Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Return Room

On a more positive note with BBC Northern Ireland they broadcast an excellent old radio programme tonight.  It was entitled  The Return Room and was written by W R Rodgers.  The programme was produced by Sam Hanna Bell and was first broadcast back in 1955. 

William Robert Rodgers was born in the Mountpottinger area of East Belfast in 1909 and so this year was the centenary of his birth.  His father Robert Skelly Rodgers was originally from Dromara and his mother Jane Ferris McCarey was originally from Dundonald.  His background was thoroughly Presbyterian and thoroughly Ulster-Scots.

After studying at Queen's University and the Presbyterian Theological College he was ordained in 1935 and spent the next decade as minister of Cloveneden Presbyterian Church at Loughgall.  After that he left the ministry and joined the BBC in 1946.  For the next twenty years he was a writer, poet, radio broadcaster, script-writer and book reviewer.  He died in Los Angeles in 1969 and was buried at Loughgall.

The radio programme was a delightful portrait of life in Belfast back in the early part of the 20th century.  It provides us with a glimpse of his childhood and is an evocative portrait of a world that is gone.  Belfast was a busy, industrious city, with the Lagan and the shipyards and with little streets full of children at play.  The family of which Rodgers wrote was a devout Presbyterian family, immersed in metrical psalms, gospel meetings and Sabbath observance.

I was amused to hear the older generation of his family speak of Belfast as Bilfawst, with the stress on  the second syllable, not the first.  That traditional Ulster-Scots version of the name was widely used in the city at one time, even just a couple of generations ago, but has now almost disappeared.

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