Tuesday, February 28, 2023

"For a wheen o days we sat waitin' the word ... But no French ships sailed into Cloughey Bay" - from 1756 to 1798

Cloughey Bay is a great beach, as the video above shows. My grandfather, William Thompson (06.04.1901–07.04.1957), wrote homespun poems and sold them door-to-door to raise funds for a new lifeboat at Cloughey (here's a blog I created years ago about him).  The Constance Calverley was launched in August 1952. The lifeboat station closed in 1965 and was eventually converted into a dwelling house. William's son – my dad – has done some building work on the house over the years for the various people who have owned it since then.

• A shipwreck from 1797: L'Amitié cargo of arms for Rebellion
So, many years ago when I first heard the old 1798 Rebellion era poem The Man From God Knows Where being recited, with its reference to Cloughey Bay, it caught my interest. It was written in 1918 by Bangor woman Florence Mary Addy, later Wilson, who was one of a cadré of Bangor-based creative writers of that era, like the Milligans and Lyttles, who I think it is fair to say had Irish nationalist inclinations (see previous post here). Intellectuals and creatives are drawn to being different. Here is her collection in which it was published.

Historically, the French ship L'Amitié was expected to land somewhere along the east coast of County Down, carrying a supply of arms – but she ran aground and sank, north of Ardglass, on 7 April 1797, near to what has ever since been known as Guns Island. The wreck was still in evidence there in the 1970s, with some salvage recovered by divers.

However, the sandy beaches of the drone video aren't the full picture. Even the name Cloughey comes from the Gaeilge 'an Cloch' meaning 'a stone'.

I'm not 100% sure that L'Amitié was actually bound for Cloughey Bay given just how treacherous the rocks along the shore there are. There are newspaper reports of 'wreckers' at Kearney Point luring ships onto the rocks in order to loot their washed-up cargoes. You wouldn't want to land along there without lots of local intelligence, or maybe to rendezvous offshore with smaller local boats. That's why there was a need for offshore lighthouses, on the North Rock and the South Rock, and a lifeboat.

So maybe the poem reference to Cloughey Bay is a bit of storytellers creative licence, but I am open to further information on this if any readers can affirm. Here is a detail from the famous Dr Kennedy's 1755 A Map of the County of Down with a Chart of ye Sea Coast done from Actual Surveys and Accurate Observations:

But the rocks on the coastline weren't the only things that were treacherous...

• A list from 1756: "our most treacherous enemies the French"
This apparent pro-French alliance on the Ards Peninsula was a volte-face from 40 years earlier - on 13 April 1756 the Belfast News-Letter published A petition from the inhabitants of Ballywalter and Ballyhalbert in response to the threat of danger from "our most treacherous enemies the French", with a list of 78 men who had put their names to it. The next month the French would invade Minorca, beginning the Seven Years War – so Millisle was probably on their list too (Wikipedia here).

No Thompsons are named on the petition, but they weren't living at Ballyhalbert or Ballywalter anyway. It was around the 1750s when my Ayrshire Thompson ancestors came across the narrow sea and settled at Ratallagh (marked on the map as Retalla) at the north end of Cloughey Bay. 

Of course, France had undergone its revolution within those decades between 1756 and 1797. The world had changed. But, as ever, it's important to not presume top-down concepts of nationality. Bottom-up community is where the authentic and interesting is to be found, and where apparent paradoxes can be better explained.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The brothers Fitzgerald – simultaneously Irish Establishment and also Irish Rebellion of 1798 – and representing Ireland in the new Union Flag of 1801

The Fitzgeralds had been in Ireland since 1169, Anglo-Norman in origin, who prior to that had come to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. In Ireland, they had been Earls of Kildare from 1316 onwards, the era of the Edward and Robert The Bruce campaign, with the Fitzgeralds fighting against the Scots.

450 years later, James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare, became the 1st Duke of Leinster in 1766.

James and his wife Emily Lennox (who was English, of Scottish and also Royal ancestry) were among Ireland's uppermost social establishment élite. Emily features in the writing of  Stella Tillyard, whose Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox 1740-1832 included Emily and became a BBC television series (Wikipedia here). Here's a portrait of Emily by Scottish artist Allan Ramsay:

James and Emily had 18 children – including two very contrasting boys.

• Their oldest surviving son, William Robert Fitzgerald (1749-1804), seems to have been the ultimate establishment man. William's entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography describes him as 'somewhat pompous'. He was chosen as Grand Master of the freemasonic Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1770, and on 5 Feb 1783 he was one of the knights of the new Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick - which took upon itself his family crest, the red saltire 'Arms of Fitzgerald' as its insignia. Here he is:

• William had 'procured' the election to Parliament of his 14 years younger brother, James and Emily's fifth son, Edward Fitzgerald (1763–1798), in 1790. Two years later Edward became sympathetic to the French Revolution and also supported the new Society of United Irishmen, which sought to reform, but later to overthrow, Ireland's establishment of which his own family was such a key part. Edward eventually became a member of the United Irishmen in 1796. He was arrested in the early stages of their 1798 Rebellion, but died in Newgate Prison as a result of wounds sustained during that arrest.

(Stella Tillyard's biography of Edward Fitzgerald, entitled Citizen Lord, was published in 1998 on the 200th anniversary of his death. Edward's life story was written by Thomas Moore, and also by Patrick Byrne in his 1955 book Lord Edward Fitzgerald). Here's Edward:

• In the aftermath of the failure of the 1798 Rebellion, on 31 December 1800 the Parliament of Ireland was abolished, and Ireland was governed from a new, combined, Parliament in London from 1st January 1801. The 'Arms of Fitzgerald' were incorporated into a new flag for the new administration, to represent the inclusion of Ireland within the previous design which had visually merged the pre-existing historic flags of both England and Scotland since 1606 (designed for the 'Union of the Crowns' when King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England).

• A red flag with a white shield and red saltire might have been used by the Dublin Volunteers in the 1700s. There is a glimpse of this in a detail of the famous Francis Wheatley painting The Dublin Volunteers on College Green, 4th November 1779, said to be a commemoration of the birthday of King William III, and gathered around the statue of William which was there at that time.

Contemporary prints of the painting include a caption 'To His Grace William Robert Fitzgerald, Duke of Leinster & of the Kingdom of Ireland...' and the Fitzgerald coat of arms. He was a Colonel in the regiment.

• Coincidentally, the family crest of the boys' mother Emily Lennox Fitzgerald (whose roots trace back to the Lennox of Woodhead clan of Dumbartonshire in Scotland) was the very same design - a red saltire, sometimes with 'engrailed' lines, and also often depicted with four roses in the white quadrants. The badge of local football team Clydebank FC is based on it, but with four different locally-relevant emblems where the roses usually appear.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

There is no 'east west' dimension...

... apart from set-piece window-dressing things that make some politicians and some civil servants look and feel important, but which actually deliver nothing, with no organisational infrastructure or resourcing to make things happen within communities and for normal folk. "Strand Three" has no substance. In a previous life I used to get invited to 'important' meetings at which the press releases were approved before the meeting had even begun.

Out of the blue I was contacted recently by one of those. Avoid. It is people and community that matter.

With the current affairs media anticipating a 'deal' ahead of the 25th anniversary, maybe, after a generation of (this is a weird trendy internet politics word) nothingburger, it's time to actually deliver something on an east west basis? I'll not hold my breath.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Alan Rickman

Thankful to Anne for posting this on her Facebook this week. Everyone loves stories. And therefore the mirror to this is, if you let your stories degrade or fade away, so will your community and your humanity.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Archibald Hamilton Rowan's autobiography, 1840 - and the aftermath of the French Revolution

This is a fascinating source (online here) of first-hand accounts of the events prior to, during, and after, the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland. Archibald Hamilton Rowan (1757–1834) was the son of Gawen Hamilton of Killyleagh Castle in County Down, and Jane Rowan, but AHR was born and raised among the "privileged elite" of London society.

AHR had never set foot in Ireland until 1784, aged 27, after some years of living with his mother in Paris. AHR bought an estate at Rathcoffy in County Kildare just west of Dublin - only about 7 miles away from palatial Carton House, (which today is a luxury 5 star hotel and resort, where Real Madrid have stayed - website here).

Carton House was the family seat of AHR's contemporary and fellow United Irishman, Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798), who was one of the sons of the 1st Duke of Leinster, and whom AHR described in his autobiography as a 'high-spirited young nobleman'.

The French Revolution began in May 1789 and AHR was back in France in early 1794. His accounts of what he witnessed and experienced there are illuminating. The high-minded revolutionary ideals had become La Terreur, bloodletting and anarchy, as power shifted from side to side. Here's one example.

"It  now  became  a  measure  of  personal  safety,  to be  able  to  declare  that  one  had  been  imprisoned during  Robespierre's  tyranny.  It  was  dangerous even  to  appear  like  a  Jacobin,  as  several  persons were  murdered  in  the  streets,  by  La  Jeunesse Parisienne,  merely  because  they  wore  long  coats and  short  hair."

AHR left France for America in June 1795, under the pseudonym of James Thomson, and eventually came back to Europe in 1800, and then to Killyleagh in 1806 on the death of his father.

I've been meaning to read this for a very long time, and it's proving a rich source.
More thoughts to follow.

BBC History Extra: The Story of the French Revolution through 7 severed heads (click here)

Monday, February 06, 2023

Address to a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer

I penned these lines on the sofa on Burns Night, just for fun. With apologies to Rabbie...

Fair fa' your honest, stripey paper!
Great chieftain o the caramel wafer!
Aboon them a! There is nane greater,
Tae hae wi tay,
The minimum advised for every cratur's
Aroon five a day

Och an whun ye peel awa the wrapper
The rid an gold looks brave an dapper
If the chocolate’s saft it’ll mak a clabber
All ower yer fingèrs
Sure yer mooth’s near trippin’ ye wi slabbers
Nae chance tae lingèr

But tak yer time noo, crisp an sweet
A blissful peace sae near complete
A near-addiction this Tunnocks treat
Ye cannae share
Ye’ll hiddae jouk tae the shap doon the street
For twa packets mair

Plenty of room for improvement...