Monday, November 23, 2020

St Andrew's Day in 1600s Ulster at Killyleagh - and Saint Andrew's Parish, Ballyhalbert and Portavogie

St Andrew's Day is sometimes thought of as a relatively recent thing here in Ulster. However I recently found it mentioned in the Hamilton Manuscripts in a description of Sir James Hamilton's Ulster-Scots community at Killyleagh on the shores of Strangford Lough from the early 1600s, describing the arrangements for village markets and fairs –

“… one free market in or near the village or Borough aforesaid, to be held on every Monday of each week, for ever,

and also two fairs to be held there yearly; that is to say, one fair in or near the village or Borough every Monday of Holy Trinity, called in English Trinity Monday, to be held yearly for ever, and to continue for the day immediately following;

and another fair more near the village or Borough aforesaid, every feast day of Saint Andrew, to be held yearly for ever, and continue during the next following Tuesday, unless the said feast day of Saint Andrew happens to be a Sabbath or Lord's Day, in which case we will and grant that such fair shall be begun and held upon the Monday from thence next ensuing, and be continued the next following day, to be held yearly for ever, as often as it shall so happen…”

I live in the most easterly parish of Ulster, which is called St Andrew's or Ballyhalbert. However it is said that this particular St Andrew is not directly the Patron Saint of Scotland, but a reference to a church in England in the Anglo-Norman era.

Following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, about 50 years later a Benedictine Abbey called  The Priory of St Andrews was built in Stogursey in north Somerset on the Bristol Channel around 1117. Stogursey is just 25 miles from mystical and myth-laden Glastonbury Abbey. Anglo-Norman leader John De Courcy's family roots were in the area (his surname even sounds like Stogursey) and in 1183 after he had captured county Antrim and county Down he granted land in the Ards Peninsula to his home church and named them accordingly. The now-vanished Black Abbey was near Grey Abbey and it was also known as the Priory of St Andrews.

Here's a map of the parish, the sign at Portavogie Harbour and also the stone marker at Ballyeasborough Church of Ireland at the other end of our road. 


I wonder if the 12th century church in England was indeed named for the patron saint of Scotland? There is an ancient 
St Andrew's Well in Stogursey, the entrance of which has a wrought iron Cross of St Andrew saltire shape within a circle. And if it was, then our parish can 'claim' him too. 


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Ciarán Hinds as Edward Carson?

The physical similarity is striking. Carson, a Dubliner, would have had the accent to match. Photographs are static, two dimensional, silent things. I have often wondered about a 'biopic' of Carson's life. Ciarán Hinds is the man for the job, even though he's 67 now. Carson was 67 when Northern Ireland was founded in 1921.

(Haven't yet figured out who should be the bull terrier-like James Craig. Maybe Scottish-born Kenneth Cranham, or even Ray Winstone if he could do a proper Ulster accent). 

Here is Ciarán Hinds in a new movie released just a few months ago. He could re-imagine Carson with impressive ease. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Neil Oliver's latest

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Ralph Blizard - "When The Zephyrs of Heaven Shall Fan Me to Sleep"

In August 1997 Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers played at the annual Bluegrass festival at the Ulster-American Folk Park. Just a few months later in October I saw them live in Tennessee at the Museum of Appalachia's Homecoming Festival, when we were there on honeymoon. We spoke with him at both events, such a gentle and smiling man. He was raised in Blountville in Tennessee (right in the middle of that old-time music triangle of Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City) and his fiddle playing and singing voice sounded like he had transported himself from the 1930s, which makes sense as he was born in 1919. So glad to have found this clip on YouTube. Here is an obituary to him from 2004.

The Avett Brothers – "We Americans"

The lyrics in this new song are very powerful. 'The story's complicated and hard to read, pages of the book obscured or torn out completely ... the sins of Andrew Jackson, the shame of Jim Crow... the tragedies are beyond description.' But – 'the path of grace and goodwill is still here ... I dearly love this land, because of, and in spite of, we the people...'

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Ulster Pavilion, Wembley, 1924

Here is a photo I recently found showing the entrance of the impressive and spacious Ulster Pavilion. I have posted here about this event a few times, including the Ulster whiskey lounge and model distillery that was built for hospitality, and also the row in Stormont when news reached Belfast that the exhibition designers had painted the Red Hand in green. The Ulster Pavilion was designed by architect Clough Williams-Ellis, who also designed the layout of Cushendun on the Antrim coast.

As you can see Jameson also had a large whiskey presence at the event – and there was also a large Scotch whisky exhibition display stand in the Scotland area.

The pics are from this 1925 book, Exhibitions and the Arts of Display by Lawrence Weaver. The photographs were taken by official event photographer Campbell Gray. Perhaps there is a huge archive of these somewhere.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

A Donegal 'sea serpent' from Rathmullan in 1929

Living at the shore I have always wanted to find a sea monster. During Lockdown I got up at sunrise a few times when it aligned with the time of high tide, and one morning I saw a large pale curved shape break the surface of the water about 100m from shore for a few seconds, and then disappear under again. A friend who knows reckons that the photo below is probably a partly decomposed basking shark. The crew of the Girl Evelyn fishing boat must have had a hard time getting this monster ashore.

Here's a bit of a tree that washed up one day on the shore at the end of our road after a stormy night in November 2019.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Seán O'Faoláin, Part Two – 'The Bell', 1943's 'Orange Terror' and the Wicklow-born Dean of Belfast's response

(Part One was posted recently, here)

Seán O'Faoláin founded The Bell in Dublin in 1940. Three years later he gave its pages over to comment about, and refutation of, a pamphlet which was published in August 1943 entitled Orange Terror: The Partition of Ireland. These articles appear in the handful of editions of The Bell that I picked up during the summer. Here's my attempt to summarise the story.

• Orange Terror: The Partition of Ireland
Its author was anonymously named 'Ultach' who later turned out to have been 33 year old James Joseph Campbell (1910-1979). His entry here in the Dictionary of Ulster Biography says that 'he subsequently modified his views'. He went on to have an influential career in the establishment in Northern Ireland's academia and broadcasting – but Orange Terror, hitting the streets during World War 2, spread like wildfire at the time and caused a furore. There had been much cross-community and cross-border co-operation during the war and especially the 1941 Blitz on Belfast, with strong messages of solidarity from O'Faoláin's former colleague Éamon De Valera, and Frank Aiken (see here).

The pages of a number of sequential editions of The Bell rang with various perspectives on Orange Terror. A correspondent called 'Ultach Eile' wrote in the November 1943 edition "It is no uncommon thing to find a minority who charge the State with unfair treatment; who charge that the working-class are subdivided into privileged and oppressed sections along a political line. What is uncommon is to find a government which instead of rebutting the charge just does not put a tooth on it".

So either the claims within Orange Terror were true, or the Northern Ireland Government of the day didn't have the ability, inclination or savvy to explain exactly how they were untrue.

• Banned
Orange Terror was banned by William Lowry KC, the Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs, under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act in January 1944 'on the grounds that it is likely to be prejudicial to the preservation of peace and order in Northern Ireland'.

The debate about this in Stormont pointed southwards in attempted justification '... a recent decision of the Éire government in banning a certain Sunday paper...'. What we today call 'cancel culture' was rampant then – by February of that year something like 1600 books had already been banned by the Éire government including two of Seán O'Faoláin's early books – Midsummer Night Madness and Other Stories (1932) and Bird Alone (1936).

• 'We pride ourselves on the liberty our citizens enjoy'
A prominent figure who strongly objected to the banning was the then Church of Ireland Dean of Belfast, the County Wicklow born William Shaw Kerr (1873–1960). During his career Kerr had held a number of Ulster curacies, starting at Shankill in Lurgan in 1897 and also ten years just up the coast from me at Ballywalter from 1901–1910 (pictured below). 

Kerr was angered by the Stormont ban. He argued that Orange Terror '... was so grossly exaggerated that it defeated itself and it would have been better not to have banned it...' ; he wrote a stern letter to the Belfast News Letter on 20 January 1944 deploring 'state censorship of books'. Far from banning it, Kerr said that 'I believe its circulation should be encouraged'. Here's his letter, in which he quoted from John Milton's 1644 Areopagitica (full text online here) –

Kerr was already an established author, including of The Independence of the Celtic Church in Ireland in 1931, and Walker of Derry in 1938 (just in time to mark the 250th anniversary of the historic siege of the city of 1689). Kerr wrote a 12 page response to Orange Terror, entitled Ulster: A Rebuttal, which Sean O' Faoláin published in The Bell in February 1944. 

• Reprinting the Rebuttal
The Ulster Unionist Council reprinted Ulster: A Rebuttal later that year as a pamphlet for wider circulation and re-titled it Slanders on Ulster: Reply to Orange Terror.

In May 1944 Douglas Savory, MP for Queen's University (and investigator of the wartime horror of the 1940 Katyn Massacre in Poland) supported Kerr's article and wrote an article for The Economist about the issues, where he made reference to even more examples of discrimination south of the border. These had been highlighted by Belfast-born Professor William Bedell Stanford of Trinity College Dublin in a publication earlier in 1944 entitled A Recognised Church: The Church of Ireland in Éire. St John Ervine would mine Kerr's rebuttal carefully for a chapter in his 1949 biography of the late Sir James Craig. 

Publishing Slanders on Ulster did no harm to Dean W. S. Kerr's ecclesiastical career; he was consecrated Bishop of Down and Dromore at St Anne's Cathedral less than a year later in January 1945, a post he held for 10 years until his retirement in 1955.


Fair play to both Dean William Shaw Kerr (who was also a Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland) and Seán O'Faoláin (former publicity director of the I.R.A.) for opposing the respective state censorships of their day, and for publishing and airing these issues. 

This is a very complex period. I am way out of my depth on these issues. None of these issues are as simple as we are usually told. 

But we know that people disagree. This is not a bad thing. From disagreement comes the hearing of a different perspective. From hearing comes learning. Understanding is enriched, and when new information is taken on board then opinions are changed. There is value in healthy disagreement.

Free speech is essential. The best antidote to bad speech isn't less speech, but more speech*.


• A BBC article about Orange Terror and other banned literature is online here.

• Of course there's a Wikipedia page about it all. 

* There is a very silly idea that 'old white men' are the only people who care about free speech. Well here is Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie saying pretty much the same thing, on BBC Newsnight earlier this week. Watch the specific part of her interview on BBC iPlayer here from 38:00, about cancel culture. She recently won the Women's Prize for Fiction (article here).

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

"People are flocking from all parts of this oppressed country to America...". A letter from the north of Ireland to Philadelphia, 26 May 1795

I came across this recently, while looking for something else. An interesting account of the problems of life in the north of Ireland in May 1795, just a few months before the Battle of the Diamond at Loughgall which took place on 21 September. It would be a worthwhile exercise to compare this with other contemporary reports.

1930s Old Orkney Whisky, Stromness Distillery – owned by McConnell's of Belfast

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

"I have become disenchanted with the scores of books and articles that simple-mindedly depict Ulster society as pathological, dysfunctional and irrational" – Donald Harman Akenson, 1979

I mentioned this recently, and I'm now posting it here as promised because it is so brilliant. Track down the whole book for yourself, and you'll see how communities should be understood. Henry Glassie's 1970s work on Fermanagh (overseen by the renowned Estyn Evans) is oft-cited and rightly so; Donald Harman Akenson's work generally, and on 1970s Islandmagee in particular, deserves a much higher profile. Perhaps there is less interest in Islandmagee due to the geography and demography. His current university biography describes him as "an internationally acclaimed scholar and author who is considered the world's foremost authority on the Irish Diaspora". That's someone worth paying attention to. 

I noticed that (Sir) John Major popped up on the BBC website yesterday and among other things he announced that Britain is a 'second-rank power'. Well so what? Ordinary folk don't care much about concept of 'power'. 'Power' is the currency of politicians, journalists and academics. Or the new generation of online activists who have no other lens through which to look, and force everything into 'power relationships'. Some political voices say that they oppose state power, but in reality they just want to be in control of it, and probably to then gain more and more.

Ordinary folk care about family and community. As Matthew Syed subtitled his article in The Times just last week (article here) "Labour persistently fails to grasp that working-class voters love Britain". Not the abstracted spectre of the state, but the traditions that shape the many communities which together comprise the 'nation'. The way things are done, a way of life. Google the term 'bourgeois Left' and you'll find articles on that detachment from right across the spectrum, from the New Statesman to The Telegraph. There is a huge disconnect between the commentariat and the proletariat.

So, here is Donald Harman Akenson, articulating how and why a love of community is what explains the apparent contradictions in concepts of nationality and allegiance. Why the same Ulster-Scots community can support an Antrim rising in 1798 yet opposed a Dublin rising in 1916. A top-down view cannot fathom this. A bottom-up view absolutely does.

Why should a community care about supposed 'leaders' swanning about on the 'world stage', if those same leaders are absentee landlords who care little about local communities. Stop fixating on the national and transnational politics. Think first about people, place, tradition and belonging. 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Steve Earle – Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and "an economy that doesn't really care about what happens to truly working class people"

Steve Earle speaks from the heart here; go to 9:00 to hear the full statement. Those of us who work with our heads, at desks, in warm rooms, making money, have precious little to complain about. The Covid-era measurement of 'privilege' is being able to work from home down a broadband connection. And even more so if you are in a protected, core-funded job where the money, taxes, pension, expenses, sick and leave pay just all turn up out of thin air every month.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Samuel Thomson of Carngranny, 1799

I used to watch, read and listen to a lot of news. But I've tried to avoid as much of it as realistically possible since early in 2020,  sair scunnert with sensationalist coverage and confected online outrage intended to sustain clicks and audience figures, to emotionally recruit us to far-distant disputes, or to make us feart o plagues tae lay oor hames. We like to think that we are special, and that polarisation and fear-driven helplessness are new phenomena. We like to make ourselves the centre of the universe, which we can do because we know so little about the past. Well, here is Samuel Thomson from 1799 –

But soon as kittle politicks
Amang our cracks begin to mix,
The settling clouds o’ anger fix
On every brow;
We curse the wars — wish broken necks,
What can we do?

From his poem Listen Lizie, Lilting to Tobacco.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

The Devil's Buttermilk - the origin of a figure of speech?

A while ago a friend who is a frequent reader here asked me to see if I could find the origin of the expression "the Devil's Buttermilk" as a euphemism for alcoholic beverages. His hunch was that the man it is usually attributed to - Rev Ian Paisley - might not have been the originator, and that perhaps a similar figure from a former time, a W.P. Nicholson, a Billy Sunday, a D.L. Moody, might have been the one to coin the phrase.

So I jumped on to the British Newspaper Archive and found this –

“... drive the devils out of the island,” adding, “My curses, and the curse of God, on any one that shall sell the jumper devils buttermilk, eggs, potatoes, that shall salute, speak to them, or enter their houses.” 

The story is from the Dublin Evening Mail newspaper on 1 September 1852. It is a report of Achill Island Petty Sessions, where magistrates heard a case regarding two priests called James Henry and William Scully who on 17 August had 'assembled a mob of one hundred persons' who attacked a man called Patrick William Joyce, described as 'a Scripture reader' at the village of Keel where Joyce lived. He had been born in Mayo, was raised as a Catholic, but had moved to Dublin where he had a conversion experience – he told the court "I swear I that I believe I was living in darkness and going stray all my life up to that, and that it was then the light came upon me; I now live in the village of Keel".

It seems that 'Scripture reader' is clumsy language for a travelling evangelist or open air preacher. A 'Scripture reader' colleague of Joyce's called Festus Flanagan, originally from Connemara, corroborated the account of events.

The report says that the priests referred to Joyce and Flanagan as "jumper devils" (ie converts who had 'jumped' to the Reformed faith) and that the villagers' children were "selling their souls to the devil for stir-about – were they were justified by stir-about and redeemed by porridge?"  

Here is Keel – an impressive spot on a good day!


So it's not the same 'Devil's buttermilk' that I was looking for, but it did open up another angle. Stir-about is of course a term for soup, and in that era is also a reference to a reputed evangelistic method that Protestant churches are said to have used during the Great Famine - ie, starving Catholic people were given soup at Prod-run soup kitchens if they 'converted', and became known as 'soupers'.

The British Newspaper Archive turns up nearly 7000 references to 'soupers' in Ireland in the 1800s. Here's a recent article about the background of 'Take the Soup', which interestingly is also set on Achill Island, in the 1830s, nearly 20 years before the Joyce and Flanagan episode. There's no indication that Joyce and Flanagan were handing out soup in 1852, but the 'stir-about' term was used against them and the audience would have known exactly what was implied.

You can still find the term 'souper' and 'taking the soup' in the present day, usually between shades of Irish nationalists, to accuse an opponent of being a sell-out.

As an evangelism method this is at worst an horrific abuse, and at best a very strange technique indeed – because it flies in the face of orthodox evangelical Reformed theology.

The Reformed view is that faith is personal, individual and voluntary (as voluntary as is possible in the sense of 'irresistible grace'). As a clumsy attempt to summarise – Everyone in our natural condition is born spiritually 'dead in sin', oblivious and/or hostile to Christ; faith is a gift from God, not something we can generate within ourselves or pretend to have; God moves supernaturally to stir up the heart, to bring awareness and 'conviction' of sin; and to point to Christ as sufficient Saviour. As the famous words explain 'twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved'. This basic understanding leaves no scope for 'forced conversions' or 'mass conversions' of whatever method. 

These three chunks of the New Testament explain the sequence very well – Ephesians 2 v 1–10 / Colossians 1 v 12–23 / Titus 3 v 3–8 – my three kids know that I nickname these passages as my 'Gospel Triple Espresso' (full-flavoured, strong and rich, with no gimmicky sweeteners required). 

How prevalent the actual practice was, compared with how dominant the concept and accusation was, other people out there will know. Others will also have a far better grasp than I of how it makes no spiritual sense at all. Nobody is "justified by stir-about and redeemed by porridge".  

So the quest for 'The Devil's Buttermilk' goes on.

• The publishers Banner of Truth website has a very different perspective on Edward Nangle and Achill Island


* Hank Williams sings a version of the same process in  “When Gods Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart”. And of course also in “I Saw The Light” and many others.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

"controlling their cultural memory" – Rod Dreher and Al Mohler

This whole discussion is fascinating; the specific comment in the headline is at 12:00. Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. According to his Wikipedia page, Dreher was raised Methodist, became Catholic, and then later Eastern Orthodox. The remark Dreher makes at 34min – "maintaining historical cultural memory as a means of resistance" – demands a lot of thought, in many contexts. In light of which, Andrew T Walker's forthcoming book is timely. 

Monday, November 02, 2020

2: Seán O' Faoláin - 'The Irish' (1947)

As a follow-up to this recent post, Seán O' Faoláin's writing continues to intrigue me. This book is significant both for what it has in it, and also for what – and who – it leaves out. Placing St Patrick into the same 4th century timeframe as the monumental differences between Pelagius and Augustine is correct and highly insightful; his select calendar of events in Part III, from 1556 onwards, is revealing for what is not there. As he quotes in his final paragraph "history proper is the history of thought; there are no mere events in history".

Sunday, November 01, 2020

1952 Language Survey - George Brendan Adams in 'Belfast in its Regional Setting' – Ulster-Scots and Irish usage.

This is an important, often overlooked, essay by George Brendan Adams (1917–1981). He was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, he worked at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum where he became Curator of Language in 1962. He was a nephew of Richard Hayward, with whom he founded the folklore and dialect section of the Belfast Naturalists Field Club.

Here he is in 1952 using the term 'Ulster Scots' quite naturally. Adams' map of Irish language usage is also as would be expected; no usage in the east of Ulster apart from a tiny pocket up near Rathlin Island and the facing coast - and he had taught Irish to adult learners so he wasn't an outsider looking in.

(I have no particular axe to grind on this; my grandmothers' surnames were Hamill and Coffey - two of the five Irish family names on the James Hamilton estates in the 1620s. Yet both were solid formerly Presbyterian Ulster-Scots speaking matriarchs, as was their linguistic and religious lineage as far back as anybody can trace). Adams states that in the 'first few decades' of the 1900s, the last remnants of the language were in specific localities, each about 50 miles away from Belfast - thereby underlining the valid doubts many have about the vast anomaly of the language aspect of those infamous 1911 Census returns that I have mentioned here before.

He makes multiple important observations throughout this piece. Bear in mind that this also predates the celebrated field research on Ulster-Scots by his contemporary Robert J Gregg by about a decade. Their joint work on 'The Orthography of Ulster-Scots', and three of G. Brendan Adams' previously unpublished papers on Ulster-Scots, are included in the essential 2006 volume The Academic Study of Ulster-Scots; Essays for and by Robert J Gregg, edited by Anne Smyth, Michael Montgomery and Philip Robinson.

I had the pleasure of speaking (very briefly) at the launch of that volume at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, back in 2008. Yes those dates are correct, there was a gap of well over a year between the publication in November 2006 and the launch on 28 February 2008. A hallmark of devolution. I've pasted some of my edited, Departmentally-approved for press release purposes, informal and unscripted remarks below.

John Hewitt dedicated his seminal Rhyming Weavers to G. Brendan Adams (listen to BBC Radio Ulster clip here) – "that we may learn respect for the rich colours of each dialect ... this might teach our tense minds to unclench".

• An Irish language bio of G. Brendan Adams is online here.


Mark Thompson:
Thank you, Dan.  I don’t know the work of John O’Donohue, but the one word that stood out for me in Paul’s address there was the word wee, because regardless of who you are in the nine counties of Ulster and maybe even further afield, we all say wee instead of little except if we are trying to be fancy or polite.  We all know what thrawn means.  We all know these words that we grew up with. 

The Gregg volume stands once and for all to give Ulster-Scots the credibility and authority that it has needed for many, many generations, never mind the last ten years or so that the revival has taken place.

But I want to cast your mind back a bit further than that because three hundred and seventy years ago today, this very day, the twenty-eighth of February sixteen thirty-eight (and I see some people smiling already), there was a gathering in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh of thousands and thousands of people.  The great and the good were there.  Nobles were there, lords were there and the ordinary folk were there forby, signing what was known as Scotland’s National Covenant.  It was one of the great moments in establishing the psyche of the Scottish Lowland people, but eventually the Ulster-Scots as well.  The stories that we share across the narrow stretch of water are not limited to simply history and language, which are of course a massive component in that.

A wee bit more recently, in autumn 1994, I was here at this very institution. I arrived here for a Countryside Fair with my then fiancee, who is now my wife and mother of our three children, and we were late.  We missed the event, so with nothing else to do but go to the shop and go to the coffeeshop for a drop o tay, in the bookshop I picked up this, Ullans, the publication of the Ulster-Scots Language Society.  It was the first time in my life, having grown up near an Ards Peninsula village, that I had seen Ulster-Scots in print.  For me this was the epiphany moment of discovering my roots and my own heritage that I had been through grammar school education and had never known anything about.  Ullans is a wonderful publication, and I would suggest that anyone here who is not a member of the Language Society should sign up today -  I’m not on commission - because for me this was the turning point.

Having said that, Gregg, as Paul has already outlined, has to be the culmination or fulfilment of the work of people who are instrumental in the work of the Language Society.  It brings the academic rigour, the respect, the credibility that Ulster-Scots has required.  I wish that the volume has the greatest of successes.

I cannot thank Michael (Montgomery) enough for making the effort to come across from the USA.  The last time he was here he had a terrible load of soda bread with Richard MacMaster in our kitchen, and I think Philip has some kind of hospitality lined up for later on this evening.

So thanks to everyone for inviting me to say a few words at the launch today.  We are really only the funders.  Now, Permanent Secretary, close your ears at this point, please.  In one sense it’s easy to write a cheque.  The important work has been the intellectual work and research that’s gone into publishing such an important volume of scholarship.  Thank you very much and well done.