Thursday, November 30, 2023

Coming soon to RTÉ >>>


'Come on you Boys in Green Blue". 1921 shirt image from this website.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

“Dying societies accumulate laws like dying men accumulate remedies.” — Nicolás Gómez Dávila

 - as quoted in this discussion between Dr James Orr of Cambridge University, and former Deputy PM of Australia, John Anderson.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Back in Brixham again - William of Orange and the fisherman Peter Varwell, 1688

My thanks to the reader who, a few weeks ago, reminded me of the Brixham / Broxholme tradition that, on the night of his arrival in England, William Prince of Orange stayed in a fisherman's house.  Brixham's fishermen harvest the most fabulous seafood, as the very wonderful Rockfish chain of restaurants and takeaways keep proving to me when I am over there - a branch of Rockfish is a 'must visit' location every time. As their slogan says, "tomorrow's fish are still in the sea".

The fisherman was called Peter Varwell, and he may even have helped carry William ashore to keep the princely boots dry - as the author Charles G. Harper would later imagine, "they had to hoof it through the water and the fish offal". His house is thought to have once stood on Middle Street, and is shown in the lantern slide below. It became a well-known local landmark for nearly 300 years, featuring in books and postcards over the centuries. 

There is another local theory that the location of the Varwell house was actually on Higher Street (see The English Riviera by Anthony Poulton-Smith, online here). The two locations are separated by Apters Hill, a tiny street that's just 20 yards long.

Regardless of whether it was Higher Street or Middle Street, at some point in the late 1960s the house was demolished as part of a wider regeneration scheme to make a big car park in the centre of the town, set in a hollow which the sea once came up into. Today, Middle Street is pretty much unrecognisable from the era of the photograph - the buildings right along one side of the street were completely removed, for the benefit of the motorists using the future Brixham Central Car Park.

But, when I was back in Brixham last week, I went to the other site, which is just outside The Manor Pub (which claims to be one of the oldest pubs in Devon - it is named on the 1874 Ordnance Survey map) and I took these pics. Apters Hill was closed to traffic for the annual Christmas lights switch-on and firework display, which we went to. The potential site of the Varwell House is today the site of an outdoor pergola area. 


If Higher Street was the location, then perhaps the rough stonework is all that remains of the Peter Varwell house?

The church beyond is All Saints, where Fermanagh-raised Henry Francis Lyte, best known today as the author of the hymn Abide With Me, was minister from 1824 until 1847. His wife Anne was a Maxwell from Falkland in County Monaghan.

Regardless of whether it was Higher Street or Middle Street, here is a contemporary Dutch engraving of the scene, entitled His Royal Highness Lodged in a Fisher's Hut, from the Rijksmuseum.

Far away from high politics – and all the usual Northern Ireland baggage that has diminished William's legacy – the Brixham and Devon community memory of William's arrival was handed down through the centuries. Here's just one marvellous account –

"... one of those who flocked to see the Prince was a Miss Juliana Babbage, from a brother of whom the late Charles Babbage, the famous mathematician, was descended. She came, when a girl of twelve, from Barbadoes, and was also a decided Nonconformist.

On the 5th November, 1688, she was attending the old meeting-house in Totnes, at a thanksgiving service for the discovery of the gunpowder plot, and while there was told that the Prince of Orange was in Torbay landing his troops. She also hailed the news with joy, and as soon as service was over set off to walk to Brixham, accompanied by an old lady of her acquaintance, and making their way to the Prince, they boldly welcomed him to England.

He shook hands with them, and gave them some of his Proclamations to distribute, which they did so industriously that not one was left in the family as a memorial. A crimson velvet and gold purse, a pincushion, and a gold chain, which she is said to have worn on the occasion, as well as a curious gold locket with hair belonging to her, are still in the possession of our family.

These stories come to me from a relative who has attained an honoured old age, who, owing to the early death of her mother, passed her childhood and girlhood in an old family circle, and heard from the lips of those elderly relatives tales of old times, which they had received in like manner from their relatives.

This lady says her grandmother told her she well recollected her father joking her mother as to what might have happened if the Prince had not succeeded, saying, "Oh, mistress, your aunt might have swung for it! ..."

I understand that the Varwell family still live in the area. You might imagine that there should be a plaque or monument somewhere to mark the former site of the once-famous cottage home.

15 years from now, 2038, will be the 350th anniversary. As the old proverb says, “A society grows great when old people plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”.

• Image below is from The South Devon Coast by Charles G Harper (1907)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Jordan Peterson in Belfast, and Solzhenitsyn

If a nations spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse
by the most perfect government structure or by any industrial development.
A tree with a rotten core cannot stand.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


I went to the SSE Arena in Belfast a few weeks ago to see Jordan Peterson in action - I was invited and offered a ticket so I went along, mostly out of curiosity. I'll not attempt to explain or summarise who he is. It was the first date in a 'tour' which culminated in a conference in London called ARC - his wife Tammy took to the stage first and explained that they had just been to visit her grandfather's childhood home in Hatfield Street in Belfast.

The place appeared to be reasonably well filled, but not to capacity. On the way out, I got speaking with a guy a bit younger than me, from an area of Belfast which he said had significant paramilitary undercurrents directing the lives of young men, who was dismissive of Peterson's ivory tower glibness within the Q&A session at the end of the night.

But this video by Glen Scrivener gets to the heart of many of the reservations I have about Peterson and in particular his almost Gnostic handling of the books within the library that is the Bible. (The Solzhenitsyn quote above is from the Konstantin Kisin talk, at 6:50).

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

'The Historical Songs of Ireland: Illustrative of the Revolutionary Struggle' (1841)

To the present-day reader this title, at first glance, probably suggests that it contains a very different type of ideological content than it actually does. This is a collection of 13 songs from 1688 & 1689, from the Williamite Revolution / Glorious Revolution, compiled by Thomas Crofton Croker and which is available online here. Croker was born in Cork in the significant year of 1798 - his Wikipedia page is here.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Is there a mainstream, accessible, book about Northern Ireland?

Someone who doesn't live in Northern Ireland asked me recently if there was such a book. He expected that, maybe back in 2021 for the centenary, that a prominent Northern Ireland journalist, columnist, writer or publisher would have produced such a thing. But I don't think it exists.

Go into a high street or airport bookshop and you're likely to find a lot of geeky political books, Troubles era writing, various polemics and plenty of anti Northern Ireland stuff. But, as far as I know, there is no publication that's nicely written, easy to read, well illustrated, that just sets out a positive story as to why there is a Northern Ireland and why Northern Ireland has some merit. 

The sort of thing I could give to my children, relatives and overseas friends.

I suppose it would have to be 'softly unionist' as the very existence of Northern Ireland presumes that. For all the chatter and bluster and the wall-to-wall commentators, there is no basic book. There are lots of talkers but precious few doers. Hyper-narrow theologians but few evangelists. Denouncers but few persuaders. Ranters but few raconteurs. Complainers but few constructors. 

Please let me know if I am wrong, I would love to see the book. But maybe, as the quote below - extracted from this article - says, "we doubt our inheritance".


Thursday, November 16, 2023

"In the dialect of what is called Scotch Irish" : An Ireland-born murderer on the run - William Hamilton in Pittsburg, 1829


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Scotland and 'Home Rule' for Ireland - August 1913

On 18th August 1913, The Scotsman newspaper published an article entitled 'How Ulster Converts Radicals'. It was made up of an introduction by a W.H. Webb of Randalstown, and two short reports from Scotsmen who decided to visit Ulster to experience the 'Home Rule' debate for themselves. Scotland of course had its own Home Rule movement around the same time (as an example, Frank Hugh O'Donnell is an interesting figure - previous post here).

The reports were by Walter Urquhart and George Munro, both of whom were described as 'Aberdeenshire Liberal Home Rulers ... leading Liberals in their respective districts'. The reports were widely reprinted in other newspapers too, the screenshots below are from the Belfast Weekly Telegraph –

A Mr G.A. Cameron of Whiteinch in Glasgow read these reports, and decided to make a similar fact-finding mission across the water. More to follow.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

"of England" - or not? The banner slogan of William, Prince of Orange, 1688 - some primary sources

I like 'folk art' created by people within local communities, and often of limited artistic talent. Those expressions aren't for external critique, but are for the community's own traditions.

'King Billy' doesn't just crudely exist on walls, as per the pic at the top (date and location unknown). The painting below it is from the Tate Gallery in London, by JMW Turner, entitled The Prince of Orange, William III, Embarked from Holland, and Landed at Torbay, November 4th, 1688, after a Stormy Passage. It was painted in 1832 - 144 years after the actual event - and shows a white banner with a central coat of arms, purporting to be that of William.


Usually, the slogan on William's banner on his personal flagship, Den Briel / The Brill, is given as 'For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England'. But according to Rev John Whittle, who accompanied William on his fleet's voyage from Hellevoetsluis in Holland to Brixham in England, the 'of England' part wasn't on it at all – 

"... Now every Vessel set out its Colours, which made a very pleasant shew. By this time the People of Devonshire thereabout had discovered the Fleet, the one telling the other thereof; they came flocking in droves to the side or brow of the Hills to view us: Some guess'd we were French, because they saw divers white Flags; but the Standard of the Prince, the Motto of which was, For the Protestant Religion and Liberty, soon undeceived them..."

This is the account given in Whittle's renowned primary source 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. The full text is online here.

And, contemporary Dutch visual representations of it also do not have the 'of England' part - see the Raymond De Hooghe engraving below. The combined coat of arms is interesting - equally divided into that of the House of Orange on the left hand side, and the Royal Standard of the British Monarchy on the right hand side - which were the arms of William, and of his wife Mary. Their future monarchy would be a joint one, and was also 'gender equal' - I think the first and only time that has happened in British history.

The Bridgeman Art Library has this image, of William's published Declaration of 1688, which has the same crest as the De Hooghe example above.

And below is a close-up detail from another contemporary depiction, by De Hooghe and Carel Allard in 1688, which again has no visible reference to 'England' on the slogan.

However, another primary source, The expedition of His Highness, the Prince of Orange, for England giving an account of the most remarkable passages thereof, from the day of his setting sail from Holland, by Rev Gilbert Burnet (who, like Whittle, had been part of the voyage) said the banner:

"... was English Collours, the Motto impaled thereon, is, The Protestant Religion, and Liberties of England, and underneath, instead of Dieu & Mon Droit, And I will Maintain it..."

The full text of Burnet is online here. He died in 1715 - but when his multi-volume memoirs entitled History of His Own Time was published posthumously in 1725, there was no mention of the slogan at all

Nesca Robb's 1966 two volume biography of William quoted another primary source, Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, aka d'Avaux (who was on the side of William's opponent and father in law King James II) who said that the inscription was 'Pro Religion Protestante. Pro libero Parliamento' - 'for the Protestant Religion and a Free Parliament'.

I wonder where the original banner is - maybe tucked away in an ancient linen cupboard within the Royal collection, or forgotten in some dusty stately home in England or Holland. Perhaps some readers will know of further primary contemporary sources. I plan to be back in Brixham and Devon next week. More to follow.


(NB The top illustration and the photograph below are from the collection of the superb Rijksmuseum in Holland).

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

William Tyndale - "The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England", presented by Melvyn Bragg (2013)

"When he translated the Greek word 'ecclesia', instead of using 'church' which was expected, he used 'congregation'. 'Church' meant a hierarchy, authorities, bishops, all the things he detested. A 'congregation' meant a collection of people, a democracy, equal souls..."
(go to 25:00)

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Rev William McClure Thomson (1806-94) author of 'The Land and the Book', and the founding of the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut


"... We spent the first part of the night in walking about the camp. The scene was very picturesque. Spread abroad over the plain lay men, women, and children, of almost every nation under heaven; of all languages, every variety of costume, and of all colors, from the black of Africa to the white of Poland. All denominations of this sectarian world were there—Muhammedans, Druses, Maronites, Catholics, Greeks, Armenians, Copts, Syrians, Jews, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and infidels, in one vast congregation ..." - from page 353 here 

On the English side of my family I have a relative who was born in Beirut. His father had been born in pre-1948 Palestine but fled to Lebanon soon after. He was never able to return to his original home, in the new state of Israel. In later decades the family relocated from Lebanon to London, as refugees.

During his time in Lebanon, he attained a degree from what is today known as the American University of Beirut, but that's not its original name. It was renamed that in 1920, having been founded in 1866 as the Syrian Protestant College

(As an aside – 1920 is a significant year for American-Arab relations; the Arab Kingdom of Syria was born on 8 March 1920. This was way before the United States had any ambitions to be a 'superpower' and the Syrian National Congress of that year is an essential backdrop. The USA was well regarded by the Arabs of the region, being seen as a more 'honest broker' than the imperialist European powers of Britain and France - as outlined by the King-Crane Commission of 1919. This book - How The West Stole Democracy from the Arabs - published by the President Woodrow Wilson Center, is probably worth a look).

One of the founders of the Syrian Protestant College was Rev William McClure Thomson, an American Presbyterian born in Springdale, near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ohio doesn't get much attention but its early settlement was heavily Scotch-Irish, and after the founding of the Scotch-Irish Society of America in 1889, the first two editions of its famous annual Proceedings were printed in Cincinnati, and in 1893 their Fifth Congress was held in Springfield, Ohio. The then Governor, William McKinley, was one of the keynote speakers - he would become 25th President of the United States from 1897-1901.

Springdale, originally called Springfield, was an early Presbyterian congregation in the state, founded in 1801 from other earlier local congregations which had been established in 1790. Its historic cemetery was originally part of a farm owned by a James McCormick (see PDF here). Springdale Presbyterian Church closed its doors for good in 2020, with its final service delivered online by Zoom.

William's father, Rev John Thomson (1772-1859) was minister of Springdale Presbyterian Church, he had been born in Pennsylvania. John's father, name unknown, "had been a ruling elder in a Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and trained his family well, carefully instilling into their minds the truths of our holy religion." Some more Thomson family info is online here.

William McClure Thomson lived and worked in Beirut from 1833, serving the indigenous Christian community there. Back then the whole region was known as Syria, long before 20th century politics and modern states and borders (a zoomable version of the 1850 map above is online here). He experienced much war and conflict in his time there, both internal civil action, and also external international action - his Wikipedia page here summarises some of that. The 1860 Syrian Civil War is a dreadful conflict. Much of that will appear relevant to today's reader given recent events in the region.

He became famous in the 'west' through his travelogue The Land and The Book, which was first published in 1859, seven years before the College was founded. It was lavishly illustrated by his Beirut-born son, William Hanna Thomson (Wikipedia here) and through repeated reprints and new editions was a bestseller - one source says that it "sold more copies than any book in the United States with the sole exception of the Bible".

"... The sites and scenes described in the work were visited many times during the author’s long residence in the country; and the results, so far as they bear on Biblical illustration, appear in the current narrative. The conversations are held by the way-side, on horseback, in the open country, or in the tent, and the reader is at liberty to regard himself as the author’s travelling companion, in full sympathy with the purpose and aim of this pilgrimage through the Holy Land ..."

• The Land and The Book (1882 edition) is online here.

Another source definitely worth looking at is The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria's Holy Places by Ulster Presbyterian minister Josias Leslie Porter, who worked as a missionary in Damascus from 1849-1859. With that timeframe he definitely would have known William McClure Thomson. Published in 1867, The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria's Holy Places was another travelogue, and was funded by Lord Dufferin.  In some remote places Porter found ruined buildings which were so huge he thought that they must have been built by giants:

"... Moses makes special mention of the strong cities of Bashan, and speaks of their high walls and gates. He tells us, too, in the same connection, that Bashan was called the land of the giants (or Rephaim, Deut. iii. 13), leaving us to conclude that the cities were built by giants. Now the houses of Kerioth and other towns in Bashan appear to be just such dwellings as a race of giants would build ..."

Its appendix, (online here), by County Tyrone born Rev Smylie Robson who was also in Damascus at the time, is a detailed first-hand account of the June & July 1860 three-day massacre of 1200 Christians in the city, and 6000 in the region.

One of those murdered was another Ulster Presbyterian minister, Rev William Graham, a licentiate of the Belfast Presbytery - one newspaper said he had been "butchered in the open street in broad day by a fanatical mob" (the Belfast News-Letter of 4 September 1860 had a lengthy article entitled 'The Last Hours of the Rev Mr Graham of Damascus'). The description from Dr Michaiel Meshakah / Mikhail Mishaqa is horrific - his Wikipedia page is here.

• A poem about the killing of Rev William Graham, by Belfast Presbyterian publisher William McComb, is in the Sam Henry Collection, online here
• Porter's 1855 two volume set Five Years in Damascus is online here.
• His 1868 Handbook for Travelers in Syria and Palestine is online here.

Today, the 1886 Springdale Presbyterian Church building still stands, and is now the Asamblea Cristiana Sala Evangelica Cincinnati, presumably for the local Hispanic community. A perfect example of John 3:16 in action - "For God so loved the world..."

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

"Patrick - Ulster's Scottish Saint" - 2021 booklet project

(Today is All Saints' Day - this is a follow-up to my previous post). 

Back in 2021 this booklet was published, which I had written and designed, collating what feels like a lifetime of gathering up piles of information, some of which has appeared on this blog now and again. I was also helped by others who passed on to me relevant content that they had also come across over the years. The booklet was page-limited so not all of the content that I know of could be fitted in.

I'm thankful to the Ulster-Scots Agency for their help in publishing it, although - perhaps because it was mid-Covid - it didn't make the impact that I had hoped it would. Some who I thought would be interested, weren't.  Maybe it will be useful in time, on the run-in to the 1600th anniversary in 2032. Copies are hopefully still available from the Agency.

I had heard the folklore traditions growing up, as my mother's folk are from the Millisle area. The first major written 'find' that really lit me up was back in 2005 when I first read The Montgomery Manuscripts, the 1830 edition in particular. The manuscripts were written in the late 1600s by William Montgomery, a grandson of Sir Hugh Montgomery, and much of the content was based on first-hand accounts from older people who had been part of the settlement which began in 1606. William Montgomery wrote many other things, and one of the appendices was his 1683 Description of Ardes Barony, in the County of Down, which included this –

– “near this place are ye ruins of a small church, called Temple Patrick, where it is said St Patrick first landed in Ireland; there is his well also, and other traditions among ye Irish concerning it…”.


So, local Irish people passed on the Patrick tradition to the incoming Scots. However, this is NOT the earliest written reference. Below - and not featured in the booklet - is a detail of a map which the National Maritime Museum says is from c. 1595 and was based on Richard Bartlett's cartography. It includes the annotation "Temp: St Patricke" just south of "Temp: Donoghidie".

So, the Templepatrick tradition isn't an Ulster-Scots invention. It predates their arrival.

In recent years a Saint Patrick's Trail was devised with extensive public signage (but it often takes visitors to places that have no actual connection with Patrick's life and era, and doesn't go to other places which do!). Now there is a Columban Way Heritage Trail but the local website for it (link here) has short descriptions of the 13 sites along the trail with no reference to Columba / Columbanus at all. Those references could authentically be made at Movilla Abbey, Bangor Abbey and other places of worship around Bangor too.

It is curious that these saints have been used as mere marketing branding devices for various organisations, funders, local councils and tourism bodies - whereas the rock-solid actual recorded history at Templepatrick, and the associated folklore of the site too, causes hardly a ripple, even among supposed devotees. 

Below: the cover of a programme of a costumed reenactment event for the 1500th anniversary in 1932. Perhaps 2032 will see similar events and commemorations.