Sunday, June 25, 2017

1690: The Stuart Kings were mostly Protestants

Charles I and James II

Above: a 1647 painting of the Protestant King Charles I and his son James II, who converted to Catholicism c. 1669.

There’s been a lot of fairly standard stereotype-reinforcing again in the past week in the news coverage about Northern Ireland. A BBC Newsnight piece was presented by someone parachuted in from England, and of course began at a King Billy mural on Sandy Row, and spoke of “the victory of a Protestant King over a Catholic King in the 17th century”. Sad voices, sad music, urchin-like children stacking up bonfires on wasteground etc. I’ve pasted it below.

So this got me thinking. Of course the statement is partially true, and a grain of truth is often all that’s needed to carry a narrative. But it’s very far from the whole story. Let’s take a quick look.

• The Stuarts in Scotland: 1371–1567
The Stuart monarchy had ruled Scotland from 1371, and up until the Scottish Reformation they like everyone else were Catholics. The Stuarts remained Catholic up until Mary Queen of Scots. She had become Queen at just six days old, and spent much of her young life in France, with Scotland run by ‘regents’. She came back to a reforming Scotland in 1561 but was forced to abdicate in 1567 in favour of her infant son, King James VI. James had been baptised in a Catholic ceremony but was raised under tutors such as Presbyterian George Buchanan. John Knox preached at James’ coronation in 1567. James was now head of the country, but most definitely not head of the Church - as ministers like Andrew Melville and Robert Bruce famously told him to his face.

• The Stuarts in England and Ireland: 1603–1688 
When this Presbyterian-influenced James VI became King James I of England and Ireland in 1603, he was fond of the new Church of England role which came with the new job, making him Head of the Church as well as of the State. And this is where the problems began, as he set his sights on (potentially) troublesome fellow Protestants. James commissioned a new Bible; one reason for doing so was to get rid of the marginal notes of the existing Geneva Bibles which equated ‘King' with ‘Tyrant'. Conflicts began to open up between King and Parliament. James began to flex his muscles upon the Church back in Scotland. ‘Non-Conformist’ English Puritans began an exodus to New England fleeing persecution. His son Charles I was even worse, and who was famously seized and beheaded in 1649. His son, the eventual Charles II, fled to France, but he deceived Scotland’s Covenanter Presbyterians that he was in fact one of theirs, and they crowned him King of Scotland in 1651. But despite this titular coronation, for 10 years there was no monarchy - the Interregnum - with Cromwell in charge. Charles II was back in England by 1660, was crowned King of England and Ireland at the ‘Restoration' in 1661. He iimmediately began deposing Presbyterian ministers in Ulster and Scotland, and eventually rounding up Presbyterian people in both places too. It was with his dying breaths that Charles converted to Catholicism, in 1685 (so throughout his reign he was Protestant). His brother, now James II, had converted to Catholicism during a time in France around 1669. James reigned until 1688 when William of Orange showed up. (Technically, William, his wife Mary and also Anne were Stuarts. But we’re looking at William v James so let’s stop there for simplicity’s sake).

So, in a nutshell, here are the Stuart kings and their religious backgrounds:

James VI & 1  /  reign 1603–1625  /  Church of Scotland & Church of England
Charles I   /   reign 1625–1649  /  Church of England
Charles II  /  reign (Scotland 1651) 1661–1685  /  Church of England
James II  /  reign 1685–1688  /  Roman Catholic 

As Facebook relationship statuses worldwide declare, it’s complicated, but as this quick overview shows, the Stuarts had been increasingly tyrannical and undemocratic Protestant monarchs for a lot longer than they were Catholics - excluding the Interregnum, they had roughly 72 years as a Protestant monarchy v 3 years as a Catholic monarchy. The ratio is 24:1. 

• ‘The Liberties of England and the Protestant Religion I Will Maintain'
This was reputedly the motto on the banner which accompanied William from Holland to England. The Glorious/Williamite Revolution was therefore as much about civil liberty and Parliamentary authority as it was theology. And of course various individuals and groupings seeking to either maintain or acquire power and control … and the universal human conditions of greed and ambition and all that goes with them.

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Stereotypes and sad music depress the viewing audience. But we can’t just blame broadcasters and ‘outsiders’ for this, there are plenty here at home who don’t understand or explain the broader context and who selectively use history to fuel present-day fires. Inform and educate matters as much as entertain. Let’s not perpetuate things which are only partly true. The fuller story is much more compelling.

(PS, the presenter needs to visit Lewes in east Sussex on 5th November)


Saturday, June 24, 2017

An Ulster-Scots Gospel Conversion, James Meikle, Killinchy, 1839


"It is a new secular religion"

Go to 13 minutes. Outstanding. Peter Boghossian is an atheist academic and Dave Rubin a gay, married, non-religious Jew. Alliances of liberty are emerging across the western world, and across people who aren't 'on the same page' on every issue, but who see common purpose on some big important universal themes. Interesting times. (choice language here and there)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"a hearty Irish Roman Catholic" and "a gentle Scotch-Irish Protestant"

Ronald Wilson Reagan’s parents were described as such in this New York Times obituary (click here).


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

John Knox in 'The Orthodox Presbyterian', 1832

Two thistles, a rose and some shamrock. This periodical was published by William M’Comb - known in his day as ‘The Laureate of Presbyterianism’ - for about 10 years.

Knox Orthodox Presb 1832

Monday, June 19, 2017

Multic-Ulster-al (1956) – "the lallans of Antrim and Down"

Sam Hanna Bell (1909–90) was one of our greatest writers, thinkers, folklorist, collector and broadcasters of the 20th century. To understand an Ulster which few today can remember, Sam Hanna Bell’s writing will take you there with a clarity and authenticity that’s hard to find now.

Glasgow-born but reared near Raffrey in County Down before moving to Belfast, I would encourage everyone to get hold of his work and visit a different world. His début collection Summer Loanen (1943) has lovely natural touches of Ulster-Scots vocabulary. The world he presents was not idyllic, but which culturally speaking was far more nuanced and whole than the political perspectives which have come to dominate. An Ulster which seemed to better understand its multiple cultural strands than most do today.

If there is to be a holistic 'Culture Act' in Northern Ireland then Sam Hanna Bell had at least some of the vision for how it could be. He envisaged a ‘Folklore Commission’ and soon after the 'Committee on Ulster Folklife and Traditions’ was set up. It is easy to pass laws. But where are the minds, the hearts, the eyes, the ears, the voices and the pens? Where is today’s “body of trained folklorists”?




Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fine Gael badge, 1930s?

So the Republic of Ireland has a new man at the helm, Leo Varadkar from the political party Fine Gael. The badge below is an interesting design choice, as is this flag. I know next to nothing about politics in the south, so other smarter people than I might be able to add comments below to explain this one.



"A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music"

A new film by David Weintraub is about to premiere from the wonderfully-titled Centre for Cultural Preservation. It will also be available on DVD soon.

I have written here before on the many positive interactions between Scotch-Irish and African Americans, and music is an arena where this is particularly identifiable - the musical origins of Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams to name just three have famously strong black influences. It's also excellent to see that the recent BBC Wayfaring Stranger series was tapping in to some of the same contributors, who are therefore recognised and credible practitioners from a US perspective. Many of them were new to me, it is reassuring, but not surprising, that the producers of Wayfaring Stranger were so well-informed in their selecting! This bodes very well for any potential US broadcasts of Wayfaring Stranger in the future. 

Here is the full story, reproduced here from the website Mountain Xpress from Asheville, North Carolina (online here).


New Mountain Music Documentary’s World Premiere in June
The Center for Cultural Preservation is pleased to announce the world premiere of David Weintraub’s new film on the history of Appalachian Music titled, A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music screening at three venues in WNC in June. The documentary tells the story of the southern mountain’s musical birth and evolution through the strands of the Scots-Irish legacy, oft-overlooked African-American tradition and through the longest lived music in the Americas, the indigenous tradition. 

According to Director/Producer David Weintraub,

“Mountain music is often discussed as a Scots-Irish tradition that came over here by the Ulster-Scots and that’s true. It is a fascinating story.  But what often gets overlooked is that the West African banjo was played in this country by blacks for nearly 100 years before it was ever picked up by white musicians. African-Americans also played a key role in developing the syncopated and rhythmic fiddle styles that symbolic of old time and bluegrass music. The blended cultural result is exactly what makes mountain music as beautiful and captivating as it is.”

The film features the leading luminaries of the ballad tradition including balladeer extraordinaires Sheila Kay Adams, Joe Penland and Bobby McMillon as well as Grammy Award winning founders of the world renowned black string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops including Rhiannon Giddens, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, David Holt, and musicologists and historians who tell the story of the great melting pot that became Appalachian music.

According to Phil Jamison, professor of Appalachian Music at Warren Wilson College and a participant in the film, “The reality of the southern backcountry was a diverse mix of Europeans, African-American and indigenous native peoples. Not racially, culturally or economically homogeneous, it was home to wealthy landowners, poor tenant farmers, sharecroppers, merchants, subsistence farms and enslaved African-Americans.” All of them shaped the music and made it special.

In addition to a film screening, several musicians participating in the film will perform at the start of each program. A brief discussion with the filmmaker and participants follows the screenings. Hendersonville’s world premiere will feature performances by Sheila Kay Adams, local old time band Rhiannon and the Relics and rising star Amythyst Kiah.

The world premiere of A Great American Tapestry will be held at the following locations/date/times:
• Blue Ridge Community College, Bo Thomas Auditorium at 7:00 pm on Thursday, June 22nd
• Fine Arts Theatre, Asheville at 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 29th
• White Horse, Black Mountain at 7:30 pm on Saturday, June 30th

Tickets are $10 and $15. Tickets are expected to sell out quickly so it is highly recommended that they be ordered soon on the Center for Cultural Preservation’s website at For more information about the program and for group sales call the Center at (828) 692-8062.  For more information about future film screenings, online purchases of the DVD and more information about the film, contact the Center for Cultural Preservation at (828) 692-8062 or


Somebody should bring this film to our side of the Atlantic. In fact there should perhaps be a film festival...

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Convey the complexity"

May Hate DUP

It has been a very odd 48 hours here in Northern Ireland, with the London-centric media in a frenzied state of simultaneous amnesia and horror at the possibility of the weakened Conservative Party striking an arrangement with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. (I have to declare an interest here for those who are unaware, they've been a regular client of mine for 20 years). The DUP have just won 10 seats in Westminster, their highest-ever total, and the Conservatives now need them onside.

Amnesia because numerous previous Labour administrations have approached the DUP with similar overtures, horror because Northern Ireland is meant to be kept in the back room like the crazy elderly relative that nobody wants to admit is part of the family but who they’re forced to put up with at occasional awkward gatherings. To the GB population, Northern Ireland is thought to be ‘fixed’ and so has therefore ‘gone away’. Yet here the DUP are, thrust centre stage, in an unprecedented position and with significant influence. Cue outrage from the self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ media talking heads.

The reaction by some mainstream journalists has been pretty appalling. A glance through Twitter will show that. Some whose views I don’t always agree with, but whose professionalism up until now I have admired, have gone far beyond acceptable limits to smear and blacken not only the DUP but by implication the DUP electorate. It is a hairsbreadth from Hillary Clinton’s infamous ‘basket of deplorables’ remarks of last year. And even plenty of non-DUP, and even anti-DUP, folk I know have been taken aback by the barrage. Meanwhile my GB relatives are swallowing all of this up and are messaging my wife with well-meaning expressions of concern!

My mother worked in a factory, my father has worked two jobs his whole life, their parents lived off the land and from their grandparents back all of their ancestors had been tenant farmers for as many centuries as we know about. So I have a fair streak of working class in my bones and my sense of identity. Yes I am now 'white collar' and ‘creative industry’, but I can handle a clawhammer, a handsaw, a shovel and a cement mixer. But this new metropolitan authoritarian Left is a vicious beast - as shown by Emily Thornberry in 2014 and prior to that by Gordon Brown in 2010. Owen Jones, once the defender of England’s underclass in his 2012 book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, and who was in 2015 pro-Brexit, has now turned against both.

Nobody is perfect. Everybody's history will throw up something which today seems at best distasteful. As I type some header on the BBC NI Talkback phone-in programme has alleged the DUP to be anti-Black racists. The madness is contagious.

Ulster is not the only place to suffer from convenient stereotyping. Appalachia is very much the same. Here is an excellent article, by Tom Porter of Bowdoin College in Maine, outlining the endless challenge for Appalachians to present themselves and their region in an authentic manner, and in so doing debunking the metropolitan stereotypes.

… The most important consideration though, said McCarroll, is not whether a film portrays the region she’s from in a positive light, but whether it’s able to convey the complexity of Appalachia and offer a true context...

• PS the excellent Brendan O’Neill, the self-described ‘Libertarian Marxist’ editor of Spiked Online, has just posted this excellent article on the subject. The image above is from that article. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Imaging Billy - William III of Orange in bronze, paint and glass around the British Isles

London uk 30th march 2017 conservators work to restore greenwichs HXTB4N

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It is always healthy to look back into the Northern Ireland 'goldfish bowl' from a wider, external perspective. Generally, this helps to expand understanding and challenge existing perceptions.

July is only a few weeks away - a period which has become known as the 'marching season' and in recent years in Belfast, OrangeFest. For me throughout my childhood it was just called 'the bands' and of course 'the Twelfth', and in Scotland is generally the 'Orange Walk' - none of which have the militaristic connotation of 'marching’. King Billy has adorned gable walls and huge Orange banners for maybe 150 - 200 years, with various degrees of artistic skill, some brilliant, some very crude and almost ‘folk art’ in style. There’s a hand-painted wooden example at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast which looks almost like a piece of ancient Shaker furniture.

I remembered that a while ago I looked into the locations of various statues of William of Orange around the UK and Republic of Ireland. There seem to have been 14 in total, most of which still exist, and are listed here in chronological order:

1692 - Preston - Hoghton Tower - unknown if still exists
1701 - Dublin - Dame Street / College Green - blown up 1929, fragments still exist
1718 - Portsmouth - Historic Dockyard - still there
1734 - Hull - Market place - still there
1735 - Glasgow - Cathedral - still there
1736 - Bristol - Queen Square - still there
1754 - Boyle, Co Roscommon - bridge, then ‘Pleasure Grounds' - destroyed 1945 (base still there)
1757 - Petersfield, Hampshire - Market Square - still there
1808 - London - St James's Square - still there
1889 - Belfast - Clifton Street Orange Hall - still there
1889 - Brixham, Devon - quayside - still there
1907 - London - Kensington Palace - still there
1930 - Belfast - King William Park, Lisburn Road - plaque still there
1990 - Carrickfergus - Castle Green - still there

There may be more. And perhaps even further afield there are others, such as the one I tried to locate at William and Mary College in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia last summer.

So what did William represent or signify to those who decided to commission and install these statues? Some show him on horseback, some are just figures. Some are bronze, whereas the Portsmouth and Hull statues are painted gold. In some he is depicted in classical toga and laurel wreath, Others are the famous long-haired pose with wide brimmed hat and sword. The inscriptions on each tell us something. Maybe some research into the social context, the funders and the sculptors would reveal an interesting story. 

How many art collections include portraits of him? Below is one I photographed at Castle Ward back in Easter of this year, hung high on a staircase wall, directly above Sir James Hamilton. Below this is a photo of the 'William III' stained glass window from the Great Hall of Belfast City Hall

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Below: a few publicity images from the Greenwich Painted Hall, showing a detail of William and Mary from the painting The Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny by Sir James Thornhill, which was painted from 1708–14. It is currently undergoing major refurbishment. NewImage

London uk 30 march 2017 visitors will have a once in a lifetime chance HXY5XJLondon uk 30 march 2017 visitors will have a once in a lifetime chance HXY5XC

Monday, June 05, 2017

Ards Peninsula tuberculosis 'experiment', 1951

This took place within my parents' lifetime. My father's parents' generation suffered very badly from T.B.. So much for all that supposed privilege eh?. In my generation, there has been a particular effort by SureStart and HomeStart in the Peninsula, I have been told a few times that this was due to 'genetic deficiencies' down here. Of course they'll never say that officially...

The Northern Ireland Tuberculosis Authority was established after WW2, with a reported 14,235 sufferers, 20 dying every week and 60 new cases appearing every week. By 1958 the Authority was deemed to have been a success and its functions distributed to the hospitals and local health committees.

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Moana - "We Were Voyagers"

Moana is one of the better Disney animated movies of recent years. Here’s the scene where she realises that her people - now timid, fearful and detached from their proud history - once had endless vision, ambition, and determination. She finds their long-lost ships and artefacts, buried deep in a cave. She strikes the ancient drum and the cave comes alive with scenes of the past.

We were voyagers. Why'd we stop?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

'The Ulster Scots, unbending as the oak of Britain' (1834)

And this one from the Northern Whig, 4th September 1834, an extract of a poem by Presbyterian minister Rev William Kennedy M’Kay of Portglenone. Again an early use of the term Ulster Scots as a community identifier.

1834 extract

Tipperary Catholic and the Ulster Scot: 'pledged against a common enemy' (1847)

From the Dumfries & Galloway Standard newspaper, 13 October 1847, reporting on the Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast and the tenant-right land issue of the time. Also another demonstration of the pedigree of the term ‘Ulster Scot’ as an understood description of a community

D G Standard

Friday, June 02, 2017

Mama's Opry - Iris DeMent

It’s two years today since my mother ‘went ahead’. This song by Iris Luella DeMent (a friend of Merle Haggard's; a huge talent and a Pentecostal-raised girl from Arkansas) has been a big favourite of mine for many years, and even so now. It’s almost autobiographical for me in so many ways. (She also recorded the old hymn Higher Ground as a duet with her mother, but it doesn’t seem to be on YouTube - seek it out, it’s magnificent).

She grew up plain and simple in a farming town

Her daddy played the fiddle and use to do the calling
 when they had hoedowns

She said the neighbours would come
 and they'd move all my grandma's furniture round

And there'd be twenty or more there on the old wooden floor 
dancing to a country sound

The Carters and Jimmie Rodgers played her favorite songs

And on Saturday nights there was a radio show
 and she would sing along

And I'll never forget her face when she revealed to me

That she'd dreamed about singing at The Grand Ol' Opry

Her eyes, oh how they sparkled when she sang those songs

While she was hanging the clothes on the line 
I was a kid just a humming along

Well, I'd be playing in the grass,
to her what might of seemed obliviously

But there ain't no doubt about it, she sure made her mark on me

She played old gospel records on the phonograph

She turned them up loud and we'd sing along
 but those days have passed

Just now that I am older it occurs to me

That I was singing in the grandest opry

And we sang Sweet Rose of Sharon, Abide With Me
Til I ride The Gospel Ship to Heaven's Jubilee

And In That Great Triumphant Morning my soul will be free

And My Burdens Will Be Lifted when my Saviour's face I see

So I Don't Want to Get Adjusted to this world below

But I know He'll Pilot Me when it comes time to go

Oh, nothing on this earth is half as dear to me

As the sound of my Mama's Opry


"another class of people put us somewhere just below"

So sang Merle Haggard in his classic track Hungry Eyes, recorded in 1969. Most music journalists don’t ‘get' Haggard because he could be both (small c) conservative and also working class, and in journalist-land these do not go together.

This might be because most journalists are middle-class, white collar and left-leaning. But not the old-time left, the new and supposedly improved version which is apparently ‘progressive’. But it is more likely because Haggard doesn’t fit easily into the pre-cooked ‘boxes’ that many writers come to any subject already armed with. Try this from Rolling Stone in 2016 just after Haggard’s death. And Slate ran this piece. Haggard could be many things to many people, just like Robert Burns had been. Most of the interesting people I have met don’t easily fit into boxes.

I’ve never been in a ‘canvass-covered cabin in a crowded labour camp’. But still sometimes I get a lump in my throat as Haggard unfolds the story of poverty and struggle, a mother’s sacrificial love and a father’s life of hard work to try to support the family. Of unfulfilled yet still faithful prayer, of parental age and decline, and of a child’s reflections and pained realisation that life had dealt them a tough hand, and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it.

'...I guess my opinion is all out of style
Don't get me started because I can get wild ...
We're just some of many that can't get no respect
Politically uncorrect ...'

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Crafts of the Ards - 16,000 'peasantry' women employed producing 'Scotch work' embroidery

Bro Kirkpatrick at Loughries Home  Oct 15

Above: William Kirkpatrick, his wife Mary and infant daughter Jane at their home at Cunningburn just south of Newtownards, around 1910. William was WM of the local Orange lodge, Loughries LOL 1948. Mary and an unidentified girl are pictured 'flowering'.


Excellent information here from the classic Ireland, its scenery, character by Mr & Mrs S C Hall, Vol III, London (1843) - online here.

“...Throughout the whole of this district - the Barony of Ards, and that of Castlereagh - a large proportion of the peasantry are employed in what is technically termed “flowering” - embroidering muslin, chiefly for the Glasgow manufacturers, who supply the unwrought material, and pay fixed sums for the workmanship… between 2000 and 3000 girls from five to twelve years of age employed at veining… sewers employed at needlework for Belfast houses, between 2000 and 3000... about 10,000 employed as needle-workers for Glasgow houses... nearly the whole of the work sent from Glasgow to London and other parts of England is produced in this district. It is bleached in Scotland, and sold as “Scotch work”..,

The people of County Down also had a visible appreciation for tartan clothing –

 ... soon after entering the county of Down, we began to feel we were in another country; in a district at least where the habits as well as the looks of the people were altogether different from those to which we had been accustomed... Both men and women wore neat and well-mended clothes. Tartan shawls, ribands and even waistcoats, intimated our close approximation to the Scottish coast...

...the nearness of this county to the Mull of Galloway has made the districts, on the two sides, scarcely distinguishable; and the stream of Scottish population can be traced most distinctly from Donaghadee and Bangor, upwards to the interior..."

 On page 24 there’s a brilliant description of how the people looked different, sandy-haired and blue eyed, spoke Scotch. They had very little furniture in their homes. Large Bibles, covered with green tartan, a few books, and 'the usual northern group of orange lilies’.


The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum has a pretty extensive collection of Ulster-made Ayrshire embroidery; on their website here they specify the Ards Peninsula as the main region where it was produced. The image below is of a christening gown from Maybole in Ayrshire. But it was maybe made in the Ards.

This Google image search will show you just how beautiful and intricate a craft this was.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crafts of the Ards - Mary Ann Wallace, flowering at Ballyfrenis, circa 1940

Martha Wallace Flowering HR

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Crafts of the Ards - Royal Embroidery of Portavogie

Now here is something that deserves a project before the memories have completely faded away. Not so long ago in Portavogie when the men were at sea the ladies would embroider or ‘flower’ linen for the Royal Family amongst others. For maybe a century or so this was a vast cottage industry in County Down in particular.

Hubert Cully was one of the local agents who folk here still remember, he sold trawler nets and equipment to the fishermen, and bought and sold embroidery for the women. It was also known as ‘whitework’ and even ‘Ayrshire embroidery’ as some of it was bought by Scottish agents who couldn’t get enough of their own home-grown products. I wonder how many local attics have some samples left?

Below is a detail of a tourism map from the 1950s with ‘Royal Embroidery’ marked on it.

I have a photo of my great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Wallace, ‘flowering’.. She was born in 1863 and along with her husband Robert was a member of Ballyfrenis United Free Church of Scotland, here in the Ards, halfway between Millisle and Carrowdore.

(Their daughter Martha Wallace married Vincent Hamill, whose daughter Mary Ann Hamill married William Wilson, whose daughter Martha married Eric Thompson - who had five children, the first of whom was me).

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Crafts of the Ards Peninsula - Kircubbin 'flying fifteen' boat building, circa 1955

Centuries of tradition and craftsmanship captured in this lovely old film. These were sports & pleasure craft, but there were of course 'proper' boatyards at Portavogie and Portaferry, maybe also Ballywalter and Kircubbin. I can vaguely recall one at Portavogie, long-gone now, displaced by steel and then EU-funded 'progress' which would decimate the local fishing industry. I clearly remember boats being 'decommissioned' - bought off by European chequebooks, then set on fire on the beach, consigned to history. There are still plenty of pleasure boats on Strangford Lough, with sailing clubs on both coasts.

Here is an article from 1885, describing Portavogie - 'self-reliance and independence have preserved them from being demoralised alike by Government grants and doles'.

Portavogie 1885

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tullyhogue Flute Band drum - rose, shamrock & thistle

Thanks to Mr. I.C. for letting me post this here. Another example of our three-stranded identity. I would hazard a guess that the drum is probably circa 1920. Tullyhogue is near Cookstown in County Tyrone, and was the ancient crowning place of the O’Neills.

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Kidnapped by Indians - Meggie Stinson (SW Pennsylvania, 1764) and Jenny Wiley (East Kentucky, 1789)

There were, and still are, Savages in the Ards Peninsula. That's not a pejorative term, although the wordplay is sometimes aimed at me by local town-dwellers! The Savages / Le Sauvages were an Anglo-Norman family who arrived in Ireland in 1171 and eventually moved north to Ulster, settling in Antrim and Down. After the Bruce wars of the early 1300s their estates were restricted to the southern end of the Ards Peninsula and also Lecale just across Strangford Lough. Their legacy is a collection of castles which exist to this day, and probably some of the early abbeys and churches. Their history was catalogued by George Francis Savage-Armstrong in two books, firstly The Ancient and Noble Family of the Savages of the Ards (1888) and the posthumous revision The Savages of Ulster (1906).

So what of these 'noble savages'? This is an idea which exists far beyond the Ards.

The romantic 'noble savage' theory (usually attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Wikipedia here), proposed that ancient peoples were peaceful, living at harmony with the natural world and enlightened, until a group of 'outsiders' arrived and colonised them all. You can apply this to various places in the world, you can hear it assumed and implied in many places - People A were idyllic, happy and peaceful, a model society even, until People B turned up, supposedly bringing ‘civilisation'. The 'noble savage' idea has been disproven time and again - ancient peoples were themselves sometimes violent and barbaric. Human remains have demonstrated this over and over again. What we might think of today as 'people groups' have been warring amongst themselves since the dawn of time - and so even the notion of homogenous 'people groups’, defined as such in our era, is flawed.

This article on - The Myth of the Noble Savage - is an interesting read, especially the references to Marxist theory of the late 1800s and neo-Marxists of the 1970s. A Biblical outlook is that 'all have sinned', that everybody is contaminated by an broken, sinful, nature, and capable of great evil. So therefore no individual or people group is virtuous. Everybody's just as bad as everybody else, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, geography, gender or historical era. We are all ‘savages'. And we are all able to accept redemption.

Here is a clip from the 2007 film version of the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee which might be of interest –

It is of course true that terrible things happened to the Native Americans, and that some of this was at the hands of Scotch-Irish settlers and pioneers, as well as English, French, Germans, Dutch, and all other European settlers. For Central and South America, consider what Spain and Portuguese conquistadors did.Many Native American Indian tribes allied themselves with the French

The Scotch-Irish in turn were on the receiving end of some terrible atrocities carried out by Native American Indians, having been (conveniently) driven by the coastal elites into the backcountry, to form a 'human buffer' in the front line of potential Indian conflict and attack. Many of them were happy to go, confident in their ability to defend themselves if necessary and keen to get away from authority. Others, like James Adair from Ulster (Wikipedia page here) lived very happily in Indian communities for most of their lives.

Charles A Hanna's seminal The Scotch-Irish: The Scot in North Britain, north Ireland, and north America contains much detail of the Scotch-Irish/Native American interactions. They exchanged clothing styles, and both learned how to shoot long rifles with astonishing accuracy (think Davy Crockett). Some were amorous and resulted in intermarriage, some were amicable, some were tolerable, some were seemingly manipulated by the establishment governments. Some were barbaric.

This Declaration document, penned by Matthew Smith and James Gibson in 1764, and signed by 1500 frontier people, gives a clear picture on the experiences of some of the Scotch-Irish.


I've recently come across the stories of two women who were both kidnapped by Native Americans.

• One, Jenny Wiley, was the wife of Ulster emigrant Thomas Wiley. Her father was Hezekiah Sellars/Sellards, described as a 'Presbyterian of the strictest sort' who had settled first in Shenandoah in Virginia. Her mother might have been a Cherokee woman. Jennie was said to have been 'endowed with an abundance of good hard Scotch common-sense'. In 1789 while Thomas was away, the family home in east Kentucky was attacked, nearly all of the children were killed, pregnant Jennie was taken captive with her one surviving 15 month old infant. Both of these children were later killed by their captors. She was held hostage for 11 months, eventually managing to escape and return to Thomas. Today a State Park at Prestonburg, Kentucky, is named for her. Here Wikipedia page is here.

• A similar tale can be found in a song from south western Pennsylvania, from 1764 (the same year as the Declaration above) about a Meggie Stinson / Stevenson who was taken captive as a child. Some years later she and other hostages were set free and returned to their settlement, but Meggie had forgotten what her own mother looked like. The song below, from the despairing mother's perspective, is in broad Scots. It is possible that the song 'Meggie Stinson’ is in fact based on a story of a German settler girl called Regina Hartman Leininger (see gravestone here) who might well have become emblematic of a common frontier experience, one familiar to Scotch-Irish families as well as their German neighbours.

Life is complicated, so is history. One for the sociologists to unpick.

Meggie Stinson

There is a lot of quite interesting material online about the 'noble savage' myth. New York Times science correspondent Nicholas Wade published Before The Dawn in 2006, which appears to be a major reassessment of how ancient people are understood, including the view that "archaeologists of the postwar period had artificially "pacified the past" and shared a pervasive bias against the possibility of prehistoric warfare".

If you Google 'myth of the noble savage' you'll find things like a 2004 course at the University of Washington, Seattle which describes it as 'anthropology’s oldest and most successful hoax'.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Liberty Mountain: The Revolutionary Drama

This play, now entering its fourth season at Kings Mountain in South Carolina, looks excellent. Have a read at this:

“… They took up arms, and many sacrificed their lives, to defend and preserve the freedoms they held dear, and none was more important to them than religious expression.

To understand how crucial this was to the settlers of the Carolinas, you have to go back to their roots in Northern Ireland. Many were Scots-Irish Presbyterians who fled poverty and misery in that land, compounded by religious persecution. The “official” religion of the British Empire in the 1700’s was the Church of England, and those who didn’t swear allegiance to that church were punished, often brutally.

In the American colonies, they saw the opportunity to start a new life, one in which they were free to worship as they pleased. They came here, built homes and farms and churches and raised God-fearing families. But they were still subjects of the British king, and the Crown continued to attempt to thrust the Church of England on them. When British troops occupied the Carolinas and those who were still loyal to the king went on a rampage of murder and mayhem, these Scots-Irish rose up and fought back ..."

And this newspaper article too:

Production is underway for the fourth season of “Liberty Mountain: The Revolutionary Drama” in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The play will run for 17 performances, beginning June 23, at the Joy Performance Center in downtown Kings Mountain.

“Liberty Mountain” tells the story of the settling of the Carolinas by hardy Scots-Irish immigrants who came to America to start new lives, raise families, work and worship, and how they became caught up in the conflict of the struggle for independence from Great Britain.

Their story culminates in the Battle of Kings Mountain in October, 1780, which historians agree was the turning point in the Revolution. In an hour of savage hand-to-hand combat, Patriot militiamen defeated a larger and better-trained force of Loyalists, triggering a series of Patriot victories that led to the British surrender at Yorktown a year later.

“Liberty Mountain” features a cast of more than 30 actors in a fast-moving, action-packed drama. Playwright Robert Inman says, “The talented cast and crew bring our audience a production that is true to history, highly entertaining, and inspiring. Every American should know the story of Kings Mountain and the crucial role it played in granting us the freedoms we enjoy today.”

So why is it that OUR story is not told this well HERE? I am not sure that we can claim that the Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irish were the sole exponents or exporters of liberty, but our role was hugely important, and has become embedded into the psyche of the USA. 

One of the things that has seemed to bewilder commentators and academics over the decades is the ‘conditional loyalty’ of the (let’s be blunt about it) Ulster Protestants. But when you understand our history, you will see that it has been in our DNA  for, I would suggest, nearly 500 years. I would also suggest that our loyalty has been firstly to liberty - religious and civil - and to the monarch or the nation very much second.

Many left the nation behind, but they took liberty with them, beating in their chests and pumping through their veins.

Find out more here.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Burial Isle and Hamilton's Rock, Ballyhalbert

Burial Isle is part of a jagged reef just off Ballyhalbert, and is said to contain a Danish Viking burial chamber full of gold. I am planning to kayak round it this summer.

Some interesting news cuttings below, including an 1878 reference to 'Hamilton's Rock' but sadly no-one I've spoken to knows now which rock that is. Of course I am assuming a connection to Sir James Hamilton of 1606 fame.

As you can see from the pics it was very dangerous for ships unfamiliar with our coastline, there have been many wrecks and drownings on it. I know a few locals who have been on the island; again the cuttings below are interesting as they talk about bird-watching trips, and of one local who confronted some bird watchers to make sure they weren't there to steal eggs.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mapping the Scotch-Irish: The 2015 American Community Survey - the 25 largest ancestry groups

Maps are all from this website. I have coloured them to help distinguish them from each other. British, English and Welsh are also distinct categories in the same survey.

Scotch-Irish: Scotch Irish 2015 Survey

Irish: Irish 2015 Survey

Scottish: Scottish 2015 Survey

Chris Stapleton - "I always played music and sang in church with my brother; my dad played the radio a lot and my mom would sing around the house"

He’s one of the finest exponents of (proper) country music today. Raised in Staffordsville, east Kentucky, I have no idea of his ancestry but the geography speaks volumes of his cultural environment. This is often more culturally important than strict 'bloodlines'. To retain or take on cultural traits, when others who were born into the community choose to devalue or reject its traits, is an interesting dynamic that deserves much thought. 

"... my grandmother from Kentucky. She was among the first emigrants to the blue grass, but whether from the Carolinas or Virginia, I do not know.Anyway they were, every mother's son and daughter of them, Scotch-Irish...

Beyond the circle of my relatives in that region, I do not know personally much about our race. The MacMillans, Reids, Grays, Woods, Lynches, and Devers, all one way or another relatives, were evidently, from the names, of the elect race by the male line. But there were others, the Kentucky Robinsons and Martins, also relatives of ours, who were no doubt English people who had been brought into the royal line of the Scotch-Irish by accidentally falling into the clutches of Scotch-Irish girls. Any fellow who did that, whatever his race or faith, was a goner. He had, will-he, nill-he, to obey the scripture injunction to forsake father and mother and cleave to his wife, and his wife clave to the Church and to her clan, and so he had no chance of getting away. He must perforce learn to sing Rouse psalms and argufy theology.

I suppose this same process went on historically and everywhere. 1 do not see how else we are to account for the fact that the people of so small a territory as Ulster should show such a numerical and geographical extension in America and in the British colonies as they did..."

– from 'How God Made the Scotch-Irish' by W.C. Gray (1894) online here

Just two miles from Staffordsville, on the banks of Paintsville Lake, is an open-air museum built around an 1850s farm called Mountain HomePlace, described as "a reconstructed 1800s Scotch-Irish settler’s farmstead with costumed interpreters. All the buildings were moved there from Paintsville. The setting is wonderfully replicated …". The farm was originally built by David McKenzie. Another place to visit in 2018 all being well (DV).


Friday, May 19, 2017

"Woodrow Wilson was actually as close to a dictator as America has ever had"

Shapior Rubin

So says Ben Shapiro in conversation with Dave Rubin. The video isn't embeddable, you have to view it here on YouTube. The Woodrow Wilson quote is at around 10min 50 seconds. Maybe he is an Ulster-American President of the USA we should be more careful about celebrating! 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shamrock, Rose and Thistle

Starting to see these references everywhere. 

William Shamrock Rose Thistle 2

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Foghorn Stringband - from Ballyhalbert to Ballyboughal

Ballyhalbert Ballyboughal

It was a friend’s recommendation. It turned out to be one of the best musical nights ever. The Foghorn Stringband have played in Northern Ireland a few times, but on this tour they were staying down south - Dingle, Baltimore and Clonmel, as well as tiny Ballyboughal north of Dublin. So we set off to see them, a 2hr 45min drive down and the same up again.

The venue was the small St Patrick's Hall, a fantastically basic wee venue maybe not unlike older Orange Halls you get up here. No carpets, no amplification, no windows it seemed, and a room packed with about 50 locals who all apparently knew each other. We were complete strangers, but were made so welcome, the folk were delighted and a bit astonished we had made the trek down. We were all asked to turn our phones off but I snuck a few photos anyway.

St Patricks Ballyboughal

The Foghorn Stringband have quite a lot of gospel stuff in their normal repertoire, but interestingly they didn't do any that particular evening. We had them for about 2 hours of playing time with a short interval, we were sat just across the room from them. My jaw was on the floor. My gasps were a bit too audible at times! Spectacular authenticity, and Caleb Klauder is probably now my favourite mandolin player. He gets the old-timey stuff in a way that a 100mph bluegrass picker doesn't. He has flashes of Bailes Brothers, Blue Sky Boys and even the Stanley Brothers' mandolin players ('Pee Wee’ Lambert and Richard ‘Curly’ Lambert) about him. A great great talent who just knows what's needed.

Carter Family covers, Louvin Brothers covers, Hank Williams covers, trad songs and tunes from the Appalachia of the 1800s, tunes which the band had learned from old-timers, as well as original compositions too. Spontaneous waltzing and 'dosy doe' dancing - we managed to avoid that bit! The very next night, Tim O'Brien (yes, who appeared on Wayfaring Stranger and said good things about the Ulster-Scots) was playing at the Séamus Ennis Centre just up the road at (the) Naul. O'Brien is a West Virginian who grew up singing in church. The Ballyboughal folk were urging us to come back down and see him too - but sadly the tickets were long-gone. The warm welcome was pretty wonderful, a stark contrast to some church events my brother and I have played at I can tell you!

It is just a pity, maybe even a disgrace, that up here in the Scotch-Irish home province of Ulster, that there were no dates and presumably therefore not much demand compared with the rest of the island. Music is for everyone. But I do have this niggling question now about why there isn't a buzzing 'scene' for this type of stuff in Ulster-Scots heartlands such as County Down and County Antrim. (there is of course the annual Bluegrass festival in September at the Ulster-American Folk Park, a place called The Red Room in Cookstown, and the Bronte Music Club near Rathfriland).

On the other hand, there maybe is a demand, but perhaps the present-day gatekeepers of the publicly-funded arts centres and the locally-run community venues are just on a whole different wavelength. It seems to me that these places are doing very little by way of cultural affirmation, appreciation and education.

It was interesting that the folk were a bit incredulous that I had no idea who Séamus Ennis was. Goes to show the huge cultural gulf that exists.

(I should maybe book the Foghorn Stringband for a gospel gig next time they're in the vicinity). IMG 8196 IMG 8209 IMG 8195 IMG 8197IMG 8193IMG 8194