Friday, 31 December 2010

A guid New Year

In years gone by this Scots song was often sung by Andy Stewart and others on BBC's Hogmanay television programme from Scotland.

A guid New Year tae yin an aa!
An monie may ye see,
An during aa the years tae come,
O happy may ye be.
An may ye ne'er hae cause tae greet,
Tae sigh or shed a tear,
Tae yin an aa, baith great an smaa,
A hertie guid New Year!

A guid New Year tae yin an aa!
An monie may ye see,
An during aa the years tae come,
O happy may ye be.

O time flies fast, he winna wait,
My freen, for you or me.
He works his wonders day by day,
And onward still doth flee.
O wha can tell when ilka yin
I see sae happy here,
Will meet again, an merry be,
Anither guid New Year?

We twa hae baith been happy lang,
We ran aboot the braes.
In yon wee cot aneath the trees
We spent oor early days.
We ran aboot the burnie side,
The spot will aye be dear,
An those that used tae meet us there,
We'll think on monie a year!

Now let us hope our years may be
As guid as they hae been;
An trust we ne'er again may see
The sorrows we hae seen.
An let us wish that, yin an aa,
Oor freens baith far an near,
May aye enjoy in times tae come,
A hertie guid New Year!

Old Scots' Monument

On 3 June 1899 the New York Times reported on plans for a memorial to be erected in Freedhold, New Jersey.  It was to mark the site of the Old Scots Meeting House and was to be known as the Old Scots' Monument.  The monument was to be unveiled in the third week of October 1899 when the Presbyterian Synod of New Jersey met at Asbury Park.

The following in taken verbatim from the New York Times report:

The granite for the monument has been quarried in Ireland, Scotland and New England in honour of the three men who constituted the first presbytery in this country and ordained John boyd as first pastor of the Old Scots Church in 1706.  The church was torn down long ago but the Old Scots' burying ground is still visited by tourists.

The mother church was located near Bradevelt.  The official records extant of the Presbyterian Church in this country begin abruptly in the midst of the ordination of John boyd, on December 29, 1706, in the Old Scots' Meeting house of Freehold.  The first two pages of the original manuscript have been lost, and, therefore, it is not claimed positively that the Old Scots' Church was the original Presbyterian Church in america, but only that it is the first one referred to in the existing records.  Francis Makemie, as Moderator; Jedidiah Andrews, of Philadelphia, and John Hampton, then recently from Ireland, composed the presbytery which ordained John Boyd.  Walter Ker was the elder of the old church.

The Rev William Tennent, Jr., wrote in 1774:
It was the first in East Jersey on the west side of the Raritan River, which was settled with the Gospel ministry.  This was owing to the agency under God of some Scotch people that came to it, amongst whom there was none so painful in the blessed undertakings as one Walter Ker, who, in the year 1685, for his faithful and conscientious adherence to God and His truth as professed by the Church of Scotland, was there apprehended and sent to this country under a sentence of perpetual banishment.
A pilgrimage was made to the site of the Old Scots Church in June, 1895, under the auspices of the Synod of New Jersey.  The pilgrimage receivbed the endorsement of both the Southern and Northern General Assemblies by the appointment of delegates to it, and resulted in a call for the erection of a monument to commemorate the events and the men thus intimately connected with the beginnings of the organic Presbyterian Church in America.

On the gables of the monument four bronze historic seals will be placed, and on one side will be a bronze tablet with the Latin inscription fom the tomb of John Boyd, who died in 1708.

A suitable plot of ground at Old Scots' has been conveyed by deed to the Trustees of the Synod of New Jersey, and the monument proper is now nearly completed.

I have written the following notes to highlight the Ulster-Scots element of this story:

Francis Makemie was born of Scottish parents near Ramelton, county Donegal, about the year 1658. He was converted at fifteen and enrolled in Glasgow University in February 1676 as Scoto Hyburnus (Scotch-Irish). Each term he sailed from Donaghadee to Portpatrick and walked the rest of the journey! Makemie was presented to the Laggan presbytery as a student for the ministry in 1680 and preached at Burt in 1682.  His first 15 years in America were spent as a travelling evangelist in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. His work on the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia led to the formation of four or five churches, notably Rehoboth and Snow Hill. He visited Philadelphia in 1692 and planted the seed of Presbyterianism there. Makemie combined business with preaching and in 1704 he was the owner of 5,109 acres of land.

John Hampton was born in Burt, county Donegal, and was the son of Rev William Hampton, a Scot who was ordained in Burt in September 1673 but seems to have returned to Scotland around 1689.  In 1704 Francis Makemie returned to the British Isles seeking financial support, prayer and more ministers. He brought John Hampton back with him to America and he was minister at Snow Hill Presbyterian Church, which had been established through Makemie.

Jedidiah Andrews, the third minister in the presbytery, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and was the son of Captain Thomas Andrews, who was born in England.  He was educated at Harvard College in Maryland.

John Boyd, the minister who was ordined, was probably Scottish and his ministry was short.  It lasted less than two years, for he died on 30 August 1708, at the age of twenty-nine.

William Tennent (1705-1777), who is mentioned in the article, was born in county Antrim and was the second of four sons of Rev William Tennent (1673-1745).  He emigrated from Ulster to America with his father and was educated at the Log College at Neshaminy, Pennsylvania.  His brother John Tennent died in 1732 and William succeeded him as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Freehold.  He was ordained there on 25 October 1733 and ministered in that congregation for forty-four years until his death.  William Tennent was thoroughly evangelical and evangelistic and a trustee of the College of New Jersey.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Culture Matters (9)

What exactly is equity?

In a shared and better future our diverse cultural traditions must be treated on a basis of equity and that can be applied in several areas, which I call the four Rs – recognition, respect, resources and representation. 

There must be recognition of the existence of each cultural tradition. Those whose cultural traditions are excluded or ignored will feel themselves to be excluded or ignored and indeed they are being excluded. 

Some years ago Dr Ivan Herbison was speaking at seminar on the Ulster-Scots poetry of the Ulster weaver poets and he referred to the Field Day History of Irish Literature. He continued by saying, ‘Here is what it says about them,’ and then he stood in silence for a minute or more. That silence was powerful and eloquent and it told us that the editors of this influential volume had totally ignored this aspect of Ulster literature. They did not even recognise its existence. 

The denial of recognition is not only to be found in the field of language. I can well recall an encounter with someone employed in the community arts sector, who told me that I was Irish whether I acknowledged it or not! On another occasion a traditional arts officer, who was also an Irish traditional musician, spent much of a meeting arguing with me that there was no such thing as Ulster-Scots traditional music!  Consider too the column inches in some newspapers telling us that unionists have no culture.

Cultural traditions are part of our cultural wealth and as such they should be recognised.

There must be respect for each cultural tradition and it should not be demonised or disparaged. Those whose cultural traditions are demonised or disparaged will feel themselves to be demonised or disparaged.  My culture is part of what I am and to ridicule that culture is to ridicule me personally.

We have seen such demonisation in relation to the Orange Order, with the murder of Orangemen in their halls, the burning of Orange halls, and orchestrated republican opposition to Orange parades. Equally, the burning of GAA halls shows a lack of respect for that culture.

Where public resources are being allocated, then each of our cultural traditions should be treated on the basis of equity and this is about more than money.  As well as public funding it is about such things as access to the media and inclusion in the education system because education and the media are especially important in affirming and promoting cultural traditions.

Apart from the Twelfth broadcasts on television, when is Orange culture reflected in the media? For example, when did the BBC or UTV last produce or broadcast a documentary on the painting of Orange banners? Orange culture is confined to one day in the year, with the coverage of the annual Twelfth celebrations. Yet Gaelic games, which reinforce and validate a Gaelic identity, receive substantial coverage week by week throughout the year. The Twelfth broadcast has the highest viewing figure of any produced locally by the BBC and there is clearly a large potential audience for such programmes.

What too of our education system? What provision is made for cultural traditions in the various sectors of that system? Roman Catholic schools and Irish medium schools have an Irish cultural ethos and they both affirm and validate that culture. They play Gaelic games, they play Irish traditional music and they will be exposed to the Irish language. But is there a corresponding access to the cultural traditions of Protestant children who attend controlled schools?

The fourth area of equality is that of representation. In our society there are publicly appointed bodies that have a specific cultural remit, dealing perhaps with arts, broadcasting, cultural diversity or museums. Our cultural communities should be represented on those bodies and the bodies should be representative of Northern Ireland society, but is that the case? This is actually a denial of an important cultural right, recognised in international agreements, for cultural communities to be represented in the decision making processes that affect their cultures.

Their memberships of these publicly appointed bodies may reflect the religious balance of Protestant and Roman Catholic or the balance of unionist and nationalist but do they reflect the cultural balance of our society? For example, how many members of these public bodies watch a Twelfth demonstration, or go to a pipe band competition or a band parade or a gospel concert? Yet band music and banner painting are gospel music are cultural traditions and forms of artistic activity.

Legislation requires that the memberships of the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission are representative of Northern Ireland society and whilst this requirement is honoured by the NIO more in the breach than the observance, the principle of representativesness has been established.

A shared future is every bit as important as equality and human rights and the requirement for a representative membership should be applied to the organisations that make up the cultural establishment, both in principle and in practice.

Away in a Manger

Away in a Manger is one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time. At some point in the days leading up to Christmas, children in almost every church, Sunday school or primary school in Northern Ireland, sang the carol and it has been sung in countless church services.

The first two verses appeared in 1885 in America in a Lutheran Sunday school collection and the third verse was added in 1892. It can be sung to a number of tunes but in the United Kingdom it is usually sung to the tune Cradle Song, which was composed by William James Kirkpatrick in 1895 for Around the World with Christmas

I wonder then, how many people in Ulster know that the man who wrote the tune was himself an Ulsterman and that he was born in county Tyrone in 1838.

William James Kirkpatrick was born on 27 February 1838 in the parish of Eerigal Keerogue in county Tyrone and his parents were Thompson Kirkpatrick (1795-1867) and his wife Elizabeth Storey (1805-1881), who were both Ulster-Scots. The only significant settlement in the parish was Ballygawley, which was then ‘a small village on the main road from Dublin to Londonderry’.

Later the Kirkpatrick family emigrated from Ulster to America and lived for some time in Duncannon in Perry County, Pennsylvania.  In the spring of 1854 William J Kirkpatrick settled in Philadelphia where he devoted his life to composing the words and tunes for gospel songs and hymns. 

The tune has no great musical merit and much of Kirkpatrick’s other work is far superior but it is immensely popular. Of that there can be no doubt. Here is another of the little gems of Ulster’s cultural history but unfortunately it is a gem that has lain hidden and out of sight for many, many years.

Culture Matters (8)


Identity - who do you think you are?

It has been said that Protestants in Ulster are suffering from an ‘identity crisis’ or a confusion about identity. This point was made many years ago by the poet and critic John Hewitt (1907-1987) who said: 'In my experience, people of Planter stock often suffer from some crisis of identity, of not knowing where they belong. Among us you will find some who call themselves British, some Irish, some Ulstermen, usually with a degree of hesitation or mental fumbling.'

And Hewitt was certainly not the last person to say this.  A personal perspective by one Presbyterian in the Presbyterian Herald of April 1999 was entitled 'Have you got an Identity Crisis?'  In this the contributor said, 'People in the North of our fair green isle are nothing if not fanatical about identity. For those in the Roman Catholic community this usually means a clear declaration of Irishness, manifest in school, music, sport, art and literature. There are of course variations or degrees of Irishness within the Roman Catholic community but it’s a statistical fact that most Catholics see themselves as Irish.For us Prods, of course, things are a tad more confusing. British, Northern Irish, Irish, Ulsterish or even the ambiguous title ‘European’ are all terms we use in the struggle to define a national (or should that be provincial?) self.  Recent talk of an Ulster Scottish identity has added to this maelstrom of ethnic confusion.'

The question of identity has been around a long time and two hundred years ago the weaver poet Samuel Thomson (1766-1816), the Bard of Carngranny, wrote: 'I love my native land, no doubt, Attach’d to her thro’ thick and thin, Yet tho’ I’m Irish all without, I’m every item Scotch within.'

Who then are we?  Are we Protestants, or are we British or are we Irish or are we unionists or are we Ulster folk or Ulster-Scots?  Which one are we?  The answer is that we can be some or all of these – we do not have to pick one – because identity is complex and it is multi-layered or multi-faceted. 

For example, the Labour peer Baroness Valerie Amos, speaking at a seminar on 12 October 2000, said: 'My identity is defined in a number of different ways – I am British – have lived in this country for most of my life. (I also say it is what I know and understand as my home) but I am also Guyanese (that is where I was born), I am a product of the Caribbean and of Africa and I also see myself as a European. All these influences have shaped who I am, how I see myself.'  Baroness Amos was quite comfortable with her identity and the elements that contributed to its complexity. 

We can see therefore that Ulster Protestants are not unique in in having multi-layered identities.  They are not abnormal and indeed their experience is perfectly normal because identity is multi-layered.

Gregory Campbell made that point when he addressed a meeting in the Bogside in Londonderry in August 2010.  He said, 'I have inherited my identity and I have kept it by conscious choice.  I am an Ulster Protestant who was born, reared and lived my entire life in Londonderry.  I am British.  I am an Ulster-Scot.  I am a Unionist.  I am a member of the Apprentice Boys.'

My own experience is that I have a national identity and I am British.  I also have a regional identity in that I live in Northern Ireland and am an Ulsterman.  My cultural identity is Ulster-Scots, my political identity is unionist and I have a religious identity as an evangelical Protestant, who adheres to Wesleyan theology.  I also have a local identity as a Belfast man and I am an Orangeman.  All of these aspects of identity and indeed others contribute to what I am.'

But not every unionist will share that set of identities.  A person can be a unionist and also a Presbyterian or Roman Catholic.  A person can even be British by nationality and have an Irish cultural identity.  The important thing is to recognise that identity is important, that it is multi-layered or multi-faceted and that one of those layers or facets is a cultural identity.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Ulster, Ulsterite and Ulsterian

On 20 November I posted about the word Ulsterite but this is a more comprehensive post on the words ulster, Ulsterite and Ulsterian.

We are all familiar with the word Ulster as meaning either the province of Ulster, or in everyday speech, Northern Ireland.  However there is another use of the word and also several associated words, with which many people are less familiar. 

The name ulster was given to a form of overcoat designed by John Getty McGee (1816-1883) who had a shop in High Street in Belfast and owned the Ulster Overcoat Company.

At that time male travellers used to wear greatcoats, fitted with capes and other accessories, which covered them from head to toe. These kept them warm but were awkward to wear. McGee decided to make a coat that would give more freedom of movement. Several designs were tried before the Ulster was evolved and it was so successful that a woman’s model was made also. Orders poured in from all over the world and the design was extremely popular and profitable. 

The great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes had a liking for the ulster overcoat. He first appeared in A Study in Scarlet in 1887 and at one point in the story he was described as ‘enveloped in an ulster’. An ulster overcoat was also worn by Billy Connolly when he was playing Queen Victoria’s ghillie, John Brown, in the 1997 film Mrs Brown

The success of the ulster led on to the design of an ulsterette, which was defined as ‘a light ulster’ and the creation of the word ulstered, which meant ‘wearing an ulster’.

The word Ulster is used as an adjective as well as a noun but there are also the words Ulsterite and Ulsterian.  Ulsterite can be used as a noun, meaning an Ulsterman or Ulster person, and occasionally it has been used as an adjective meaning ‘of or associated with Ulster’.

In November 1912 the Ulster Unionist MP Ronald McNeill achieved notoriety when he hurled a book at Winston Churchill in the House of Commons and one newspaper headline read ‘Wild Ulsterite Attacks Winston Churchill’.

The following year the New York Times (28 September 1913) reported a speech in Chicago by Lord Northcliffe with the headline ‘Cannot Coerce Ulsterites: So Says Lord Northcliffe, Who Doesn’t Expect Home Rule.’ Again in 1916 the New York Times referred to the ‘prospects of an Ulsterite-Nationalist Agreement’.

The word was used on both sides of the Atlantic and in reviewing a publication by James Connolly, the Socialist Standard (June 1914), which was published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, referred to the ‘struggle between Home Ruler and Ulsterite’.

An Irish-born American named William Bourke Cockran addressed the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate in Washington on 30 August 1919. He spoke at some length on the subject of Ireland and in doing so he repeatedly referred to Ulstermen as ‘Ulsterites’.  Later that year, in December 1919, the Chicago Tribune also described Sir Edward Carson as an Ulsterite. 

With the appointment of the Boundary Commission to review the border between the Free State and Northern Ireland, the New York Times (29 October 1924) carried a report with the headline ‘Ulsterite on Boundary Board’. 
The word also appeared in settings that were not related to Ulster politics and it was used by a number of American historians. In 1921 James T Adams used the word in his book The Founding of New England, where he said that ‘the Puritanism of any individual today may derive from an ancestral Pennsylvanian Ulsterite’.  Another historian, Professor Thomas J Wertenbaker, wrote The Planters of Colonial Virginia, which was published in 1922 by Princeton University Press and Oxford University Press. In it he referred to ‘the poor Ulsterite' who arrived in America in the 18th century. 

Dr H M Klein wrote A History of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania in 1926 and said, 'It is generally recognized that the first dominant Scotch-Irish settlements in Lancaster county were in its 'Upper End' or northern part, not in the 'Lower End', as the five Scotch-Irish townships of southern Lancaster are sometimes called.  The settlement of the aggressive Ulsterites in Lancaster county seated a power which soon became evident in the local government.'  Again in The Annals of Southwestern Pennsylvania, written around 1939 by Lewis Clark Walkinshaw, an Ulster-Scots emigrant named John Laird is described as ‘an Ulsterite from County Donegal’.

Some years later, on 14 July 1947, away from politics and history, Time magazine described the famous Northern Ireland golfer Fred Daly as a ‘jaunty little Ulsterite’.

Rev Dr Robert F MacNamara, a Roman Catholic historian, used the word Ulsterite in the April 1963 edition of Rochester History to describe a young Roman Catholic woman who had emigrated from County Cavan to America.

The word is still used occasionally in America and appeared for example in a chapter in a book entitled Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century, which was published in 2001. There the authors spoke of ‘a possible Ulsterite identity … built on the richness of both cultures’.  It also appeared in an article by James A Haught, the news editor of The Charleston Gazette, in 2002 and again in the same year in a book by Professor Kimberly Cowell-Meyers of American University in Washington, who has written extensively on Northern Ireland politics. In her book Religion and Politics in the Nineteenth Century, she described the unionist reaction to the possibility of home rule and said, ‘Faced with the threat of home rule, the Irish Protestant minority … defined itself as separate again, as Scotch-Irish, as Ulsterite, and as unionist’.

The word Ulsterite was used in 2005 in an article published by a California division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America and as recently as 2007 Eric P Kaufman used the word Ulsterite in The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History, when he said that Brian Faulkner ‘displayed his national identity as British rather than Ulsterite’.

Today the word is comparatively rare but it is an alternative word for an Ulsterman and it is also used in relation to a resident of Ulster County in New York.
The word Ulsterian is an adjective referring to the province of Ulster or to a geological division. The latter meaning is derived from Ulster County in the state of New York and is a subdivision of the American Devonian period.  The use of the word Ulsterian in relation to the province of Ulster has been less common than the use of the word Ulsterite, but it does appear in dictionaries and can be found in some other publications. 

On 27 June 1918 the New York Times considered the possibility of a federal United Kingdom ‘including Wales, Scotland, England, the two Irelands, North and South – if non-Ulsterian Ireland can be brought to consent to that division’.

The word was also used by the famous writer J R Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, who said of his friend, the author C S Lewis, that he had an ‘Ulsterian motive’.

Queen's Speech

This year the Queen's speech on Christmas Day was broadcast from Hampton Court because it was there in 1604 that King James I convened the conference that was to lead to the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible.  The Authorised Version was published in 1611 and next year is the 400th anniversary of that important event.

In her speech the Queen spoke about the relevance of the Christian faith and the contribution of the King James Bible to the culture of our nation. 

She also referred to sport but that accounted for just one third of the speech, about 2 min 41 seconds out of 7 min 18 seconds.  Nevertheless most media reports, both before and after, preferred to ignore her comments on Christianity and the Bible and instead they focused on her comments about sport. 

Is this not a reflection of the way in which the media today marginalise the Christian faith? 

Monday, 27 December 2010

Thomas Buchanan Read

Recently the News Letter had an article about Thomas Buchanan Read, an American poet and portrait painter, who was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania on 12 March 1822.  It was an interesting article but omitted to mention that he was of Ulster-Scots ancestry.

His great-grandfather Rev Thomas Read DD was born in Chester County in March 1746 and was the son of Scotch-Irish immigrants from Ulster.  He was educated at the Philadelphia Academy under Dr Francis Alison, a Presbyterian minister from Ulster, and in 1768 he was licensed as a Presbyterian minister.

Thomas Read was pastor of of the Presbyterian congregation in Drawyer's Creek in Delaware from 1768 to 1798, when he moved to the Second Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.  He remained there until 1817, when he resigned and thereafter he preached from time to time in the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, which was without a pastor.  In 1796 Princeton College awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

During the American Revolution he was an earnest patriot and in 1776 he and some fifty others, his neighbours and members of his congregation, shouldered their muskets and marched to Philadelphia.  However their assistance was unnecessary and they were able to return home.  The following year George Washington sent for Read to provide information on the geography of the surrounding country prior to the Battle of Brandywine.

Dr Thomas Read had four sons and one of them, James Read, who was a school-teacher, married Hannah Buchanan and they were the grandparents of Thomas Buchanan Read.

Thomas B Read started work as a painter in Cincinnati in 1839 but in 1841 he moved to Boston and there his poetical talents developed, first finding expression in the columns of the Boston Courier.  Read moved to Philadelphia in 1846 and his first volume of poetry was published in 1847.  Among the portraits he painted were Abraham Lincoln, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning and William Henry Harrison.
 
Read made several visits with his family to Europe but returned to America in 1861, at the start of the Civil War.  He enrolled as a volunteer in the Union Army and served under General Lew Wallace, who was also of Scotch-Irish ancestry, but perhaps his most important support for the Union cause was through his patriotic poems and addresses.
 
After the war his health deteriorated and he spent the winter of 1871-72 in Rome but in the spring he set off for America, believing that he would die there.  On board the steamer he developed pneumonia but managed to reach New York, where he died on 11 May 1872.  He was buried in North Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.  Shortly before he died he wrote a letter in which he said:
I can look back upon all the poetry I have ever written, and find it contains no line breathing a doubt upon the blessed Trinity and the great Redemption of man.  When I have written my verses I have been alone with my own soul and with God, and not only dared not lie, but the inspiration of the truth was to me so beautiful that no unworthy thought ever dared obtrude itself upon the page.  This was entirely owing to the goodness of God, who saw what it was to be, and saved me from subsequent mortification and regret.
Most of the above is taken from History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with genealogical and biographical sketches, volume 2 (1881), by John Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Irish Labour Party

Recently on Facebook I seem to have acquired some 'friends' who belong to the Irish Labour Party.  I was therefore interested to read the following in an article by Kevin Myers in the Belfast Telegraph last night, 23 December.  The article had previously appeared in the Irish Independent on 21 December:
Most readers are now acquainted with the Rome Rule that emerged following independence.  By 1949 the Irish Labour Party boasted that its policies were based on papal encyclicals and that it acknowledged the authority of the Catholic Church in all policy matters.
It is easy for people in the Irish Republic to point the finger at Northern Ireland and brand us as a sectarian state but the fact is that for the first fifty years of the southern state Home Rule was indeed Rome Rule.  In spite of the efforts of some courageous politicans such as Noel Browne, Irish political parties, including the Irish Labour Party were largely subservient to Roman Catholic authority.

The situation in the Irish Republic has changed in recent years but what happened in the Republic helps us to understand what happened in Northern Ireland.

Shenandoah

I always enjoy watching a few western films over the Christas holidays and what better way to start than the old James Stewart classic Shenandoah.

Stewart plays the role of Charlie Anderson, a farmer in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  He finds himself and his family caught up in the middle of the Civil War but decides not to get involved until his youngest son is taken prisoner by Union soldiers.

The story is set in Virginia, which had a large Scotch-Irish population, and the script was written by James Lee Barrett (1929-1989) from North Carolina, another state with a large Scotch-Irish population.  Indeed the Anderson family in the story were probably conceived by the script-writer as a Scotch-Irish family.


The star of the film, James Stewart (1908-1997), was certainly of Ulster-Scots descent and his family can be traced back through the generations to 1785 when William Stewart and his wife Margaret Gettys emigrated from county Antrim to America.

Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne (1907-1979), played the role of James Anderson, one of the boys in the family, and he too was of Ulster-Scots descent.  John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison and in the 1950s he remarked to a reporter that he was 'just a Scotch-Irish little boy'.  His great-great-grandfather Robert Morrison enigrated from county Antrim to America in 1792.

The director was Andrew V McLaglen, who was born in London and was the son of the actor Victor McLaglen (1886-1959).  His grandfather was Rt Rev Andrew McLaglen, a bishop and primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England, an obscure denomination with just a few small congregations.

The inclusion of the old folk tune Shenandoah as a recurrent theme throughout the film adds to the enjoyment of a classic western.

Scotch Church, Armagh

Rev Pooley Shuldam Henry was minister of First Presbyterian Church in Armagh from 1826 to 1846, when he was appointed first president of the new Queen's College in Belfast.  During his rather stormy ministry sixty families memorialised Armagh Presbytery to form another congregation and Third Armagh was recognised by the presbytery on 7 November 1837.  The first minister Rev John Richard McAlister, originally from Garvagh, was installed on 13 June 1838 and services were held for a time in the old Methodist Church in Abbey Street. 

The meeting-house on The Mall was opened for worship on 11 February 1840 by Rev Dr Henry Cooke and above the door is the inscription SCOTCH CHURCH MDCCCXXXVII.  The year 1837 refers to the formation of the congregation rather than the opening of the building and the word Scotch reflects the Scottish roots of Presbyterianism in Ulster.

McAlister was very active and much used of God during the great Ulster revival in 1859.  There were many converts at that time and the congregation flourished. 

Tynan Abbey

The other day I was browsing through The Buildings of Co Armagh, a beautifully produced book which was written by the late Charles Brett and published by the UAHS in 1999. 

It includes Tynan abbey, which was the home of the Stronge family but on the night of 21 January 1981 the Provisional IRA murdered Sir Norman Stronge Bt and his son James, who were both former MPs, and then burned the 230-year old mansion.  The ruin stood for some years but was finally demolished in 1998.

The estate passed into the ownership of the Stronge family when Rev John Stronge, prebendary of Tynan, married Eleanor Manson.  According to Burke's Peerages, Rev John Stronge was a descendant of a certain Matthew Stronge of Strabane who was a scion of 'Strang of Balcaskie' in Fife, and who had been warden of Lifford in county Donegal.

The Stronges or Strangs were therefore of Scottish origin  and they were not the only Scottish family to become major landowners in the area.  Charles Brett noted that:
The Tynan Abbey demesne of the Stronge family in county Armagh; the Caledon demesne of the Alexander family in county Tyrone; and the Glaslough demesne of the Leslie family, just across the border in county Armagh; together comprise a very considerable area of parkland, woodland, farmland and lakes, through which twine the rivers Tynan, Cor and Blackwater.
The three families, Stronge, Alexander and Leslie, were all of Scottish origin and the three estates constitued a large area in south Ulster.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Jenny's creepie

In my last post I referred to a three-legged stool, which in Scots and Ulster-Scots is called a creepie, and I tried to find a picture of one on the internet. 

While browsing around I came across a reference to a creepie in relation to that notable Scottish woman Jenny Geddes.  She was in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on 23 August 1637 when James Hannay, the dean of Edinburgh stood up to use of the Book of Common Prayer for the first time.

Jenny was outraged by the introduction of the prayer book and she lifted the creepie on which she was sitting and threw it at the dean's head.  As she threw the stool she shouted, 'Deil colic the wame o’ ye! Oot thou fause thief! Dost thou say the mass at my lug?' (The devil give a colic to your stomach! Out you false thief! Dare you say the mass at my ear?).

This led to general unrest in the city and elsewhere in Scotland and eventually to the signing of the National Covenant in February 1638.  The covenant rejected any attempt to introduce innovations like the Prayer Book that had not first been subject to the scrutiny of Parliament and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

In November of the same year, the bishops and archbishops were formally expelled from the Church of Scotland, which was then established on a fully Presbyterian basis. Charles reacted by launching the Bishops' Wars and this was the start of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

In 1991 the artist Merilyn Smith proposed the creation of a memorial to commemorate Jenny Geddes and after extensive research she came on the ides of creating a bornze cutty stool or creepie.  January 1992 she designed the wooden prototype and in consideration of the leading role taken by women in the Edinburgh riot, a subscription list for Scottish women was opened in February. Forty women responded, the money was raised and the stool was cast in April. The Hughson Gallery negotiated with the Very Rev. Gilleasbuig Macmillan, the minister of St. Giles, on the presentation of the work to the cathedral and the work was unveiled on Sunday 23 August, after the mid-day service.  On that occasion the eminent Scottish poet Iain Crichton Smith read his specially written poem The Stool.

Another great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, was obviously an admirer of the doughty Protestant and he named one of his horse after her.  This was the horse that he rode on his tours of the Borders and the Highlands.

Culture Matters (7)

A shared and better future

An important facet of our vision for Northern Ireland is a 'shared and better future' and it is indeed a great aspiration.  It says that the future of Northern Ireland must be a 'shared future' and it amplifies that by adding the word 'better', which means that a 'shared future' will be a 'better future'.

However  we need to have a common understanding of what what we mean by a 'shared and better future' and in that regard there are three core values or principles which are widely recognised as underpinning values.  They are equity, diversity and interdependence.

Culture has an important role to play in the creation of that 'shared and better future' and especially our cultural traditions.  For that reason we need to consider how we apply those three values or principles to cultural traditions.  What is the outworking of that 'shared and better future' as regards the cultural life of Northern Ireland?

We have a rich diversity of traditional cultures or cultural traditions in Ulster, a diversity that is special and is part of our cultural wealth.  Moreover those strands within our traditional diversity are all part of our traditional cultural wealth.

That diversity is more than just two traditions and as we broaden the understanding of diversity and move away from a flawed two traditions model, we also move away from polarity to plurality. 

There are certainly three main traditional influences which have shaped Ulster - English, Irish and Scottish -and they have left all their imprint on our cultural landcape.  We also have an Orange cultural tradition, with its colourful regalia, the pageantry of its parades, the artistry of the banners, the music of the bands and a heritage of Orange song and poetry.

This diversity is one of the things that makes Northern Ireland such a unique and distinctive place and the diversity, along with its component cultures, should be recognised, valued and celebrated.

In more recent years we have seen the arrival in Northern Ireland of new communities from abroad and they have brought their own cultures with them  These communities have added to our diversity but their numbers are still comparatively small and the indigenous cultural traditions mentioned above are still the cultural traditions of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.  One has only to consider the numbers of people who watch Gaelic games or Orange delebrations to realise that this is still the case.

Secondly, these cultural traditions should be treated with equity and fairness. We cannot have a situation where special and preferential treatment is given to one tradition over another.  That would be inequitable and unfair.  Moreover that principle of cultural equity has to be applied in several important areas - recognition, respect, resources and representation.  The road to cultural equity will be a long road but that is not an excuse for day.  Equity delayed is equity denied.
Thirdly, we must recognise that there is an interdependence between cultural traditions.  They interact with each other, they impact on each other, they borrow from each other, and they influence each other.  For example, the Ulster-Scots word crack was borrowed into Irish and respelt as craic because there is no letter k in the Gaelic alphabet.  

Staying with language, both the Irish language and the Ulster-Scots language, which are our regional minority languages, have influenced each and every one of us.  They have both provided words for the Ulster dialect that we speak every day and they have both contributed to the placenames that are all around us.  Ulster-Scots has had a greater influence on dialect and Irish has had a greater influence on placenames but both have contributed to our dialect and our placenames and both languages are part of our cultural wealth. 

A better and wider understanding of that interdependence can do much to build social cohesion in our society and promote good relations.  For that reason our cultural sector should look at opportunities to reflect our cultural interdependence.

We need to find ways to celebrate and showcase our diversity in a way that contributes to community cohesion and there are certainly opportunities to do so.  Some time ago I attended a concert in the old Crumlin Road Gaol in North Belfast.  It was organised through the North Belfast Partnership and included a section by an excellent Irish traditional music group, followed by an Ulster-Scots traditional music group.  They were followed b ya group of ethnic musicians and at the finale the Ulster-Scots and Irish musicians and dancers performed together.  Another good example was a performance by some Protestant boys from a controlled secondary school in Belfast, playing the lambeg and fifes, along with an Irish traditional music group from a Roman Catholic boys' school.

We often speak about cultural communities, such as the Orange community, the Ulster-Scots community or the Irish language community but we also want to see an overarching Northern Ireland community.  This is about community cohesion and sharing.

In developing our cultural life in Ulster we must ensure that a 'shared and better future' remains a priority and it must be more than just a vague concept, which is why the 'equity, diversity and interdependence' model is so valuable. 

On visits to a folk museum you can often see a little three-legged stool beside an open hearth fire.  The stool is called a creepie and it is very steady, even on an uneven floor, because the three legs are all the same length.  A two-legged stool will not stand up and a stool where one leg is much longer than the others will be of little use.  In the same way there are three legs to a 'shared and better future' and they are all essential.  No one of them has priority over another and all three of them are necessary.  It may be a very simple and hamely illustration but the point it makes is important.

Culture Matters (6)

Ulster and Scotland

Some years ago the BBC published a book entitled The People of Ireland, which contained a chapter on the Scots by Professor Finlay holmes,  In it he said that, 'History and geography have combined to make Ulster as much a Scottish as an Irish province.'

Today we tend to think of the sea as a barrier but in the past, before the development of a modern road system, it was much easier to travel by sea than by land. Indeed down through the centuries that narrow sea between Ulster and Scotland has been more of a bridge than a barrier. For thousands of years men have crossed and re-crossed it in both directions.   Ulster and Galloway are so close that it was possible, even then, to travel across the narrow sea and back within a day.

On the other hand geography tended to separate Ulster from the south of Ireland. The border between Ulster and the south was a natural, almost impenetrable, barrier. It was, according to the Dutch geographer Dr M W Heslinga, ‘one long chain of lakes, forests and mountains, where the only passes were the Gap of the North ... on the one hand and the fords of the Erne at Enniskillen and Ballyshannon on the other’. [The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide p 150]

Indeed in earlier times that natural barrier was supplemented at its weaker points by a man-made structure, the Black Pig’s Dyke, which ran from Carlingford Lough in the east to Donegal Bay in the west.

The Scottish influence in Ulster goes back over thousands of years but the greatest and most enduring influence was that of the Lowland Scots who settled in Ulster four hundred years ago, at the start of the 17th century, and thereafter. They became the Scots in Ulster and ultimately the Ulster-Scots. 

When two Scottish lairds, Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton, arrived in Ulster in 1606 and settled their lands in North Down with Lowland Scots settlers, they were the founding fathers of the Ulster-Scots and that settlement was the dawn of the Ulster-Scots.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Culture Matters (5)

Cultural diversity

The Gaelic revival movement in Ireland pursued a one-tradition model of culture, based on the principle of cultural absorption. As David Patrick Moran (1871-1936) said, 'The foundation of Ireland is the Gael and the Gael must be the element that absorbs.'

Some others have promoted a two-traditions model of culture and during the 1980s this was advocated by the Two Traditions Group.  Indeed this was the model adopted by the UK government and the government of the Irish Republic.  According to the Anglo-Irish Agreement (15 November 1985), the United Kingdom government and the government of the Irish Republic agreed to consider measures to 'foster the cultural heritage of both traditions'.  However this was a flawed model and it is a model which has failed.

There are in fact three main traditions that have shaped modern Ulster and they are English, Irish and Scottish.  At the bottom of the hill below the cathedral in Downpatrick there are three streets that meet at the traffic lights- English Street, Irish Street and Scotch Street.  That is a good illustration of our cultural diversity whereby we are a cultural confluence.  Moreover, whilst that is the simplest example, we see the three traditions reflected in street names and place names in other towns.  For example, in Carrickfergus we have the Irish Quarter, the Scotch Quarter and the Church Quarter, which was so named because of its association with the Established or Anglican Church.

This is no new discovery.  It was known in the 18th century, the 19th century and into the 20th century and a good example is to be found in a book entitled Three Wee Ulster Lassies, which was written in 1883 by James Greer as an allegory to explain Ulster to people in Great Britain.  The three lassies are Bessie Stronge (the Ulster-Saxon), Jennie Scott (the Ulster-Scot) and Nelly Nolan (the Ulster-Kelt).

Unless we recognise and remember that there are three cultural traditions in Ulster it is almost impossible to understand Ulster history.  Moreover it is the nature of this diversity and especially the strength of the Ulster-Scots tradition in the diversity which makes Ulster different from the rest of the island.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Culture Matters (4)

Cultural Absorption (2)

After my previous post about Irish cultural absorption, some folk claimed that I had been selective in my quotations and so I have two more quotes which express this aspiration in strong and strident terms.

One of the most influential figures in the Gaelic movement was David Patrick Moran (1869-1936). He was an articulate exponent of Irish cultural nationalism and founded a weekly paper called The Leader which he used it to promote his vision of Irishness. Writing in it in 1901 he said:
The only thinkable solution of the Irish national problem is that one side gets on top and absorbs the other until we have one nation, or that each develops independently. As we are for Ireland, we are in the existing circumstances on the side of Catholic development and we see plainly that any genuine non-Catholic Irish nationalist must become reconciled to Catholic development or throw in his lot with the other side ... If a non-Catholic nationalist Irishman does not wish to live in a Catholic atmosphere, let him turn Orangeman.
Even after partition the Gaelic revival produced an exclusive view of Ireland and we can see this expressed in an editorial in the Catholic Bulletin in 1924.  This was and important and influential publication because the editor John J O'Kelly was also president of the Gaelic League from 1919 to 1923 and president of Sinn Fein from 1926 to 1931.

The Irish nation is the Gaelic nation; its language and literature is the Gaelic language; its history is the history of the Gael. All other elements have no place in Irish national life, literature and tradition, save as far as they are assimilated into the very substance of Gaelic speech, life and thought.
Time and again during those first formative decades, cultural absorption or assimilation was stated to be a fundamental objective of the Gaelic revival.

'Kit' Carson

Christopher Houston 'Kit' Carson (1809-1868) was an American frontiersman, Indian agent, military officer and explorer.  He was one of the famous figures of the American West and like many others he was of Ulster-Scots stock.

The following summary of his background is taken from a biography entitled Blood and Thunder: The epic story of Kit Carson and the conquest of the American West, which was written by Hampton Sides and published in 2006.
Lindsey Carson was a farmer of Scotch-Irish Presbyterian stock who had lived most of his young life in North Carolina and fought in the Revolutionary War under Gen. Wade Hampton.  The elder Carson had an enormous family - five children by his first wife and ten by Kit's mother, Rebecca Robinson.  Of those fifteen children, Kit was the eleventh in line.'
Another biographer, Harvey L. Carter, said of him:
In respect to his actual exploits and his actual character, however, Carson was not overrated.  If history has to single out one person from among the Mountain Men to receive the admiration of later generations, Carson is the best choice.  He had far more of the good qualities and fewer of the bad qualities than anyone else in that varied lot of individuals.

In the 18th century around 250,000 Ulster-Scots emigrated from Ulster to America and played an important role in the making of the United States of America. 

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Caleery

Recently on a visit to Ballyclare I was talking to my DUP colleague Paul Girvan MLA and in the course of the conversation he used the word caleeried.  I was unfamiliar with it but checked it out afterwards in the Scottish National Dictionary and there it was.  As a noun the word caleery means 'a silly, light-hearted person, a harum-scarum' and as an adjective the word caleeried means 'light, vain, full of mischief''.

The word is found in Ulster but seems to be unknown in Scotland and two of the examples of usage were from the Ballyclare author Archibald McIlroy, who used it in 1897 in his book When Lint was in the Bell and then again in 1900 in By Lone Craig-Linnie Burn.  It also appeared in 1880 in W H Patterson's Glossary of Antrim and Down and again in the Northern Whig newspaper on 14 December 1931.

The word seems to have been borrowed into Ulster-Scots from the Irish verb caleer, which means 'to caper or jump' and that in turn may be a corruption of the English dialect word caleever, which has the same meaning.

It is good to hear these old Ulster-Scots words being used today for the language is part of our cultural wealth and it has such a rich vocabulary.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Culture Matters (3)

Cultural Absorption (1)

Throughout history various groups and peoples have arrived in Ireland but they have generally been absorbed into Irishness. For example, the Anglo-Normans or Old English, who came to Ireland in the 12th century, became known as Hiberniores Hibernicis Ipsis, or 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'. Of that process the English poet Edmund Spenser wrote, ‘Lord how quickly doth that country alter men’s natures.’
[A View of the Present State of Ireland p 151]

Since the advent of the Gaelic revival and Irish cultural nationalism in the 19th century, the cultural vision of Irish nationalists has generally included as a core element the absorption orassimilation of all others into their culture and identity.  They believe that those who arrive and settle in Ireland either become Irish or should become Irish, not merely in some vague geographical sense but in terms of cultural identity.

This view was expressed many years ago by David Patrick Moran (1871-1936), the voice of the Irish-Ireland movement, who wrote The Philosophy of Irish Ireland in 1905: 'The foundation of Ireland is the Gael and the Gael must be the element that absorbs.'

Such a view is thoroughly racist but it was very prevalent at that time in the Gaelic movement. Moran had a vision of an Ireland that was thoroughly Gaelic and he also had a vision of an Ireland that was Roman Catholic. He founded a weekly journal called The Leader and in it he said: 'When we look out on Ireland we see that those who believe or may be immediately induced to believe in Ireland as a nation are, as a matter of fact, Catholics … The Irish nation is de facto a Catholic nation.' [The Leader 27 April 1901]

It should not be imagined that Moran was a lone and isolated voice or somehow untypical. He was expressing the common view of Irish Gaelic nationalism. Professor David George Boyce states that: ‘Moran has been criticised for his alleged ‘racism’; but his real purpose was to spell out, regardless of cant and humbug, the principles which others accepted but preferred not to examine too closely.’ [Nationalism in Ireland p 243]

The vision of cultural absorption was also expressed by Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), who was the founder of the Gaelic League and later the first president of the Irish Republic: 'In two points only was the continuity of Irishism in Ireland damaged. First in the north-east of Ulster, where the Gaelic race was expelled and the land planted with aliens, whom our dear mother Erin, assimilative as she is, has hitherto found it difficult to absorb. … In spite of the little admixture of Saxon blood in the north-east corner, this island is and will ever remain Celtic at the core.'

Sir John Randolph Leslie (1885-1971) was born on the family estate at Glaslough in county Monaghan and he was a descendant of Bishop John Leslie, a Scottish churchman who became bishop of Raphoe in 1633 and Bishop of Clogher in 1661. At Cambridge John Randolph Leslie converted to Roman Catholicism, became a passionate Irish nationalist and changed his name to Shane Leslie. In 1923 he wrote the novel Doomsland and in it the character Francis Joseph MacNeill is a thinly disguised representation of the Belfast nationalist Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926). At one point in the novel MacNeill expresses in very succinct form the general view of Bigger: 'I tell you, there is no such thing as Scots-Irish, man or material. You might as well speak of a Scots-Irish potato. What comes to Ireland becomes Irish. Besides, Scotland is an Irish dependency beyond the seas.'

The Catholic Bulletin was an important expression of Irish republican thinking and in the post-1916 period its editor was John J O’Kelly (1873-1957), who was president of the Gaelic League (1919-1922) and acting chairman of Dail Eireann (1919-1921). In 1924 The Catholic Bulletin provided this demand for cultural assimilation: 'The Irish nation is the Gaelic nation; its language and literature is the Gaelic language; its history is the history of the Gael. All other elements have no place in Irish national life, literature and tradition, save as far as they are assimilated into the very substance of Gaelic speech, life and thought.' [Irish Kulturkampf p 10]

It is true that some Ulster Protestants such as Bulmer Hobson, Roger Casement, Francis Bigger and Alice Milligan were absorbed or assimilated and they played major roles in the Gaelic movement but as Professor Richard Kirkland has observed, ‘they were exotic figures in the often sectarian atmosphere of Northern nationalism.’

Moreover in A History of Ulster Dr Jonathan Bardon comments that these folk were ‘utterly unrepresentative of the mass of Ulster Protestants who were repelled by these new interpretations of cultural identity.’ [A History of Ulster p 422]

Unfortunately the vision or aspiration of Gaelic absorption is not dead. Brendan Clifford, who has provided a number of important insights into recent Irish republican thinking, refers to it in one of his booklets: 'This is the end part of a strategy which was worked out by some very respectable supporters of the Provisional IRA in the republic in 1970-71. …. A process would begin which would end with the people who are now unionists being indoctrinated into the nationalist culture.'  [Parliamentary Despotism – John Hume’s Aspiration January 1986]

Down through the years many of those groups that settled in Ireland were absorbed but there is one notable exception. In 1914 Rev J B Woodburn published his book The Ulster-Scot. The book was an immediate success and when it was reviewed in The Times on 30 April 1914 the reviewer commented: 'He is a mystery, this Ulster Scot. All other peoples Ireland tends to absorb.'

Almost a century later there is still an Ulster-Scots culture and an Ulster-Scots cultural community in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The fact that the Ulster-Scots have not been absorbed was also noted, albeit in a thoroughly intolerant way, by John Francis Taylor (1850-1902), an influential Dublin barrister and Irish nationalist: 'Wherever the English have come they blended with the people … but these unthinkable Scotch, why indeed were they kept upon the planet?'

Today Irish nationalism and Irish republicanism are more sophisticated and subtle in their approach but they remain largely intolerant of those cultural traditions which are not Irish and Gaelic and therefore they continue to seek preferential treatment for Irish and Gaelic culture.

The Gaelic vision of cultural absorption set out by Moran, Hyde and others was an intolerant vision and one that should have no place in out society. We must seek to build a shared and better future in Northern Ireland, a future based on equality, diversity and interdependence, and that should also be the way forward for the Republic of Ireland.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Culture Matters (2)

Irish cultural nationalism

Irish nationalism is essentially cultural nationalism and the Irish cultural movement has always been essentially nationalist.  That was certainly the case at the start of the Gaelic revival in the 19th century.

The Gaelic League was formed on 31 July 1893 to revive the Gaelic language and Patrick Pearse identified the formation of this organisation as the start of an Irish revolution.  Writing in The Irish Volunteer (7 February 1914) he said, 'The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that has ever come into Ireland. The Irish revolution really began when the seven proto-Gaelic Leaguers met in O’Connell Street.'

Meanwhile the GAA was founded in 1884 on the initiative of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and it has been a thoroughly nationalist organisation throughout its existence. Clubs, ground and trophies have been named after Irish republican heroes, past and present, and the constitution of the GAA still affirms its support for a ‘United Ireland’.

The early history of both the Gaelic Athletic Association, formed in 1884, and the Gaelic League, shows clearly the way in which both organisations were used by Irish nationalists as a means of promoting Irish nationalism.

It is often pointed out that there were some ‘Protestants’ involved in the Irish cultural movement eg Francis J Bigger, Roger Casement and Alice Milligan, and it is true that there were Protestants in the movement but they were nearly all Irish nationalists. Generally their interest in Irish culture developed into a commitment to Irish nationalism. 

Today Sinn Fein continue to pursue a cultural nationalist agenda.  Around the time of the IRA hunger strikes they launched a new cultural campaign and at a conference in West Belfast Padraig O’Maoicraoibhe, a Sinn Fein cultural officer, said, 'I don’t think we can exist as a separate people without our language. Now every phrase you learn is a bullet in the freedom struggle. The process of decolonisation will have stopped half-way if, the day we succeed in driving the English from our shores, what is left behind is an Irish people possessed of the language, culture and values of the English.'

At the conference in Conway Mill on 26 May 1982 another Sinn Fein activist, Tarlach MacIonractaigh, said, 'The armed struggle is the highest point of the cultural revival.'  The proceedings of the conference were reported in a Sinn Fein publication entitled Learning Irish and in this Sinn Fein observed that, 'Everyone [at the conference] was agreed that there was a definite link between the National Struggle and the Cultural Revival.'

Today Sinn Fein see Irish culture as a means of:
1. Broadening the battlefront – they added the cultural front to the terrorist front and the political front and later they added the parades front.  Their terrorist war is over, although it is being continued by dissident republicans, but they have placed a greater emphasis on their cultural war.
2. Strengthening the nationalist community – providing cultural confidence, strengthening solidarity and building capacity.
3. Undermining the Protestant/unionist community – they deny or demean our cultural expressions and try to convince unionists that they are really Irish.  Their tactics are those of cultural humiliation and cultural assimilation.

That is why Sinn Fein place so much emphasis on culture and make so many cultural demands. They know that culture matters.

There is nothing inherently problematic about the Irish language, Gaelic games or any other form of Irish culture.  They are part of our cultural wealth.  The problem is about the way they have been used by Irish nationalists and republicans to further their political agenda.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Gillian Welch - I'll Fly Away



I'll Fly Away was written in 1929 by Albert E Brumley, who wrote around 800 songs.  It has been described as the most recorded gospel song of all time and has been recorded by Ralph Stanley, Hank Williams, Alan Jackson, Johnny Cash, Alison Krauss, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Culture Matters (1)

Recently I have commented on the need for cultural inclusivity in Northern Ireland and I was thinking about that again this evening.

Earlier tonight I was singing at the weekly Saturday night praise service in the Bethel Elim Pentecostal Church in Berlin Street, off the Shankill Road.  The church building is in the heart of the Shankill area and it has been there for many years.  The Saturday night meeting is part of their weekly programme and starts at 7.00 with tea and toast for the congregation.  The service then gets underway at 7.30 with the congregation singing some choruses and then there are usually three singers, who each sing three or four gospel songs, two in the first half and then one or two in the second. 

All the pieces are simple gospel songs, with a focus on basic Christian themes of God, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and the accompaniment is often provided by the singer on a guitar or accordion. 

Many of the songs are well known to the congregation and folk will often join in and sing along, especially in the choruses.  Sometimes the singer invites them to sing along and at other times it just happens spontaneously.  This is possible because either the songs are well known or the choruses are simple and can be learned quickly.

Many of the songs are taken from the general repertoire of gospel music but some singers write some of their own songs and some put alternative words to popular tunes.  There is a long tradition of this and as an example the hymnbook of the Faith Mission includes hymns set to Scottish tunes such as Auld Lang Syne and tunes written by the Scotch-Irish composer Stephen Foster.

After each singer had sung tonight the pastor made a short comment on each of the songs, explaining and applying the message of the songs, perhaps using a Bible verse or through an illustrative story.  In some other places the pastor will simply introduce the singers and then give a short address at the end.

During the service there was a collection for the Northern Ireland Hospice, which raised several hundred pounds, and the evening finished around 9.00.  For many of those who attended this is an important part of their week and this is how they spend Saturday nights for much of the year.

This type of praise service, with songs sung in a country gospel or Southern gospel style, takes places regularly in many evangelical churches and mission halls across Ulster and it is is a long established part of our rich cultural diversity.

I suspect that few if any of those in the cultural establishment attend such meetings and it is a cultural expression with which they are probably unfamiliar.  For that reason this type of music does not feature in mainstream cultural festivals.  But if we are to have the inclusivity that I believe to be essential for a shared and better future then such music must be brought in from the margins to the mainstream.

It is undoubtedly popular, not just in the setting of a praise service in a church or mission hall, but on the radio and in major venues.  Radio Foyle has a weekly Sunday afternoon programme called Rejoice, which includes a lot of this type of music, and in recent times I have attended Southern gospel events in the Odyssey and the Theatre at the Mill in Mossley.  Some of the singers have been visiting singers from America but others have been local gospel singers and groups and some of those local singers are of a very high standard.

If a festival is an Irish traditional music festival, then it should deliver Irish traditional music, and if it is a jazz festival then the programme should be jazz.  However there are also festivals which are general in their content and which should be inclusive in their programming.  The organisers may not themselves be familiar with this music genre but they could engage with those who are.  In recent months I have raised the issue with a number of people and I hope that they will now rise to the challenge.

In the world of culture there is much talk about the importance audience development and here is an opportunity for those who manage festivals and venues to reach out to new audiences by including another musical genre in their programmes.

Some other parts of the world are way ahead of us in this regard.  Earlier this year I visited North Carolina, which is part of the 'Bible belt', and I was interested to hear from the deputy director of one major venue about how they see this as an opportunity. Her venue includes an open-air performance space and when it opened they used that space to put on an open-air gospel concert.  For them it was a natural thing to do.  There are many evangelical Christians in the state and they are happy to programme events that will appeal to them.  To them it seems so simple and so sensible.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Land o' the Leal

This is another of the Scots songs by Lady Nairne (1766-1845).

 
Land o' the Leal

I'm wearin' awa', John
Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,
I'm wearin' awa'
Tae the land o' the leal.
There 's nae sorrow there, John,
There 's neither cauld nor care, John,
The day is aye fair
In the land o' the leal.

Our bonnie bairn 's there, John,
She was baith gude and fair, John;
And O! we grudged her sair
Tae the land o' the leal.
But sorrow's sel' wears past, John,
And joy 's a-coming fast, John,
The joy that 's aye to last
In the land o' the leal.

Sae dear 's the joy was bought, John,
Sae free the battle fought, John,
That sinfu' man e'er brought
Tae the land o' the leal.
O, dry your glistening e'e, John!
My saul langs to be free, John,
And angels beckon me
Tae the land o' the leal.

O, haud ye leal and true, John!
Your day it 's wearin' through, John,
And I'll welcome you
Tae the land o' the leal.
Now fare-ye-weel, my ain John,
This warld's cares are vain, John,
We'll meet, and we'll be fain,
In the land o' the leal. 

Meaning of some of the words:
  • awa = away
  • bairn = child
  • baith = both
  • cauld = cold
  • e'e = eye
  • fain = loving, affectionate
  • leal = loyal, faithful
  • sair = sore
  • snaw = snow
  • tae = to



Peasall sisters - Where no one stands alone

The Lily of the Valley

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Poppy

This is the text of a letter I have just submitted to the Irish News.

Jackie McAnee (23 November) states that the poppy is 'a British symbol'.  He also states that, 'The French, Belgians, Dutch, Americans etc do not wear the poppy - this is purely a British thing.'  However McAnee is wrong in both statements.

In the United States of America the American Legion sells poppies to raise funds for its work.  I was also struck by the symbolism of the poppy when I visited the National World War I Museum in Kansas.  Poppies were on sale in the museum and at the entrance there is a Western Front poppy field where each of the 9,000 poppies represents a thousand combatant deaths.

There is also a strong poppy tradition in Canada, where it is the official symbol of remembrance.  Indeed it was a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae, who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915.  The first line of that poem is 'in Flanders fields, the poppies blow' and this poem did much to establish the poppy as an international symbol of remembrance.

Today the poppy has become such a powerful symbol that in some countries, such as Malta and South Africa, Remembrance Day is actually referred to as Poppy Day.  Even in Belgium, one of the countries mentioned by Jackie McAnee, there is a Poppy Parade to the Menin Gate in Ypres and poppies are released from the roof of the Menin Gate.

If we are to create a shared and better future in Northern Ireland then we need to explore and plode the myths that have contributed to so much misunderstanding.  I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to explode the myth that the poppy is 'purely a British thing'.

Nelson McCausland MLA
256 Ballysillan Road

Caller herrin'

This week  Diarmaid O Muirithe turned to the Ulster word caller in his column Words We Use in the Irish Times.  According to the Concise Ulster Dictionary it means, of fish or vegetables, fresh, in proper season, newly caught or gathered.

The word used to be very common in Ulster and in Scotland and Northumberland.  Robert Burns wrote in his poem The Holy Fair (1785), 'I walked forth to view the corn, An' snuff the caller air.'  Walter Scott in The Antiquary (1816) has: 'There's fish nae doubt, - there's sea trout and caller haddocks.'

I can recall hearing the word many times on the White Heather Club when Moira Anderson sang the old Scottish song Caller Herrin', which was written by Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne) in the early 19th century.
Wha'll buy my caller herrin'?
They're bonnie fish and halesome farin';
Wha'll buy my caller herrin',
New drawn frae the Forth?

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Easter Rising that didn't take place!

Today in the Assembly three Sinn Fein members had tabled oral questions about commemorations and of course their focus was on the forthcoming centenary of Easter 1916.  I took the opportunity to share with them some of the facts about what happened in Ulster at Easter 1916 because it is helpful to raise awareness of the facts rather than the fiction.

Denis McCullough (1883-1968) was born in Belfast and in 1901, at the age of 17, he was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  However he was disappointed by the moribund state of the organisation and in 1905 the young activist decided to revitalise the IRB.  Along with Bulmer Hobson and Sean MacDermott he formed the Dungannon Clubs as a means of recruiting new people into the IRB.

Late in 1915 McCullough was elected president of the Supreme Council of the IRB but he was not a member of the Military Committee responsible for planning the Easter Rising and he may not even have known of its existence until later.  Nevertheless as Easter approached he heard of what was planned and travelled down to Dublin to question Thomas Clarke and Sean MacDermott, the other two members of the IRB executive.  They avoided him as long as they could but in the end they informed him of their plans and eventually he supported them.

McCullough was an officer in the Irish Volunteers in Belfast and had two hundred men under his command but it was agreed that there were not enough members in Belfast to stage a rising there.  Instead he was to take his men to Dungannon in county Tyrone and then link up with Liam Mellows in Connacht.

McCullough took 150 men and Cumman na mBan women with him on the train from Belfast to Dungannon to meet up with the Irish Volunteers in Tyrone, who were led by Patrick McCartan (1878-1966).  However McCartan said that the Tyrone volunteers would not rise until they received confirmation that the Pope had received word that a Rising was due to take place and that the German guns had landed in County Kerry.  In the end McCartan and his men refused to move.

The abortive rising petered out with McCullough returning home to Belfast but he managed to shoot himself accidentally in the hand.  That was the extent of the bloodshed in Ulster!

Is that what Sinn Fein want to commemorate - a futile trip by train to Dungannon and a leader who managed to shoot himself?