Monday, July 25, 2022

Padric / Pádraic Gregory, 'The Ulster Folk' (1912)

Padric / Pádraic Gregory
(1886-1962) was a renowned architect, a lover of folklife traditions, a poet, and for a time a Nationalist councillor for the Falls Road in Belfast. He was also warmly disposed towards Ulster-Scots and included much in his 1912 collection of 24 poems The Ulster Folk (online here), much of which originated 'in the country districts of Antrim and Down', one of which in particular he traced back to Robert Burns. He also has a footnote to explain what 'tae hae a crack' means = 'to have a friendly talk'.

• Biography on here 

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Gaelic League in Enniscorthy, 1902 – and 'Ulster Scot'

"...On Thursday evening Rev Patrick Murphy, MSS, Enniscorthy, delivered the first of a series of lectures on Irish history in the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy, before a crowded audience...

The Milesian, the Dane, the Norman, the Welshman, the Scotchman, and the Saxon naturalised here must combine regardless of their blood; the Strongbowian must sit with the Ulster Scot, and him who came from Tyrol and Spain must confide in and work with the Cromwellian and the Williamite..."

- from The New Ross Standard, 17 January 1902

Murphy gave his address on behalf of the Gaelic League. An interesting source and an interesting timeframe. Especially as some deranged people will still claim Ulster Scots was invented by unionists in 1998.

(pic from Wexford's War of Independence, on Twitter here)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The United Irishmen become Orangemen, 1797

"... the Ballymascanlan Volunteers who six months ago were all United Irishmen are now complete Orangemen..."

When researching the Henry Thomson booklet I posted about recently, I came across this reference in a book about his relatives, the Thomsons of Ravensdale in County Louth. It will come as a shock to some, but it is a perfect example of how the 'prism' of nationality can't comprehend the priority of community

There are similar examples I know of in the area around Saintfield and Ballynahinch where former 'Volunteers' became 'United Irishmen' - but after the battle defeats of 1798 they then (unthinkably for some) became members of new Orange lodges in the locality, uniting again with their neighbours. Why? Because community matters. The people you live with, work with, and rely upon, matter more than an ideology.

When specific moments from the past are homed in on, usually through a desire to make those moments relevant to the present, very often everything that happened in between has to be ignored, especially the things that are complex and inconvenient. But in doing so in the pursuit of simplicity, what happens is that the fuller, complex, community story is not explained or understood.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Londonderry 300

Back on 21 June was the 300th anniversary of the town of Londonderry, New Hampshire, being awarded its charter, having first been established by Ulster-Scots emigrants in 1719. An image of the surviving 1731 duplicate version is on this website.

Monday, July 11, 2022

'The July Day' 1906, by Adam Lynn of Cullybackey

This is from Adam Lynn's collection Random Rhymes. Despite 'the system' in Northern Ireland doing almost everything it can to equate Ulster-Scots with modern-day Unionism, when you bother to actually read authentic Ulster-Scots literature you will struggle to find much of any overtly Unionist content.

The writers are almost entirely about community rather than nationality, and any indications of the concept of nationality is defined by their lived experiences of community first. This poem isn't high art, it's an account of a typical community 12th July.

Attempts to skew Ulster-Scots into the binary political framework of Ulster Unionism or Irish Nationalism will fail. You might actually perceive glimmers of both, even within the same piece of writing, because it's far more organic than our restrictive present-day categories (see 2019 post about Adam Lynn here and a July 2020 post, again about Adam Lynn, here). It's good for everybody. If only the policy-makers bothered to understand.

You can extend this beyond our own narrow context – to emigrant America and the Revolution of 1776, you'll read writing that is pro, and writing that is unsure, and writing that is against.

There's always a broader, fuller, picture. 

Challenge your own categories. Read the literature. Community first. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Henry Thomson & Co.'s Old Irish Whisky, Newry, Ireland – booklet now published

The best stories are the most surprising ones! Last week this 52 page booklet was launched, telling the long-lost story of "Henry Thomson & Co.'s Old Irish Whisky, Newry, Ireland".

The pic shown above where this quest all began – the 1920s / 1930s bottle that's part of the street window display at Grace Neill's in Donaghadee. It first caught my eye many years ago when walking past. The surname was part of the attraction, and so about 5 years ago I started to dig into the story. And dig. And what a story it has turned out to be.


Henry inherited his father's business in 1859, a lucrative wine and spirits merchants in Newry. Their 1860s building is in Trevor Hill still today, designed by architect WJ Barre. It looks a like a miniature version of another more famous building Barre designed at the same time – the Ulster Hall in Belfast.

Henry served a 5 year term as a Unionist MP from 1880–85, was a prominent Orangeman (becoming Deputy Grand Master in 1911) and was well-respected right across the community in his day. There are multiple newspaper reports of his generosity and kindness - "taking men as he found them, and judging them by their deeds and not their creeds".

A few miles south of Newry, at Ravensdale in Co Louth, a branch of the Newry Thomsons had set up a major linen business in the 1700s. In their family collection was a buffalo leather coat worn by King William III at the Boyne, given to them by one of William's senior soldiers. It is now on public display in the collection of County Museum, Dundalk.

For 30 years Henry Thomson & Co.'s Old Irish Whisky was marketed as 'The Finest Whisky in the World'. It must have been good as it was awarded a Royal Warrant in 1892, the first Irish whisky ever to be granted one.

In 1904 it was Henry's whisky fortune that saved the 'Sham Fight' at Scarva when he bought Scarvagh Demesne, and also funded the building of Scarva Orange Hall.

His whisky was sold around the world well into the 1930s – in that decade in New York the Rockefellers opened a swish new restaurant 'La Maison Française' in Manhattan, fronted by Parisian celebrity chef Henri Charpentier, which served Henry Thomson Old Irish Whisky. And 40 years after Henry's death, the Newry newspapers were still saying positive things about his legacy. The brand name continued in various forms in the Newry area right up to the present day.

Henry was buried in the family plot at St Patrick's in Newry, alongside his Presbyterian brewery owner in-laws the Henry's. At the base of the triple gravestone is the classic Ephesians 2 text "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God".

Sincere thanks to everyone who contributed personal and private content and trusted me enough to allow me to include those. The final booklet is 52 pages packed with the best content I could fit in. Lots had to be left out, and more content is still coming forward - so maybe there might be a second, expanded, edition in future.


I'll be sending everyone who has helped me assemble the story a copy by post pretty soon. For everyone else, *free* copies should be available (while stocks last) from:

• Bagenal's Castle in Newry
• Museum of Orange Heritage,Belfast
• County Museum, Dundalk

And the graphic design's pretty okay too.

Monday, July 04, 2022

The Scots at the Copeland Islands, August 1595

In August, A.D. 1595, the Lord Deputy encloses a letter to Lord Burghley, which exhibits the disturbed state of the Ards neighbourhood in that year:—

Rowland Savage to Captain Izod:

Worshipful good captain, whereas your worship desired me to send you all the news of the Scots. All the news I can learn your worship shall know it. The whole army is as yet at Copland Islands, and the Queen's ships keep them in there.

There was six gallies that was coming after them; the Queen's ship met the five gallies and sunk two of the gallies, and took two of them, and the other ran ashore and saved their men.

The Earl of Tirone came not to Clanaboie as yet. The soldiers of Knockfergus came to help the ships with all the barks and boats of the town, and what news we get I will certify your worship from time to time. No more unto your worship at this time, but God have you in his keeping.

From Strangford this present Tuesday, Strangford, August I.


From p114 & 115 of The Savage Family in Ulster by George Francis Savage-Armstrong (1906)

Sunday, July 03, 2022

"Two sorts of Scots" - Edmund Spenser, 'A Veue of the Present State of Ireland', 1596

Eudox: I wonder, Irenius, whether you runne so farre astraye; for whilst wee talke of Ireland me thinkes you rippe up the originall of Scotland; but what is that to this?

Iren: Surelie very much, for Scotland and Ireland are one and the same.

Eudox: That seemeth more strange; for wee all knowe right well that they are distinguished, with a greate sea runninge betweene them; or else there are twoe Scotlands.

Iren: Never the more are there twoe Scotlands, but twoe kindes of Scotts there were indeede, as you may gather out of Buchanan, the one Irine or Irishe Scotts, the other Albyne Scotts; for those Scotts or Scythians arrived, as I supposed, in the North parts of the Island, where some of them afterwards passed into the next coaste of Albyne, nowe called Scotland, which, after much trouble, they possessed, and of themselves named yt Scotland; but in process of tyme, as is commonly seene, the denominac[o]n of the part prevailed in the whole, for the Irishe Scotts puttinge away the name of Scotts, were called only Irishe, and Albyne Scotts, leavinge the name of Albyne, were called only Scotts. Therefore yt cometh of some wryters, that Ireland is called Scotia-major, and that which nowe is named Scotland, is called Scotia-minor.

Eudox: I doe nowe well understande your distinguishing of the twoe sortes of Scotts, and twoe Scottlands, howe that this which is nowe called Irelande was auncyently called Erine, and afterwardes of some wrytten Scotland, and that which is nowe called Scotland was formerlie called Albyn, before the cominge of the Scotts thither: But what other Nations inhabited thother partes of Irelande?

Friday, July 01, 2022

Wisdom from the Savages, 1342

In 1315 Sir Robert Savage of Ardkeen was one of the many Anglo-Norman lords who fought the invading Bruce armies which had landed at Larne that year. A generation later, after the Bruce failure, Sir Robert embarked upon a major building programme in 1342, but was chastised by his son Henry who astutely told him that people are far more important than buildings:

better a castle of bones than of stones; where strength and courage of valiant men are present to help us, never will I, by the grace of God, cumber myself with dead walls…”.