Friday, September 29, 2023

Presbyterians against Home Rule for Ireland, February 1912 - "We ask no favour; we have no ascendancy – we never had – and we seek none"

This famous event of February 1912 perplexes many. What on earth had happened between the apparent widespread Ulster Presbyterian support for rebellion against the government of Ireland in 1798*, but their General Assembly's almost total opposition to Home Rule for Ireland in 1886, in 1893 and in 1912?

I came across an address from the February 1912 Presbyterian 'Anti Home Rule Convention' in an obscure book entitled Intolerance in Ireland, Facts Not Fiction – By An Irishman which was written anonymously in 1913. I acquired it just recently and had never heard of it before. It has over 200 pages detailing all sorts of persecutions of people from the various reformed denominations across Ireland, between around 1893 and 1913. Most have been collated from newspapers of the time, and first-hand interviews.

It is pretty mind-boggling as these stories are not told or known any more. Appalling anti-Catholic prejudice has been well documented, and rightly so. Equally appalling anti-Presbyterian, anti-Baptist, anti-Methodist, anti-Church of Ireland prejudice is, as far as I know, hardly documented at all. This 200 page book focuses on the province of Munster where the anonymous author lived; he says in the introduction that the "persecution in Ireland" is "continually going on all over the country, in Ulster, Leinster and Connaught as well as Munster. If a complete book were written it would fill many volumes".

Anyway, this specific Presbyterian address was entitled 'An Appeal to the Free Churches of England and Wales', and was issued by the Moderator and the Chairman of the Committee on the State of the Country.  It ends as follows -

With old newspapers from 'these islands' now available digitally on websites such as the British Newspaper Archive, it is now easier than ever to research and see what actually took place. So, not only could the accounts in this book be verified, but others could be found too, if they were indeed given any coverage during those highly charged and partisan times.

This is also a good example of why free speech is so important, because throughout history pretty much every 'ruling elite' has sought to suppress information and free expression. We often speak of the 'free press' in terms of the freedom of the press to report and comment. However, no press is free in a financial sense. They are all owned by someone, and financed by someone – and advertisers add another layer of influence. The owner's objectives, and the flow of money, are two of the things that control what gets reported and how it gets reported.

Wherever in the world it happens, the toxic combination of institutionalised religion and politics, the pursuit of social control and political influence, and the power and wealth which comes with that, is the complete opposite of what Jesus Christ himself said when he told the Roman puppet colonial governor Pontius Pilate 'my kingdom is not of this world'.

Institutional power is not the same as personal faith.


* As ever, it's not that simple. A read of Rev William Steele Dickson's Narrative of the Confinement and Exile (1812) is a good place to start to see the complexities. He was minister at Ballyhalbert and Portaferry and my father has spoken of him to me a few times - even though their lives were almost exactly 200 years apart - such was Steele's enduring legacy in our area.

• Another story which has relevance - which I am thankful to a friend for introducing me to quite recently - was the Dungannon Convention of 15 February 1782. That's another essential context for understanding the pre-1798 era.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

William Gibson, Banbridge Home Ruler, and 'Ulster Scotch'

I found this reference to 'Ulster Scotch' in this 1912 publication. It was produced for an English audience and full of quotes from fairly high-level people endorsing Home Rule for Ireland. Gibson was from Banbridge but I know nothing more about him. Interesting that the term 'Ulster Scotch' was in usage and understood.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Uganda, Iddi Amin and the 'outsiders'

I travelled across southern Uganda in August, retracing my wife's early years when she lived there - her father was a young medic there for some years, setting up rural hospitals and working with Save the Children Fund. I took these pics in the capital city, Kampala. This infamous leader is why, like so many others, Hilary and her family were forced to leave Uganda.

We heard some truly horrifying stories when we visited this former 'armoury' within the grounds of the Kabaka's Palace. The 'outsiders' were only his first objective, after they'd been ousted he then got to work on his own 'internal' opponents. Amin used to send soldiers out into the streets to round up random civilians, forced them into this concrete bunker where they stood shin-deep in water. And then an electrical charge was applied.

Uganda has 5 kingdoms (the Kabaka is the King of one of those, called Buganda) and 56 tribes with different languages, all of whom have their own migratory stories of how their ancestors arrived here, and then there are clans within each tribe. People from Arabia, India and Europe have also come to Uganda.

The “outsider” is often a convenient scapegoat. “They” are to blame for all of the problems. The brutality of President Iddi Amin’s era from 1971-79 shows that conflict doesn’t require outsiders, flags, ethnic or cultural differences, or politics - just a human heart that is fixated upon the selfish pursuit of power and greed.

But it’s easy for us to see the flaws in others, especially notorious or celebrated individuals like Idi Amin. Human nature is universal. Buy a mirror.

It seems that these days, every week in Ireland, there is more vicious vitriol than ever. Someone asked me a while ago if violence could ever return to Ireland. He was shocked when I said "yes". There is a generation on the way up who have been radicalised and propagandised. The human heart is, as the Bible says, "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?". And the first human death in the Bible - when Cain killed his brother Abel - was a religious murder.

As Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel tells us, we all have within us both the charming Dr Jekyll, and also the potential to become a monstrous Mr Hyde. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

'The Orange Way' - in the footsteps of William - a 350 mile walking trail from Brixham to London

Much as I love Northern Ireland, sometimes to understand 'us' better it's good to escape 'us'. I'm in Devon a few times in the year and on my most recent visit a few weeks back I have found that there is an 'Orange Way' - a trail which follows the route taken by William Prince of Orange in 1688, from his landing place at Brixham Harbour on 5th November 1688 all the way to his arrival at St James's Palace in London on 18th December 1688. There are statues of William in both places, and various monuments and memorials along the way.

I was aware of scattered places in the south of England which have links to William's era, but I didn't know there was a coherent, mapped, walking trail which follows the route that he actually took. It's 350 miles / 560 kilometres long, and a few walkers, writers and bloggers have published their own journey experiences and advices. Leslie Ham published his account, The Orange Way: A Long Distance Walk in 2003. He broke the route down into 15 sections.

Brixham Harbour on the 'English Riviera' at Torbay is beautiful. It's one of the UK's most important harbours and plenty of my Portavogie neighbours know it well, having landed catches there over the years. A famous statue of William was installed at the head of the harbour, by public subscription. The foundation stone was laid on the bicentenary of his landing in 1888. The inscription says that the statue was unveiled one year later by His Excellency Count De Bylandt and C.A. Bentinck, a descendant of one of those who arrived with William. Local dignitaries from England, Holland, the US Navy, the Royal Navy and also the Grand Orange Lodge of England took part in the ceremony. Here are a few pics of it - it was made by W & T Wills of London. 

To be honest the face is terrible, but the nearby fish and chip shops are outstanding. Various cafés and ice cream shops are named for William.

• There is also an obelisk in memory of William at the side of the harbour, which, according to, was built exactly 200 years ago in 1823. There used to be a gas lamp on the top, and a flat stone known as "King William's Stone" at its base, which said "On this stone and near this spot, William Prince of Orange, first set his foot on his landing in England, the 5th November 1688". In Thomas Babington Macaulay's monumental History of England (1848) he wrote this description:

... (William) landed where the quay of Brixham now stands. The whole aspect of the place has been altered. Where we now see a port crowded with shipping, and a market place swarming with buyers and sellers, the waves then broke on a desolate beach: but a fragment of the rock on which the deliverer stepped from his boat has been carefully preserved, and is set up as an object of public veneration in the centre of that busy wharf...

A later account (Christian World, 7 October 1870, page 7) says that the obelisk was 'in a dingy, disreputable state' but that Macaulay rescued the monument - it had originally been near Brixham fish market, and then was moved to the ballast bank, where it was "allowed to lie there as a thing of no use. From this ignominious resting place it was rescued through Lord Macaulay. Happening to visit the neighbourhood with some ladies, he inquired for the obelisk and found it at the ballast bank. Whereupon he sharply reprimanded the Brixhamites, and the result was the present monument".

The obelisk has been moved around Brixham a few times, it was moved to its current position for the tercentenary in 1988. The harbour-facing side of the obelisk now contains the original inscribed stone; the street-facing side has an inscription from 1988 when Queen Elizabeth II unveiled it in its current position.


• Parliament House, Stoke Gabriel is a short distance from Brixham and its where William reputedly met with local allies including Sir Edward Seymour, to discuss their plans for Revolution. It's a beautiful building, I had visited it before back in 2010 (see previous post here) but this time I had a chat with the owner who recently purchased and renovated it, and it's now available as an AirBnB. An inscribed stone memorial in the garden commemorates the tradition of William's Parliament.

• At Newton Abbot, there is a memorial stone marking at St Leonard's Tower at the base of the pedestal where Rev John Reynell read aloud William's Declaration for the first time (the pics below are not my own). 

And so on. You get the general idea.

Is the 'Way' authentic? Yes. The route was journalled at the time by some of those who accompanied William, such as the Rev. John Whittle, one of the chaplains in William's army. His detailed An Exact Diary of the Late Expedition of His Illustrious Highness the Prince of Orange, (Now King of Great Britain) From His Palace at the Hague, To His Landing at Torbay; And from thence To His Arrival at White-Hall. Giving a Particular Account of all that happened, and every Days March. By a Minister, Chaplain in the Army. was published the next year, on 23 April 1689.

More recently, in 2022, author Philip Badcott published The March of William of Orange through Devon which is another excellent, detailed, account.

The trail snakes its way eastwards across England, through villages and market towns, and past buildings which have various associations with William's journey.

• At the end of The Orange Way, the splendour of London is a very different experience to the Devon countryside and coastline. The 1907 statue of William, at Kensington Palace, and his own final destination at nearby St James's Palace, conclude 'The Orange Way'. There's a kind of 'circle of life' moment at St James' Palace - this is where cousins William and Mary were married in 1677, neither of them realising that just 11 years later they'd be back in the very same building preparing to be crowned King and Queen, having deposed her father, King James II.

• Completed after their reign – and so William and Mary never set foot in it – the Old Naval College at Greenwich isn't on the official 'Orange Way', it's about 10 miles further east of the two London palaces. But it should be added for completeness, as a kind of appendix, because it's where the magnificent painted ceiling, described as Britain's Cistine Chapel, can be seen. Created from 1708-24 by artist Sir James Thornhill, its formal title is The Triumph of Peace and Liberty Over Tyranny. Pics below are from my visit there in summer 2019.

England's 'The Orange Way' a very different kind of 'Orange Walk' than the ones we are familiar with in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Our NI prism has diminished understandings of the full history and significance of what took place in 1688. Far from our narrow contexts, William and Mary's Bill of Rights of February 1689 is depicted in stone in the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland, which was built in 1909. I am hoping to visit it early next year. 

These historical events are far bigger than the myopic Northern Ireland context. Perhaps, one day, they can be re-told and re-defined.

The beautiful, gentle, Ulster-esque landscapes of Devon are a marvellous context to start to rediscover 'King Billy'. The Orange Way is the sort of trail that a travelling historian like Michael Portillo, Tony Robinson or Julia Bradbury could do a superb TV job with.

• The Orange Way Wikipedia entry is here
• Blog by Edna MacLoy here
• Hiking blog here


Whittle's diary is online on GoogleBooks here. It recalls William's arrival in London as this –

"...Most of the Nobility congratulated his Highness's safe arrival at St James's and on the 20th (December) the Aldermen and Common Council of the City of London attended his Highness upon the same account and the Lord Mayor being disabled by Sickness Sir George Treby Kt Recorder of the Honourable City of London made an Oration to his Highness to this effect: 

Great Sir, 

When we look back to the last Month and contemplate the swiftness and fulness of our present Deliverance astonished, we think it miraculous Your Highness, led by the Hand of Heaven, and called by the Voice of the People, has preserved our dearest Interest, the Protestant Religion, which is Primitive Christianity restored. 

Our Laws which are our ancient Title to our Lives, Liberties and Estates and without which this World were a Wilderness. But what Retribution can we make to your Highness? Our Thoughts are full charged with Gratitude. Your Highness has a lasting Monument in the Hearts in the Prayers in the Praises of all good Men amongst us. And late Posterity will celebrate your ever glorious Name, till Time shall be no more. 

December the 25th the Lords Spiritual and Temporal assembled at the House of Lords Westminster and there agreed upon and signed an Address wherein they humbly desired his Highness in this Conjuncture to take upon him the Administration of Publick Affairs both Civil and Military and the Disposal of the Publick Revenue for the preservation of our Religion, Rights, Laws, Liberties and Properties and of the Peace of the Nation, and that his Highness would take into his Care the Condition of Ireland and endeavour by the most speedy and effectual Means to prevent the Dangers threatening that Kingdom..."

It's quite the Christmas present – "Dear William, please run the country, and sort out Ireland". 

• Brixham in Devonia, by Charles Gregory (1896) has lots of information. Online at the British Library here.

Below: OS map 1865, with King William III Monument marked.

Below: OS map 1869, with King William III Monument marked.

Below: OS map 1874, with 'stone' beside the fish market marked. This is pretty much where the obelisk is today.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Electricity Board for Northern Ireland - logo with the Red Hand of Ulster

It is well known that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board logo, from around 1950–1995ish, featured the Red Hand of Ulster. In March 1997 I joined the design company (GCAS) which had scrapped it, due to international consumer research the NITB had carried out which said it visually communicated "stop, no entry" and "don't come here". Over this past summer I came across these old Electricity Board for Northern Ireland logos, also with a Red Hand, from the 1960s and 1970s.

Symbols have no meaning, it's our perceptions of them that give them their meaning. So, in our era a generation later, maybe the Red Hand might be re-thought of as a friendly 'High Five" rather than an intimidating stop sign.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Dúlamán, "Dullie Men", Dulse and Ulster-Scots edible seaweed gathering

Which came first? And does that matter?

The older folk around Ballywalter still refer to the local guys that gather the edible seaweed called dulse (Wikipedia page here) as the "dullie men". Dulse grows pretty thickly there at a rock known as the "dullie roak".  Ernie Dunbar's dulse is the best. Below is an article from the Belfast News-Letter, 1 July 1946, describing these and also mentioning a "dullie beach" and "dullie floats". I grew up with this name and pronunciation and I still hear it used. 

For Ulster-Scots, these terms are very specifically used for dulse only, not seaweed generically.

In 1976 Clannad released an album called Dúlamán (on YouTube here) and in west Donegal a distillery produces An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin (website here).

Culture flows in multiple directions. I don't know if my County Down dullie men predate dúlamán, or vice versa, or if they exist(ed) simultaneously. I also don't buy that just because there's an Irish spelling now that it therefore must linguistically predate the Scots version.

The old Scots & Ulster-Scots crack became the Irish craic in the 1970s (see Irish Times article here). Ulster-Scots largely abandoned traditional music during the same period (see Nigel Boullier's marvellous book Handed Down for details of that - see ITMA website here). Ulster-Scots have stopped doing the Christmas rhymers I grew up with, and their road bowls playing was consigned to history long ago. Yet these two traditions remain alive in Armagh and Fermanagh, within what would be regarded as Irish cultural communities. 

As Ulster-Scots communities devalue, fail to hand down, neglect, and eventually stop doing these things, then the traditions are left for others to pick up, carry on and develop. Maybe a bit like the seaweed itself - it's lying there and it's available - so why not gather it up?

I am not very bothered about 'cultural appropriation' as one of the activist grievance issues of our age - because civilisations develop when cultures are shared.


Dulse is an emotive food for many, evoking deep-rooted memories of hame. This time last year an elderly lady, now living in Texas but who was born and raised in Portavogie, reached out to me on Facebook after I posted the poem below. She was so stirred by the words that she wanted to taste dulse again - so I posted her a bag which arrived with her about 8 weeks later, in good time for Christmas.

The poem was given to me by a man from Coleraine a few years ago, but it was originally collected by Sam Henry and published in his 1933 book Rowlock Rhymes and Songs of Exile (see manuscript here). He had perhaps slightly Anglicised the Ulster-Scots 'Blad' (which means a 'sample' or 'selection') to 'Blade'.