Monday, March 23, 2020

When a software tutorial becomes reality, or when reality informs a software tutorial?

Facebook offered me an online tutorial from a thing called Udemy to learn an architectural software package called Autodesk Revit. The image is below. Which looks amazingly similar to Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Perhaps there is some kind of collaboration. Check it out here.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

"It Is Well With My Soul"

A superb version of the Horatio Spafford classic hymn, which was born out of unspeakable tragedy. Google his name for the full story; context is meaning.

Martha (Mattie) Mulholland of Carrowdore – "the first Orangewoman in the world"

Image result for bangor spectator 1935
One benefit of the unexpected break in normal busyness just now is that it creates an opportunity to pause and go through various piles of info that have gathered up. An octogenarian former school principal gave me a box of his books and researches last year and I've finally had a chance to work through it.

The story of Martha 'Mattie' Mulholland of Carrowdore was reported in the County Down Spectator on Saturday 2 February 1935. Clippings below. Her son Thomas (erroneously named 'Robert' in the subtitle) can be found here on the 1901 Census of Ireland, then living at Ganaway just south of Millisle, and with a daughter named after his legendary mother. Another version of her story is also on the lodge's website here.

Maybe the graves, and homestead, of the Mulhollands exist somewhere still today.

Psalm 23 in Braid Scots, by Rev TT Alexander, Leith (1930)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Patti Smith – 'People Have the Power'

Jane Johnston / Bamewawagezhikaquay (1800–42), "one of earliest American Indian literary writers"

There are various problems with 'colonialism' as a framework through which to view the past. Here are some that come to mind –

1) it corrals people into 'people groups' and in doing so it eradicates the sovereignty of the individual, the uniqueness of communities,  the particularity of circumstances.

2) it assumes, or implies, that the relationship between these 'people groups' has only ever been one of conflict, oppression and 'power'.

3) it implies that those 'people groups' themselves were always harmonious and peaceful until they came into contact with the 'others'.

4) it fosters a mindset of grievance – whether real or perceived; whether personally experienced, or just emotionally acquired via one's perceived group affiliation.

5) it removes any distinction between politically powerful decision-making élites and the wider population, failing to acknowledge that populations are often opposed to, and have often risen up against, their own élites. And of course even today, we wisely disregard our society's 'leaders' and make our own decisions. People aren't pawns.

6) it poses as 'fight the power', but actually it turns people against people, neighbour against neighbour


And so it clouds our understanding. Hence you might not expect that one of the earliest American Indian literary writers was called Jane Johnston. Her father, John Johnston (Wikipedia here), was from Ulster; a family tree is online here, linking the family back to Scotland and then to either Glynn near Larne or else Ballintoy.

John emigrated to North America and became a fur trader and eventually a prominent citizen in Michigan, in the USA/Canadian border town of Sault Ste. Marie, on the Great Lakes. He married Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Wikipedia here) the daugher of an Ojibwe Native American tribe leader. It's a complex and fascinating story. Here is their homestead as pictured in 1909. If it were made of whitewashed stone and grey slate you can easily imagine it in an Ulster landscape.

Their daughter Jane / Bamewawagezhikaquay (which magnificently translates into English as 'The Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky') was bicultural and bilingual, and her storytelling skills were both in English and in Ojibwe. There is a tantalising reference that says that John brought the family to Ireland for a while in 1809.

Jane married an Englishman, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (Wikipedia here). After Jane died, Henry was commissioned by the US Congress to write what became a six volume account of The Indian Tribes of the United States (on here).

History is not just an endless tale of exploitation and power. Courage, migration, co-operation, love and creativity are just some of the other dimensions of the human experience too.


• John Johnston features on the Dictionary of Canadian Biography here
• The Johnston family homestead still stands today and is a Michigan State Historic Site.
• Jane's biography is on here
• A 2008 edition of Jane's work was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press and is available on Amazon here
This website has some superb photos of sites associated with the Johnstons

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Echoes of Coronavirus - Martin Luther on 'Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague', 1527

"I shall ask God mercifully to protect us.

Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.

If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.

If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy"

– Luther writing to his friend Pastor Hess, 1527

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

"It's often what we want to believe happened, than what really happened..."

... you may have the truth on your side, but if your story is dull no-one will want to read it'*.

Seemingly ancient monuments of stone formed in the 1850s, but perhaps even worse are the monuments of perception we all have in our heads which were formed around then too. Ian Hislop's new BBC series Olden Days is a must-see for anyone interested in history, and in particular, to consider how every era re-tells and manipulates the past to suit its present day needs.

In particular I was pleased to see a detailed segment about the remarkably convenient 'discovery' at Glastonbury of the graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in 1189. As Hislop says –

By an extraordinary coincidence in their darkest hour of need, one of the monks had a vision. It told him that King Arthur himself was buried nearby...

I've blogged about Glastonbury here before because the 'discovery'  happened at the same era and in remarkably similar circumstances as the 'discovery' of the triple grave of Patrick, Brigid and Columkille at Downpatrick in 1184.

Very interesting that King Alfred translated passages of the Bible into English in the 9th century, over 600 years before William Tyndale and the Reformers.

On BBC iPlayer here.

* Go to 08:30 for that gem of understanding.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Shock in Dublin, 1908 – "there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British ... but Lowland Scotch."

I was reminded of this post the other day, a review of a collection of poems by James Connolly's friend Ernest Milligan (1879–1954). They were Ulster-Scots flavoured due to Ernest spending time at the Milligan family's holiday cottage at the end of the Stockbridge Road in Donaghadee over many summers, getting to know the locals. His sister Alice wrote that they spoke 'broadest County Down Scotch'. This illuminating review was published in the Dublin daily newspaper the Freeman's Journal and National Press on Burns Day, 25 January 1908 –

...In these days, when the chief city of Ulster and many towns and country districts all over it are become working centres of the Gaelic revival, a book of verse like this will almost come as a shock to the Irish-Ireland reader. 
He has been busily working for the de-Anglicisation of the Irish nation, looking forward to an era when the West British shoneen will be extinct, end behold here is reminder that there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British nor shoneen, which has not got to be de-Anglicised, for the simple reason that its speech is not English, as we know it, but Lowland Scotch.
The people speaking this tongue are to found mainly Antrim, Co. Down, but also on extensive tracts of land in the North-West, coming right against the Gaelic frontier of Tir-Conal, in the Laggan district, it is called, in Donegal.
But let not the Irish-Irelander brand those survivors of the Ulster Plantation as aliens and foreigners. This Scotch-Irish dialect, so ragged and almost distasteful to our hearing, was the speech of men who stood side by side with the Northern Catholic Gaels on the battlefields Antrim, who camped on the wooded height of Ednavady, and lined the ditch behind “Saintfield Hedge in the County Down.” was the mother tongue James Hope, and the congregations of those United Irish Presbyterian worthies, Porter, and Steele, Dickson, Kelburn, and Warwick. 
It a pity that there is nothing in the little volume before us to recall the patriotism the men of Down, not a single verse echoing the spirit of fine old street-ballad that might well have served as a model. 
"Oh were you at the Battle of Ballynahinch
Where the country arose to make its defence
Where the country arose to prove their overthrow
When led on by that hero called General Munro..." 
All the same we welcome this volume as evidence of the fact that the Scotch-Irishman has not lost the gift of song. The subjects are homely and natural; the verses fluent and tuneful. The satire in “The Ministers Call” and “The Six Road Ends” will be appreciated in Presbyterian circles. There are local poems for many of the North Down villages – Carrowdore, Comber, Donaghadee, Ballylesson and Bangor...

That was 1908. In 2020, if you dare to jump onto Twitter and follow almost any current affairs discussion about Ireland, you'll soon find that it rapidly descends into often vicious, tribal, two-dimensional, fevered rows about politics, nationality and 'power', all freshly-propelled by Brexit-related issues and the thrilling online pastime of 'offence archaeology'.

Some of it is by anonymous accounts. But perhaps of even more concern is that some of the entrenchment comes from public figures of some importance. As Neil Mackay wrote in this article in The Herald just yesterday – “We may not be lunatics in our real lives but once we get online we self-radicalise.”

The shock expressed by the Dublin press in 1908 – astonished to find that there are people whose story doesn't easily fit into the 'two tribes' stereotype – is still relevant today. But over a century later it also makes you wonder if it's so deeply hardwired conceptually that we are destined to keep making the same mistakes over again.

(I hope one of my FB friends doesn't mind me borrowing the photo below. I'll re-shoot one of my own to replace it soon)

This famous poster from 1913 is therefore a simplification. There are not two tribes / communities / language traditions on this island. But it is a powerful trope. and the daily reiteration that there are, has embedded the concept very deeply, to a point that people struggle to perceive anything different.

Monday, March 09, 2020

2006 Irish Times interview

Found this online. A bit dated now, and I'd phrase some things differently, but I think this is probably still the key point –

"Thanks to the high profile of my predecessor, probably everyone on the planet knows of Ulster Scots. Having said that, what do they know about Ulster Scots? I see that as my role: starting to fill in the blanks and bring some credibility."

Full article is online here.

An online hame for "Hame"

Here's a still of yours truly and Ruth from the new intro sequence for the recently-aired second series of Hame. We started filming them in September 2017 and the first series of 6 episodes was broadcast in early 2018. Two years later in early 2020 the next three episodes were aired.

• All nine episodes are now available on BBC iPlayer here.

Another series is being planned just now, and at the end of those we'll hopefully have covered all nine of Ulster's counties at least once, and maybe a bit beyond. Lots of talented, committed and experienced tv professionals have made Hame possible. I plan to watch the first 9 again soon just to see them with fresh eyes, to cringe at myself, but more importantly to see the Ulster-Scots community contributors in action on-screen, sharing their places and stories. I have emphatically believed from the very start that Hame is all about them.

In two years I'll be turning 50, having spent a fair chunk of the past 20+ years semi-obsessed with Ulster-Scots and on a voyage of personal rediscovery, and to share almost-forgotten stories with as many other people as I could. My first Ulster-Scots Agency function as Chair in 2005 was at Bready Jubilee Primary School in west Tyrone, geographically it’s nearly as far from “my ain hame” as it’s possible to be, but among folk whose world is so like mine. I remember seriously suggesting that at least one Agency board meeting should be held in a country church hall, not in a boardroom or a swish hotel. I've travelled all over the place to meet folk, to play music and sing, to give talks, and now a bit of broadcasting off and on. Where the folk are.

But I'm now wondering about what has actually been achieved by the contemporary Ulster-Scots effort more widely – do the general public just 'enjoy it' as spectators, have they learned something about themselves, has it enhanced and deepened their sense of place, or do they ‘embrace it' as part of who they themselves are and as a major part of what “this place we call Hame” is? And if I'm spared for another 20+ years, what will be the best use of that time?

• I'd be happy to hear your own thoughts on the series, but also on where our society and community is with understanding the whole notion of Ulster-Scots.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Status Quo advert for Australian retailer Coles - "Look for the Big Red Hand"

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Ralph Dobson (1930-2011) and degrees of separation

When I did my BA Hons Design degree at (a then very dingy and grungy yet characterful) Belfast Art College from 1991-94, my main tutor was a well-spoken English gent called Ralph Dobson. He was an absolute gentleman, but quite absentee, and seemingly to us students with an eye on retirement. A few in our year claimed that he'd been in the RAF. I remember him getting frustrated with me as he often said my work was "too finished' - he wanted to see a lot of looser, more exploratory sketchbooks, whereas I was all about creating the best and cleanest end result that I could. I wanted to get a job at the end of it all!

I had no idea of just how pioneering, accomplished and important a commercial artist he was in his generation. The Arts Council booklet above from 1986, featuring Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and David Hammond, was illustrated by Ralph Dobson. A bit of digging shows that he set up a design business in Belfast in 1962 called Kinney-Dobson Associates with Desmond Kinney (obituary here).

Ralph created the famous Farm Week newspaper cartoon character Wully John; the Roamer from the News Letter; he collaborated with Richard Hayward's illustrator Raymond Piper (bio here). He also worked on Frederick Gamble pseudonym John Pepper's various Ulster phrasebooks - very popular in themselves, but which at the same time did much to position Ulster-Scots vernacular in the comedy genre in the public mind.

Among other work Dobson and Kinney created a mural for St Molua's church in east Belfast in 1962; illustrated a quite racy series for the Belfast Telegraph that year on teenage 'morals', and logos for the Ulster Orchestra, the Northern Ireland Arts Council, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and a new red hand of Ulster design for a 'Building a New Ulster' exhibition in 1967 which, according to the Belfast Telegraph, was adopted by BBC Northern Ireland.

He also designed the 'Ulster '71' logo, and was also involved in issuing the first day covers of the special 'Ulster 71' postage stamps (link here).

I wish I'd known all this when I was one of his students in the early 90s. I could have learned so much more. But by the looks of it he was far too busy to talk to us much!

• Ralph died in 2011; his obituary is here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

The Sixmilewater Revival of 1625-30 – from "the scum of both nations" to spiritual salvation

Rev Andrew Stewart, minister of Donaghadee from 1645-1671, was probably the first historian of the Ulster-Scots. His father and namesake had been minister at Donegore, overlooking the Sixmilewater Valley in south Antrim, from 1627–1634. His gravestone is set into the exterior side of historic St John's Church there. 

One quotation from Stewart Jr's renowned History of the Church of Ireland is now almost notorious, because it has been so frequently, but selectively, used to comically 'smear' the Ulster-Scots and Ulster-English settler communities of the early 1600s.

Over the years I've seen it in print by various authors and also spoken by various broadcasters. But only half of the original quote, and none of the spiritual context, is ever used.

As a Presbyterian minister, Stewart's purpose in using this stark form of words was to reinforce to his reader the visible social and personal effects of the transformative religious revivals which were then experienced in south Antrim and north Down (and which was also happening at the same time around Stewarton and Shotts in the west of Scotland in the communities they had migrated from but maintained constant contact with). The quote is :

"... from Scotland came many, and from England not a few, yet all of them generally the scum of both nations, who, for debt, or breaking and fleeing from justice, or seeking shelter, came hither …"

Often that's all you get. Nasty people. Dregs of society. Quoting that is a great way get away with saying that they were all just "scumbags". But what follows explains the story and context more fully.

"... who seemed rather to flee from God in this enterprise than to follow their own mercy. Yet God followed them when they fled from him — albeit, at first it must be remembered that they cared little for any church…
... Thus, on all hands Atheism increased, and disregard of God — iniquity abounded, contention, fighting, murder, thieving, adultery ...

And here comes the change –

... While thus it was, and when any man would have expected nothing but God's judgment to have followed the crew of sinners, behold the Lord visited them in admirable mercy, the like whereof had not been seen anywhere for many generations. 

What did that bring about? –

…fell into such anxiety and terror of conscience, that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned, as those of old who said, " Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved ;" and this work appeared not in one single person only, or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, " What shall we do?”

... I have seen them myself stricken,* and swoon with the Word — yea, a dozen in one day carried out of doors as dead,so marvellous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin ...

A personal testimony follows –

... Yea, I have heard one of them, then a mighty strong man (now a mighty Christian), say that his end in coming to church was to consult with his companions how to work some mischief, and yet at one of those sermons was he so catched, that he was fully subdued. 
But why do I speak of him? We knew, and yet know, multitudes of such men who had no power to resist the word of God ; but the heart, being pricked and smitten with the power of God, the stubborn, who sinned and gloried in it, because they feared not man, are now patterns of sobriety, fearing to sin because they fear God 
and this spread through the country to admiration, so that, in a manner, as many as came to hear the word of God, went away slain with the words of his mouth, especially at that river (commonly called the Six-Mile Water), — for there this work began at first ..."

Stewart was describing events that he had witnessed as a boy and which his father had participated in as a minister. The Scottish historian Robert Fleming (1630–94) wrote that Stewart was 'a great observer of confirmations of the truth'.

Context is everything. Sources rapidly cherry-picked for 'content', and then unquestioningly repeated, is a dangerous approach. Always check the primary sources.

• You can see Stewart's History for yourself here on the edition.