Saturday, March 27, 2010

“Scotch-Irish Foodways in America”

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). Ulster-Scots food? The usual knee-jerk response to this is some sneering comment about battered Mars Bars, the obvious haggis - or perhaps the glorious egg & onion sandwich! As ever with Ulster-Scots subject matter, in between the scorn - and the trivialisation - there's a deep and important story to be told.

Mary Drymon is an American writer, historian, museum educator and curator who has recently published an important book called “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America”. (I am glad she stuck with the historic term "Scotch-Irish" and didn't adopt the recent "Scots-Irish") She has based the book on the recipes known to have been used by Ulster-Scots emigrants who arrived in Maine in the early 1700s. Mary's research indicates that it was Ulster emigrants who brought rhubarb to America - as was the case with potatoes.

> Here's a brief article about the book
> Here's Mary Drymon's blog
> Buy the book on Amazon

There's a great quote on Mary's blog:

"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food"

Friday, March 26, 2010

"A tongue as broad as any Scot", Ballyhalbert, 1983

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). This is a scan from the Ards Borough Council 1983 tourist's guide booklet. For the language enthusiasts, the last line is interesting:


Sunday, March 21, 2010

"When They Ring The Golden Bells for You and Me"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). John Gray sang this at Carrowdore Mission Hall last Sunday night - a lovely rendition of an old hymn from the late 1800s. I found this version by Natalie Merchant (who sang with Wilco and Billy Bragg on the great "Mermaid Avenue" album of old Woody Guthrie songs).

And here's a very impressive guitar / instrumental version:

Glasgow man William McEwan, "the world's first great gospel singer", recorded a version in New York in May 1926; the brilliant Virginian singing Baptist pastor Alfred Karnes recorded it in 1927 (download his version free here) and the McCravy Brothers recorded it in 1930.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A message from North Carolina

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). A few days ago I was astounded to receive the following note on Facebook. The irony is that for a good few months now I've been thinking about deleting my Facebook page because people keep inviting me to play games or join causes that I don't really have the time or interest to get involved in, and so rather than risk offence I figured that shutting it down would be a good move.

Then, out of the blue, a complete stranger called Sharon Stewart Wilkerson emailed me from Asheville in North Carolina. For those of you familiar with the content of this blog and the kinds of projects I invest my spare time in, you'll have some idea of how blown away I was by this (reproduced below, unedited, with Sharon's permission):



I ran across your personal blog yesterday while searching for more information about the Ulster Scots language, and found a treasure trove. I ended up looking at your other sites and got such a blessing!

My Granny was born and reared on a farm outside Bushmills, County Antrim, and was converted at the age of fifteen in an evangelistic meeting. Her parents were saved through an evangelist at an earlier period. My grandfather, John Stewart, was born in Lurgan and was an orphan by the age of seven. My grandparents emigrated separately to Scotland. My grandfather was saved there and met my Granny. They married in 1904. My dad, James Alexander Stewart, was born in Glasgow and was "fitball daft". The Lord saved him when he was a teen and he became a boy preacher. He preached all over the British Isles as a boy. He met my American mom in Budapest, Hungary where she was ministering under the Southern Baptist. My parents travelled so I did not get to spend a lot of time with them. Dad also founded mission organizations and wrote many books.

I say all that to explain that I when I was with them, Dad read me stories about the Covenanters, and told me all about Revival. (He saw Revival under his ministry as a young preacher in Europe.) He taught me Scottish history and all about the great Scottish preachers etc etc. I also got to spend time with my parents during their meetings. Dad especially loved open air meetings.

I saw that you had "Fu an skailin" listed on your Sacred Scots Songs page. My husband and I still teach it to children along with "Come Awa the Noo". My family knew Seth and Bessie Sykes, as well as "Uncle Charlie' Main. Uncle Charlie was a mentor to Dad and I remember him even participating with Dad in the open air on the beach at Bangor as part of the Bangor Missionary Convention in 1965. Willie Mullan, Ian Paisley, WP Nicholson, Stanley Mawhinney, Herbert Mateer, and many more were part of the dear ones in Ireland.

Well, you see I got carried away! Thanks for posting all the articles, songs, poems etc. I enjoyed them so much! My husband and I live and minister in the mountains outside Asheville, NC, where the people have a lot of Scots Irish in their heritage. (The music!)

Well, "I'll Fly Away" now!

In Christ,



A lot of stuff has been written over the past 15 years or so about Ulster and America, much of it about centuries-old Presidents (whose Ulster links, in some cases, are pretty thin), much of it repetitive and very far removed from the common cultures of ordinary people. Sharon's email shows that there is still, alive and well today, a common evangelical faith and culture which spans Scotland, Ulster and America, and that some of the wee songs that I grew up with here in the Ards Peninsula, which had been taught to my parents and grandparents by the "oul Scotch preachers" like Seth Sykes, Charlie Main and Jock Troup, are still being sung today in the mountains of North Carolina.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Enough to start a riot in a Cathedral

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). 1637 Book of Common Prayer, Scottish edition. As (not) recommended by Jenny Geddes. On eBay now for $900!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Patrick at Immanuel Presbyterian Church

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). On Monday evening past, I was a stand-in speaker for Immanuel Presbyterian Church PWA (now called Presbyterian Women) on Agnes Street in the Shankill area of Belfast. The speaker who was booked had to go gallavanting off to America last week, so the ladies at Immanuel put up with me instead!

I took a powerpoint along with lots of images but very little text, just as visual aids for the talk. I started (as you might expect) by pointing out a few of the myths and nonsense, then the Scottish stories and legends of Patrick, the Patrick-related placenames in Scotland, the early Ulster-Scots records of Templepatrick near Donaghadee, then onto the similarity of portions of his Confessio and Psalm 40, the Cross of St Patrick flag and its modern applications in logos (like the PSNI badge), Patrick Hamilton the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation and the origins of Scottish Presbyterianism, and finished with the work of Ulster-born hymn tune writer William James Kirkpatrick - "My faith has found a resting place not in device or creed...". A light and enjoyable evening for me, and apparently for the audience too!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From Patrick's "Confessio", circa 450AD

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). "...For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him.

He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe..."

Full text available here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mother's Day lunch - "Thon's a clooster!"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). My parents came off with this on Sunday, and I don't remember ever hearing it before.

Chambers Concise Scots Dictionary has it as:
• clooster n a mass of something wet or sticky, mud etc 19-, chf Galloway

James Fenton's The Hamely Tongue - a Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim has it as:
• clouter [cf.Sc. cloiter a disgusting wet mess; possibly of Low German origin]

Hilary just hopes they weren't talking about the Sunday lunch she'd made that we were all eating at the time!

Global warming at the Ulster Folk Museum?

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). I took this pic on my Blackberry a few weeks ago. Looks like the sea levels have risen and the Ards Peninsula has sunk into the sea... Lough Swilly and Inishowen look like they're in trouble too!


(from the Coalisland Spade Mill)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mark Driscoll (of Mars Hill Church) - coming to Belfast later this year

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog). Set aside all of your (perhaps valid) perceptions of US evangelists - the ones on tv with the scrolling information along the bottom with their credit card hotline numbers, who beg for donations and infer that they can arrange for a Divine blessing for every £ or $ you send them.

Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church, is based in Seattle and has been described as "the fierce new face of American evangelism". He has become well-known around the world (thanks to the internet age, where he generates the occasional bit of controversy) for a frank and pull-no-punches preaching style, and is making his first visit to Northern Ireland for this year's annual Mandate event in Belfast on 13 November. Having been raised in wee rural halls, I tend to avoid big things like Mandate, but I hope to go this year to hear him preach.

His books, Vintage Jesus, Vintage Church and Doctrine - What Christians Should Believe - give a solid foundation about the Person we should follow, what Christians should believe, and how the local church should operate.

In particular, Mark Driscoll draws the listener's attention to Jesus. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but if you tune in to what's being said and sung in many churches today, you might conclude that the faith being presented should be called God-ianity. They might be unconsciously drifting that direction - but they should be into Christ-ianity. On the radio just this morning I heard a local minister downplaying the uniqueness of Christ. In his many online sermons I've heard and watched, Mark Driscoll's aim is (as Hebrews 12 says) to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith".

There's a huge back catalogue of Driscoll sermons on the website, and I often listen to them when I'm working at my desk - far better than Stephen Nolan! I get through maybe 4 or 5 of them every week. Some traditional Ulster folk (a solid, reliable and cautious breed which I count myself among) will find Driscoll's style a bit uncomfortable at first, but the substance of what he says, and all without notes, more than compensates.

Here are two recent sermon clips from a series he preached entitled "Luke's Gospel - Investigating the Man who is God"

There are hundreds more clips and sermons on the MarsHillChurch YouTube channel - take some time and enjoy them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"A wheen o wee Scotch breek"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) About 12 years ago when we bought our current house and were doing some renovations, we found what one of the workmen called "a wheen o wee Scotch breek" - a few Scottish bricks, glazed firebricks to be precise. On the back they carried the moulded imprint of "J & M Craig Ltd., Kilmarnock, Scotland". So we got them built into some of the walls outside, with the lettering facing outwards. I did a bit of research at the time, and found that this particular imprint only existed for about 15 years, in the 1850s. On the excellent AyrshireHistory website they have a page about the Craig brothers. I gave them a lick of paint earlier in the week, so here they are, fresh and gleamin! (click to enlarge)

"The Eastern Gate", the Delmore Brothers

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) This is a song that was played constantly in our house, on a tape by the old Belfast group the Echoes of Grace which they brought out ("released" is far too contrived a term for how it was done back then!) in the early 1980s. The Wee Echoes had mandolin, guitar, and lots of singers - usually 7 or 8 in the group at any time. My da still watches video tapes of their concerts, and herds visitors into the front room to watch them too!

It was only much later in life that I discovered that an enormous amount of the songs recorded by Ulster gospel groups in the late 20th century were originally old hillbilly and "brother duet" songs from the early part of that century. "The Eastern Gate" was written by Isaiah Martin in 1905 and was recorded a few times in the 20s and 30s, eventually made famous by the brilliant Delmore Brothers who recorded it in 1940:

Early American recordings of artists like the Delmore Brothers and Jimmie Rodgers travelled as far as the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland, as shown in this advert from the National Theatre of Scotland, about Thomas Fraser, which features his version of the Delmores' song "The Mississippi Shore":

I hope that the forthcoming Ulster-Scots broadcast fund will enable projects like this to be produced, which delve into deep, rooted stories of real people and their culture.


Here's some background on Thomas Fraser, presented by Rob Ellen of The Medicine Show:

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"the pinnacle of thranness!"

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) Wendy Austin said this today, to Danny Kennedy, on Talkback on Radio Ulster. Maybe you language enthusiasts out there should start to list the various Ulster-Scots terms that are used on the local media? It would be a quare gunk for a lot of folk! (you can hear it on iPlayer at about 40 min into the programme)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Patrick and the Ulster Scots

Over the next few weeks the annual St Patrick stuff will be ratcheted up. I'll freely admit to having mixed views about Patrick - there's certainly a story in there somewhere, but it's buried under centuries of mythology, mumbo-jumbo and a heavy dollop of nonsense added for good measure. Efforts have begun already to prevent a repeat of last year's drunken riot in a specific part of Belfast.

Outside Donaghadee is a tiny coastal graveyard called Templepatrick. My mother's family are from that general area, in fact the Reids who lived in the wee cottage next door to the one she grew up in are both buried there. Local tradition has always held that Templepatrick was where Patrick arrived - probably from Scotland. One of the earliest chroniclers of the Ulster-Scots, William Montgomery (1633 - 1706), a nephew of Sir Hugh Montgomery, wrote the following in 1683:

It was a younger brother of Sir Hugh, a Patrick Montgomery, who was granted the land at Templepatrick. You can imagine the conversation at Donaghadee when they arrived in the sunshine of May 1606:

Sir Hugh M: "Weel Patrick, you're looking for some of my new Ulster estate eh? Well, my new friend Con O'Neill, whose family have been here for sixteen generations, says that your namesake, Patrick the evangelist, arrived just a mile or two from here in a wee spot that the locals call Templepatrick near Creboy (Craigboy). Would that do ye?".

Patrick M: "Aye, that's a nice wee spot. And on a clear day I'll be able to look across to Portpatrick in Scotland, which is named after him forbye - it's the port that all of our new tenants are sailing from. Y'know, Hugh, if you made enough money here in Ulster maybe you could even buy Portpatrick from the Adairs!"

Sir Hugh M: "Patrick, ye're no as daft as ye look..."

And so on. Joking aside, it is of significance that William Montgomery recorded the Templepatrick story in 1683, and said that there were "other traditions among ye Irish concerning it". William Montgomery was a close friend of the local Savage family, who by then had been living in the Ards for about 400 years and who provided much of the content for his writings.

It would be ironic if, with all of the money and attention lavished on Downpatrick, Armagh and Slemish, if a forgotten and overgrown wee burying ground just south of Donaghadee was actually the place where he arrived.

(NB: The original stone coat of arms from Patrick Montgomery's home can still be seen today on a house at the foot of the Craigboy Road. A friend of my da's got the job of cementing it into place.)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The McCravy Brothers: "Rugged Presbyterians" from Scotland to Ulster to Pennsylvania to South Carolina... whose music came back to Ulster and then to New Zealand

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Some months ago, I was researching the McCravy Brothers (Frank and James McCravy) of Laurens, South Carolina. The reason was that our aunt Rhoda had a few of their 78s which she had somehow bought here in Ulster in the 1940s. In the late 1970s when Graeme and I were wee, and were members of her Sunday School class at Carrowdore Mission Hall, she taught us their songs "Does This Train Go To Heaven" and "The Glorious Gospel Train", both of which they had recorded in 1931. I remember singing these at the Christmas social with the rest of the class. The McCravy Brothers must have had quite a fan base in their heyday, because from the wee bit of information that I had already posted here, I was contacted last Autumn by a few people, including a man called Edmund Sheridan from New Zealand, who was trying to find these two songs - so I sent them to him on a CD.

Thanks to Google, I managed to get in touch with Paul McCravy, a cousin of Frank and James. We emailed back and forth, and he sent me some great material, which I've posted excerpts from below:

1) Family History and Ulster-Scots Origins
• "...Frank and James McCravy's ancestors ( McCreary was the original spelling ) were run out of Scotland during the John Knox Movement. Before they emigrated to America they lived in County Antrim... my family is very proud of it's Scotch-Irish heritage." There are of course McCrearys still in Ulster today. David McCreery played football for Northern Ireland back when we had a good team!

• "...When they learned that William Penn was giving land to new settlers in America, these rugged Presbyterians came to Pennsylvania to live. As time went by the McCravys, along with many Scotch-Irish families, moved south along the Appalachian Trail to the foot hills of what is today North and South Carolina..."

2) Musical careers
• "...The brothers were extremely close to their mother (you can hear it in the songs they chose to record) who faithfully made them practice their music every day. They played several instruments including guitar, violin, and piano but when they hired a studio musician they got the best (a banjo player on one record comes to mind). There is one old recording where one brother plays a Jew's harp..."

• "...The brothers had contracts with all the major labels but unlike today made little money during their career. They had other jobs to make ends meet..."

• An article by Paul's father, John R McCravy, says that the brothers were "well known evangelist singers during the 1920s and 1930s. They conducted song services for many revivals in this area and were known for their lovely singing voices. They made sixty or more recordings for Brunswick, Okey, Victor, Bluebird and Decca record companies".

• From another clipping Paul sent me it says that the brothers' three-times-a-week radio shows on WFBC were sponsored by Coca-Cola!

3) A Talented Family
• Their younger sister Margaret was also a singer, her stage name was Margaret McCrae and she sang with the world-famous Benny Goodman band in 1937 and 1938

• She had been well known as "Pretty Peggy Pepper" on the Dr Pepper radio programme, which featured Joe E Brown.

• Margaret married Harry Simeone, who wrote the song "The Little Drummer Boy"

• Frank McCravy Jr. lives in Greenville in South Carolina, and Paul describes him as "a fine percussionist".

• Paul's father "...John McCravy, was a fine musician and played banjo and musical saw with them in some local appearances..."

4) Personal Inspiration
• "...Their brother Jack McCravy lived in Columbia, SC, until his death in the 1970s and he had all their records but he would get so emotional when they were played no one would dare play them. My brother Ed and I once sang "Hello Central, Give Me Heaven" in their same harmony for Jack and the tears streamed down his face..."

• "...I am sending you a song my father, John McCravy wrote in memory of Frank and James McCravy. It's entitled "Life Forever" and if you like it, feel free to use it any way you wish..." John had a dream in which Frank and James sang this song - he jumped up out of bed and wrote it down.

In closing, Paul encouraged me to "...Feel free to share any info I send you as it's an honor that folks are still interested in their music after all these years..." - hence this lengthy post.

Below I'll post a selection of the clippings, photographs and videos of the McCravy Brothers, most of which Paul sent to me.

McCravy Brothers - The Glorious Gospel Train (October 1931)

McCravy Brothers - Does This Train Go To Heaven? (Oct 1931)

Margaret McCravy (McCrae) with Benny Goodman circa 1936: