Friday, August 30, 2013

The Belfast Roof

Here is a feat of engineering which isn't talked about much. The Belfast Roof was an ingenious lattice system, developed around 1860. The trusses have a curved top, and could span huge distances with no need for any vertical supports like pillars inside. These meant that large open-plan buildings - like aircraft hangars - were much easier to build and work in. Aside from being structurally clever these were visually beautiful. Some pics below gathered up from various websites. It would be good to see these reintroduced to our local architecture.







Saturday, August 24, 2013

'Handed Down - Country Fiddling and Dancing in East and Central Down' by Nigel Boullier

Earlier this year I had the privilege to work with Nigel Boullier to put together a truly groundbreaking publication of his collection of over 30 years of music, photographs, stories, biographies and dances from the part of County Down where we both live. The outcome is the 544 page Handed Down - Country Fiddling and Dancing in East and Central Down, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation.

It covers over 200 years of living tradition, of community, of a world which predates and defies the 'two tribes' stereotypical approach to Ulster life. Nigel writes with authority, through years of study and research but because he is a fiddle player himself and is writing about his own folk, people who have influenced him throughout his life - and in turn of the people who influenced them, all the way back to the late 1700s.

Handed Down is a colossal achievement on many levels, succeeding in being both intimate and yet scholarly. Whilst my task was mainly to make it all fit within our page quota I hope that the design approach helps to get the story across. It contains 500 fiddle tunes, 30 dances and biographies of 300 fiddle players. It begins with a detailed overview of the origins of music and dance in County Down and, to me, a refreshing summary of the politics which have done such damage to folk tradition - on the one hand through appropriation by Irish Nationalism, and on the other hand just outright neglect and abandonment by Ulster Unionism. Traditional music is seen in our generation as the preserve of 'one community'. Handed Down shows that it is in fact a common inheritance, one which our ancestors truly shared.

As Nigel knows, at times it was a tough design process, but the painstaking effort that we both applied to it over many months has really paid off. We got on like a house on fire and a Waltons Mountain badge lives to tell the tale (that's an in-joke for Nigel!). Further photographs to be posted soon.

Handed Down - Country Fiddling and Dancing in East and Central Down is available here priced at £24.99.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Billy Joe Shaver - 'You Just Can't Beat Jesus Christ'

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Glenfield & Kennedy Ltd, Kilmarnock (photographed today at the Thompson Pump House, Belfast)


You can find out more about the company's history at (click here)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Moody and Sankey in Dublin, 1874


The two great American revivalists - DL Moody the preacher, and Ira D Sankey the song leader (who was of Scotch-Irish descent) - visited Britain in 1874. They arrived at Belfast on Sunday 6 September 1874 and preached to thousands of people until the following Sunday when they headed for Londonderry. From 24 October - 29 November they were in Dublin, again preaching to thousands every day. An account of their campaign in Dublin, printed in The Nation - said this:

'... Irish Catholics desire to see Protestants deeply imbued with religious feeling, rather than tinged with rationalism and infidelity; as long as the religious services of our Protestant neighbours are honestly directed to quickening religious thought in their own body, without offering aggressive or intentional insult to us, it is our duty to pay homage of our respect to their conscientious convictions; in a word do as we would be done by ...'

Remarking on this, a later author wrote '... it would surely be a bright and blessed day for our country, if this spirit of mutual respect and toleration were everywhere honestly acted out among us. Mr Moody never makes controversial reference to others. His success in attracting the favourable attention of our brethren of a different faith has been unexampled in the history of our city... men are not addressed as by their particular Church, but as sinners ...'

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

You are my Sunshine

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Singing the Psalms in Prison

"... The dispute about Psalm-singing has broken out in an entirely unexpected quarter - an Irish prison. Some of the "Scotch-Irish" convicts have recently petitioned the chaplain not to use hymns in the prison service, but to use the Psalms, as the latter were inspired and the former were not. Perhaps if the criminals had shown the same degree of reverence for inspired writings before their incarceration, they would have saved themselves from much trouble and the country much expense ...'

- from the New York Times, 29 August 1869

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Black Dragon of Ulster


Friday, August 02, 2013

Breakfast Ulster-Scots style


I was told this story many years ago. A big dour hefty man from Portavogie, John Thompson, married a thin timid wee woman called Maggie, probably some time in the 1950s. They moved into a cottage at the end of our road, at what was once a 'clachan' called Butterlump. On the day after the wedding, Maggie said to John:

"Whit way wud ye like yer egg this mornin John?"

Unimpressed, John said:

"Hmph. Alang wi anither yin".

The Weight