Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Sir Edward Carson souvenir cup – "One Crown, One Parliament, One Flag - Against my King I do not Fight but for my King and Kingdom's Right".

I spotted this on an auction website recently. The motto is interesting, an articulation of 'conditional loyalty'. Intriguing flag designs and arrangement - paradoxically showing three flags whereas the motto says just one. Below, the framed print of similar design can be seen in The Dark Horse in Cathedral Quarter in Belfast. (the motto features on the statue of John Hampden in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire).

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Dr. John Patrick Donaghy, 'Lámh dhearg Uladh' – the Ulster Museum Bill, Stormont, November 1961

Above: the famous Brown, Corbett & Co's 'The Ulster' Old Irish Whisky. (Image from an auction website).

I came across the quote below when looking for something else. I've not had a hoke yet for more information about Dr J. P. Donaghy (Wikipedia here) but his entire address about the Ulster Museum is really interesting and worth a read – it is online on HathiTrust here, from page 720 onwards. Here is his conclusion, with the Red Hand as his ultimate emblematic representation of the possibility of 'together' -

Mosaic image from Flickr, of St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena

Image of the Home Rule era postcard below grabbed from eBay.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The "Turn Oot" - the 1798 Rebellion and County Antrim

For some time I thought that the term 'The Turn Oot", said to be the Ulster-Scots for the 1798 Rebellion, was a neologism. Not at all. It can be found by searching the British Newspaper Archive, and in this important source too –

"... We talked much of the Rebellion or 'turn-oot', taking pride in the part which some of our forefathers had played in it. Nothing could have made us so angry as hearing our ancestors jeered at and called “pike men”, or to be reminded that the gallant patriots had gone to battle provided with grindstones for the occasional sharpening of their spears. It was a base calumny and unworthy of credence – almost as insulting as to be told that the brave men had fired on the soldiers from the insides of houses and shops..."
- Archibald McIlroy, When Lint Was In the Bell, page 9 (1897).

This book is set in Ballyclare, it uses a line from Robert Burns as its title, and it's about as socially conservative and theologically orthodox as it's possible to be.

The 1798 Rebellion has its 225th anniversary this June. The best way to understand it, and its complexity and contradictions, is through the lens of bottom-up community, not top-down nationality.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Bishop William Bedell (1571–1642), the Old Testament in Irish, and RBP No. 362

Some years ago Cavan County Museum published a book of their collection of banners, entitled Banner, Emblem, Flag or Symbol: The Marching Banners of Cavan County Museum. It includes this one, of Killmore Royal Black Preceptory RBP No 362, Bedell's Mourners.

Bishop William Bedell (1571-1642; Wikipedia here) is best remembered for translating the Old Testament into Irish during his time as Bishop of Kilmore and Armagh (William O'Donnell had already produced a translation of the New Testament, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I, and completed in 1602, with 500 copies printed - further information here from the 400th anniversary in 2002).

For all of the praise the Bedell translation receives, few ever mention what he experienced at the hands of Irish 'rebels' in 1641, and his death from the pestilence which swept Ulster (see previous post here) due to the piles of unburied corpses.

His life story was written by the Scotsman Bishop Gilbert Burnet in 1685, who became one of the closest allies of Prince William of Orange, and was with him when he landed at Brixham in 1688.

PS: around the same time as Bedell's 1634-40 translation into Irish Gaeilge, just across the water in Scotland translations into Scottish Ghàidhlig emerged. These were by Alexander Munro (1605-53) of Durness, who had been converted to the reformed faith under the preaching of exiled Edinburgh minister Rev Robert Bruce, and have been colloquially called Sandy Monroe's Verses. In 1685 around 80 copies of Bedell's translation were sent to the Scottish Highlands for use in parishes there (see here for more info), but they had limited relevance due to the linguistic differences.

• James Seaton Reid's account of Bedell's life and death is here from page 320 onwards. On the preceding pages, Reid includes a mind-boggling list of ministers and clergy who were all killed by 'rebels' and the barbaric methods used – as well as a list of 20 other ministers who all died of the same 'pestilential fever' that took Bedell.

Friday, May 12, 2023

“The new harbour is practically useless" - 3 years to build, and then 6 years to fix - The story of Portavogie’s first harbour

This is an article I assembled during the various lockdowns and slowdowns, and was published in the most recent edition of the Portavogie Culture and Heritage Society booklet, entitled Rocks of Ages.


Below: a postcard from my collection showing Portavogie (postmark on the reverse is dated 1902) with some small boats visible at McCammon Rocks in the background.

“During the past week there was a large number of Scotch and other craft engaged on this part of the coast … those engaged in the fishing trade on this part of the Ards coast feel keenly the want of a harbour at Portavogie, both for the accommodation of fishermen and others”.
– Newtownards Chronicle 18 June 1881

Portavogie developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, from a scattered collection of cottage homes to a thriving fishing port. Originally, the natural shelter of McCammon Rocks was ideal for small boats and was a major reason for a community to settle on our coast. But as time passed, the number of boats increased and the usefulness of McCammon was limited. There was a need for a proper harbour.

However, the government of the day, perhaps caught up in the ‘big politics’ of Home Rule for Ireland, charged ahead with a construction project without consulting any experienced local fishermen about what they actually needed, or what type of harbour was suitable.

The result was a “practically useless” harbour that local boats refused to use, which wasn’t fit for purpose, and which was severely damaged in its first storm. This is some of the story.

Below: Portavogie near 'Stable Hole', circa 1900


In September 1884, a delegation of Her Majesty’s Irish Fisheries Piers and Harbours Commissioners, comprised of Colonel John Philip Nolan (MP for Galway North), Sir Samuel Hercules Hayes (High Sheriff of Donegal), Sir Thomas Francis Brady and William Johnston (both of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fisheries) – toured the coastal towns of Ireland to assess the needs of the industry.

They visited the Ards Peninsula to investigate the potential for “a pier and harbour on this dangerous part of the coast, where so many wrecks are annually reported”. They held public meetings at Ballyhalbert and Cloughey where they met with local community leaders and fishermen.

Newspapers of the time paint a helpful picture of our village back then. On 25 July 1885 The Belfast Weekly News published an anonymous letter by ‘An Experienced Fisherman’ stating that there were “forty boats with seven men and a boy in each” at Portavogie, but that there was no harbour “save the lee of a rock”. He also said that 20 years before, both Ballywalter and Portavogie had tried to have the government build suitable harbours, but these efforts were unsuccessful. 

A few months later, on 26 October 1885, a special correspondent for the Belfast News-Letter visited Portavogie. He interviewed a local fisherman called Jemmy Hughes who said “there were twenty first class boats and from thirty to forty luggers … giving employment during the summer season to upwards of 400 men, all belonging to the village or its neighbourhood”, fishing as far north as the Shetland Islands and as far south as Kinsale. Their only shelter was at “M’Cammon’s Rock”. The village “contains a population of considerably over one thousand” but “the great want, likely soon to be remedied, is harbour accommodation. Had fishermen shelter for their boats they could fish and even trade during the winter”.

The need for a harbour was a constant factor in community life. In 1896, the Twelfth demonstration was held in Portavogie, on Monday 13th July, in a field provided by James Palmer, in which 14 local lodges participated. Rev A W Whitley, the minister of Cloughey Presbyterian Church, used his platform address “to call upon the Government to push forward the work of constructing fishery piers where needed along our coasts”. Having been minister to the fishermen of the area for 19 years, he said he “would also like to see a harbour at Portavogie”. 


After years of lobbying, work eventually began on a pier at Portavogie in spring 1901, paid for by the government’s Board of Works in Dublin. However there were problems from the outset – the budget and tender of £7500 did not allow for the removal of some large rocks, and proposed to build the pier around them instead. To make things worse, the Board and their contractors didn’t consult with any local fishermen.

Soon, cracks between central government in Dublin and local government in County Down started to appear.

Concern over this led to the setting up in August 1901 of a new Portavogie Harbour Committee of Down County Council, chaired by General William Montgomery of Greyabbey, with members Henry McGrath of Portaferry, Robert B. Caughey of Portaferry and George Dickson of Newtownards. They wrote to the Board of Works in Dublin to insist on the problem rocks being taken away. The Board refused. In November 1901 and February 1902 General Montgomery tried again, but still with no success. The Board of Works carried on with construction regardless, and in early 1904 they handed the new harbour, and responsibility for it, over to Down County Council.

No locals had been consulted and so in June 1904 when the work was complete, a report by Down County Council "condemned the structure, the best proof of its inutility being the fact that it was not being used by the fishermen of Portavogie".

The ‘blame game’ then began. On 29 July 1904 the Northern Whig published a lengthy, devastating, report by General Montgomery’s Committee, saying that when the Board of Works transferred responsibility to the Council, the Board had failed to follow “bylaws, rules or regulations respecting this work”. The rocks which had not been removed meant that the fleet was not using the new harbour. There were:

“some 50 or 60 sail at anchor at some distance to the north of the pier … the fishing fleet did not use the new pier … as it would be dangerous for them … grave objections have been made by the owners of fishing boats in consequence of the absence of a projecting arm to prevent swell in the harbour, as the strength of the incoming tide renders its use by small boats very dangerous to both boats and fishermen … the fishermen will not avail themselves of the use of the harbour until these defects are remedied, and they cannot advise the Council to undertake responsibility for its use as it at present exists”

The report got worse. The harbour was too small, a boat had already been damaged on the rocks, the top surface was too low and already disintegrating, and no access road or footpaths had been provided:

“the Committee found two trading vessels discharging cargoes at the harbour … the space at present available for berths was barely sufficient for the two vessels lying there, and, as above stated, there were about 60 boats outside in the roadstead”

“injury appears to have already occurred to a boat by grounding on a projecting spur of rock, opposite the pier face”

“the Committee found the state of the roadway on the pier to be very unsatisfactory, the concrete breaking up even under such traffic as has occurred during the short time the pier has been in use”.

“the roadway on the upper surface of the pier had not been carried to a sufficient height, and that the high water spring tides flow over it … the difficulty of using the pier is also accentuated by the absence of approaches from the pier entrance to the public roads”

The issue attracted more and more attention. Glasgow-born Thomas Lorimer Corbett had been the MP for North Down since 1900, and retained the seat in the elections of 1906 and 1910. He became involved in the stand-off between the Council and the Board of Works. In August 1904 he reported that: 

"the new harbour works at Portavogie are practically useless for the fishermen for whom they are intended ... during the construction of the harbour the attention of the Commissioners of Works was repeatedly called to the defects in their plans".

The very next spring, nature put an end to the speculation about the unsuitability of the harbour. On 15th March 1905, a “terrible south-east gale” hit Portavogie and "the new pier was absolutely covered with the sea, nothing but the wooden bridge was visible".

The storm smashed up nine boats of the local fleet which had been lying at anchor inside McCammon Rocks. A newspaper report said that

"had these boats been inside the pier, nothing would have been left of them but the moorings. This is another example (if one were needed) of how public money is wasted, owing to the refusal to consult local opinion on matters of this kind”.

In a debate in Parliament two weeks later, Scotland-born Thomas Wallace Russell MP for Tyrone South spoke on behalf of his party colleague James Wood MP for East Down. Russell raised the Portavogie harbour issue with Victor Cavendish, the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland:

“is he aware that the new pier at Portavogie, County Down, erected by the Board of Works in Ireland, has been destroyed by the recent storm; what steps he proposes to take to rectify the injury done, and will he consult and be guided by the advice of local opinion as to what should be done”.

Cavendish shrewdly dodged the issue, and replied that “The Board of Works have no advice of any damage to Portavogie Pier, which is not in their charge, but in that of the county authority”.

It was now time for the government to hear directly from the fishing community. On 25 April 1905 a delegation of two local fishermen, Mr Cully and Mr Mahood, and two members of Newtownards Rural District Council, Mr William Gowan (Ballyhalbert) and Robert B. Caughey J.P. (Portaferry), met with the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Walter Long

Long was in Ulster on a trip to Mount Stewart, to stay with the 6th Marquess of Londonderry, and the delegation met him there to tell him in person about what had happened. Mr Gowan said that “the new pier had been found of little value to the local fishermen. It was frequently submerged and afforded very little shelter to fishing boats. It had been computed that it would require upwards of £800 to repair the damaged boats”.

Mr Caughey advised that the Council proposed to meet with the County Surveyor and the engineer for the Board of Works, which the Chief Secretary agreed with. In return, the Chief Secretary also said he would make contact with the Department of Agriculture and Fishing.

After the meeting the Chief Secretary for Ireland wrote to Thomas Lorimer Corbett MP and said that he was

“greatly impressed with the businesslike, moderate, dignified way in which they presented their case. Nothing could possibly have been better done. I am very hopeful I shall be able to do something for them, they have done their best to help themselves”.

The public embarrassment, and the grassroots community pressure, paid off. By July 1905, the government had allocated a further £6216 for the improvement of Portavogie harbour.

However, the procurement and paperwork was slow, but thanks to the intervention of prominent Comber businessman Thomas Andrews, who was then the Chairman of Down County Council, it was approved in November 1907.

In the Northern Whig of 10 June 1908, the Council congratulated itself that it had secured a total of almost £15,000 for Portavogie harbour (which was the original inadequate cost, and the subsequent improvement cost added on top).

By May 1909 the work was well advanced, to the satisfaction of the locals and the Council, with the expectation that it would be finished by the end of the summer. In the end, it was summer 1910 before it was complete.

Portavogie’s first harbour took 3 years to build, and then 6 years to fix. The harbour has had many upgrades over the years, especially for the major three year project from 1952–55, and again in 1978. 

More improvements are planned for the coming years. The big lesson from the story of the village’s very first harbour is that it is essential for government agencies to always consult with the community and residents.


Here's a YouTube video of someone's cine film of the 1955 reopening of the harbour. Bowler-hatted gents, 'dunchered' men and Sunday best women – celebrating and signalling the end of the previous age, and the start of something new. For them it was a bright new era, but which itself is now long gone.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

John Stuart Mill, 'On Liberty' – and 'England and Ireland' (1868)

The government of the Republic of Ireland looks set to implement some of the most far-reaching and 'shockingly draconian' 'hate speech' laws in the western world. But who gets to define 'hate'? The current government? A future one? A recently unsuccessful candidate for the leadership of the SNP, Kate Forbes, wrote this tremendous article today in defence of free speech in Scotland. Some years ago, conservative evangelicals I know took great delight when a play they objected to was 'cancelled' by a local council here in Northern Ireland. I did what I could to explain to them why free speech for everyone, including those they disagreed with, was far more important than 'winning' through the temporary numerical strength of representation on a sub-committee.

John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859; Wikipedia here) is regarded as 'one of the most celebrated defences of free speech ever written'. In 1868, he wrote England and Ireland. Over 50 years before 'partition'. A century before the Troubles. Long before the EU. Long before Brexit. Have a look at this extract: –

"... In all this I am supposing that Ireland would succeed in establishing a regular and orderly government: but suppose that she failed? Suppose that she had to pass through an interval of partial anarchy first?

What if there were a civil war between the Protestant and Catholic Irish, or between Ulster and the other provinces? Is it in human nature that the sympathies of England should not be principally with the English Protestant colony, and would not she either help that side, or be constantly believed to be on the point of helping it?

For generations it is to be feared that the two nations would be either at war, or in a chronic state of precarious and armed peace, each constantly watching a probable enemy so near at hand that in an instant they might be at each other's throat. By this state of their relations it is almost superfluous to say that the poorer of the two countries would suffer most. To England it would be an inconvenience; to Ireland a public calamity, not only in the way of direct burthen, but by the paralysing effect of a general feeling of insecurity upon industrial energy and enterprise...

... Ireland might be invaded and conquered by a great military power. She might become a province of France. This is not the least likely thing to befall her, if her independence of England should be followed by protracted disorders, such as to make peaceably disposed persons welcome an armed pacificator capable of imposing on the conflicting parties a common servitude. How bitter such a result of all their struggles ought to be to patriotic Irishmen..."

Full text here