Saturday, September 29, 2012

Andrew Bonar-Law in Comber and Newtownards, Easter 1912; speech references to Scotland


Born in Canada, Bonar-Law was briefly British Prime Minister in the 1920s. During the anti-Home Rule campaign, as leader of the Conservative Party, he toured parts of Co Antrim and Co Down around Easter 1912. He and others, including Sir Edward Carson, arrived at Comber Square around 1pm on Easter Monday. During his speech to the gathered crowd, Bonar-Law pressed an Ulster-Scots button:

'...this is the first time I have visited Ireland on a political mission, and I can assure you that firmly I believe you are determined under no circumstances to allow yourselves to be driven out of the kingdom which your fathers have done so much to build and to sustain... I know Scotland well, and I believe that rather than submit to such a fate the Scottish people would face a second Bannockburn or a second Flodden Field. (Cheers.) And how can they expect that you will submit? All that is needed is to enable the people of England and Scotland to realise with what horror you regard the change which for a party purpose they are willing to force upon you. (Cheers.) Once they have realised that they will have realised also that the Unionists here are determined that the Union shall remain long after we who are now fighting your cause have been buried in the soil beneath (Loud Cheers.)...'

He then travelled to crowded Newtownards Square. Rev William Wright later reflected on how he welcomed Law to the platform:

'...The great bulk of the people who stood around him that day were descendants of Scotsmen, holding the creed of their ancestors, of which the late William Ewart Gladstone - no mean authority in such matters - stated, when addressing their kindred in their own land: "which, whatever else may be said of it, made your forefathers a strong and determined race." That strength might have been held in reserve in the peaceful times they had had under the British Crown, or might have been allowed to manifest itself in the pursuits of peace, but it abode in the blood of the people of Ulster, and if necessity arose it was there as it was in that province and in Scotland in many a field of fight in the brave days of old...'

Bonar Law responded:

'...As has been pointed out, my father was born and is buried in your province. Even when I was a boy in Canada I remember well how proud he was, and how constantly he showed his pride in his Ulster blood - a pride which could not have been greater if he had been descended from a line of kings, instead of being, as he was, the son of the small farmer in Ulster...'


Many other speeches made in the Ards at the time, all designed to motivate and mobilise the listener, referred to Scottish history and ancestry. I am sure that these references were carefully chosen for maximum effect. The Ards is an Ulster-Scots heartland and the newspaper accounts of the events of 1912 show that very clearly.

NB - It may seem strange to us that Bannockburn and Flodden were employed in 1912 in a pro-Unionist argument, as both were great battles between the armies of Scotland and England. Bonar-Law's point was not purely political, but rather to show that in years gone by people had refused to be oppressed and were willing to fight for their freedom. And by the report above of the crowd cheering, his Comber audience knew full well what he was talking about.

Sir Edward Carson on the Ulster-Scots

(Speaking in Portadown, Wednesday 25th September 1912)

'...Was bragging a characteristic of the Ulster Scot? Was it by bragging that they won Derry, Aughrim and the Boyne? I remember Mr Gladstone once wrote a famous letter, he said, “read history.” I wonder do the Radicals ever read history? If they do I wish they would look over the history of the American War.

I should like just to quote to you as evidence of the Ulster Scot what two or three great men who have studied him, not merely in this country, but in America and elsewhere, have said, and I would first quote what the present American Ambassador in England Mr Whitelaw Reid, has said – “they (the Ulster Scots) were the first to proclaim for freedom in these United States, even before Lexington, Scots Irish blood had been shed on behalf of American freedom, and the spirit of Patrick Henry animated the Scotch Irish to a man when the clash came. In the forefront of every battle was seen their burnished mail and in the gloomy rear of retreat was heard their voices of constancy and courage.”

And the late President M’Kinley, who, I believe, came himself from Antrim descent, said this – “the Scotch Irish man comes of mighty stock, descending from those who would fight, and who would die rather than surrender.”

Lord Rosebery who was Prime Minister of England, said this – “the Ulster Scots without exception are the most dominant, the most irresistible race that exists in the universe.”...'

Friday, September 28, 2012

The gravestone of Rev George Brydone at Kircubbin Presbyterian Church (from Flodden > Covenanters > 1798 Rebellion > 1912 Ulster Covenant)

The flat stone in the foreground is the gravestone of Rev George Brydone, who (then aged 51) was the minister of Kircubbin on the shores of Strangford Lough in 1798. He was from Scotland and had arrived at Kircubbin aged 31. Brydone's understudy Archibald Warwick of Loughriscouse was arrested and executed nearby (aged just 29) for his involvement in the 1798 Rebellion and was later buried at Movilla. The inscription on George Brydone's stone reads:

lies the body
late minister of the presbyterian
Congregation of Kircubbin

He was ordained to the pastoral charge
of this congregation
by the Presbytery of Lauder, Synod of Kelso, Scotland
March 3rd commenced his ministerial labours
April 26th 1778
And departed this life September the 3rd A.D. 1817
Aged 70 years.


Situated halfway between Kelso and Edinburgh, Lauder had been a Royal Burgh since 1500 and was where John Knox and James Guthrie (the second martyr of the Covenanter 'Killing Times') had ministered in previous centuries. The town grew in the shadow of Thirlestane Castle, the architect of which, Sir William Bruce, also designed the unique Old Parish Church in 1673.

The famous collection Wilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland (first published in 1834) includes a story about a John Brydone, set in 1645 in the area near Lauder, called 'The Adopted Son - a Tale of the Times of the Covenanters' (read it online here). It shows that the Brydones were very familiar with being persecuted by the King's troops - back in 1600s Scotland, never mind in late 1700s Kircubbin.

Earlier still, a William Brydone of Selkirk had been knighted by King James IV of Scotland on the battlefield of Flodden in 1513. In 1790 a John Brydone also of Selkirk was reported as still having William's sword.

The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany of 1817 reported Rev George Brydone's death, 'At Dunevely, Ireland'. Next to his stone is another flat one, to 'John Brydone of Donavelly' (Dunevely) who died on 16 October 1825 aged 74. Presumably they were brothers.


It is easy to imagine the Brydone brothers standing alongside their congregation and neighbours at Kircubbin in October 1798, watching young Warwick being hanged by Redcoats - remembering full well their own illustrious ancestors who had fought similar struggles in centuries gone by, and no doubt sympathising with the cause Warwick had died for.

It is no wonder that a Newtownards Chronicle report of an Ulster Covenant meeting at Kircubbin Orange Hall in 1912 records that when William Mitchell-Thomson (the Scottish-born MP for North Down) referred in his speech to the Scottish Covenanters of old, someone in the room cried aloud "their descendants are here tonight!".

Over the next few days the Ulster Covenant will be marked. This simple story above shows that the Ulster Covenant, when cut off from its Scottish cultural roots and the power of handed-down family traditions, becomes a hollower story of simply 'big picture' politics - rather than deep rooted centuries-old heritage which coursed through the veins of the people of 1912.

Political history is interesting - but it's not the whole story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Ulster Mangle, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Emigration, Orangemen and a St Patrick's Day violin (fiddle) in Portavogie, March 1911


From the Newtownards Chronicle, 25 March 1911

The members of this lodge met last week to do honour to two of their members, Brs. W M'Master and Alex M'Vea, who left for Chicago, USA on St Patrick's Day. Br. Wm Clint was moved to the chair, and in the course of his remarks thanked the members for placing him in that position, and expressed regret at the departure of their brethren, but wished them every prosperity in the land of their adoption. The chairman also presented each with beautiful certificates. The secretary of the lodge, Br. David Kelly, also spoke. He said he could not let the occasion pass without saying a few words, and he knew he was only expressing the heartfelt wish of all the members of that lodge, when he wished their much respected brethren (Brs. A M'Vea and W M'Master) health, happiness and prosperity in the land they were going to, and hoped that before many years they would have made enough to enable them to settle down at home in Portavogie once more. He concluded by wishing them a safe passage over, and to say he hoped they would not forget the happy times spent in No 552 (applause). Brs. M'Vea and M'Master amicably replied. During the evening gramophone selections were given by Br. Alex O'Prey. A dance was subsequently indulged in, the music being rendered by Br. Hugh O'Prey (violin). Br John Kelly, W.M. kindly acted as M.C. and rendered valuable assistance. The dancing continued until a late hour, after which the singing of 'Auld Lang Syne' brought an enjoyable evening to a close.

• Alex and Hugh O'Prey were clearly musical; both lived at Ratallagh between Portavogie and Cloughey, and signed the Ulster Covenant at Ballyeasborough Orange Hall. According to the 1911 Census Alex was 19; he had a 16 year old brother called Hugh. Their father was also called Hugh, aged 45. I suspect the father was the fiddle player. The family was Church of Ireland (presumably Ballyeasborough again) and all of the men were blacksmiths.
William Clint of Cloughey also signed at Ballyeasborough
David Kelly of Kirkistown signed at Kirkistown Orange Hall

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ards & The Ulster Covenant - the story of a community

The 'big picture' political story of the Ulster Covenant is everywhere at the moment - radio, tv, newspaper and events. Tonight I spoke at the launch of 'Ards & The Ulster Covenant' exhibition which is now on display at Ards Town Hall until 6th October before then starting a 'tour' of other towns and villages across the Borough. I worked on the exhibition with a number of other folk who are readers here (go and see the exhibition - they are all named on the acknowledgements).

It takes a different angle, telling the grassroots story of the Ulster Covenant in the Ards area - of people, events and stories that the standard accounts gloss over. The panels are entitled:

• The Ards in 1912
• Connections with Scotland
• Home Rule and the Idea of the Ulster Covenant
• Public Rallies in the Ards
• Famous Ards Signatories
• The Women's Declaration
• Ards Folk who signed Beyond Ulster
• Differing Views, Mutual Respect
• From Ulster Covenant to Northern Ireland

There is also a large map showing the locations where the Covenant was signed in the area, with small bar charts of the numbers of men and women who signed. It's intended for a local audience, so therefore the approach is to tell local stories - this meant that fresh research was critical, to unearth themes and accounts that haven't been seen in 100 years. Various artefacts have also been uncovered and included - such as the handwritten Covenant from Ballywalter, and the Ballyfrenis banner.

If you live in the area or have some connection here, make a point of going along to see it and drop me a line to give some feedback.


Detail from map panel:


Some quick snaps



Sunday, September 23, 2012

John Wesley in Ards - Town Hall Plaque

Friday, September 21, 2012

My children would call this an "epic fail"

...answers on a postcard!


"O Lord grant me Thy grace that no word or act of mine may be spoken or done rashly, hastily, or with anger towards those who differ from me"


From the Ulster Volunteer Force prayer, 1913.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Robinson & Cleaver Advert, 1962


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ballyeasborough LOL 1310, September 1912

The Ulster Covenant wasn't signed in Portavogie. Surprising as that might seem today, back then it was a tiny place. Maps of the early 1800s show only a handful of small houses scattered along the coastline, but no village as such. Descriptions of County Down of the late 1800s don't even mention Portavogie; the 1911 census shows that all of the other Peninsula villages had larger populations. There wasn't even a Presbyterian church in Portavogie until 1926, the same year that the People's Hall was founded, however the Orange Lodge in the village can trace its roots back to 1797 (see website here). The local parish church was (and still is) out in the countryside - St Andrew's Church at Ballyeasborough had been built in 1850 - it is literally at the end of our road. I went to Ballyeasborough Primary School (which was turned into a house years ago and is now for sale). Just up the brae a bit was Ballyeasborough Orange Hall, which was also turned into a house many years back. Below is a report of the pre-Ulster Day discussions at the Orange Lodge. In the end, 257 men and 240 women signed the Covenant and the Declaration at Ballyeasborough.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Niver Budge - a poem from Greba / Greyabbey


I was given these a while ago and thought I should post them here to see if anyone out there can shed some light on the story. These are two related poems about a boat which was built at the 'Breek Hole' or 'Brick Hole' on the shore near Greyabbey around 1879. The construction was overseen by Mr H S Brookes, the land agent of Major General W E Montgomery (1847 - 1927) of Rosemount. While she was being built one of the locals declared 'boys she'll niver budge', and the name stuck.

The 'Niver Budge' was 20 -30 tonnes and was used to transport lime from Castle Espie, coal from England and seaweed from Strangford Lough. The poem below is said to have been written by Robert McKay, who was one of the crew:

The Niver Budge

Come all you seamen, and launch men, too
And a dismal story I'll tell you
Of terrible hardships; these were so,
On board the 'Niver Budge' not long ago.

To the 'Niver Budge' boys we do belong,
A well built vessel, both stout and strong,
Mr Brooks being her captain's name
A better seaman ne'er crossed the main.

Robert Wright - he is a man of fame
And bold Ned Kane - you may know the same,
For Sheely's Island we now set sail
For gravel bound; with a pleasant gale.

Bold McKay he loud did bawl,
"Lower your mainsail, here comes a squall"
He was a sailor, both stout and true
As ever sailed in the Budge's crew.

Out spoke bold Hagan, and this did say
"I think my brave boys, we'll have some tay,
We got no meat since we left the shore
And I'm afraid we'll return no more."

Mr Brookes he was an honest man
He took his seamen all by the hand
"Rabbie Reid", said he, "ye need no fear
For soon you'll see your Louisa dear".

As the Nut Bank it came into view,
Our gallant seamen their anchor threw.
And every man they held up their hand
And thanked God they were near the land.

Twas then that the small boat was launched,
Through wind and wave, for to take her chance,
She filled with water up to the brim
And we got a cart for to draw her in.

After this near disaster, the hull lay near Mid Isle at Greyabbey for years (pictured above), but eventually Major General Montgomery allowed the Scouts who camped on the island to break her up for firewood.

As you might expect from the locality, an Ulster-Scots version was also written - in fact, the person who gave both to me said that the Ulster-Scots one was written first. However I only have some fragments of it, which are below, and spelled as provided to me:

The Niver Budge

Ou'l Ned Kane at the helm did stand
By the help of God, boys weel reach the land
At Ned's word the sails did fill
And they steered her for Greba Mill

Keptain Brooks being a dacent man
Tuck his sailors by the han
Rabby Reid ye needny fear
For soon you will see your Louisa dear.

Up spoke boul Hagans
And thus did say
A'll put the tay pot on for a drap o tay

I've been looking at some old maps of the coastline between Greyabbey (Greba) and Kircubbin, and have found some interesting old Scottish-influenced place names such as Bloody Burn Bay (which of course the Bloody Burn flows into) and Bank O Bonnie.

Friday, September 14, 2012

So I was talking yesterday with a recognised authority on the Ulster Covenant...

... and asked him a few questions which had been puzzling me. He confirmed that:

1) The 'turnout' to sign the Ulster Covenant in 1912 across Co Antrim and Co Down, when compared with the 1911 census figures, was low. Perhaps only around 50% of those who could sign up to it (ie the Ulster Protestants / Unionists) actually did. And the numbers who signed in Belfast were relatively low as well.

2) The clergy of the Church of Ireland were more pro-Ulster Covenant than the Presbyterians, with about 85% and 65% signing respectively.

These are two major revelations. When you talk to people who really know their subject you can get a very different, and fresh, perspective. Discuss...

Monday, September 10, 2012

'The Work and Progress of the Gael' - 100 years ago last night...


... on 9 September 1912 the renowned / infamous historian, antiquarian and Irish nationalist Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926, see biography here) held a public meeting at St Patrick's Parochial Hall in Portaferry. Bigger had recently completed his conversion of Jordan Castle in Ardglass into an O'Neill castle (which he renamed Castle Shane) and so was fairly active in the Lecale area. There is a fascinating account in the Newtownards Chronicle of how Bigger and William Gibson sailed from Strangford at 7pm, across the 'limpid waters of the lough in a dignified manner in well-lighted boats', landed at Portaferry, paraded the town led by torch bearers, and held the event where the theme was 'The Work and Progress of the Gael'. Earlier in the day there had been 'childish' rumours circulating that some from Portavogie intended to disrupt the meeting, but nothing of the sort happened - '...the eternal vigilance of the R.I.C. under the command of Sergeant Reynolds and Constable Breen was largely in evidence; but this was as unnecessary as it was ridiculous...the Portaferry police were too sharp to be bamboozled'.

I plan to type up the full newspaper account and post it here soon. It stresses yet again that despite valid differences of opinion, people got on well with each other.

Bigger was a remarkable character and collector, who did a great deal to preserve old stories and traditions. Some say he maybe even invented a few along the way! His story was recently published as "FJ Bigger - Ireland's Cultural Visionary" (see here for info).

• St Patrick's Parochial Hall is now available for hire as holiday accommodation (click here). A replica is at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum (click here).

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Oul country remedies: Witness the amazing fat-melting herbal rub! (weemen never change...)

This was in a few 1914 editions of the North Down Herald. Feel free to share this with your female friends just to see how they react. I suspect some will be online in seconds trying to locate a supplier of 'cirola bark' and 'quassia chips'.


Friday, September 07, 2012

Ulster Covenant Centenary events in the Ards


I'm pleased to update readers here that a wide range of activities are being planned for the Ards area to mark the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant. The forthcoming exhibition will have its first public showing will be on Saturday 22nd September at the free Commemorative Family Day in Londonderry Park which runs from 11am - 4pm. Keep an eye out for the doordrop leaflet which will be delivered to approx 20,000 homes over the next week or so to promote all of the activities. ( Most if not all of the contributors to the exhibition are regular readers here, so thanks to every one of you - I won't name you just yet!).

One of the themes in the exhibition is to tell some of the stories of those in the area who opposed the Covenant, who supported Home Rule for Ireland - and importantly of the positive neighbourly relations which remained throughout the period. People had differing political opinions and religious traditions, but were determined to remain good neighbours.

The rural Ards is not a perfect place, and there are of course some hotheads in various localities and communities, but these positive relations can be seen back in 1606 when Scottish families arrived here with Hamilton & Montgomery, through the 1798 period, through the 1912 Covenant period, and they remain the norm here today. This is an important message, especially with recent events in Belfast. Long may those positive community relations continue.

As the Newtownards Chronicle report of September 1912 observed, the Ards had "...none of that bigotry and sectarianism, alas, too common in other areas..."

Punch Brothers - playing in Belfast on 5th November

Great band, frightening technical ability. Playing at the Empire Music Hall on Botanic Avenue on Monday 5th November. Not exactly trad old-time/bluegrass but it's their modern avant-garde twist that makes them what they are.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

From Belfast City Hall "Decade of Centenaries" exhibition"

...and there are still plenty today blighted by these same ambitions.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Ulster Covenant Centenary events in the Ards area

(Please forward this post to anyone you think might be interested)

I'm working on a few projects with Ards Borough Council to commemorate the signing of the Ulster Covenant in the borough back in September 1912. I've been asked to publicise these two related events:

Talk: 'The Covenant and its Legacy' by Dr David Hume
Monday 17 September at 7pm in the Town Hall, Newtownards
Admission is free, but please register by emailing Ursula Mezza, Public Relations Officer - click here

Community Church Service
Friday 28 September at 10am in St Mark's Church, Newtownards
Members of the public are welcome to attend.

The projects I am helping with are nearing completion, with lots of local 'buy-in' from across the borough. The research team have found some brilliant stories which have been forgotten over the intervening years, and some of which are very important for today's generation.

More info to follow here over the coming weeks.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

160 Acres Free! Emigration to Canada - advert from the North Down Herald, 1914.


This advert caught my eye on a recent trip to the Newspaper Library in Belfast. Because it uses the same form of words that my great-uncle John used in his first letter home after emigrating to Canada in the 1920s. (see previous blog post here). I wonder if he was deliberately referring to a similar advert which had caught his eye back then?