Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"The Psalms - Frae Hebrew Intil Scottis" by P Hately Waddell (1877) - review in the 'Belfast News-Letter', 10 May 1941

It took the Belfast News-Letter a total of 64 years to get round to reviewing it, but all the same their reaction was pretty positive. I wonder who 'Viator' was?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Hunt for Red O’Donnell

“Spanish Archaeologists have discovered human bones in their search for the remains of Red Hugh O’Donnell, one of the great tragic heroes of Irish history...” link here to this recent story in The Irish Times.

This will be a remarkable discovery of a key figure of late 1500s and early 1600s Ulster, around whom so many totemic stories revolve.

But compare the high level national excitement, south of the border, around this potential discovery with the fact that the burial places of James Hamilton (Bangor Abbey) and Hugh Montgomery (Newtownards Priory) have been known for nearly 400 years and neither of them even has a small memorial plaque. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Consigned to history

History can be dull. It can be fascinating. But it is over. What happens today and tomorrow matters more. Because without those, all you have is a fossil, a museum, a nostalgia trip, a dead thing. What’s happening now? And why should anyone care?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

James Kirkpatrick (1676–1743) on Liberty

"Civil Liberty has been always supported by invincible force of Argument; and, Civilized Nations have never reckoned it too dear a purchase, when they could gain and secure it at a vast expense of Blood and Treasure … and with a just Zeal for the Right: of Mankind never to be Sacrificed to Arbitrary Power in any Shape."

So wrote Scottish-born Belfast Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister James Kirkpatrick (1676–1743). His essay A Defence of Christian Liberty was published in 1743, after he died, and is online here on Google Books. His An Historical Essay Upon the Loyalty of Presbyterians was published in 1713 (online here).

biography is online here

Monday, May 18, 2020

Harry Dorrian (b. 1895) and the "Protestant Fenians of Greyabbey / The Green Lodge of Gray'ba""

During the current coronavirus period there have been many examples I've seen on social media of cross-community co-operation and good neighbourliness, folk I know personally being supportive of each other. One of them every week posts positively about all of the places of worship in the locality, and he posts four photos from the Greyabbey and Kircubbin area - of a Church of Ireland building, a Presbyterian building, a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Building and the Catholic chapel -  as he puts it "we are all looking out for each other and thinking of each other". He's well-known and well-respected man of the older generation, has a small family business, and he's an Orangeman. He's a good neighbour to all, which is reflected in the comments that folk post.

He sent me the attached article a while ago, which I hope is legible here, from 1977. It's a biographical interview with Harry Dorrian who was then aged 82. He was raised in Greyabbey and had fond memories of his childhood in the village, and of what we today would call community relations. He's listed in the 1911 Census of Ireland as Henry Dorrian, aged 15, a 'shop boy'. Interestingly it reveals that his mother Mary Jane was from Scotland.

There has not only ever been conflict. Be suspicious of people who claim there has.
Cui bono? Those making those claims usually do.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

"Wha Saw The 42nd" – Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor

I love this hard-driving, banjo, mandolin and double bass version of "Wha Saw the 42nd?",  the story of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, also known as the Black Watch, leaving Glasgow for the front. There are many different versions of the lyrics.

Even though from Scotland the regiment recruited in Ulster in the late 1800s and early 1900s; its band played here, as the 1889 newspaper advert below shows. Also known as the "Gallant Forty Twa" they are referenced in the Ulster regimental song "The South Down Militia". The song is also the basis of our local Greyabbey version "Wha Saw the Greba Lasses?".

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

Some of them had tartan troosers,
Some of them had nane ava,
Some of them wore kiltie clothin,
Sailin’ doon the Broomie-Law.

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

Some o’ them had jeelie pieces
Some were greetin’ for their ma
Some were singin ‘Auld Lang Syne’
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second
Sailin doon the Broomlielaw?

This cutting below is of a man who lived at the "Pink Brae' outside Portavogie, who joined a Scottish regiment – Lance Corporal George Laidlaw of the Cameronian Highlanders whose postal address was given as Ballyeasborough, Kircubbin. There was still a family of "Ledlies" as it was pronounced still living at the Pinks when I was a boy in the 1970s & 1980s.

James Bruce - philanthropist who built Thompson House, Lisburn

The impressive building shown above was built by James Bruce (1835–1917), who was one of the directors of Royal Irish Distilleries / Dunville's. He traced his ancestry back to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Initally known as the Thompson Memorial Home for Incurables, Bruce built it in 1885 at a cost of £60,000 in memory of his father in law Dr William Thompson FRCSI. On its opening the Northern Whig said "rarely in Ulster has so large a sum been expended by any family on a purely philanthropic project". The architect was Godfrey William Ferguson. Today the building is known as Thompson House Hospital and it is said to have had a memorial to James Bruce inside it, which hopefully is still there.

The building looks very similar to James Bruce's country residence Benburb Manor, shown below, which was built just a few years later in 1888–90. It's a building I know well having completed an interpretative project there in summer 2017. Since 1949 it has been run by the Servite Order as Benburb Priory - it, and the setting of the Valley Park and River Blackwater, are definitely worth a visit when you are in the area.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Ballad of William Bloat - by Raymond Calvert of Helen's Bay (1906-1959)

This famous and brutal old black comedy murder ballad is very well known, but its origin less so. It was written by Helen's Bay man Raymond Calvert, who lived at Banchory House and went to Bangor Grammar. He was a student at Queen's University where he was in the Dramatic Society.

In December 1926 they had just been to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where 20 year old Raymond recited it for the first time at an after-party. He went on to become a stockbroker as a director of Belfast firm Taylor, Calvert and Cox. His wife Irene became an independent MP. Irene later said that "it was conceived as a piece of fun with no political significance whatsoever ... the ballad has passed into the folk memory of Ulster people at home and abroad".

It is thought to have been first printed in the 1950 miscellany Brave Crack, An Anthology of Ulster Wit and Humour, (an interesting and cross-community collection from 30 writers including Marshall, Hayward and Bell) and is set on the 'Shankill Road' (the shocking and comedic cultural reference to 'solemnly cursed the Pope' just belongs in a mythical Shankill setting). The defective razor blade was 'German made' whilst the indestructible sheet was 'Irish linen'.

But when Raymond Calvert died, on 11 July 1959, the Belfast Telegraph reprinted the lyrics a few days later but they oddly say 'Newry Road' rather than 'Shankill Road'.

The 1982 Blackstaff Press edition shown here (illustrated by Hector McDonnell) has the more familiar 'Shankill Road' but this time the razor is more benignly 'foreign made' and again 'Irish linen'. I have, as you might imagine, heard the combination of 'Dublin made' and 'Belfast linen'. Wendy Dunbar won an Irish Book Design Award in 1983 for her work on the Blackstaff edition.

I've no idea who it was who first set it to the melody The Dawning of the Day but it fits perfectly –

Tommy Makem's recording here has the razor blade 'British made' but the rope 'Belfast linen'. The Phil Coulter recitation below has 'Free State Made' and 'Ulster Linen'. A Clancy Brothers version has 'English made' and 'Irish linen'. Just insert your own prejudice!

David Hammond referred to it in his 1978 Songs of Belfast. As an outstanding achievement it was also selected to appear in Kingsley Amis' New Oxford Book of Light Verse in 1979 due to a persistent campaign of persuasion by Gregg Coulson, a retired press officer with the Post Office in Northern Ireland. I wonder what its genteel readership made of it!

However... if I was a Shankill person I might not feel as relaxed about it. Yes it is humourous, but when a drama student from swanky Helen's Bay reinforces a whole panoply of stereotypes - social poverty, nagging wives, domestic violence, religious bigotry – it's worth pausing for thought.

In a mean abode on the Shankill Road

Lived a man named William Bloat;
He had a wife, the curse of his life,
Who continually got his goat.
So one day at dawn, with her nightdress on
He cut her bloody throat.

With a razor gash he settled her hash
Oh never was crime so quick

But the drip drip drip on the pillowslip
Of her lifeblood made him sick.

And the pool of gore on the bedroom floor

Grew clotted and cold and thick.

And yet he was glad he had done what he had

When she lay there stiff and still

But a sudden awe of the angry law

Struck his heart with an icy chill.

So to finish the fun so well begun

He resolved himself to kill.

He took the sheet from the wife’s coul’ feet

And twisted it into a rope

And he hanged himself from the pantry shelf,

‘Twas an easy end, let’s hope.

In the face of death with his latest breath

He solemnly cursed the Pope.

But the strangest turn to the whole concern
Is only just beginning.

He went to Hell but his wife got well

And she’s still alive and sinning.

For the razor blade was German made

But the sheet was Belfast linen.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Andrew A. Watt & Co. Ltd. Whisk(e)y Distillers - Londonderry and Glasgow

As 16th May is World Whisky Day I thought I should post something relevant. Andrew A. Watt & Co. Ltd. of Londonderry and Glasgow claimed an origin year of 1762. The mirror above was recommended to me by Abby Wise who had frequently seen it when visiting the George IV Bar on the George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. I now badly want one of them!

The Watt family had moved into the city from Ramelton in Donegal in 1762. They had two firms – Andrew A Watt & Co., and David Watt & Co., at Abbey Street and the Waterside.

Andrew Alexander Watt (Wikipedia here) was also a director of The Distillers' Company Ltd (Edinburgh), which had been founded in 1877 and owned a number of Scottish distilleries, as well as Chairman of United Distillers Ltd (Belfast) which included the Avoneil and Connswater distilleries. He closed the family business down in 1921 following a dispute with employees. He died at Easton Hall, Grantham, England on 11 October 1928, leaving £904,614 in his will.

Distillery Brae on the Waterside is one of the few remaining memories of this once mighty brand. It was famous for its Tyrconnell Irish Whisky (a brand which still exists today, but owned by a different distillery) and also its Craigdhu Old Highland Scotch Whisky. The firm had an agent in Glasgow based at 20 Union Street.

The company was succeeded by a new firm inventively called Iriscot Limited, seemingly around 1937, with Geoffrey Watt as one of its directors. Iriscot continued to make Craigdhu and other products up until 1972 when their bonded warehouse building, at the junction of Bond's Hill and Simpson's Brae, burned down.

• Further information is on this website.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

"Independent mind" - Thomas Wallace Russell (1841-1920) - Part Two

Intro: 100 years ago tomorrow, on 2 May 1920, Thomas Wallace Russell died at his final residence of Olney, Terenure, in south Dublin, at the age of 79. He was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin. His obituaries portray him as having been a complex, contradictory and conflicted man. But maybe that's what life does to us all...

• Early 1895
The death of his wife Harriet had certainly caused Russell to reflect on his life, but it didn't knock him off course. His prolific writing resumed, sharp attacks in the press continued, and by summer he was back in campaigning mode. He delivered a lecture in Fintona Presbyterian Church at the end of March, mainly recounting some of his experiences touring Canada and the USA. At Fintona he of course majored on Land Reform, reminding his audience that he was "standing between the extreme Land Leaguer and the extreme landlord".

He had been to Canada in 1892 and 1893, speaking to large crowds of Ulster expatriate audiences about Home Rule, and specifically opposing the pro-Home Rule stance of Edward Blake, the second Premier of Ontario. Russell had packed Montreal Opera House in January 1893. During the trip he studied the Canadian system of government, perhaps to see if any of that could apply to Ireland, but feared that Ireland might become as theocratic as Quebec.

• 1895 General Election victory

Standing once again in South Tyrone, Russell was opposed by the Methodist pro-Home Rule Thomas Shillington of Portadown, and won by 3239 votes to 3046. When the result was declared, three bands accompanied Russell and his campaign team into Dungannon – the Moygashel Flute Band, Dungannon Conservative Flute Band and the No Surrender band – where thousands of people had gathered to welcome him to the same Market Square where he had addressed large crowds before –

"although it rained during the whole evening it did not mar or prevent the loyal men of South Tyrone of celebrating and rejoicing over the grand victory they had obtained by sending the loyal, Unionist and farmer's friend Mr T.W. Russell, to represent them in Parliament. Bonfires and torchlights were kept up to a late hour. All passed off peaceably". – Belfast News Letter 27 July 1895

"South Tyrone has once more proved its loyalty to the Constitution, and shown that it cannot be bought by wither Irish Nationalists or English Separatists" – Tyrone Constitution, 2 August 1895.

One of the career outcomes for Russell was that in July 1895 the new Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Lord Salisbury appointed him to the role of Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board.

• 1896: Remarriage, to Martha Catherine Keown
In October 1895 Russell announced his intention to marry again. Martha Keown was related to the late William Keown MP of Ballydugan near Downpatrick; she was the daughter of the late Lieutenant Colonel Keown of the 15th Hussars. She was also a niece of the Archbishop of Armagh, William Alexander, who conducted the ceremony at St Andrew's Church (shown here), Ashley Place, London on 25 May 1896. It was a quiet service with few guests, after which the couple honeymooned in Scotland. The church is gone now, demolished in 1953. The HQ building of John Lewis stands there today.

From the British Newspaper Archive, Russell's life for the next few years is the usual fare - public constituency meetings in towns like Aughnacloy, Clogher and (the) Moy, Parliamentary business, spats with opponents.

• 1899: Cracks appearing - 'black sheep in the fold'
In 1899 tremors were being felt in South Tyrone and he felt obliged to write to the press to request a special meeting in the constituency "to give me an opportunity of explaining my position and defending myself from attacks made in my absence". Rev Thomas Adderley from Ballygawley wrote an open letter to Russell which was published in the Freeman's Journal of 14 June 1899 which said "there are black sheep in every fold even as we believe you are one yourself".

Among other things, Russell vocally supported the establishing of a Catholic university in Ireland; the News Letter opposed him, the Northern Whig supported him and alleged there was a clique trying to oust him. It looks like Russell was on a collision course, caught between the two positions of what we call the 'constitutional question', and hoping that a completion of full Land Reform in Ireland might somehow satisfy both sides and preserve the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

• December 1899: Back to Scotland
There were rumours that Russell was going back to Scotland at the next election, to run in Glasgow.

In December Russell was back home in Cupar in Fife, where he addressed an audience on the subjects of the Boer War, the United Kingdom, and temperance reform, in which he said "in the main, the drink power was on the Unionist side, while temperance was with the Liberals". Certainly when you look at the background and politics of the Belfast distillers of that era Russell was correct. He went on to celebrate that he had helped "defeat and destroy two Home Rule Bills", and detailed all of the ills with which Ireland had been troubled during the past 100 years, which had resulted in "hatred of England".

• 1900 Russell's "extraordinary volte face"
Eventually, Russell would need to choose a side, and it seems that he decided to make overtures towards the Nationalist audience.  The Derry Journal ran an article entitled 'Mr T W Russell Adjusts His Muzzle'. Regardless of 1899 public disagreement with Rev Adderley, in July 1900 Adderley was one of those who once again selected Russell to run in the General Election to be returned as MP for South Tyrone.

• The Clogher Speech
On 20 September 1900, to launch his election campaign to an public audience of mainly Unionist voters, Russell delivered a single-issue speech on his proposals for 'compulsory land purchase'. He was received with loud applause, and aimed his verbal firepower at landlords, land agents, administrators and lawyers, as well as Unionist grandee Colonel Saunderson. Russell said the scheme 'would light a fire throughout Ulster which would not easily be put out' and that 'in the new Parliament there would be a real united Ireland on this question'.  Within days the speech was bring reprinted in pamphlet form on public sale.

Within days, Dromore born farmer's son William Gibson, (who was by then the founder of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company Ltd in London and an occasional patron of arts and literature) wrote an open letter to Russell, via William Richey of the Clogher Poor-law Board, commending his 'magnificent scheme ... this is the one thing required to make Ireland prosperous ... it is now in the hands of the farmers and traders of Ireland to remove the sole cause of all the trouble of the past', and offered to host four Co Down farmers to stay in London at Gibson's expense to lobby Parliament for up to two years, with the aim of gaining Parliament's approval for Russell's scheme. The Gibson Trust still exists today.

A week later the Irish Landlords Convention were going berserk, saying "we desire to protest in the strongest manner against the scheme of spoilation and confiscation just propounded by a member of the Government, Mr. T. W. Russell, under the name of compulsory purchase, and also against his numerous misstatements and inaccuracies respecting Irish landowners."

• The 1900 South Tyrone victory
He ran again as a Liberal Unionist, against Independent Nationalist candidate Edward Charles Thompson; the two men were personal friends, and mutually recognised each other as 'honourable opponents'. On Friday 12 October, in his victory speech at the successful count at Clogher courthouse, Russell showed his hand in what was reported as a 'Remarkable Speech by Mr Russell'. He said that

"... the landlords and their followers had turned against him, and had done their best to oust him from the position which he had filled for fifteen years ... a number of sensible Nationalist farmers had noticed the landlords' trick and had helped to return him as their candidate ... he had endeavoured to act fairly to all parties in this country ... he hoped that Roman Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists alike, would be benefitted, if he were spared, by his labours ..."

• A ‘vicious, little, teetotal, radical Scotchman’
Writing to the Marquess of Salisbury in 1900, the Duke of Abercorn described Russell as a ‘vicious, little, teetotal, radical Scotchman’. Salisbury in reply wrote, ‘I think he would keep his head better if he returned to alcohol.’ (NB – I must express my thanks to the friend who emailed that gem of a quote to me!)

December saw a public fallout between Russell and Sir William Moore, MP for North Antrim, and public talks being given by Russell at Fisherwick Place Presbyterian Church in Belfast as well as back in Clogher.

• December 1901: Ireland and the Empire, A Review 1800–1900
Russell expanded his thinking even further in book form, just before Christmas 1901 when he published Ireland and the Empire, A Review 1800–1900, which is on here. The chapter entitled 'The Two Irelands – The Ulster Problem' from page 258 onwards is particularly interesting.

A row about it ensued in the pages of the Northern Whig, it was praised in the Irish News by William Redmond. The London Evening Standard was unimpressed, saying that 'Mr Russell is the hero of his story ... no-one can say positively whether Mr Russell is still a Unionist'. The Dundee Evening Telegraph review said "the book is written with the directness which one is accustomed to have from the writer when he is on the platform... Mr Russell still claims to be a Unionist, but the whole plea of his writing is for a very decided form of Home Rule ...".

But maybe binary politics could never be an arena that Russell's ideas would succeed in.

• 1902 East Down election
Amidst the furore surrounding the content of the book, the next target for Russell was the by election in East Down. Campaigning began in mid January 1902, and his man of the moment was Monaghan-born James Wood, with their messaging focussed on Russell's high-profile land reform proposals. And the small tenant farmers of East Down were on board.

Part Three to follow...