Friday, June 30, 2023

William Cowan Limited, Belfast - Irish and Scotch Whisky - 1910 billhead

Very thankful to the kind man who passed this beauty on to me recently.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

William's Catholic allies - the 'Grand Alliance' and the 'League of Augsburg', 1689

Thanks to the friend who told me about this recently.
Above - Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, from this website

"The Grand Alliance was the anti-French coalition formed on 20 December 1689 between the Dutch Republic, England and the Holy Roman Empire. It was signed by the two leading opponents of France: William III, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and (since April 1689) King of England, and Emperor Leopold I, on behalf of the Archduchy of Austria.

With the later additions of Spain and Savoy, the coalition fought the Nine Years' War (1688–1697) against France that ended with the Peace of Ryswick (1697)" 

– from Wikipedia here.


Leopold I of Austria was Holy Roman Emperor, a title of enormous historical and religious significance to the Roman Catholic Church across Europe (back in 2019 there were large celebrations in Austria to mark the 500th anniversary of the first of them, Maximilian I, with the hashtag #FollowMax500).

That the Holy Roman Emperor and King William III of Orange signed this formal military alliance in December 1689 will be a surprise to many. My recent post on the notorious Conrad Von Rosen and his persecutions in both France and Ireland show just how vicious the era was. But this 'Grand Alliance' shows that there was also great complexity to the period and widespread European Catholic opposition to the imperial ambitions and persecuting extremes of King James II and his cousin, France's King Louis XIV.

Pope Innocent XI and Pope Alexander VIII's support for William are better known, as is the infamous painting by Pieter van der Meulen which was vandalised in 1933 and today is in the art collection of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


Another interesting source is John Mitchel's History of Ireland, from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time (published 1864, available on GoogleBooks here). Mitchel's pro-slavery stance has brought some pressure to remove his statue in Newry, but his History is a fascinating read, in particular his account in Chapter II of King William III – here is a quote that Mitchel reprints, originally from Matthew O'Conor who was author of History of the Irish Catholics (1813, on GoogleBooks here):

"In matters of religion, King William was liberal, enlightened, and philosophic. Equally a friend to religious as to civil liberty, he granted toleration to dissenters of all descriptions  regardless of their speculative opinions. In the early part of his reign, the Irish Catholics enjoyed the full and free exercise of their religion. They were protected in their persons and properties; their industry was encouraged; and under his mild and fostering administration, the desolation of the late war began to disappear, and prosperity, peace, and confidence to smile once more on the country."

Mitchel lays most of the blame for what he calls "the most disastrous epochs of Ireland" not solely at the feet of King William III, but rather the Dublin Parliament and Lord Henry Capell the Lord Deputy of Ireland who failed to implement the 1691 Treaty of Limerick. Mitchel writes that Capell "was desirous of doing all in his power to infringe that treaty".

Mitchel also refers to Dublin-born William Molyneux's 1698 pamphlet attacking the Dublin Parliament, entitled The Case of Ireland being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England (which he is said to have conferred with his friend John Locke about the content of. Here's the whole thing online, and here's an extract from the Preface:

(Ian McBride has analysed Molyneux in this paper, freely available online).


And of course, for generations, the Dublin Parliament was no friend to the Ulster-Scots. 

These are just a few references. It's a very complicated time and there are thousands of other sources.

I don't know how to reconcile all of this information with the popular assumptions and misrepresentations. But the more I have read the more I have come to understand that much of what our generation perceives about the past, through inherited simplifications and even sectarianisations, is wrong.

Other writers, like Frank Hugh O'Donnell (1846–1916), have unexpected things to say about that era (see previous post here). History has always been appropriated by later movements and organisations to advance their own agendas. Perhaps there is a need to radically rewrite our history.

(Photo below is one of my own of John Mitchel's statue in Newry. One of the GAA clubs located near me was named after him, and their ground is Mitchel Park.)

Monday, June 26, 2023

Stuck in the 1980s

This video, released in 2004 by American band Bowling For Soup, is a risqué comedy-rock send-up of a whole collection of 1980s music clichés. This was the era when MTV made the imagery of music just as important as the sound - Robert Palmer, breakdancing, RUN DMC, George Michael, Motley Crue and Whitesnake - images burned into the memory of a generation.

In 2017 I had a business encounter with a man who was, in a different way, also very much stuck in a 1980s mentality. He was the owner of a large private sector company in NI who I was invited to meet, with a view to me doing a brand refresh with them. He was a little older than me, and during a group meeting he went off on an incensed rant about one of his London customers who had that day invited him to a Chelsea FC match, corporate hospitality package and all. He spun off into a great diatribe about Chelsea fans being racists and how outraged he was to be asked, and how he would never darken the door of Stamford Bridge and how he might stop supplying that particular customer in future.

In the 1980s these accusations were true, and the attitudes weren't limited to fringe fans groups, but according to former players were evident within the club itself. Other football clubs in England were similar.

But this was a company boardroom in 2017. He knew very little, but had outdated yet vehement opinions. I was pretty shocked, as I've been following Chelsea since the 1986-87 season (Northern Ireland international striker Kevin Wilson joined the next season) and I knew that all of that stuff was long-gone.

By the time of this 2017 outburst a huge number of black players had been Chelsea heroes. I was at Stamford Bridge in August 1996 for black Dutch icon Ruud Gullit's first match as manager – Gullit became the first black manager in top-flight football in England, and at the end of that season he was the first black manager to win a trophy in England when he guided Chelsea to victory in the FA Cup in May 1997, beating Middlesborough 2-0, with one of Chelsea's black players, Eddie Newton, scoring the second goal. 

The explosion of the mass media in the 1980s created images and forged enduring memories. But the world has moved on.

Never mind the music and the football – Northern Ireland is nothing like what it was in the 1980s, but many people seem to still be stuck there. Look around. Everything is different now. The way people think, the values they have, the way they receive information, the outlooks they have. All different. As W.B. Yeats wrote in 'Easter 1916' (with another Motley Crue inference):

Being certain that they and I   
But lived where motley is worn:   
All changed, changed utterly:   

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Marshall Conrad Von Rosen - rounding up Protestant civilians in France and Ulster, 1686-1689: "orders to give no quarter, or spare either age or sex"

Above: a detail from this painting by Huguenot artist François Dubois (1529–1584), depicting events that he had personally witnessed.

It's an ominous skillset for a new recruit. "Who's experienced in rounding up Protestant civilians?". This is the candidate that King James II was looking for in 1689. The very man for the job was in France. Having been in Inishowen a few weeks ago, recent reading has introduced me to Conrad Von Rosen (Wikipedia here). His portrait is shown below. He is described here by Nick Garbutt as "an exponent of the darkest arts of war".

He was born in today's Latvia, and was a Lutheran by birth. However, a career fuelled by bloodlust and ambition saw him become a monster, a 'French butcher'. Protestantism was made illegal in France in 1685, and the full force of the French state was unleashed against civilians of the Reformed faith, known as Huguenots, a community who have been described as 'London's first refugees'. Similar to the Presbyterian Covenanter experience in Scotland in the same era, it was an unimaginably horrific time. Von Rosen was very good at his job. The Languedoc area was particularly persecuted, culminating in the War of the Camisards (Wikipedia here).

In the 1716 book Memoirs of Ireland from the Restoration, to the Present Times .... By the Author of the Secret History of Europe by John Oldmixon, Von Rosen's notorious, horrific, actions in France and Ireland are described as this –

"... But nothing will give us a more lively and terrible idea of King James's barbarity to his Protestant subjects, and his disposition to govern himself by the maxims of France, than his giving the command of the army before Derry, which had been commanded by the traitor Hamilton, to Monsieur Rosen, a French man, who had in his own country been employed to dragoon the Protestants of Languedoc.

This officer immediately put in practice, the military execution of the French papists against the Huguenots; and issued out an order for all the Protestants from Inishowen and the sea coasts to Charlemont - men, women, and children - to be driven before the walls of Londonderry, that the garrison might be distressed by the taking of them in, or their friends be destroyed by the cannon of the besieged. The words of this French butcher's orders are these;

That from the Barony of Inishowen, and the sea coast round about, as far as Charlemont, the faction be gathered together, whether protected or not, and immediately brought to the walls of Londonderry, where it shall be lawful for those that are in the town (in case they have any pity for them) to open the gates and receive them into the town, otherwise they shall be forced to see their friends and near relations all STARVED for want of food; he having resolved not to leave one of them at home, nor any thing to maintain them; and that all hope of succour may be taken away by the landing of any troops in these parts from England, he further DECLARE, that in case they refuse to submit, he will forth with cause all the said country to be destroyed, that if succours should hereafter be sent from England, they may perish with them for want of food.

Pursuant to this order, the dragoons and soldiers first stripped them, and then drove the whole country for thirty miles about before them, not sparing nurses with their sucking children, women big with child, nor old decrepit creatures; some women in labour, some that were just brought to bed, were driven among the rest . The very popish officers who executed these orders, confessed that it was the most dismal sight they ever had seen, and that the cries of the poor people seemed to be still in their ears. They gathered 6 or 7000, and kept many of them for a week together, without meat or drink. Several hundreds died in the place before they were dismissed … the generality of them perished afterwards for want, and many were knocked on the head by the soldiers. The officers who had the charge of seeing these orders executed, were the Duke of Berwick, Colonel Sutherland, and Colonel Sarsfield, for which notable exploit they ought to be remembered with infamy..."


Corralling thousands of civilians to use them either as a human shield, or as bait. This order by Von Rosen was issued on 30 June 1689 - the full version is online here. The rounding up, and attempted extermination, of a minority. This is what the 'French state' and the 'British state' did to their own civilians in the 1680s. The civilians did not break. This is why Revolution was the only alternative.

• Source on GoogleBooks here, starting on page 217

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Edward Bruce's 'Northburgh' Castle (Greencastle, Inishowen, Donegal)

A few pics from last week's road trip, of the remains of the castle that has been called 'Edward Bruce's Northern Court'. Strategically positioned at the mouth of Lough Foyle, Greencastle (also known as Northburgh), was built by Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, in 1305 at a time when he was extending his authority in the north of Ireland. It was captured by Edward Bruce in 1316, and his army held it until his death in battle in 1318.

The Ulster Journal of Archaeology said:

'... Edward Bruce "remained quiet" for a year, or, as it was said, "reigned" in Ulster. The historian Moore observes that the Scots, "taking possession of Northburgh castle, sat down quietly in their quarters, and Bruce kept his court, and took cognizance of all pleas, as composedly as if it were in times of profound peace." The mention of Northburgh seemingly implies that this fortress was Bruce's head quarters. Our annalist, Grace, states that the Scots had previously taken this place, which is better known as "Greencastle", situated on the further point of Inishowen; a situation so remote that it could not have served as a central post, for which the principal town in Eastern Ulster, namely Carrickfergus, was most suitable; and here, at this period, the metrical narrative says "Schyr Edward the worthy, with all hys chivalry, was Hand ...'

(Magilligan Point and Binevenagh in County Londonderry are visible across the lough.) Re: my previous post, Brian Richmond enjoyed working with me on the Bruce project in 2007 as Northburgh/Greencastle was just a few miles from his own house.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

My friend Brian Richmond (1961–2007)

Brian Richmond was a colleague and friend, our offices both separated and connected by two short flights of stairs back in our days at GCAS, in the former Russell Court Hotel building on Belfast's Lisburn Road. Brian was one of the Creative Directors of GCAS Advertising - a copywriting wordsmith, a highly gifted and intelligent man, and great crack too. I joined GCAS Design in early 1997, and somehow became its managing director around 2000. Brian and I would banter about music, history, faith, politics, all sorts of stuff. We had a kind of 'fantasy' about one day doing an ad campaign for IKEA, using the Gram Parsons version of 'Dark End of the Street'. It's a long story...

Around 2005/2006 Brian had an opportunity to relocate to Bredagh Glen outside Moville in Inishowen, and work remotely from there. He emailed me on 27 March 2007 to say that the backache he'd recently developed might be a hernia or gallstones. Then on 9th April he emailed me to say it was pancreatic cancer.  Knowing his time was short, he started to write his experiences on a blog he entitled Captain Pancreas. His first post was 19 April 2007 and his final post 22 August 2007. Only 125 days.

He makes mention of me a few times in those blog posts. I was Chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency at the time (which was just a 3 days per month commitment - at least that's what the officials said...) and we had a board meeting in Letterkenny on Friday 27 April 2007, after which I drove to see Brian. I visited him a few other times too during those 125 days – he took me to visit beautiful Stroove Beach on one of those, with his wife and son – and I was in frequent email communication with him as his fading strength and hospitalisations allowed.  

Brian had some Ballywalter ancestry but was very much a Belfast boy, still bearing echoes of the influence (and perhaps theological scars) of mission hall Sunday Schools and the vocabulary that they use. He was wary and sceptical of aspects of typical Northern Ireland conservative evangelicalism. You can see some of that in the blog posts.

At first Brian was very hostile to Ulster-Scots concepts – there was a notorious incident involving him sticking an 'anti' newspaper cutting on the notice board in the GCAS kitchen, to which I counter-stuck something in response, He went berserk and stormed up the stairs verbally lambasting me in front of my design team! – but to be fair to him, his only knowledge of Ulster-Scots then was the politically-driven current affairs media caricature coverage.  This was back in the old days when people could disagree, and discuss, and differ, and still remain good friends. Over time and conversation, he came to better understand.

In those last months he helped me on the 'Robert The Bruce 700' project that I was leading (in a sense) at the Ulster-Scots Agency – I did the raw research and writing, and Brian polished it into proper sentences, for a series of articles in the Agency's monthly newspaper. Sadly the subsequent standalone reprint tabloid editions removed both of our names from the authoring of those, I don't know why, but we were both 'expunged'. Brian also helped me with some of the Belfast/Nashville publications as the 'Sister Cities' relationship was being revived at that time. He was also working on a self-motivated screenplay called "Billy Antrim", about Billy the Kid's reputed Ulster roots.

Brian has been on my mind in recent weeks, so with the long days now here, one bright morning last week I set off early on the long drive to visit his grave, at St Columba's Church, Ballincrae, outside Moville. I left here at 6:00am, made a few stops, and got there bang on 9:00am. It was good to be there and to remember our times together. To see his name etched in stone. 

At the bottom of his gravestone inscription are the words "A pilgrim on his journey", I expect purposely reminiscent of the beautiful track "Pilgrim" by Steve Earle which I have posted above. Brian and I were both at an acoustic concert that Steve Earle did in the Ulster Hall in March 1997, not long after I had joined GCAS. We spotted each other, and bonded.

Brian's funeral was an ecumenical service, reflecting his family set-up. The first hymn sang was Psalm 23. The other one was 'There Is A Redeemer, Jesus God's Own Son'. I had the honour of saying a few words about Brian during the service, as did two other friends. Some were there from Sandown Road Baptist Church – if memory serves me correctly they included an uncle of Brian's called Harry Hawthorne who also took part. That contingent chatted with me for a while at McGrory's Hotel in Culdaff, a renowned local hotel and music venue where everyone went after the service and committal. Brian was thrilled to be living so close to McGrory's, and the potential gigs he'd get to experience there. 

I really hope that Terry and Matthew are well. He loved them both very very much.

It's hard to believe it's been more than 15 years. 

In memory of Brian. 

(PS - I have mentioned Brian here a few times, and have had some emails from people who knew him, who found those posts via Google searches, and then made contact with me. I hope this post is helpful for those who are searching)

Below: a detail from the artwork of the Bruce project, dated 9th April 2007. This was the very same day that he emailed me with his diagnosis.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Shaping the thinking

This article on Middle East Eye is really interesting - just one of a series on there – on the appearance of what it calls 'controlled spontaneity'. Government policy, PR agencies, message-makers.  Here is another one. Do a search there and see what else comes up.

The author of these, Ian Cobain, has written about Northern Ireland in his 2020 book Anatomy of a Killing. I am sure that, given our history, these kinds of persuasion strategies have been required here too. This renowned book by Paul Foot touches on some of that - it was recommended to me some years ago.

A relative, now very elderly, worked at GCHQ but has never breathed a word about it. It's unhealthy to go too far down these kinds of 'rabbit holes' but the activities and principles are worth being aware of. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

1848 Poster - Orange, Green... and Blue?

This poster is in the collection of the National Library of Ireland (link here), a meeting held in April 1848, months before the 'Young Ireland Rebellion' of July 1848. The colour scheme is not accidental. The Young Irelander Thomas Francis Meagher had unveiled his proposed tricolour flag for Ireland on 7th March 1848 (which had a Red Hand of Ulster in the white third) – soon after, one of his friends created an amended one – which was widely used at large public rallies for some years after.

No white in it.

More to follow...


Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Conditional Loyalty, Limited Monarchy, Maximum Liberty

Classic rhetoric has the 'three part list', eg Julius Caesar's "Veni, Vidi, Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered), or even in our era "Snap, Crackle & Pop". Or dare I say, post-Covid, "Build Back Better".

We remember threes. Brand names should be no more than four syllables. Advertising headlines should never have more than nine words. There are patterns in our culture.

This one – "Conditional Loyalty, Limited Monarchy, Maximum Liberty" – seems to me to be a decent summary of the Ulster-Scots ideological philosophical community experience, from the Biblical covenants right through the era of revolutions to modern democracy. In Scotland, Ulster and America.

Somebody needs to write a book.


PS - in a similar vein, in November 2002 I came up with "Mined in Scotland, Forged in Ulster, Exported Worldwide" as a slogan for the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council. You can search this blog for previous references to it.

Recently a friend - unaware that it was one of mine - relayed to me an alternative theory for where it came from. For anyone looking in, I can assure you 100% it was me who came up with it! I remember some sniffy condescending journalist saying that it was a message about manufacturing, which was appropriate as Ulster-Scots was a manufactured identity. Welcome to the age of the wisecrack.

Actually, it was an attempt to improve on the older "Brewed in Scotland, bottled in Ulster, uncorked in America", which itself seems to have been a development from the 1906 "distilled in Scotland, decanted in Ireland, uncorked in America" which I have blogged about before, here.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

"Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy" - a Facebook group worth joining, and the 1631 John Bonar poem.

Digital community is now part of life, and in many ways it has a power far beyond real physical community, in that it can instantly connect like-minded people from around the world. Since the early 1990s at least there has been a community-led ambition to form a scholarly Ulster-Scots Academy. Despite numerous governmental announcements to fund such a thing, 'the system' has not yet enabled that to actually happen. (Over the decades, it transpired that behind the scenes a few, now deceased, individuals had set up private companies awaiting the flow of funding, but these schemes all came to nothing, which was probably the best outcome).

The 'community Academy' concept is still the right one. So, some years ago, a Facebook group of a similar name - Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy - was set up and ever since it has consistently been the best online 'space' for Ulster-Scots related sharing and discussion. It presently has over 1400 members, from all over the world. One of the things I enjoy most there is where individual researchers post their latest finds and discoveries for others to see and comment upon.

In particular, Dr Philip Robinson is doing outstanding work on the 1631 sea voyage poem by John Bonar and is occasionally posting fresh information about it – the poem is an important discovery that I have some connection with. Just over three years ago, in April 2020, I posted this short article on this blog about Bonar. In October of that year, an academic in Canada contacted me as she had actually found the 'missing' 1631 poem when researching an archive in New Zealand. She Googled it, found my blog post, 'checked me out' via a mutual friend in Scotland who thankfully vouched for me. She then made direct contact with me and supplied pristine digital images of the original manuscript.

On the Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy group, Philip has described the Bonar poem as “the most important 17th century discovery of our generation”. I'm busting to see his final work on it. 

There are people around the world who understand the importance of Ulster-Scots heritage. Hopefully one day 'the system' here will finally get it.

• Facebook link here