Sunday, August 30, 2020

What will we leave behind?

I'm now about 18 months away from 50, and I can see that the older generation that I looked up to is slipping away. Many of them already have. I love my community, but in general it seems to be pretty useless at what the management consultants call 'succession planning'. Perhaps that is a symptom of Protestant individualism.

Community organisations, businesses, church congregations and even families seem to me to be very vulnerable, because the previous generation took little interest in developing a new generation and in building them up, to one day smoothly hand over the reins of responsibility. 'Leaders' are ageing and the younger ones seem immature, ignored, consequently apathetic and inexperienced, and out of their depth. I once heard a 'celebrity pastor' online saying astutely that the young men drift away when the older men take no interest in them. Change will come, but it will be sudden and not prepared for. 

Soon it will be up to me and my generation to carry on. But I fear we are ill-equipped to do so. There are two types of organisations. One is a large network of influence. The other is a tiny empire of control. I fear that our previous generation has preferred the latter, at the expense of the former. 

You need to delegate and develop others.
You need to cultivate and maintain relationships.
You need to bring the capable and interested people along.
You need to give them opportunities and resources to learn from.
You need them to be confident enough to show what they can do.

In a political context, a smart friend also once wryly observed to me that Ulster unionism has never had innovators, just traitors. The suspicion and fear of change is a whole other dimension.

When I look in the mirror, I wonder what of permanence has been done in the past generation? What will we, and I, leave behind for the next?

Leaving the Scotch-Irish out of the story of the American Revolution

This is a really interesting interview, but I am surprised at the assertion that the concepts of individual liberties, and that revolution is justified, only emerged out of the blue in 1765 with the Stamp Act. A basic understanding of the role of the Scotch-Irish in the Revolution, their ideology and their inherited communal memory and experience makes them perhaps the key 'people group'* from the Old World who could easily defy the tyrannical crown and assert their community's rights and independence. They had done so before many times over, they gloried in those memories, and were willing to do so again if they had to. They had been pushed across the Atlantic and were willing to go further. Liberty before Loyalty is the core concept of the Ulster-Scots, from at least 1500s Scotland and perhaps much earlier. They took it with them to America.

* PS the English non-conformists had similar experiences, but not to the same extent

Friday, August 28, 2020

Murray's of Belfast, Glasgow and London – 'Scotch Plaid Mixture' Tobacco


Thursday, August 27, 2020

1798 yet again - informers and invitations

Nearly everything I pick up at the moment has a 1798 dimension. Below is a poem by James Munce - it's a bit simplistic in that it blames 'the English' on all of Ireland's ills. I wonder if that informer was Nicholas Maginn (see short account here in Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down).

In other reading, I've been looking again at the newspaper reports of County Antrim woman Martha Craig (1866-1950) visiting President William McKinley at the White House in March 1898, during which she invited him to attend the planned 1798 centenary commemorations.

In The World newspaper of New York, on 6 March 1898, Martha said that Maud Gonne (1866–1953) was her friend, but that – "she believes in agitation, I believe in education. She makes a strong appeal to Irish prejudices and to their keen sense of the injustice inflicted upon their nation. I shall try to arouse their enthusiasm by telling them what a glorious little island that have to be proud of ... my grandfather was one of the patriots of '98. I heard nothing else talked of at our hearthstone ... when I became a woman and went back to Ulster I was convinced that I could do good for my country by telling people something about it outside of politics."

• More information about Martha Craig can be found on this blog

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Billy, Victoria and Betsy - the complexities of the 1798 Rebellion and 'liberty-loving ancestors'

This is from an article by Harry Craig (1921–78; biography here) in Dublin periodical The Bell in 1943. It's a brilliant observation showing the complexities of the 1798 Rebellion and folk memory. I have never before seen a reference to framed portraits of Betsy Gray. But its no surprise to hear that she took her place alongside King Billy and Queen Victoria. 'Times are different' alright. I have picked up a few very interesting 1940s copies of The Bell, of which I might post more here.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sam Henry's "Ulster Fireside Bus Run" in the Belfast Telegraph, Saturday 15 April 1944

It is reassuring to find myself in the same 'headspace' as the world-renowned folklorist and collector Sam Henry (1878–1952). I came across this article a few days ago. The wonder of the internet enables us to travel from our sofas to anywhere in the world, viewing YouTube videos and Instagram images of far-flung places. In 1944 life was simpler so Sam decided to fire his home-tied readers' imaginations, distract them from how "irksome travel" was during wartime, and gather them together for a Fireside Bus Run from their rocking chairs. 

He left his "clean hearthstane" behind and travelled through a poetic flow of Ulster placenames. I am beyond delighted that - exactly like me until very recently - he had been unable to find the words of Kate of Carrowdore despite repeated efforts (you'll find it in previous posts on this blog, written by Ernest Milligan). Daft Eddie and the Strangford Lough smugglers get a look in, as do "the neuks and knowes" of County Down, and "the drouthiest run" through the taverns of Newry and Rathfriland. He visits Glenwherry and "the banks o' the Misty Burn". The ancient times of the Picts and the Cruithne get a mention too.

Sam wrote that this was "the real Ulster that does not get on the radio". I'm not sure that's entirely true of today. If you find yourself telling the same stories, seeking the same songs, and travelling the same loanens that Sam Henry yearned for, then you're not going too far wrong. My thanks to those who help me to do so.

Below: one of the statuettes referred to in the article, of 'Will Watch' the bold smuggler.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Hamely Yarns - "Tales fra the Life o' James Finlay Bruce"

My good friend Robert Campbell has used his lockdown far more productively than me! He has started to write short stories on a range of classic Ulster themes. Robert is a south Antrim man but now lives in Inishowen in Donegal. I understand that a publication is in the pipeline, and when I find out more I'll be happy to post info here. You can follow his Hamely Yarns project on Instagram here.

Here he is, reading one of the stories.

Roman Coins found near Donaghadee, 1851

James Carruthers (1784–1860) was a Longford-born and Belfast-raised historian / archaeologist / antiquarian who was part of a group who found a trove of Viking coins near Scrabo in 1855. Here he is again, this time with Roman coins which had been found near Donaghadee in 1851 at 'Loughey' which must be 'Killaughey'. First century Roman activity on the east of County Down is another evidence supporting the Patrick origin scholarship.

• Article is on JSTOR here.
• A biography of Carruthers is online here.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Groomsport as Graham's Port - the Ulster-Scots traditions?

Groomsport is best known for its associations with the sailing of Eagle Wing in 1636, although there's no solid evidence that she did sail from there. A previous recce voyage to scope out the transatlantic opportunity with like-minded people in England certainly sailed from Groomsport - and so these two voyages have often been confused. 

There two accounts posted below, one is from William Montgomery's famous Description of Ardes Barony in the County of Down from 1683. The other is from the prolific Sam Henry from an article which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph entitled Come With Me on an Ulster Fireside Bus Run on Saturday 15 April 1944.

Ireland v Scotland football international in 1912 – "Belfast full as it is of Ulster Scots"

1912 is usually only thought of as the year of Titanic and the Ulster Covenant. But through the tragedy and the politics, normal life continued. This discussion in the Northern Whig about the best venue for the forthcoming Ireland v Scotland football international, which was one of the British Home Championship matches, makes for interesting cultural reading – 

Trouble erupted at the fixture when it took place at Dalymount Park on 15 March 1913, as this report in The Scotsman shows. The match had added drama as Ireland had unexpectedly defeated England in the previous international match, and if they had beaten Scotland they would have won the Home Championships for the first time ever. The Ireland captain Val Harris, and the Secretary of the Irish Football Assocation, John Ferguson, were both presented with medals commemorating the historic victory against England. The Lord Lieutenant was present; but the 'Ireland's Own Band' refused to play the National Anthem before the kickoff and it was instead played by the Band of the West Ridings.

The Belfast News Letter report said that 'the Irishmen were first to appear, clad in jerseys of St Patrick's Blue, and they were very warmly cheered, the Scots meeting with no less cordial greeting'. The crowd of 12,000 saw Scotland win 2–1. 

The portrait at the top is of Sheffield Wednesday and Scotland player George Clarke Robertson who got into a skirmish with a couple of pitch invading Ireland fans. He was then pursued by a mob of 1000 of them after the match – "The Scotland players were trapped in their dressing room, with around 1,000 angry Irish fans trying to confront them, smashing windows, with one man brandishing a wooden stake." Robertson escaped Dublin in disguise; he won four caps for Scotland; his story was published in the book Wings of Steel (shown left).

The next season the Ireland v Scotland fixture was moved to Windsor Park in Belfast on 16 March 1913, and the 1-1 draw was enough for Ireland to win the tournament. The pic below is of the Ireland team in 1914 (Wikipedia here), just prior to the beginning of the Great War.

The tournament resumed in 1919 when the Great War was over. For the next 20 years, until the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, all of the Scotland v Ireland matches were held either at Windsor Park in Belfast, Celtic Park in Glasgow or Ibrox in Glasgow – apart from two years when the venues were Tynecastle in Edinburgh in 1935, and Pittodrie in Aberdeen in 1937.

Belfast Celtic v Linfield in 1905: "the air in Belfast reeks with the Scotch dialect"

There was a big Belfast crunch match in 1905; Belfast Celtic played Linfield at Balmoral on 28 January. Celtic outplayed Linfield, but the Blues won 2–1. A newspaper called Sport, published in Dublin, said this in their match report –

"Celtic tried a new back named Daig. Of course, he is Scotch – the air in Belfast reeks with the Scotch dialect, at least of football players – he has assisted Kilmarnock and Ayr Parkhouse. He was not on Saturday's form a great success"

About a week later Belfast Celtic signed another Scot, the Greenock Morton forward J. Stevenson - 'a dashing forward, strong active and vigilant' after he had impressed when the two teams played each other in a recent match. 

It's well known that Scotland played a huge role in the development of football in Ulster. I wonder just how many Scottish players were in Belfast in that era? It must have been a large amount for a Dublin paper to make that statement.

• NB Ayr Parkhouse existed up until 1910 when they merged with Ayr, to form Ayr United.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

St Patrick - "born in Scotland, 'born again' in Ireland"

I am very thankful to the friend who recommended today that I have a look as Rev Thomas Hamilton's 1886 History of the Irish Presbyterian Church as it contains a sizeable passage about St Patrick and Scotland. Within it he says "the patron saint of Ireland was in reality a Scotsman ... climbed the steep sides of Slemish ... gazed wistfully across the sea to where on the horizon he could dimply descry the hills of his native Scotland".

Given the era in which it was written, with Home Rule and politics to the fore, the book begins with an interesting chapter on the ancient relationships between Scotland and Ireland – "... the present inhabitants of all the four provinces of Ireland are the descendants of successive bodies of invaders, who from time to time subjugated or dispossessed the original denizens of the country, so that to speak now of an indigenous population in any proper sense of the term, is an entire mistake... Ireland was the first Scotland, and the first Scotchmen were Irishmen."

It is online on here.

• A biography of Hamilton is on the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website here.

• He was President of Queen's College (now Queen's University Belfast) from 1889–1923. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Strangford Lough - "Lough Cowan" in Ulster-Scots tradition?

Recently I've come across various old printed references to Strangford Lough being called "Lough Cowan", as a version of "Cuan" or "Coan". There are multiple usages of it within W.G. Lyttle's famous Ulster-Scots kailyard novel Daft Eddie and the Smugglers of Strangford Lough (a PDF of which is online here) as well as 16 references in the British Newspaper Archive, as far back as 1837.

I have re-read my copy of Daft Eddie over the past week and it's bloodthirsty stuff in places. This is slightly shocking given that it was serialised in a weekly newspaper - some say as early as 1890, but definitely in the North Down Herald and County Down Independent in summer 1905 - long before it appeared in book form. It was even serialised for radio by the BBC in Northern Ireland Home Service in July 1948 as part of Children's Hour!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Ocean's Seven - the North Channel swimmers


I've done a bit of sea swimming this summer, it's become really popular with our local harbour at Ballyhalbert packed with people when the weather and tides are right. Donaghadee has had a crew of 'chunky dunkers' for a good few years now, who swim there all year round. I have found that the 13˚ is pretty cold until you either go numb-ish or else just adjust, and after that it's not too bad really. The best advice is to bring a hot drink and warm clothes to regain your temperature as soon as you get out of the water.

The route across the North Channel, usually done from Donaghadee and always to Portpatrick, is one of the world's "Oceans Seven" routes (Wikipedia here). You need to be a supreme athlete to try it, as this story shows. Just yesterday, my friend Graham (who swims in the sea very regularly) took the pics below, which he described as "Dina Levačić, 24, from Croatia who attempted to cross the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland. After circa 11 hours of swimming, mother nature denied Dina success this time, a mere 5km from Portpatrick, Scotland".

'Afore Ye Go' - shoulder label from a vintage Bell's bottle


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

St Patrick, the Annals of Ulster, Sir Samuel Ferguson and the Dumbarton birth traditions

"... The Annals of Ulster contain one of the earliest references to a Christian community in Dumbarton. In 314AD it records that three bishops accompanied by a deacon represented Alcyuyd at a conference in Arles, the former capital of Burgundy in south-east France... In the 6th century Modwenna, an Irish princess, endowed a chapel, dedicated to St Patrick, on the south side of Dumbarton Castle. "
So says Wikipedia. This is very interesting as it looks like a further corroboration of the St Patrick traditions from Scotland which say he was born around 386AD near Dumbarton at the extreme west of the Antonine Wall, at the Roman fort, the most remote outpost of the Roman Empire. In later centuries the site was named Old Kilpatrick.

Patrick had a Christian heritage, he was extremely well-read in the scriptures as demonstrated in his own writings which lift significant forms of words directly from the Bible. He was the son of a deacon named Calpurnius, and grandson of Potitus, a presbyter - which are two positions in a local congregation or church community. So were Patrick's family members among those present in Arles?

Sir Samuel Ferguson's very last writings were about Patrick; he agreed with the Dumbarton story. His Remains of St Patrick - The Patrician Documents: the Confession and Epistle to Coroticus is online here, published posthumously by his wife, which she described in the fascinating introduction as 'my husband's last contribution to the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy'

The Patrick Dumbarton traditions were acknowledged as the most likely origin story right across the denominational spectrum, including this 1905 book by Most Rev Dr John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam (my thanks to the friend who directed me to that source a few months back).

That these traditions were once well-known, and published by the Royal Irish Academy and the Roman Catholic Church, but have been largely forgotten is due to many factors. The dividing up of the family of islands that Patrick lived on - and which we now live on, must be the most erosive one. Simplified branding and national messaging, and the geographically-limited remits of tourism promotional campaigns, haven't helped.

As Neil Oliver said in a Radio Ulster interview with Gerry Kelly in October of last year, our archipelago is "one fascinating landscape". 

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Inishargy Irish Whisky - from McKnight, Dickson & Co of Belfast

Inishargy is a small townland in between Kircubbin, Ballywalter and Greyabbey, so I was surprised a while ago to find that there was a short-lived whiskey brand of that name. (photos here not mine)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Neil Oliver: "We Must Learn the Lessons of History" - Triggernometry

Scotland is having its own version of what has become known across 'western' societies as the 'culture wars'. It is interesting to observe it from here, where the constitutional issues of independence and Brexit have added a new velocity and ferocity. I have no desire to take sides in these because, just like on our side of the North Channel, I regard culture to be of more value than politics, and it has been said that politics is downstream of culture anyway. Within our shared cultural inheritance, most of the strong pro-Scots language minds and voices tend to be Scottish Nationalist, whereas over here Ulster-Scots is seen as Unionist. This just shows that shoving culture into a political box doesn't work. 

Recently, Neil Oliver has attracted attention from his critics. He's a tremendous television presenter, but in this audio podcast interview with the excellent Triggernometry he is on far broader matters than just Scotland. Some very insightful thinking here.

• Find out more about Triggernometry here

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Placenames and Ulster-Scots - a wheen o Burns and Rocks

I drive the North Channel coast road of the Ards Peninsula every week. Once you get into North Down to the north of Donaghadee it feels different - more developed and more 'marketed'. There's a kind of line from Donaghadee to Six Road Ends and then down to Newtownards which is the unofficial boundary of the Ards Peninsula. Life feels different on each side.

The coastal road from Donaghadee southwards to Ballywalter now has plenty of caravan parks, and the villages need the summer income that the caravanners bring. It's less than 8 miles and according to Google Maps it takes about 15 minutes to drive. On a clear day the view across to Scotland is very good. But right here, under your feet, or under your wheels, or even under your hull if you are on the water, there are centuries of Ulster-Scots history. Some of that can be found within placenames.

Townland names are almost always Irish in origin. Scots were happy to use them, and the old Con O'Neill estate was shared out and sold off on a townland basis, which made the continued usage of those Irish names even more essential. But there are some of Anglo-Norman origin too, dating from the old 'Earldom of Ulster' of the 1200s. But within townlands, at the 'hyper-local' level, is where Ulster-Scots can be found.

The road takes you over four small rivers, which are of course called burns – Ganaway Burn (immortalised in a poem by Andrew M'Kenzie), the Mill Burn that flows down to Millisle and which powered at least two of Carmichael's mills, Ballycopeland Burn which reaches the sea at the tiny graveyard of the same name and where there was once a Presbyterian meeting house, and Ballyhay Burn with its wee stone Galloway Bridge. My mother and her parents were buried in the more recent Ballyvester Cemetery which is bounded on the north by Ballyhay Burn, and from the car park there the view of Scotland is superb. In between there's the Ballyrolly Burn and also, outside Carrowdore, the Woburn Road.

Many of the larger rocks along the shore have names, many of which show that same Ulster-Scots heritage – Wee Saftlin, Wee Park, Parthan Rock (partan is a name for a large eating crab), yet more Selk Rocks (selk is the word for seal, lots of rocks in east Down are called this), and Bavan Rock (bavan is a name for the wrasse fish; William Montgomery recorded it in 1683). 

The Peninsula was wet boggy ground when Scots families arrived here from May 1606 onwards. The hard work of field drains made a difference, but after a heavy days rain vast ponds still form very quickly. Some of the burns have been culverted by developers and the Water Boards, or straightened by farmers who wanted to maximise machinery access to the edges of their fields.

This is just one wee stretch of road. How many more could be found if someone took the time to look at every part of Ulster?

Rabbie gets the headlines, but there are mair Burns than him.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

"... to preach deliverance to the captives ..." – Belfast's offer of freedom to 12 slaves, 1828 (with thanks to Sam Hanna Bell)

My first encounter with the work of Sam Hanna Bell wasn't his own famous writings, but his 1972 miscellany Within Our Province. Published the year I was born, it's a collection of I'd guess 100 or so extracts from various writers which had caught his eye over the years.

It was in its pages that I first read of Frank Roney's fantastical account of a Confederate & Belfast Orange civic alliance, which he had completely made up to impress his new American friends after emigrating (see previous post here).

The term 'Ulster Scot' appears in another of the extracts. In re-reading the collection recently, this wonderful story jumped out at me. He published it as a self-penned paraphrased summary, almost as a kind of signpost to a future generation.

Thanks to the online BNA, here is the original Belfast News Letter article –

Particularly for the moment we presently live in, the editorial closing paragraph is powerful stuff. 

It is such a pity that the name of the "man of colour who resides in this town" who intervened to secure the offer of liberty is unpublished. I imagine that he would have been fairly well known in the city. Perhaps his name lives on in the 'Society of Friends' Quaker archives somewhere, or perhaps the Moyallen Branch of the London African Anti-Slavery Association, or in family archives of its members Wakefield, Christy, Dawson and Sinton. I also wonder what happened to those who choose freedom – Joshua Edwards, Robert Edwards and Joseph Rollin. 

Sam's summary version is below –