Thursday, October 01, 2020

"the author of two Scottish ballads unsurpassed for tenderness and pathos" - the life of William Motherwell (1797–1835)

This Scottish poet, who wrote in both English and Scots, is a new name to me. He was born in Glasgow the year after Robert Burns died, and shared a mutual friend - Robert Archibald Smith - with fellow poet Robert Tannahill. He edited a five volume set of Burns' work with James Hogg the 'Ettrick Shepherd'. Interestingly it seems that Motherwell was an Orangeman.

The Spenserians website has a number of 19th century biographies of Motherwell (link here), and the Allpoetry website has a selection of his work here, some of which is to me very good. The quote I've used in the title of this post is from this bio by James Grant Wilson. Motherwell's Wikipedia page is a bit of a hatchet job though (link here) with some pretty bizarre assertions. 

The Harp of Renfrewshire (orig 1819; 1873 edition is online here)

Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern (1827; is online here)

Poems, Narrative and Lyrical (1832; is online here)

The Works of Robert Burns, five volumes edited by James Hogg and William Motherwell (1834; volume I is online here)

William Motherwell's Cultural Politics by Mary Ellen Brown (2001; is online here)

Wednesday, September 30, 2020


I found this photo again recently, from 2004, a lovely and once-famous old local farmstead. It's gone now but it was one of the many that inspired me when gathering ideas for what we would eventually buildWith modern regulations to comply with and a different shape of site, ours turned out a bit differently. We tried to keep the 'longhouse' notion as best we could, and of course the classic red doors.

Islandmagee Ulster-Scots 'gunrunning' aftermath postcard, 1914

I am reading a lot just now about Islandmagee and I found this again this evening. Multiple complexities here in the aftermath of the Larne gun-running of 1914. Scanned from a book of vintage Ulster postcards, published by Linen Hall Library.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Informers and agents everywhere – G.K. Chesterton's 'The Man who was Thursday'

"A poor man has much more interest in good government than a rich man. A poor man must stay and be misgoverned; a rich man has a yacht".
– G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton (1874–1936) was a renowned writer, still held in high regard today. He was firstly a 'high church' Anglican and later a Catholic theologian. The photo above is of his grave at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, very close to where my in-laws live, and I had hoped to visit it this past summer but coronavirus banjaxed those plans. He is very quotable and has multiple fans on Twitter, tweeting little chunks of Chesterton every day.

Last summer I read his gripping 1908 novel The Man Who Was Thursday (Wikipedia here). It's set in London, and is about a man who is approached by the police to infiltrate an anarchist group who are plotting a terror campaign. He very quickly rises through the ranks to take a seat at the top table of the organisation, where an odd collection of individuals all have codenames which are the days of the week. He becomes 'Thursday'.

As the novel develops it turns out that every single one of these anarchists is also a police agent or informer. It's never been out of print and has been dramatised by BBC Radio Four (iPlayer link here), and also a movie as recently as 2016.

In recent weeks in Northern Ireland we numerous revelations of informers within armed groups of all political shades, from away back at the very start of our Troubles right up to the present day. A sizeable segment in the Radio Ulster current affairs discussion programme Talkback just today was about this story. There have of course been decades of stories like these seeping out. All of which begs the question – if each of those groups was so riddled with agents, then who was pulling the strings, for what reasons, and why was it allowed to drag on for so many bloodied years?

Some have claimed that our conflict was a social experiment and that Northern Ireland was a kind of laboratory where new strategies could be tested. 

Whatever the truth is, I doubt we will ever really find out. As a noted journalist wrote back in January in an article on the subject – "The central truth about Northern Ireland, which stands as the primary enabler that makes the utterly impossible often perfectly probable, is that it is a society based on lies. Everyone lies there. Everyone. They lie to themselves, they lie to one another, they lie to their children, they lie to their friends, they lie to their enemies. Lies are the currency of almost all intellectual exchanges..."

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Ulster Covenant and Charlotte, North Carolina – 12 September 1912

"When the Scotch-Irish have a case of conscience they have it bad" – The Charlotte Observer of North Carolina reporting on the Ulster Covenant, September 1912 –  connecting it back to Scotland's National Covenant of 1638 and their own Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775.


Tyler Childers 'Long Violent History'

 This is a very interesting contextual video to Tyler Childers' new fiddle album

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

'A crack' with Paddy O'Neill – James Craig, their wives, and the importance of relationships

If coronavirus wasn't dominating the phone-in shows, the forthcoming centenary / centenNIal of Northern Ireland would be. It manages to squeeze in between the gaps every once in a while. This recent article by Professor John Wilson Foster is excellent. Today, in looking for something else, my eye caught this extract from St John Ervine's Craigavon, Ulsterman, his biography of James Craig the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Craig and Patrick O'Neill were political opponents, but they were also personal friends. O'Neill was a hotelier in Warrenpoint, and evidently their wives shared a mutual regard too. You can see in the page image below, Craig "liked the man and did not let their differences divide them".

This is an important reminder that relationship can transcend political difference. I hope that in all of the political history we'll get next year, much of which will be divisive and will be deployed by spokespersons to justify century-long events and present-day positions, that there will be also be room to acknowledge that stories like this happened too.

There has not only ever been conflict. Those who insist there was usually benefit in some way from persuading others of that claim.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shamrock, Rose and Thistle – Northern Ireland Parliament Medal – 22 June 1921

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Dublin view of Ulster-Scots, 1914

Rev. Augustine Dillon Cosgrave (1865–1936) was Dublin born and bred, and a member of the Carmelite order. He was a noted historian and his 1906 volume A History of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century (online here) has lots of very interesting material. It's good to read deeply within your own community, but also to read widely beyond it. His perspectives on key events of that century are quite different to the ones I have absorbed.

The 1914 article below, which is on JSTOR here, looks brilliant, showing his understanding that 'Ulsterisms' are overwhelmingly 'really Scotticisms ... a Scotsman may easily be taken for an Ulsterman, or vice versa, if his place of origin be judged by his speech alone ... to a Dubliner, all Ulstermen, whether judged by speech or character, are like Scotchmen'.  

His observation that there is a 'homogeneity of speech which seems to be shared by Ulstermen of all creeds and politics' I think is still largely true a century later, but with regional variations within.

The Catholic Standard of 1 May 1936 paid tribute to Cosgrave as 'not only one of Dublin's most familiar and best-loved figures, but also one of the foremost authorities on its history and antiquities' and went on to say that he 'specialised in modern languages, in which he was highly accomplished'. So his linguistic observations on the Scots influence on Ulster's speech is significant.

He died aged 72, as a result of an accident, and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.