit 'cool' on these things and hard to please. Another man, from that part of the country, messaged me to say "thon programme o Alison's had me greetin like a bairn'.

I was involved a wee bit, but the story lives and breathes through Alison Millar's upbringing, her early film of two local elderly brothers, and the community that she and her family are drawn from. Tullygrawley school had a 'beloved maister', Mr R. L. Russell, who was a figure of some renown in his day. Once again my pal Sean Maguire has delivered a programme of depth, sensitivity and authenticity. Watch it on BBC iPlayer here.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

More Belfast Spirit – William Cowan & Co Ltd – “The whisky of your forefathers”.

Sir Edward Porter Cowan D.L. (1842 – 24 March 1890) was one of Belfast’s giants of the Victorian era. He was an only child, his father was Samuel Cowan of Cromac House in Belfast. As a young man some time around 1864 Edward inherited his uncle William Cowan’s spirits business (which had been founded in 1829 and was initially located in Lower Church Lane, moving to Upper Church Lane in 1859). He married his cousin Agnes in 1866.

Edward’s commercial achievements included becoming chairman of the Ulster Bank and a director of the Great Northern Railway Company. Like so many entrepreneurs in the city at that time, he was active politically. He was a Liberal, twice became Mayor of Belfast, and was knighted in 1881. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for County Down and later Lord Lieutenant for County Antrim.

The Illustrated London News article shown above said that:
‘the family of the new knight is of Scottish origin, and settled in the county of Down early in the seventeenth century’.
His home was a mansion at Craig-a-vad. Rich and poor alike come to the same end, and in March 1890 he was buried at the City Cemetery. In 1892 his widow, Lady Agnes Cowan, installed a stained glass window in his memory at Holywood Parish Church.

The company appointed new directors, including the linen thread barons James Barbour J.P. and John D Barbour, in 1893. Success continued and the firm opened new bonded warehouses at Great Patrick’s Street and Academy Street in 1897, said to have been the first in Belfast with electric lights. The firm and brand seems to have continued well into the 1920s - but perhaps, like so many distilleries in Ireland, partition and prohibition took their toll. 

As I’ve mentioned here before, Cowan’s was yet another of those Ulster spirit businesses who sold both Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky under their brand name – their Irish was ‘Cowan’s No. 4’ and their Scotch was ‘Loch Lomond’, as shown by the first image on this post, of one of their adverts reproduced on one of the tiles of the 'Big Fish' in Belfast

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

'A Carryin' Stream' - BBC iPlayer

(summer is over, maybe blogging will resume!) This new programme, 'A Carryin' Stream', was aired on Sunday night past, a delightful and authentic story from a 'wee country school' in Cullybackey, where creativity of word and art, of the verbal and the visual, was encouraged by a forward-thinking school 'maister'. It is presented by Alison Millar, whose father attended that school, and who herself is one of our most accomplished filmmaking creatives. I appear in it more than I expected to! Click here.