Monday, December 20, 2021

Keep re-inscribing the old stories – visiting the first stone restored by 'Old Mortality'

Back in September and October when filming in Scotland I visited the beautiful Glen Trool valley in Galloway Forest Park where, in 1685, six Covenanter men were murdered by the state for holding an unauthorised prayer meeting. The location of their killing and burial is at Caldons, on the edge of the loch. It wasn't well signposted and it took a few wrong turns before I found it. The stone which is there today is a recent replacement, within a protective walled enclosure – the original stone is in nearby Newton Stewart Museum (the stone had reportedly been vandalised in the 1980s, and so was taken away for safe keeping). Here is a pic of it when it was still at Caldons –

Why go? Well, Caldons was the very first Covenanter stone to be re-inscribed by famous stonemason Robert Patterson (1715–1801), who was also known as 'Old Mortality'. He spent much of his life travelling around Scotland to re-inscribe the weathered, eroded inscriptions of Covenanter gravestones, for fear that the stories would be lost forever. In 1816 Sir Walter Scott even wrote a novel about him, of the same name. Scott mined numerous classic sources to construct the storyline.

Keep re-inscribing the old stories. As Plato once said, "Those who tell the stories rule society". 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Kennedys of Ayrshire, Ulster and Fife

There's a kind of a 'black hole' knowledge gap about Ulster's connections with Scotland in between the two massive events of A) the Bruce campaign of the early 1300s, and B) the arrival of Hamilton & Montgomery in 1606. That's almost three centuries that need to be properly uncovered and explained. One family where some major research should be done is the Kennedys of Ayrshire, later the Earls of Cassilis (pronounced Cassells). They had been gifted a title and land by Robert the Bruce, and both the Hamilton Manuscripts and Montgomery Manuscripts show that a new wave of Ayrshire Kennedys came to Ulster with them in the early 1600s.

But in between those two big dates the Kennedys had various castles and family seats along the Ayrshire coast, firstly at Dunure and also at Culzean. Their name can be found in histories of Maybole (where the Kennedys founded a college in 1246; source here) and Ballantrae, and there is of course a Castle Kennedy near Stranraer. This rhyme gives some idea of their influence –

From Wigton to the toun of Ayr,
Port Patrick and the cruives of Cree;
Man need not think for to byde there,
Unless he court with Kennedie."

The first Lord Kennedy was Gilbert Kennedy of Dunure (1405–1489) and was titled in 1457. His parents had been Sir James Kennedy and Lady Mary Stewart who was daughter of Robert III King of Scots. So the Kennedys were powerful and influential within Scottish society.

Crossraguel Abbey, Ayrshire – Churches, Cathedrals & Abbeys | VisitScotland

The Kennedys were deeply involved in ecclesiastical life and history of the magnificent Crossraguel Abbey just outside Maybole (shown above). Two big things came to my attention again recently. 

BANGOR: John Kennedy, Abbot of Bangor Abbey was appointed to that position in County Down in 1395. His seal and matrix are on display in North Down Museum in Bangor. The illustration here is from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, Vol 7, No 1 (January 1901). The seal was reportedly found at Saul Abbey; the text reads Sigillum Rev. Patris Johanis Kenedy, Abbatis de Bangor (translation: The Seal of the Rev. Father John Kenedy, Abbot of Bangor).

Rev William Reeves' 1847 Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore has nothing to say about Kenedy; neither does Rev. James O'Laverty's 1878 An historical account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, ancient and modern. But it is possible that John Kennedy was of the Ayrshire family. Certainly the Abbot of Crossraguel Abbey was also titled 'Ambassador to Ireland' in 1429 (source here).

ST ANDREWS: James Kennedy, Archbishop of St Andrews (1408–1465) in Scotland was appointed to that position in 1440. He was a younger brother of the first Lord Kennedy. He succeeded Henry Wardlaw who had founded the University of St Andrews in 1413. Archbishop Kennedy was a key figure in the development of the town as a centre of ecclesiastical learning. He was buried in St Salvator's Chapel, with a magnificent memorial tomb (see here). His seal looks pretty similar to that of John of Bangor –

• The family history, published in 1849 and entitled Historical Account of the Noble Family of Kennedy, Marquess of Ailsa and Earl of Cassilis is online here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Ards Football Club, founded 1900

A friend sent me this new video recently. Ards Football Club are my local team, one of my uncles was a devoted supporter but I only ever went to see them play a few times. Ards have not had their own ground for about 20 years when Castlereagh Park was sold off and demolished. There are new efforts to 'bring them home'. As regular readers here will know, I have traced the first football pitch in Ireland to the area around the War Memorial in Newtownards (see previous post here). Maybe there's a 'fly on the wall' style documentary in this –

Monday, December 13, 2021

'Rabbie Reimagined: Gibson, Burns, and Belfast' – Linen Hall Library marking the 120th anniversary of the Andrew Gibson collection

I had the immense pleasure of taking part in an online event for the Linen Hall Library last week – an unscripted conversation with Dr Carol Baraniuk. I even got the opportunity to play some mandolin and to read Burns's own research notes about the tune The Caledonian Hunt's Delight, which he said had come from Ireland or possibly the Isle of Man. He used it for Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon. It's been posted onto YouTube and you can watch it below. We could have talked all night!