Wednesday, March 31, 2021

CS Lewis, Ulster-Scots and "social justice"

CS Lewis used the term Ulster-Scots in his writing, was fully aware of men on the Belfast steamers speaking "low Scotch", and peppered many of his books with meaningful cultural references to the Scottish dimension within Ulster life. This is no surprise given his maternal Hamilton roots (he adopted the name Clive Hamilton for some of the books he authored) his great mentor William Thompson Kirkpatrick (who Lewis described as an Ulster Scot) and his love of the work of George MacDonald. Weaving together all of Lewis' Ulster-Scots threads is another big project that nobody has done yet.

The Screwtape Letters (1942) is one of Lewis' most famous books, a series of hypothetical conversations between a junior demon 'Wormwood' and a more senior experienced demon 'Screwtape', who is passing down to his protege advice on how to undermine the faith of a new Christian that he has been assigned to, known as 'The Patient'. 

So much of it is brilliant. Here is an extract from Letter 23 (bolds are mine) –

“We do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything––even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. 

For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. 
Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations.’ You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.”   

There is a lot wrong with the world we live in. That's the core of Christianity. Much of it can, and should be, fixed. But the ultimate source of all of these problems isn't the system, but what we call 'the human condition', or, in old money, what the Bible calls 'sin'.

Therefore the ultimate answer is not another activist campaign or programme. 'Social Justice' is only a limited outworking of the far bigger universal eternal cosmic message that Christians simultaneously fully rest upon, and are also tasked with sharing – Divine Mercy – provided solely and sufficiently through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Irish Whiskey royal grant of 1616 - a close rival to the Bushmills 1608 claim

I came across the above reference in the extensive footnote by Rev George Hill in his edition of The Montgomery Manuscripts, that renowned resource about life in Ulster in the 1600s, referring to the Presbyterian-inclined English brothers James and John Clotworthy who lived in Antrim town. It appears that they were granted a licence by King James I on 5 July 1616 to sell ‘wine and spirituous liquors’ – in Newry and all places throughout the county of Down' and also throughout most of Co Antrim and in Ardee in Co Louth. Here is a portrait of John Clotworthy, from the National Portrait Gallery

It is interesting that the Clotworthys were excluded from Dunluce, which is close to the world-famous Bushmills. Some time in the 20th Century the marketing people at the Old Bushmills Distillery decided to claim the year 1608 as their origin (thereby laying claim to the regional Sir Thomas Phillips royal grant of that year, a close forerunner of the Clotworthy's) – whereas up until then they'd used 1784, which was the authentic year the distillery complex was built. The photo below is a beautiful mirror in the visitor centre there.

The big difference is that Phillips' licence was to distil (the text says "to make, drawe, and distill such as soe great quantities of aquavite, usquabagh and aqua composita, as he or his assignes shall thinke fitt") whereas the Clotworthys' appears to have been only to sell. Further research needed.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

St Patrick – "A Heart for a Nation" – a film by Matthew Irvine

A friend sent me this, he knows some of the people involved, it's a very fine production.

The Romans in Scotland and the Antonine Wall

Everybody's heard of Hadrian's Wall, built by the Romans, and which more or less marks the border between England and Scotland. But very few know of the Antonine Wall which was built around the same time, and crosses the Central Belt from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. This was the world that St Patrick was born into, at Old Kilpatrick, which was the westernmost fort of the Antonine Wall.  

Saturday, March 13, 2021

"Red Hand for Quality" - Irish Bonding Co (Bottlers) Ltd

I recently missed out on this wooden crate, from Irish Bonding Co (Bottlers) Ltd, which would have been perfect for my three Red Hand Guinness bottles. The company became part of global giant Diageo when it was formed in 1997.


Monday, March 08, 2021

Henry Rollins on individual responsibility


Brendan Behan's visit to the Boyne Tavern in Belfast, late 1940s


Thursday, March 04, 2021

2000 years of soft borders: The History of the British Isles: Every Year

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Colonialism, Capitalism and Calvinism

These are three very frequent culprits in online discussions. There used to be a thing called 'Godwin's Law' which observed that eventually every argument reaches a point about Hitler and Nazis. Find the system you dislike most and blame it for all the problems in the world.

I have a few copies of an ancient book which begins with a famous story of responsibility-dodging and buck-passing. A man and a woman make disastrous choices.

The man said he really had no choice in the matter at all and blames the woman, and for good measure also the Creator for making her in the first place. The woman then said that her choice was suspended by the skilful persuasion of the local resident snake, and so therefore it's not her fault as the snake is responsible.

During lockdown I saw an interview with the American comedian Dave Chappelle in which he observed that everyone was stuck at home surrounded by their choices. We all live with our own choices...

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Census 2021

We got a letter today about the new Census for Northern Ireland. Tonight I came across a folder of research I did a while ago, with the two images I've posted below from the 1911 Census. These are yet another example of people – Portavogie Presbyterians related to my grandmother who was a Coffey – incorrectly marking themselves as 'Irish' speakers because they knew full well they didn't speak the only other option the form named – 'English'.  All of those entries were later scored out, probably by the person who came round to collect and check the forms. I've posted here a few times about this widespread phenomenon; I am glad that the new Census has an Ulster-Scots dimension to it, and I hope that people filling it in have enough understanding to complete it correctly.