Monday, October 24, 2022

Abraham Lincoln's father and the emigrant United Irishmen in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

 Here is Thomas Lincoln (1779–1857). More to follow.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

'Come and See' - Belarus WW2 movie by Elem Klimov, 1985

This horrific and infamous scene, from the harrowing movie Come and See by Russian filmmaker Elem Klimov (Wikipedia here) will have echoes for those in Ireland who know the full story of the 1798 Rebellion here - of the burning of the McKee family in their home at Carrickcessna near Saintfield, and of the burning of around 200 people in Scullabogue barn in Wexford (see previous post here). Klimov had personal experience of World War Two, and Belarus is said to have had over 2 million deaths during the war, over 25% of its population. At the end of the movie a caption says that during the war “628 Belorussian villages were burnt to the ground with all their inhabitants.” Utter barbarity. 

I can't say I would recommend Come and See as an experience, but it a remarkable and utterly horrifying movie, acclaimed as a 'masterpiece' since its release in 1985. It was remastered and rereleased in 2020. Here is a review on YouTube. Its hand-held steadicam camerawork gives it a revolting nauseating realism. 'Soldiers' drunk on whisky, power, and hate. Be very careful of viewing it.

Whatever the era, whatever the ideology, whatever the circumstances, the human heart never changes. As Scottish author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson knew, every one of us is both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see." - Revelation 6:7-8 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Billy Strings & his Father - "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul?"


The Monroe Brothers recorded this in the 1930s, a classic Appalachian 'brother duet'. Outstanding version by Billy Strings. A taster of his forthcoming album, Me & Dad.

And here's a rough version my brother and I recorded at the kitchen table on an iPhone about 12 years ago, with just one guitar, on our old Soundcloud page. Trying to find those primitive harmonies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Part Four – back to Meagher's tricolour and Red Hand in 1848

There are lots of primary sources for how Meagher had designed his version of the tricolour, which, as per previous post, was not in fact the first such design. Here's one from 1848, showing that the inclusion of the Red Hand on the white third was for him a critical component in communicating the message of his flag, and with a harpist playing the melody The Battle of the Boyne.

Just a few weeks ago, at the Northern Ireland v Kosovo international football match, just as Josh Mageniss struck the winning goal, I spotted a Northern Ireland supporters club home-made flag which was a blue saltire on a green field –

Symbols are fascinating. People have some kind of primal need to create them. And over time, their stories can get distorted and misunderstood. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Part Three - Gerald Anthony Hayes-McCoy's 1979 book 'A History of Irish Flags from Earliest Times'

This is a classic volume, heavily illustrated and with meticulously-researched textual narrative. I consult it often, and picked it up again back in July after hearing a Radio Ulster discussion about flags, which was instigated by the annual burning of flags which happens on bonfires here, by loyalists on 11 July and then later in the summer by republicans too. I don't have a sense of how genuinely widespread flag burning is as a behavioural phenomenon, but it sure generates a lot of online reaction and press & broadcast media coverage.

Hayes-McCoy has a chapter entitled 'The Tricolour Triumphant' and also a subsection entitled 'Orange or Yellow?' where he outlines that the American 'Fenian' movement in the 1870s made various alterations to Meagher's tricolour design – first with a golden sunburst in the white third, and later by substituting a yellow or gold for the orange third. The 'Fenians' had other flags and emblems, one intriguingly described as:

 'a tricolour of Green, White and Gold, Saint Patrick's Cross with a red field, and shaped nearly like Saint Andrew's Cross, has one large shamrock emblazoned on it, with a wreath of small shamrocks encircles the cross, embracing the three colours. I never saw a handsomer flag in my life-time of experience. The Fenians and the Legion of St Patrick maintain that their destiny is to make a New Ireland, and the first step is that of providing a Flag that will be universally adopted by Irishmen in every part of the world. They hold to the belief that the Sunburst and Harp are not suitable, and not correct in point of historical accuracy...' 
– The Irishman, Saturday 18 September 1869

The poem below is from The Flag of Ireland newspaper, 10 July 1869. 'Green white and gold' is certainly a descriptive figure of speech everyone has heard. And from various online 'debates' I have been sent links to very recently, the introduction of 'gold' is indeed seen by many as a purposeful ousting of the 'orange' which had been used by Daniel O'Connell and the Association of the Friends of Ireland in 1831, and Meagher in 1848.

Often, the most extreme voices and positions about issues in Ireland come from beyond these shores, from romanticised ex-pats or those who like to indulge in what might today be interpreted as a kind of political 'cosplay', or by others seeking purpose through emotional involvement in far-away disputes. Or online, from the safely detached distance of a keyboard.

Flags, often belittled by the middle classes and some in the media as flegs, in fact hold visual stories and can tell us a lot about eras and ideas.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Part Two: MacNeven's tricolour objections? New York City, Tuesday 26 April 1831

There were plenty of reports in the 1830s of Daniel O'Connell rallies in Ireland using green and orange banners and ribbons. Here is one example, from a letter O'Connell published in The Freeman's Journal on 27 December 1830, outlining a proposed public demonstration in central Dublin –

There are accounts of Repeal meetings in Dublin using "a tri-colour of orange, green and white" in January 1831. (So the official Thomas Francis Meagher 1848 orthodox account of the origin of the flag appears to not be the whole story after all).

Therefore, that the Association of the Friends of Ireland in the United States were also using these colours in 1831, is no surprise.

Below is a report from the Charleston Mercury on 2 May 1831, of the Association event in New York on 26 April, where the emigrant United Irishmen leader William James MacNeven reacted to seeing orange – "the emblem of all that was baneful to his beloved native country". The wording is ambiguous – he might have been bemused rather than actually objecting.

The whole episode rippled across to our side of the Atlantic, and was reported in the Belfast News-Letter, the Tipperary Free Press, and other newspapers. Here's the News-Letter one from 1st July 1831:

There are many surviving records and accounts by, and about, William James Macneven. In The United Irishmen, Their Lives and Times (1842) there is a detailed memoir of his life, by his daughter, from pages 197-256 (online here), with his own autobiographical notes from page 244 (online here).

His birthplace and childhood near the historic battlefield of Aughrim was formative –

"an eventful battle was fought there on 12th July 1691, between the forces of King James II and King William, and my early intimacy with every inch of the field gave my thoughts ever after an invariable direction to the unfortunate relations of Ireland with England".

When he was arrested in 1798, aged 35, the 'examination' he underwent in Dublin on 7 August was transcribed (online here) – which includes an interesting usage of the term sasanagh as "one name for Protestant and Englishman". Yet he also objected to an Ireland under any religious establishment, even his own Catholic one, saying "I would no more consent to that than I would to the establishment of Mahometanism". 

All 'movements' are made up of individuals, and all individuals have their own quirks, biases and agendas. I have learned this over the years when I have collaborated with, and even hired, people for a very specific skillset or shared interest – but of course the rest of that person comes along too, with all of their associated baggages. MacNeven must have had his as well.

I've only skimmed through these references, but what emerges for me is of MacNeven being an example of how it's one thing to be in opposition to a government and even to plan and lead a rebellion – but another thing entirely to actually work to build a cohesive inclusive society. 

But if MacNeven's reaction was perhaps bemusement rather than outright objection of the orange component in the flag, soon it would be others who definitely would object. 

More to follow.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Part One: William James MacNeven, the emigrant United Irishman leader from Aughrim, who objected to the orange third in a proto-Tricolour flag of Ireland, in New York City in 1831.

Meet William James MacNeven (Wikipedia here). He was born in Aughrim in Galway in 1763, joined the Society of United Irishmen and was imprisoned in 1798. He ended up in Fort George in Scotland along with other United Irishmen prisoners such as Rev William Steele Dickson, in whose famous Narrative of Confinment and Exile he is named as M'Nevin. Steele Dickson listed M'Nevin, and himself, among the four Catholic, six Presbyterian, and ten Church of Ireland leaders of the movement.

MacNeven left Ireland for America in 1805, where he became a hugely successful scientific academic. He died in New York City, on the 12th July 1841.

MacNeven had been President of the Association of the Friends of Ireland. At a meeting of the Association in New York City in 1831, a "green, white, and orange, tri coloured flag, the white in the centre" was used and a matching scarf was given to him. These, and their design, appear to have been sprung on him, and he wasn't happy.

The key point is that this all took place 17 years before the orthodox 1848 Thomas Francis Meagher origin account of the Irish Tricolour flag (see the website of the Thomas F Meagher Foundation here). History records that Meagher thought that these three colours, arranged in the exactly the same order as MacNeven's,  could signify a "lasting truce ... clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood".

Meagher was a boy of 8 in Ireland when the 'green white and orange' design appeared at the MacNeven event in New York. Macneven died 7 years before Meagher's matching 'green white and orange' design appeared in Waterford (with a Red Hand on the white) via some women he had met in France. (image below from The Irish Way on Facebook)

More to follow...