Saturday, January 30, 2010

Provosts of Newtownards, Movilla Abbey and the link with Ayrshire

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) I visited Movilla Abbey today (shown here, click to enlarge) on my way through Newtownards. It was a lovely clear crisp morning, with a wee bit of snow on the ground, so with camera in hand I snapped a few photos. One discovery was of the gravestone of "John Saunders, late Provest of Newtown who departed this life the 20 day of 1704"- the gravestone a reddish colour and is built into the east wall of the abbey ruins. "Provost" is of course an old Scottish term for Mayor.

John Corry from Dumfriesshire (1638 - 1708) was also a Provost of Newtownards. And Sir Hugh Montgomery was of course the first Provost of Newtown. Walking back to car I came upon a gravestone with the inscription "Erected to the Memory of Robert McCredie of Ayrshire, Scotland, who departed this life March 31st 1848 aged 47 years"..

As these gravestones, and the recent information I posted here from Billy Kerr in Irvine demonstrates, the Ulster-Ayrshire connection is very strong. I was pleased to find this online recently, from 2003:

Friendship Charter between Irvine Valley Regeneration Partnership, Ayrshire and Newtownards:
We, the communities within the Irvine Valley Regeneration Partnership Area (Darvel, Newmilns & Greenholm, Galston, Moscow, Hurlford and Crookedholm), Ayrshire, Scotland, extend a hand of friendship to the towns and communities within Ards Borough Council, Northern Ireland. Our aim is to foster and develop mutual understanding and respect between the people of the Irvine Valley and Newtownards and to improve the economic development of the towns and villages by the promotion of tourism. We will communicate and exchange visits with each other, thereby developing human and cultural relations and establishing a firm foundation for future understanding respect and friendship between the people of The Irvine Valley and Newtownards.

It would be great to see the Councils on both sides of the water develop these links for the present day. John Saunders and John Corry, the old Provosts of Newtown, would definitely approve!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748)

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) In 1707, the 33 year old Isaac Watts published his first hymn book. His father was a nonconformist minister in England who had been imprisoned twice for his faith, but Isaac had long been concerned by the dismal singing in the church. Until then, only Psalms were sung.

But taking inspiration from both Ephesians 5v19 "...psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..." and also Colossians 3v16 "...teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God..." he, logically, entitled his collection "Hymns and Spiritual Songs". (download link here)

He faced massive opposition, with some people describing his works as "whims" rather than hymns. He even suffered a nervous breakdown in 1712 such was the torrent of opposition he faced. In 1739 he had a stroke - but carried on writing with the help of a secretary.

Here's a list of 787 of his most famous hymns, some of which are still being sung today, such as:
- When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
- O God Our Help in Ages Past (the "anthem" hymn of the Ulster Covenant in 1912)
- We're Marching to Zion
- I'm Not Ashamed to Own My Lord

Here's a great video summarising his life:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Forgotten Holywood Revival, 1632-33

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) In Crookshanks' History of the State and Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, there's an intriguing reference on page 129 to John Livingstone, one of the four Eagle Wing ministers, who had been the preacher at the famous Kirk O Shotts revival in 1630, where 500 people were converted in one day. The reference says:

"About two or three years after, such another, and a more plentiful effusion of the Spirit attended a sermon of his at a communion in Holywood in Ireland, where about a thousand were brought home to Christ..."

The story of the Ulster-Scots of the early 1600s is bound up in the lives of their ministers. Far more work needs to be done on this subject.

Advice for preachers

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Here's a brilliant story I heard for the first time yesterday, from one of the young men who were there. Way back a long time ago, probably in the 1970s, my great-uncle Sandy Wilson (1916 - 1994) was made Superintendent of the Elim Movement in Ireland. After a preaching trip to England, the story goes that he was back home with a group of young Ards Peninsula men who were doing a bit of part-time preaching themselves. Sandy's advice to them was:

"Young men, there are two words you must NEVER use when on the platform..."

The group sat there, waiting for a revelation...

"NEVER use the words fornenst and oxter!"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Burns Night

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) I've blogged about Rabbie Burns and Ulster a few times here. Seeing as he's been deid iver twa hunner years there's no fresh news to report. Sadly, one of the world's most important collections of Burnsiana still languishes in the bowels of Belfast's Linenhall Library - although I understand it might be put on display some time soon-ish.

Burns is the acceptable face of Scots language, and Ulster-Scots remains strong in pockets of Ulster. I was talking to a "townie" Ards man yesterday who's been living in Ballywalter for about 15 years, and who still struggles to communicate with some of the local shop staff. Outside of these pockets, everybody says "aye" for "yes" and "wee" for "little" - so whether they realise it or not, almost everybody in Northern Ireland uses Scots words and expressions every day of the week.

Robert Burns is buried at St Michael's Kirk in Dumfries, where James Hamilton of Ballywalter was minister from 1638 - 1648, and where I had the privilege of speaking in their annual Covenanter memorial service back in November last year.

It's nice to see the media coverage of Burns increasing every year, but we still have a way to go until we return to the dizzy heights of 1870s Ulster.

Finally, here's a reference from the famous old Ards Peninsula antiquarian, James Shanks of Ballyfounder:

"...Burns threw light upon navigation, mathematics, classics, religion, everything. No matter what formed the body of a subject, Burns formed the tail, and the tail always wagged the body... in my boyish enthusiasm I believed that Burns was the short cut to everything, and the open sesame to the doors of knowledge..."

Enjoy your haggis!

Previous articles:
- The Ulster visit legends
- Orangeman and Freemason?
- Burns and Belfast
- Burns and the Covenanters

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Cromwellian "Scheme to Transplant the Scots from Ulster", 1653

73C0AD51-64B9-4F7E-988B-7C1A1EF3D22C.jpg(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog)

Here's another example of why 1600s Ulster was not a "Plantation Paradise" for the Ulster Scots. Cromwell invaded Scotland following the defeat of the Covenanters at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. In 1652, his troops built a huge walled fort at Ayr (some sections are still visible today) in an effort to quell the troublesome Covenanter hotbed of south west Scotland. In 1654 Cromwell established a short-lived political union between Scotland and England.

On our side of the water, Cromwell's forces had also taken control, and a sizeable number of Ulster Scots were now under surveillance - because they would "neither promise nor give bond not to disturb the present Government". The Cromwellian authorities knew fine well that a fervent Ulster-Scots population, just across the narrow sea from their kinsfolk in Scotland (" two hours they may pass betwixt the headland of Cantyre and the coast of Ireland between Glenarm and Fair Foreland..."), spelled trouble.

The authorities decided that the coast was to be locked down, boats were to be seized, correspondence was to be intercepted. And people were to be rounded up.

KGB-like, they drew up a list of what might be called Ulster's most wanted, and proposed to arrest them and exile them to the farthest ends of Ireland - to Kilkenny, Tipperary or Waterford. The lists (at a glance I'm guessing probably 150 people, broken down into localities) are still available today. Many were men with military experience, others were leaders of their communities - and even the two great landowners of Co Down. Significant names include a Captain George Welch of Sixmilewater (perhaps a son of the minister Josias Welch, who was John Knox's grandson?), Hugh Montgomery III (Lord of the Ardes) and James Hamilton II (Lord Claneboy). I'll post more about the names sometime over the next few weeks.

The documents of the time (dated 24 April 1653) say "...we have some thoughts of transplanting some of the Scotch inhabitants into some of the towns of the South, if we can find the grounds to hold out for their removal, their number being at present almost equal with the English, which we judge very dangerous to be allowed..."

However, the deportations never happened.

But when Cromwell was replaced by the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, far worse was ahead for the Presbyterian Scots and Ulster-Scots - a 28 year period of overt and murderous state persecution. It began with almost every Presbyterian minister in Ulster being driven from his pulpit by armed troops, public executions in Edinburgh - and culminated in a period which would be later known in Scotland as "The Killing Times" when 18,000 would be killed, imprisoned or sent as slaves to the colonies. In its scant description of the period, a big local museum describes this as a time when "Ulster in particular recovered and prospered to a remarkable degree".

Aye right.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The blog as a bridge to Scotland

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) In August 2007, the Centre for Cross Border Studies proposed that a bridge should be built linking Ulster to Galloway (BBC report on the story here). While we wait for that to happen, I'm finding that this blog is making connections across the water too. Just over the past few months quite a few folk from west and central Scotland have been in touch with me directly - local Scottish historians who are interested in the Ulster-Scots links from the other side of the narrow sea.

Recently, William Kerr from Irvine on the Ayrshire coast (whose great grandmother was a McGowan from Armagh) sent me a clatter of brilliant information:

- a photo of the memorial to Rev Robert Cunningham (first Presbyterian minister in Holywood) which I never even knew existed! The inscription reads:

"Erected Anno Dom 1824
the memory of
The Rev Robert Cunningham
Sometime Minister of the Gospel
at Holywood in Ireland, who for
his faithfulness to the cause of
CHRIST, was expelled from his
charge by the Bishops and died
in exile at Irvine on the 27th of
March 1637
He was eminently distinguished
for meekness and patience and
zeal in his ministry"

It also has a few lines of Latin that I'm going to get translated, or find a translation for. Here's William's photo:
Rev R Cunninghame stone.JPG

He also sent me:

- information about Rev Robert Blair (first Presbyterian minister at Bangor, and leader of the early Ulster-Scots)

- an Agnes Ferguson buried in Irvine (who as a child was at the Siege of Derry)

- a Lisburn man, William McKnight, who became minister at Irvine in 1709

- the school in Irvine that Edgar Allan Poe attended (he was of Ulster-Scots descent as well)

So I'll let you all know when the Northern Ireland museums sector get in touch to discuss how they might be able to incorporate these kinds of simple, culturally authentic "east-west" stories into their interpretations, replacing the politically-based Anglo-Irish (Scotophobic?) stuff that's presently filling up far too many of their galleries, and subsequently the minds of their visitors. However I suspect we'll be waiting a looooooong time for that particular phone call - in fact, the North Channel road bridge may well be up and running first.

Ultimately, leaving aside the "great and the good" and public institutions for a minute, it's far more important that ordinary folk on baith sides o the Sheugh continue to recover our cultural heritage, learn from each other and share our histories with one another - it's all one story anyway, of kindred people with a wee bit of water in the middle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frances Browne Multilingual Poety Prize, 2009!

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Got a brilliant surprise in the post today - a beautiful cut Derryveagh Crystal award for finishing as runner-up in the Frances Browne Multilingual Poety Prize, 2009, run by the Finn Valley Voice newspaper in Donegal! The poem that came up trumps was "Address to a Nintendo DS". Ivan Knox was first with "An Auld Man Lived at Ballin-a-glack", and Wilson Burgess was third with "Dassah Daley". Thanks to Celine McGlynn, and Pauline Holland too (who read my poem at the event, I had a family commitment which meant I wasn't able to be there). I can't wait to tell Charlie wen he gets home from school!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Launch - Alexander Peden - Kellswater

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) It's taken a bit of time to organise, but the Alexander Peden book will be launched at the end of Feb at Kellswater Reformed Presbyterian Church in Co Antrim. Poster below (click to enlarge) as well as GoogleMap link for any of you who want to go but aren't sure of how to find the church. I contributed one chapter to the book - may well be saying a few words at the launch on Saturday - I'm very sure that Rev David Silversides will be worth hearing.

View Covenanters Heritage Trail - Ulster in a larger map


(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) There has been a recent media explosion in Northern Ireland which has rippled around the world. A recurring theme on a vindictive radio and press has been one of wrongs done, the hypocrisy of saying one thing but doing another, and so on. A vicious media, in NI, the UK and the US, loves nothing more than the mistakes of a prominent Christian.

You don't have to be saved/converted too long before you realise that sin continues to have a grip on your life - of temptation, thoughts, inclinations, motives... which, unchecked, can all too easily turn into actions. Someone told me many years ago that "when the light gets brighter, the shadows get darker". There's a lot of truth in that.

The Bible's idea of sanctification (after conviction, repentance and salvation) is one of gradually becoming more and more like Christ, having the creases ironed out in a life-long process which (due to our own weaknesses and failings) is more like a rollercoaster than a constant uphill journey. Every believer I know understands this full well, and struggles with different forms of sin more or less every day. As it says in 1 John 1 v 8: "If we say, we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

As the world, whether media, family, friends, neighbours or colleagues, looks on at the lives of Christians they can see plenty of evidence of residual sinfulness, and of our spectacular failure to be consistently Christlike. I know myself too well to pretend otherwise. The end reaction is often "well, if that's how Christians behave..."

Part of the problem, I think, is that Christians all to easily slide into lazy and inaccurate language and thereby fool both ourselves and our fellow believers - which then creates a completely false picture to the non-Christian world around us. We talk - and especially sing - about "our sins being taken away", or sins being "washed away". And so the false notion of having no sin in our lives creeps into our heads and takes root. But the idea of "sinless perfection" is a nonsense, and a heresy.

Christians - those who have a simple faith in Jesus - need to daily remind ourselves and those around us that we are not sin-free, but that our sinfulness has not been removed but forgiven through our complete reliance on what Jesus has done. Jesus came because God loved people despite our sin. For the rest of our lives we're now in a daily battle to keep "the old nature" under control. But sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, the old nature gets the upper hand.

The clip below is great at about 2.00 "You know what, I'm not a good person, I'm a sinner...":

"Be not proud of race, face, place... or grace." - Charles Spurgeon

Friday, January 15, 2010

The term "Scotch-Irish", and the Scotch-Irish Society of America

John Hall.jpg

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog)

"...I have sometimes noticed a little confusion of mind in relation to the phrase "Scotch-Irish," as if it meant that Scotch people had come over and intermarried with the native Irish, and that thus a combination of two races, two places, two nationalities had taken place. That is by no means the state of the case. On the contrary, with kindly good feeling in various directions, the Scotch people kept to the Scotch people, and they are called Scotch-Irish from purely local, geographical reasons, and not from any union of the kind that I have alluded to. I haven't the least doubt that their being in Ireland and in close contact with the native people of that land, and their circumstances there, had some influence in the developing of the character, in the broadening of the sympathies, in the extending of the range of thought and action of the Scotch-Irish people; but they are Scotch through and through, they are Scottish out and out, and they are Irish because, in the providence of God, they were sent for some generations to the land that I am permitted to speak of as the land of my birth..."

- from this address by Rev Dr John Hall (shown here) of New York, 1892.

Hall (1829 - 1898) was originally from Armagh, had been appointed minister of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, in 1867. He graduated from Princeton in 1875, and returned to Ulster in 1890. The following year, he addressed the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA and said "...I never saw the province present such a look of prosperity as it did last year... there was never so much money in circulation in legitimate ways among the people... I was born there and brought up there, and I labored for years in Ulster as a minister...I brought from that country two things that would have a great influence on my life. The first of these is a pronounced conviction of the unspeakable value of a definite religious belief, and the second of these is a wife of whom I am bound to say here that for all these years she has exercised over me that kind of Home Rule of which—[Here the speaker's voice was drowned with applause and laughter]..." So even in 1890s America, there was a high awareness of political events in Ulster! An excellent biography of Hall, written by his son Thomas C Hall DD, is available here:

"...One of the keen pleasures of his life was the recurring conventions of the Scotch-Irish in America. He looked forward with what was for him eager pleasure to these was my father's lot to preach before the convention, and nowhere did he ever feel more completely in touch with his audience than when taking part in the 'old-time meeting' which formed a part of the convention's exercises..." (p 296)

The Proceedings of the Scotch-Irish Society are great bound volumes from the late 1800s and early 1900s. I have two full sets of them I've gathered up over the years, but of course these days they can be found on the Net. Here are the links to readable, text-searchable versions:

First Congress (Columbia, Tennessee, 1889)
Second Congress (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1890)
Third Congress (Louisville, Kentucky 1891)
Fourth Congress (Atlanta, Georgia, 1892)
Fifth Congress (Springfield, Ohio, 1893)
Sixth Congress (Des Monies, Iowa, 1894)
Seventh Congress (Lexington, Virginia, 1895)
Eighth Congress (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1896)
Ninth Congress (Knoxville, Tennessee, 1900)
Tenth Congress (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 1901)

Some of the content has definitely dated and was a product of its time, however there's mountains of very valuable stuff in them too.

(PS - Hall's biography says he was a close friend, when a student for the ministry, of Matthew Kerr, the author of "The Ulster revival of the seventeenth century", published in 1859. Hall himself had reservations about some of the events of the 1859 Revival).

(PPS: The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America welcomes membership applications and can be found online here.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kindred homes of kindred people

Found this brief, old, poem tonight - about the view from Donaghadee:

Yonder stretches Scotia's outline
Here the coast of Down is seen
Kindred homes of kindred people
With the Copeland Isles between

From A History of County Down by Alexander Knox (Belfast, 1875), p 486. Here's a pic of the view from Donaghadee, taken at the Moat between Christmas and New Year, looking towards Galloway. Click to enlarge

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The History of Portavogie

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Portavogie was part of James Hamilton's 1606 estate (the first map of Portavogie - Hamilton's 1625 map drawn by Thomas Raven - is on display in North Down Heritage Centre in Bangor - with loads of rabbits drawn all over the Warren!). It's also generally known that the village developed quickly around 1750 thanks to the arrival of a community of Scottish fishing families from Maidens in Ayrshire.

As far as the first Ulster-Scots in Portavogie, the Montgomery Manuscripts include a reference to a Thomas Boyd of Portavogie who died in 1660. He was probably a son or nephew of Colonel David Boyd who came over with Montgomery in 1606, and who settled at Ballycastle near Mount Stewart, but who had land in other parts of the early settlement too. According to the rent rolls in the Hamilton Monuscripts, in 1681 a David Boyd was still the major tenant at Portavogie, paying £4 per year.

The Boyds had been one of the big families of Kilmarnock for centuries - they can be traced on the Ayrshire coast as far back as the late 1200s, with a Robert Boyd fighting the Vikings in the Battle of Largs, whose son then fought alongside Robert the Bruce - and who was rewarded by Bruce by a huge grant of land in Ayrshire.

The story of the Boyds of Kilmarnock is available here.

The Ards, 1574

“this North part is the quietest place of Ireland… the Ardes is the place which her Majesty must begin withal to plant and store, and that will be the bawne and nursery to subdue all the North”

(Thomas Wilsford to Queen Elizabeth I’s chief advisor, Lord Burghley, circa 1574)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Media hysteria and "War of the Worlds"

I watched the remake of HG Wells' "War of the Worlds" with Jake and Charlie the other night on BBC3. In places it was a bit scary for both of them, so we kept flicking over to some gardening programme. The story was written in 1898 and is about an attempted alien invasion of Earth.

40 years later War of the Worlds was famously turned into a radio programme by Orson Welles, and was broadcast in the USA on October 30 1938. The style was one of a musical concert being broadcast live, which was then interrupted by a series of emergency newsflashes, gradually revealing a violent Martian landing at Grovers Mill in New Jersey. Millions of unsuspecting listeners (from an audience estimated at six million people) believed it to be true. Here's an excerpt:

"...Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed... Wait a minute! Someone's crawling. Someone or... something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks... are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be... good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another one, and another one. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it... ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it's so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate...

A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What's that? There's a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they're turning into flame! Now the whole field's caught fire. The woods... the barns... the gas tanks of automobiles... it's spreading everywhere. It's coming this way. About twenty yards to my right...

Then silence. A few minutes later, an announcer interrupts,

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been handed a message that came in from Grovers Mill by telephone. Just one moment please. At least forty people, including six state troopers, lie dead in a field east of the village of Grovers Mill, their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition..."

The result was widespread panic, and some people are said to have been killed in the stampede to get away from New Jersey. You can listen to part of the original broadcast here:

And fake stories are nothing new. Here's an astounding CNN broadcast from YouTube, by this major US war correspondent, allegedly from Saudi Arabia in 1991 (there's a series of outtakes until 3:11 and then the newscast begins):

In closing, the brilliant 1997 movie Wag The Dog is about a fake war between the USA and Albania, created in a Hollywood studio and pumped into newsrooms worldwide, purely as a short-term manipulation of public opinion. If you haven't seen it, get it! Here's the trailer:

Friday, January 08, 2010

A snowy Scrabo morning

Shot this about 9am this morning. Click to enlarge:

The Whale's Jaw Bone Arch, near Portaferry

Old postcard. It's not there any more, but I know a few folk who saw it. And you thought fancy garden features only appeared on tv! Click to enlarge.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A wheen mair photos

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Three pics from early this morning. Click to enlarge.

Towards Galloway:

Towards the harbour (with the Isle of Man faint in the background):

The bay (described on a 1500s map I have as "Talbot's Cove"):

Driving Protestants into the sea, Donaghadee, 1689

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) I usually try to post positive stuff here, but here's a darker moment of Ards Peninsula history that might well be of interest to many of you. Some grim stuff and a dramatic rescue off the coast of Donaghadee, from recent readings in a variety of sources:

...This Andrew Agnew was also a sea captain and shipowner, and did good service to his coreligionists in Ulster. When James II.'s army under Buchan were driving the flying Protestants before them with great slaughter, Agnew bore down upon them, brought his ship's guns to bear on the dragoons, and rescued a host of fugitives, who had been literally driven into the sea. Taking them on board his ship, he disembarked them in Loch Ryan...
from The Hereditary Sheriffs of Galloway Vol II, by Sir Andrew Agnew, 1893

...Captain Andrew Agnew, sea captain and merchant in Belfast, in his vessel brought four guns to play on Lord Duleek's horse, and took 78 Protestant refugees on board his boat, 1689...
Memoirs of Ireland (London, 1716), p. 216.

...Lord Duleek's horse chased the Protestants into the sea at Donaghadee; but one Captain Agnew riding at anchor took 68 on board, and conveyed them gratis to Scotland...
Reid's Presbyterian Church in Ireland, ii. 463.

Certainly deserves some further research!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The first Thompsons in Ulster

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Tim Thompson from Spokane, Washington State, USA, was in touch with me a few weeks ago, asking about Ulster-Scots heritage. A lot of the early records have been lost over the years. From those that have survived, here's a list of the first Thomsons/Thompsons in Ulster:

- a Rev Andrew Thompson was ordained at Ballywillan in County Antrim in 1615
- a John Thomson at Blackabbey in County Down, 1617 (a tenant of Sir Hugh Montgomery)
- a Robert Thomson in Londonderry in 1617
- a James Thomson was recorded at Lifford in County Donegal in 1617
- a Robert and his father David Thompson at Dunluce, County Antrim in 1634

Tim has traced his family tree back to a Hugh Thompson who emigrated from Belfast with his wife and sons to Virginia around 1750. Our own family tradition is that the first Ulster Thompsons in our tree came from between Kilmarnock and Troon in Ayrshire and settled near Ratallagh just south of Portavogie.

Old family papers that we have from the mid 1800s show the name was spelled Tamson (ie, how it was pronounced, and also the Scottish version of the name - this 1891 map shows Tamsons in Lanarkshire and Midlothian), but towards the later 1800s it had been adjusted to Thompson.

You can search the early records, from 1606 - 1641, here, thanks to the excellent Ulster Historical Foundation.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Burns and Laird, Ardrossan - Belfast, 1958

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Here's a recent find, from the days before low-cost airlines and high-falutin' notions about foreign holidays! Click to enlarge - print it out and stick it up on your wall!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Kennlin an' Shunners


(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Over Christmas we burned about 10 big plastic fishboxes worth of scrap timber and logs that I had chopped up with the electric circular saw and the axe. (Folk that live along the coast will know how useful washed-up fishboxes can be. I used to jump over piles of them on my Grifter thanks to a plywood ramp and a lot of pedal power - very dangerous!). Clearing out the fireplace naturally brings back a lot of oul vocabulary, like shunners and kennlin (cinders and kindling in standard English). Of course the weans look at me like I'm from the moon, but when I explain the words they get into it and start using them forbye.

The Busmen's Mission, Lurgan, Co Armagh

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) It's donkeys years since I was at this place. Is it still going? I found a few rough clips on YouTube:

I Want to see Israel Marching:

We Are Never Never Weary:

My Shackles Are Gone:


Jesus - the afterthought

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) This is a common complaint heard every year about our ever-secularising Christmas. But what if it has also become a subtle creeping trend within churches as well, and particularly in the words of the more modern music that many sing these days?

The US-based website Christless Christianity contains some very interesting material examining the subject. Here in Northern Ireland, the Christmas editions of two local magazines also touched on the issue, specifically within the context of music and worship. In ReachOut magazine, former Presbyterian Moderator Revd Dr Donald Patton's article Awake, as in Days Gone By includes this observation:

“Christianity in its final and ultimate analysis is the acceptance of the Person, not the teaching, of Christ. He came not so much to teach as to redeem, and redemption involves His Person... (following the 1859 Revival) as hymns were introduced as regular features of praise the focus was on the completed ministry of Christ - His compassion, His exemplary earthly life, His teaching, His death and what it achieved, His resurrection and what it meant, His ascension to the seat of power and authority overcoming all enemies, His coming again... These praise songs keep Christ at the centre and present reliable teaching. They engage the mind and the heart, renewing our worship, corporate and personal, as we hum and sing the words and tunes to ourselves. As the church sings it draws attention to the joy and hope which Jesus gives that others may believe..."

Going further on the issue, the excellent article in ABCInsight Magazine by Pastor Alan Wilson of Portstewart Baptist Church (here's his blog) entitled The Gospel and Worship said:

"...I have sat through portions of corporate worship where the gospel has hardly even been hinted at. It’s as though the cross has become peripheral. Might that mean that our worship is not Christian enough?..."

A central point of both articles is that the message of the Gospel - of Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice for sin - is being lost, downplayed, among a range of other messages about God, creation, personal transformation or just about being nice happy people. Of the three aspects of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Son is to be our focus. Even in heaven, the scene painted in Revelation 5 is of countless millions who are singing and praising Jesus - "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain". God the Father is not the whole point - because if He was the whole point, then there is/was no need for Jesus.

I remember a kindly old man telling me when I was a wee boy, starting to read the Bible for myself, that I should "look for Christ on every page" - not just in the four Gospels, but everywhere. Aspects of Jesus can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Samson - the whole Bible. Because the message of the Gospel is not about believing in God. It is about trusting in Christ.

"...It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive. If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instructions and motivation can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer..." - from chapter one of Christless Christianity

This is the gospel that the Reformers recovered, that John Knox took to a hostile queen, that revived the early Ulster-Scots in 1625, which shook Ulster in 1859 - and which can still be just as powerful today. Alan Wilson's article ends with a quote from Gordon Fee: "Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.". Perhaps that's a litmus test you can use next Sunday. Here are a few videos:

Sunday, January 03, 2010

More about Robert Burns and Ulster

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog)

A wee snippet I found the other day:

"...there are few persons of any cultivation who would willingly admit that they were ignorant of the songs of Burns"
Alexander Knox
's History of the County of Down, p 63 (Belfast, 1875)

Snow in Galloway

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) It's been snowing everywhere except on the Ards Peninsula! Not fair. Imagine the envy of our three weans (children) when they looked across the water this morning and saw this: (click to enlarge)

Friday, January 01, 2010

Old Ulster Gospel Music - the Echoes of Grace

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog)

I remember the Echoes of Grace singing at Carrowdore Mission Hall a few times when I was a wee lad, probably late 1970s or early 1980s. They were from the Shankill area of Belfast, and sang some great old gospel music. Their tapes (along with classic Johnny Cash) were probably the ones that were played most in our house when we were growing up. I digitised one of the Echoes of Grace's tapes recently to burn onto CD for my parents. Here are two tracks for you - "Light At The River" by Bill Anderson, and a real cracker of an outro.

Light At the River:


Back then, meetings were recorded onto audio tape by setting a tape recorder on the window sill nearest to the platform - a bit like this old ITT one shown below. A far cry from iPods and MP3s!