Sunday, 31 January 2010

Alochol abuse

While reading the newspapers last Friday in Hillsborough Castle, I came across a series of reports about alcohol abuse.

The headline in the Daily Telegraph was ‘Middle aged, middle class and most likely to drink every day’. The Daily Express reported on a similar line that ‘Professionals are drinking the working classes under the table’. It had another report on ‘Children who hit the bottle’, which stated that every day 35 children are admitted to hospital after drinking enough alcohol to make them seriously ill. Meanwhile the Belfast Telegraph reported that ‘Alcohol-related deaths double due to binge drinking’. The number of alcohol-related deaths in Britain has more than doubled since the early 1990s, from 4.023 in 1992 to 9,031 in 2008. 

It is clear that the problem of alcohol abuse is increasing in our society and that the effects of alcohol abuse are increasing, with more deaths and more illness. Such is the power and influence of the drinks industry that governments have been reluctant to address the issue in a comprehensive and coherent way but as the evidence builds up so will the pressure for action.

Launch of Burns' Week

The following photographs were taken at the launch of the Ulster-Scots Agency's celebration of Burns Week.

Hazel Campell (acting ceo, Ulster-Scots Agency), Nelson McCausland, John Hunter (chair, Ulster-Scots Agency)

Orange Community Awards 2009

The Orange Community Awards evening for 2009 was held in Cookstown on Saturday night in the hall of 1st Presbyterian Church. The categories included (1) best charity fundraising lodge (2) individual community involvement (3) special merit award (4) chaplain’s award for Christian witness in the community (5) youth development award (6) Orange Standard award (7) best new banner (8) best banner painter and (9) Grand Master’s achievement award. 

The four banners that were nominated were all painted by William Magowan of Garvagh and the winner was the new banner for Ormeau True Blues LOL990 in South Belfast. The front depicts Ballynafeigh Orange Hall and the back has a picture of Martin Luther. Another of the nominated banners was that of Thiepval Memorial LOL 1005 in Convoy and it has a traditional picture of the Battle of the Somme on one side. The other side shows the lodge returning from its first Twelfth in 1919 led by four pipers. William was one of the Northern Ireland delegation to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington in 2007. 

The winner of the chaplain’s award was Rev Nigel Gould, minister of Mountnorris and Tullyvallen Presbyterian Churches, who introduced the ‘Christianity Explored’ course in local Orange halls, and the Grand Master’s achievement award went to Rev Gerald Sproule, who joined the Orange Institution in Dublin in 1945. 

Speaking at the end of the evening, I congratulated the winners and commended their effort, commitment and dedication. I also pointed that Orangeism is most successful when its members are embedded in their communities and those who were nominated for awards were all good examples to us. Not only were they deeply involved in their lodges but also in the wider community through their work in areas such as churches, youth organisations, charitable and sports organisations and public life.

Update on GAA

On this blog on 8 December 2009 I referred to a republican commemoration in Londonderry on 6 December to remember the deaths of four IRA terrorists. 

The republican commemoration also included a wreath laying ceremony at an IRA memorial and a Gaelic football match between Na Piarsaigh CLG and Sean Dolan’s GAC at Celtic Park in Londonderry. Celtic Park is the main ground of Derry County Board of the GAA.’ 

This post was based on an article in the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht, dated 10 December 2009, which said that the republican commemoration programme included a challenge match ‘between two of Derry’s foremost football clubs’. 

Later that afternoon two of Derry’s foremost football clubs played a challenge match for the Cú Chulainn Cup. In a hard fought match held in wind swept conditions the Waterside based Pearse’s edged out the Creggan men by a point. 

It was also based on an article in the Derry Journal on 4 December: 
The day of events will include a wreath-laying ceremony at the republican monument in Rose Court in the Waterside at 1pm , which will be followed by a Gaelic match between Na Piarsaigh and Sean Dolan’s at Celtic Park at 2pm.
Since then I have received a communication from the public affairs manager of the Ulster section of the GAA. He says that he has discussed this matter with both the Celtic Park and Derry GAA Committees and officials from these bodies have stated that the match in question was a scheduled fixture which was played as part of the Derry GAA programme and that this match had no link to any other event taking place in Londonderry that day. 

He added that ‘if there was a link made to this fixture by another outside group then it was done without the knowledge or permission of the GAA and we will be further investigating this matter. No commemorative or political event of any kind was held on GAA property namely Celtic Park and no GAA official unit was involved in organisation of the event that was outlined in the Minister’s blog.’ 

He also stated that no request was made to Derry GAA or Ulster Council GAA at any stage for any event of any kind to take place at Celtic Park.

I welcome this statement from the GAA. The focus is now back on Sinn Fein and they have to explain the reports in An Phoblacht and the Derry Journal. What did happen on Sunday 6 December? Who issued the press statement to the Derry Journal? Following on the GAA denial, how do Sinn Fein explain it all away?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Burns Week (4)

I was due to open the exhibition of Burns and Burnsiana in the Linen Hall Library on Thursday evening but  in the end I was unable to do so because of the ongoing talks at Hillsborough Castle.  That was a disappointment because I am a member and regular user of the library and have a special interest in their Burns collection. 

Nevertheless I am delighted that the Linen Hall is considering how to encourage greater use of its collections, including the Gibson collection of Burns and Burnsiana, and to make them more accessible. 

I wish the chief librarian John Killen and his colleagues well and would encourage anyone to visit the library to see the exhibition, which runs until 20 March.

Irish News

There were two quotes in the Irish News (30 January) that took my attention.

Newton Emerson observed that,  'Whatever disasters threaten Stormont, do not underestimate Caitriona Ruane's capacity to make things even worse.'  I am sure that the majority of people, including many Sinn Fein voters, will agree with that assessment.

James Kelly, a veteran nationalist journalist, has a weekly column and this week he referred to what he described as 'the hidden scaly hand of the Orange Order'.  Such nasty and sectarian language is typical of James Kelly and it is disappointing that the Irish News continues to provide him with a platform for such language.

Bill of Rights

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has just produced a six-page leaflet about a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and this has been distributed as a 'supplement' in daily newspapers. The supplement states that:
The proposal for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was a key commitment of the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
Meanwhile, according to Newton Emerson in the Irish News today, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium is carrying out a telephone poll and has distributed a pre-printed reply to the Bill of Rights consultation exercise which claims:
Under the Agreement we should have one.
Both organisations, one a public body and the other a lobby group, claim that a Bill of Rights was a commitment in the Belfast Agreement.  In fact the Belfast Agreement says no such thing. 

The Agreement refers to 'the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland supplementing it'.  That wording is very particular and contemplates the possibility of a Bill of Rights but it does not constitute a commitment, never mind a 'key commitment'.

There is a long tradition of human rights commitments in the British Isles, including the Bill of Rights that arose from the Glorious Revolution.  Moreover the ideas of the Scottish Enlightment, through the teaching of the Ulster-born philosopher Francis Hutcheson, shaped the American concept of human rights and liberties.  However in recent years we have seen the emergence in Northern Ireland of a 'human rights sector' or 'human rights industry' dominated by the far-left and by Irish nationalists, who use 'human rights' to further their own political agendas.  In so doing they damage the cause of genuine human rights.

Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish

A number of the obituaries for the American author Jerome D Salinger, who died on Thursday, reported that he was the son of a Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish mother and a Jewish businessman father.  I was interested in the suggestion that his mother might have been Scotch-Irish and have Ulster-Scots roots but on reading a little further it seems that his mother Marie (or Miriam) Jillich was actually of mixed Scottish and Irish descent.

That is one of the difficulties with the terms Scotch-Irish and Scots-Irish, but especially the newer term Scots-Irish.  It is often assumed to mean 'partly Scottish and partly Irish'.  Some newspapers described Marie more accurately as Scottish-Irish, Scottish/Irish, half-Scottish and half-Irish, or of mixed Scottish-Irish descent, but the most common description was Scots-Irish.

Some modern writers prefer the term Scots-Irish but I prefer the traditional term Scotch-Irish, which has a long history, which is still used more frequently and which is therefore less open to misunderstanding.  It refers not to a mixed Scottish and Irish ancestry but to the descendants of the Ulster-Scots who emigrated from Ulster to America.

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall: An Architectural History is the title of a new book written by Dr Paul Larmour and published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. 

The publication of the book follows the restoration of the City Hall, which was completed in the autumn.  The book is thoroughly researched, well written, extremely informative and beautifully illustrated.  It describes the history and architecture of the City Hall from its inception in 1896 to its completion in 1906, as well as the changes and additions that have taken place since then.  The book has been produced with the support of Belfast City Council.

When Belfast was made a city in 1888, it was felt that the existing town hall in Victoria Street, built only thirty years earlier, was not sufficiently grand.  Belfast Corporation decided to build a civic building that would reflect the new city status.  The site of the old White Linen Hall was purchased in 1890 and work started in 1896.  The building was opened by the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Aberdeen, on 1 August 1906 and reflected the character of a confident and prosperous city, the principal city of the province of Ulster.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Burns Week (3)

The first edition of the poems of Robert Burns, known as the Kilmarnock edition, was published in July 1786 and extracts from it appeared in the Belfast News-Letter just three months later on 31 October. The News-Letter was the first newspaper in Ireland and, so far as can be ascertained, the first in the British Isles to quote from that first edition. Thereafter Burns’ poetry appeared frequently in the pages of that newspaper. Indeed, it published many pieces by the ‘Ayrshire Ploughman’ before they appeared in any collected edition of his works. 

So great was the impact of Burns in Ulster that the first edition of his poetry which was printed outside Scotland was printed in Belfast. The Edinburgh edition appeared in 1787 and James Magee of Bridge Street, Belfast, reprinted and republished it in the same year. He printed two hundred copies but these were sold within ten days and so Magee re-set the press and continued printing. However Magee was a rather unscrupulous man and Burns received nothing in royalties from him.

A few years later, in 1792, his son William Magee helped to finance the radical Belfast newspaper, the Northern Star, and Burns’ poetry was published from time to time in that newspaper.

Burns Week (2)

Burns had a profound influence in Ulster and he was central to the Ulster, and particularly to the Ulster-Scots, literary tradition. The novelist Benedict Kiely, who was born in Tyrone in 1919, said:
Burns became a popular folk-author in Ulster, Catholic and Protestant, as he never was or could have been in any other part of Ireland. He still remained so in my boyhood: and I recall the local ragged rhymster saying to me, with a seriousness at which it was not possible to laugh, that: ‘Burns was the best of us.’
The poetry of Burns was especially popular in Ulster becuase of the Scottish influence in the province.  People were familiar with the Scottish words that he used and they had no need for the glossary at the back of his poetry books.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle has been in the news as the location for inter-party talks. 

It was built in the 1770s by Wills Hill, the first Marquis of Downshire.  The first member of the family to come to Ulster was Sir Moyses Hill (d 1630), who came to Ireland as a soldier under the Earl of Essex.

The house remained in the family until 1922 when it was sold to the United Kingdom government and became the home of the governor of Northern Ireland.  The first governor, the Duke of Abercorn, moved into the castle in 1925 and he was followed by four more governors until the post ended in 1972.
1. James Albert Edward Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn (12 December 1922–6 September 1945)
2. William Spencer Leveson-Gower, 4th Earl Granville (7 September 1945–1 December 1952)
3. John de Vere Loder, 2nd Baron Wakehurst (1 December 1952–1 December 1964)
4. John Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine of Rerrick (1 December 1964–27 November 1968)
5. Ralph Francis Alnwick Grey, Baron Grey of Naunton (27 November 1968–26 June 1973)

Today Hillsborough Castle is the used by the Secretary of State and by royal visitors to Northern Ireland.  The gardens are very attractive and in them is Europe's largest rhododendron bush.

Monday, 25 January 2010

He speaks to Scots; he speaks to a’

The 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) is the national poet of Scotland and one of the best -loved poets of all time. The son of an impoverished farmer, he began to write poetry in 1774 and published his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect in 1786. Thereafter he lived a dual life as a tenant farmer and a prolific poet. In 1789 he took a post in the excise service and moved to Dumfries in 1791. There he composed many ‘occasional’ poems and many of the folk songs published in James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803) and George Thomson’s Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (1793-1818).

A few days before he died in 1796 Burns said to his wife, ‘Ay, Jean, They’ll think much more of me a hundred years after this.’ That prophecy was certainly fulfilled. Burns had little formal education and he died before he was 38 years old but the centenary of his death was marked in many lands and today, two hundred years after his death, he is loved by millions of ordinary people all over the world.

The Russians have a very fine translation by the great Russian poet S Marshak and in 1959 an anthology of Burns’ poems was translated into Chinese. Burns has an international appeal. As Rev J A Carruth put it in A Humble Tribute to Robert Burns, ‘He speaks to Scots; he speaks to a’.’

Burns Week

I visited the Ulster-Scots Agency this afternoon for the launch of 'Burns week' and was welcomed by the new chair of the Agency John Hunter and the interim chief executive Hazel Campbell.  Music was provided by Iain Carlisle and Matthew Warwick of the Ulster-Scots Community Network, Dr Ian Adamson, a member of the Agency board, read one of Burns' poems and there was a demonstration of Scottish highland dancing.  Speaking at the launch I pointed out that 'Burns became part of the cultural life of Ulster, just as he was part of the cultural life of Scotland.'

There will be an opportunity to sample Ulster-Scots culture on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 1.00pm, at the Ulster-Scots Visitor and Information Centre in Great Victoria Street and on Thursday the venue is Donegal County Museum in Letterkenny, county Donegal.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Equality Commission is unequal

The 2008 Monitoring Report from the Equality Commission makes interesting reasding, especially in relation to the employment pattern in the Equality Commission itself.

The report revels that the Equality Commission has 141 employees of whom 48 are Protestants (34.8%) and 90 are Roman Catholics (65.2%).  Once again there is a substantial under-representation of Protestants in the workforce of the Equality Commission.

Moreover, during the year they appointed 19 new members of staff, of whom 6 were Protestants (35.3%) and 11 were Roman Catholics (64.7%).  The under-representation of Protestants in the workforce was therefore reflected in the under-representation of Protestants in new appointments.

This is a situation which has prevailed for many years.  The Equality Commission was established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and ever since it was formed there has been an under-representation of Protestants and an over-representation of Roman Catholics.  The two questions I would ask are (1) why has this happened, and (2) what has the Equality Commission done about it?

The Ulster roots of McCain Foods

Harrison McCain
The McCain food company is an international concern but it was founded in Canada by a family with Ulster-Scots ancestry.

In 1823 William Andrew McCain, along with his brother James and their sister Jane, sailed from Ulster to New Brunswick, one of the maritime provinces of Canada, in search of a better life. The two McCain brothers had come from Meenahoney just north of Castlefinn, in county Donegal and their sister was from Ballindrait, which is about a mile from Lifford on the road to Raphoe.

At first they worked as labourers but within a few years all the McCains in New Brunswick had obtained 100-acre land grants in Greenfield, near present-day Florenceville. They became farmers and would have kept animals and grown some crops but at that time hay was the biggest cash crop of farms along the upper Saint John River.

The situation changed in the 1920s with the introduction of potatoes and it was the potato that eventually launched the McCain family into its national and international trade. McCain Foods Ltd was founded by Harrison McCain and his younger brother Wallace, and the company was incorporated in 1956. They began making frozen chips, or French fries as they are known across the Atlantic, in Florenceville in January 1957 and since then they have developed a multi-national business, which employs thousands of people around the world.

In the early 1990s there were problems when Harrison and Wallace started to discuss who would succeed them in running the business. Each owned 33.5% of the shares and they had an equal vote. Wallace wanted his son Michael to take over while Harrison wanted to appoint someone from outside. The matter eventually ended up in court in New Brunswick and the judgment went in favour of Harrison. In 1994 Wallace was ousted from the board and leadership of the company went solely to Harrison. Wallace and his son Michael then moved to Toronto and purchased Maple Leaf Foods, a meat packing giant.

The McCain family are very much aware of their roots in Ulster and when Wallace McCain and his family visited Castlefinn in 2000 they were shown the original farmhouse where his ancestors were born. His wife Margaret McCain, who came with him, had a successful political career in Canada and she served a term as lieutenant governor of Ontario.

Athletics at Antrim

I attended the Antrim International Cross Country Races at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), at Greenmount Campus near Antrim.  This is one of the largest events in the Northern Ireland athletics calendar with more than 1,000 athletes taking part in twelve races throughout the day.

David Seaton, chair of Athletics NI, accompanied me during the afternoon and I presented the prizes to the winners of the senior women's race. 

The event is one of eleven cross country races authorised by the International Association of Athletic Federations and the fourth meeting in the McCain UK Cross Challenge Series.  I must commend Athletics Northern Ireland on such as well-organised event and the sponsors, Antrim Borough Council and McCain.

The McCain company was founded in Canada by a family with Ulster roots and I will set out something of those roots in the next post.

Museums Journal

The current issue of Museums Journal (January 2010) has a review of the refurbished and redeveloped Ulster Museum by Stephen Snoddy, who is director of the New Art Gallery in Walsall.  Stephen, who was born in Belfast, concludes his review by saying:
The redeveloped Ulster Museum is a splendid experience for first-time visitors (such as my taxi driver to the airport, who had never been) and for lapsed visitors (such as my taxi driver to the museum, who had not been there since he was a child).  My gut instinct is that £17.2m is great value for money and the people of belfast have something to be proud of.

Presidents Day

Presidents Day is a United States federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February.  It is also known as Washington's Birthday and is an occasion to celebrate the office of the president. 

Perhaps here in Ulster we could use the day as an annual reminder of the number of American presidents of Ulster descent.  In 2010 it falls on Monday 15 February and in 2011 it falls on Monday 21 February.  It would certainly be an opportunity for schoolchildren to learn about this aspect of Ulster's contribution to the making of America.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Arts & Business

The Allianz Arts and Business Northern Ireland Awards Ceremony was held in the Ulster Museum.  I was invited to speak at the event and it was a good opportunity to endorse the work of Arts and Business in Northern Ireland.  It was also an opportunity to thank the many private companies that support the atrs in a variety of ways.  The evening was compered by Wendy Austin, who is the chair of Arts and Business Northern Ireland, and who also serves on the UK board of the organisation.

Mary Trainor, who is the director of Arts and Business Northern Ireland, is a very effective advocate for arts and business partnerships and the evening was a genuine celebration of the best in such partnerships.

1st Ballycraigy BB

Tonight I spoke to the 1st Ballycraigy BB company about what a politician does.  For one of their bdages they have to meet a politician and hear about his work and I very much enjoyed speaking to the young folk.  They listened well and asked some interesting questions.

Ulster-Scots in Monaghan

This morning I came across a map of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakeerig House near Newbliss in county Monaghan.  The centre is based in the former family home of the theatrical director Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971), who was born in England but had roots in Ireland and Scotland.

His father Dr Thomas Guthrie was a grandson of the famous Scottish Presbyterian Rev Dr Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873), one of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland.  An earlier ancestor, Rev William Guthrie (1620-1665) was a Covenanter who prepared for the ministry under Samuel Rutherford.

Tyrone Guthrie's mother Norah Power was the daughter of Sir William James Tyrone Power, Commissary-General-in-chief of the British Army in Ireland from 1863 to 1869 and Martha Moorhead, daughter of Dr John Moorhead of Annaghmakerrig House.  The Moorhead family bought the property in 1802 and William and Martha were married in 1859.

His great-grandfather was the Irish actor Tyrone Power (1795-1841) and the Holywood actor Tyrone Power (1914-1958) was his cousin.

I was surprised to see on the map of the estate, just south of Annaghmakerrig Lough, two Ulster-Scots place-names - Bob's Brae and The Black Pad.  Both brae and pad are Ulster-Scots words and they are a reminder of the settlement of Ulster-Scots in this part of the province of Ulster.  A brae is a hill or hillside and a pad is a path or track


We are at the start of more than a decade of significant anniversaries.  Some of them are 400th anniversaries and cover the period of the Plantation of Ulster, with events such as the granting of the charter to the City of Londonderry in 1613.  Others are 100th anniversaries and cover the period from 1912 to 1921, with the Ulster covenant in 1912 and the formation of Northern Ireland in 1921.

These are two key periods in history and unless we understand them we cannot understand who and what we are today in Northern Ireland.  For that reason I am keen to promote a better understanding of those periods and the events that happened in them as a contribution to a 'shared and better future'.  Here is an opportunity to explore and examine history and an opprotunity to question some of the myths that have contributed to division in our society.

DCAL has responsibility for a number of key arms-length bodies such as PRONI, National Museums Northern Ireland, the Arts Council and Libraries NI and they have the archives and resources that are needed for this sort of exploration. 

This year is the 400th aniversary of the start of the plantation and therefore we need to press on with this initiative.  I have statred a conversation with the arms-length bodies about these matters and it is something i am determined to pursue.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


There is a very good article on The Historical Use of the Term 'Scotch-Irish' by Michael C Scoggins in which he demonstrates that Scotch-Irish  is the traditional, historical and authentic name for the descendants of Ulster-Scots who settled in America. 

Michael C Scoggins is the staff historian for the Culture and Heritage Museums in York, South Carolina, and research director of the Southern Revolutionary War Institute at the McCelvey Center.  He is a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America and the author of a number of books on American history.

The article can be found at

Red Hand of Ulster

Mark Thompson sent me the new logo he has designed for the Ulster Bands Forum.  I am glad to see that it incorporates the Red Hand of Ulster, a symbol with a long history and a rich history.  Anyone with an interest in the Red Hand should certainly visit Mark's website Red Hand Shared Hand.

The benefits of a blog

Every day I become more convinced of the benefits of a blog.  The information certainly goes far and wide!

A recent post about the omission of Henry McArdle from the Dictionary of Irish Biography led to a response from Will Howard, a retired librarian and historian in Texas, who directed me to the excellent Handbook of Texas Online.

Another post about the Ulster roots of the great American songwriter Stephen Collins Foster was picked up by the Londonderry Sentinel (7 January) and then from there it was picked by on the e-newsletter of the Ulster American Society (22 January).

The information on Foster was also picked up by Mark Anderson, who is a peripatetic music teacher with the Ulster-Scots Agency, and he put it on his own blog

I am delighted to see the information passed on in this way and I am also delighted to see the growth of interest in the Scotch-Irish story, which is an important part of the Ulster-Scots story.  From the 18th century onwards, Ulster-Scots emigrated to many other lands but especially America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Those who went to America are generally known as the Scotch-Irish and they contributed much to the making of modern America.

Ministerial Advisory Group

Yesterday I met the members of the Ministerial Advisory Group, which provides advice on architecture.  The chair is Barrie Todd and other members include Professor Tom Woolley, Alan Strong, Andrew Gault, Marcus Patton and Ian McKnight.  Towards the end of last year the group produced a report on Demolition in Conservation Areas, which was sent to the Chief Executive of the Planning Service.  This is an issue that is dear to my heart, as I have indicated previously.  We have lost too many fine old buildings that contribute to the character of our towns and cities and this is particularly regrettable when it happens in a conservation area.

The members of the group give most generously of their time and expertise and they concentrate on four main areas - heritage, planning policies, sustainability and procurement.

Last October the MAG hosted a successful symposium with the title Raising Sustainability Expectations Symposium.  At the end the symposium adopted four resolutions:
  1. Sustainable development must be fully integrated into Northern Ireland government departments and across society in a structured way.
  2. Sustainable development should be included in all planning applications and thereby the design reviews.
  3. Built environment professions should develop more inter-disciplinary workings in the context of sustainability.
  4. Built environment professions should produce and diisseminate more exemplars of the 'sustainable built environment'.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Royal Society

The foundation meeting of the Royal Society was held on 28 November 1660 and so this year is the 350th aniversary of the society.  Earlier that year, on 16 April 1660, Sir Hans Sloane was born in Killyleagh in county Down.  He was one of Ulster's great scientists and an Ulster-Scot. 

Sloane served as president of the Royal Society from 1727 to 1841, succeeding Sir Isaac Newton, who had served from 1703 to 1727, and other notable figures such as Sir Christopher Wren.  This is certainly an appropriate year to commemorate Sir Hans Sloane and highlight his contributions to science and learning.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Northern Ireland Fencing

This afternoon I went to Avoniel Leisure Centre in East Belfast to present the prizes on the first day of the Northern Ireland Open Fencing Championships.  This is the premier annual fencing competition in Northern Ireland and attracts competitiors from Great Britain and the Irish Republic as well as Northern Ireland.  It involves all three weapons - foil, epee and sabre - and is open to fencers aged 13 upwards.

The tournament organiser Sandra Martin has been associated with fencing in Northern Ireland for almost fifty years and she has been involved with organising the competition for the last twenty years.

The governing body for fencing in Northern Ireland is Northern Ireland Fencing Ltd, formerly the Northern Ireland Fencing Union, and there are fourteen fencing clubs in the province.  Anyone interested in fencing can get more information at

Friday, 15 January 2010

Ulster win at Ravenhill

I had a very enjoyable evening at Ravenhill as a guest of Ulster Rugby for the game between Ulster and Edinburgh.  Nevertheless I ended up nearly foundered!

The weather was dreadful with a swirling wind and driving rain but there was a good crowd of around 10,000 enthusiastic spectators.  The score at half time was Ulster 5 Edinburgh 6 but at the end of an exciting game Ulster emerged as the winners by 21 points to 13.  The win kept the dream of Heineken Cup qualification very much alive and Ulster travel to Bath next Saturday.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Who reads the blog?

I was interested to see that again the Londonderry Sentinel (13 January) has picked up on and reprinted a post from this blog.  This one was about a book on Londonderry and about the influence of the Ulster-Scots in the history of the city.  It has emphasised to me one of the bonuses with a blog in that the information can go far beyond those who actually read the blog itself.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

King James Bible

Next year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible and there was an interesting letter in The Times today from Rev A Graham Hellier of Marden in Herefordshire.

He commented on the debt that the translators owed to the earlier version prepared by William Tyndale.  He was a fine scholar and a Reformed theologian and his work was denounced by the Roman Catholic Church authorities.  Eventually he had to flee from England but in 1536 he was strangled and burned at the stake in Vilvoorde Castle, which is now in Belgium. 

Mr Hellier wrote:
About four fifths of the New Testament and much of the Old is Tyndale in word and rhythm, including a multitude of memorable phrases - 'Am I my brother's keeper?', 'The signs of the times', 'The salt of the earth', 'Eat, drink and be merry', 'A law unto themselves', 'The patience of Job' - to cite just a few.
This is a useful reminder of the influence of the King James Version of the Bible on the cultural and linguistic heritage as well as the spiritual heritage of the British Isles and indeed the English-speaking world.

We are approaching the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible and it is only right that this remarkable work of literature should be commemorated and celebrated.

Another busy day

It was an early start with interviews on Good Morning Ulster and the Nolan Show and then straight into departmental business.

This morning I met a delegation from the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs to hear their views on a range of football issues.  The delegation included Gary McAllister, Jonathan McAlpin and David Moorhead.  We discussed the proposed redevelopment of Windsor Park, which is the national football stadium, as well as the interim work to be carried out in the early summer, and it was very useful to hear the views of those who are faithful supporters of the Northern Ireland team.  The other issue we discussed was the forthcoming public order legislation at sports grounds.  The NIO put their draft proposals out to consultation in July 2009 and they are now considering the responses.

I also prepared for my Oral Questions session next week, took part in some talks with other political parties and attended a celebration event for the Neighbourhood Watch schemes that operate in Belfast.  The event was organised by the District Policing Partnership and the Community Safety Partnership.

Dictionary of Irish Biography 2

Yesterday I posted a comment on the new Dictionary of Irish Biography and later in the day, during a quiet moment, I took the opportunity to look at the entries under the letter A to see if there were any obvious omissions.  The following were some that I noted:
  •  Sir Hugh Edward Adair (1815-1902) , who was a member of the Adair family of Ballymena and became the Liberal MP for Ipswich
  • Rev James Lynne Alexander (1800-1879), who was born at Glenhead (Carnalbana) in county Antrim and became an Anglican minister and poet in Canada
  • Sir William J Allen (1870-1948) Westminster MP and Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution
  • Joseph Allison (1755-1839) - merchant and banker in Canada
  • George Buchanan Armstrong (1822-1871), who was born in county Armagh and who developed the railway mail service in America
  • John B Armstrong (1717-1795), who was born in county Monaghan and became a trade union leader in Canada
  • Dr Wilberforce Arnold (1838-1891), who was the founder of the Presbyterian Orphan Society
  • John Askin (1739-1815), who was born in Aughnacloy and was a fur trader, merchant and offical in Upper Canada
  • James Austin (1813-1897), who was born in Tandragee and became a Canadian businessman and president of the Dominion Bank of Canada
I intend to look at this further, to illustrate just how much of Ulster's contribution around the world has been overlooked by academics and historians.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Bikes, waterways & skeet shooting

Today was a very busy day with departmental and other political commitments. 

The morning started with the media launch of the NorthWest 200 motor cycle race, which takes place in May and attracts around 150,000 spectators.  This is the largest sporting event in Northern Ireland and a major element in the road racing calendar. 

It was good to hear that the event has secured a new sponsor for this year and that the future of the North West 200 looks very bright.  There is an excellent programme of road races over the summer months and along with it there is the potential to market Northern Ireland as the road racing capital of the world.

In the afternoon I had to make a statement in the Assembly on the last North-South meeting about Waterways Ireland.  This was followed by questions and in answering these I reported that the planning stage is underway for the restoration of part of the Ulster Canal, from Clones to Upper Lough Erne.  I was also able to report some good news about the provision of additional moorings on the Lower Bann.

Later this evening I spoke at a reception at Stormont for the Northern Ireland Olympic Skeet Shooting Team, to mark their success in winning the home international tourament, which was held in North Antrim in August 2009.  The team were delighted about their victory over England, who have dominated the tournament for the past 20 years.  It was a very enjoyable reception and a good oppotunity to talk to the team members and hear about some of the issues they face in developing the sport. 

During the day there were various other party meetings, departmental meetings and media interviews, including Stormont Live and Primetime on RTE.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Dictionary of Irish Biography

Today I had reason to look up a number of entries in the new Dictionary of Irish Biography.  I was impressed by some of the entries but disappointed by others and even more disappointed by some omissions.  There were two in particular that came to my attention today and I will interested to see what other significant omissioners I come across.

The two omissions I picked up on today were:
  • Eileen Percy (1900-1973), who was born in Belfast but emigrated with her family to America, where she became one of the stars of the silent film era, starring with Douglas Fairbanks.
  • Henry Arthur McArdle (1836-1908), who was also born in Belfast and emigrated from Ulster to America, where he became a notable painter.  His work included a number of historical paintings relating to the history of Texas and some of these hang in the Texas Capitol.
This is an example of what I call the 'hidden history of Ulster'.  There are many notable figures who were born in Ulster, such as Percy and McArdle, but who are now forgotten. 

I welcome the publication of the Dictionary of Irish Biography but there is a need for a modest but more comprehensive and inclusive Dictionary of Ulster Biography, that includes those forgotten figures.  I intend to make a note of other omissions that come to light and return to this again.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Demolition halted

A High Court judge in Belfast has quashed the decision by the Planing Service to permit the demolition of a historic Victorian building in Belfast city centre and replace it with apartments and shops.

The intention of the developer was to demolish the Athletic Stores and make way for a nine-storey complex with 69 apartments, street-level shops and basement parking facilities.

Although the developer got planning permission the process and the decision were challenged by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, who argued that the planners had ignored the views of the departmental conservation officer who concluded that the loss of the warehouse would harm what is a conservation area.

We have lost too many fine old buildings, which help to create the character of an area, and this building is singificant because of its use, as a linen warehouse, its interesting design, and its architects, Young & McKenzie, who were responsible for some of the finest buildings in Belfast and across Ulster.  They also designed the Robinson & Cleaver building opposite the City Hall, the Thompson Memorial opposite the BBC in Ormeau Avenue, the Presbyterian War Memorial building and many Presbyterian churches.

The firm was originally set up in Belfast by Robert Young (1822-1917) and John McKenzie (1844-1917).  One of the members of the Young family, Robert Magill Young, was an antiquarian as well as an architect, and in 1892 he produced The Town Book of Corporation of Belfast 1613-1816.  This important volume was reprinted by Belfast City Council about a year ago.

Hans Sloane Awards

Today the News Letter carried a page of photographs of the Hans Sloane Awards 2010.  The awards ceremony was held in the Ulster Museum and the prizes recognise the highest achievers in A level physics, chemistry and biology in Northern Ireland.

The awards are provided by the Hans Sloane Memorial Fund, which was established in 1960 to commemorate the life and work of the Killyleagh-born physician, scientist and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).

Sloane was an Ulster-Scot and the son of a Scottish settler in Ulster.  He invented drinking chocolate, his collections became the foundation of the British Museum and Sloane Square in London was named after him.

It is good that his name is remembered and commemorated in this way.  Great Ulster scientists such as Sloane and Lord Kelvin are an important part of our cultural heritage

Friday, 8 January 2010

Londonderry Sentinel

I was pleased to see that the Londonderry Sentinel picked up my post about Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), who was the pre-eminent songwriter in America in the 19th century and whose family came from Londonderry.  His great-grandfather Alexander Foster (1710-1767) emigrated from Londonderry around 1728 and his brother Morrison Foster (1823-1904) was a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of America.  The post was on 1 January and the article appeared in the Sentinel on 6 January.

Burns exhibition in Linen Hall

The forthcoming programme of the Linen Hall Library includes an exhibition of Burns and Burnsiana, which runs from Monday 25 January to Saturday 20 March.

The key item will be the 1787 Belfast edition of Robert Burns' first collection of poems, which was the first to be published outside Scotland. This was a reprint of the first Kilmarnock edition of July 1786. Some of the poems were reprinted in the Belfast Newsletter just three months later and then the entire volume was republished by James Magee of Belfast.

The programme also includes two lunchtime talks on Burns. John Erskine is to speak about The Ayrshire Ploughman on Monday 25 January at 1.00 and Frank Ferguson will speak about The Special and Not So Special Relationships of Robert Burns and Ulster Poets on Wednesday 27 January at 1.00.

Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 and it is therefore appropriate that the exhibition opens on 25 January, the anniversary of his birth.

The library has a magnificent collection of Burns and Burnsiana, mainly the Gibson collection, which was collected by Andrew Gibson, a native of Ayrshire, a governor of the library, and president of the Belfast Scottish Association. The Gibson collection, which comprised over 2,000 volumes, was purchased by public subscription in 1901 and placed in the library. Later this was augmented with materials that had belonged to Burns granddaughter, Eliza Everitt, who had lived in Belfast. 

It is not surprising that there was such interest in Burns in Belfast. A French royalist émigré who wrote about his travels through Ireland in the year of Burns’ death in 1796 said, 'Belfast has almost entirely the look of a Scotch town, and the character of its inhabitants has considerable resemblance to that of the people of Glasgow. The way of speaking and even of dressing is much more Scotch than Irish.'

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


I have just read the annual reports from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland for the past three years 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09.  They include details of the private papers lodged in PRONI in each of these years and there are some gems among them, including:
  • additional papers of the missionary and writer Amy Carmichael
  • material concerning the drawings by the artist William Conor for the 1500th anniversary St Patrick pageant in 1932
  • a contemporary account of the 'battle' of Dolly's Brae
  • records of various landed families
  • records of several political organisations and friendly societies
I was particularly interested to see the reference to a commemorative booklet about the unveiling of the War Memorial at York Road Railway Station in Belfast in 1921.  The memorial was away from Belfast for some years but has now been returned to York Road.

The opening of the new PRONI premises next year will greatly improve access to the records and there is certainly a wealth of material there.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

More 'blue plaques' for Belfast

Belfast City Council has approved the funding for another series of blue plaques, which will be erected by the Ulster History Circle.

The people to be commeorated are:
  • James Bryce (1838-1922) - Liberal statesman
  • Joseph Larmor (1857-1942) - scientist and Unionist MP
  • Thomas Russell (1767-1803) - United Irishman
  • Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926) - antiquarian
  • Mercy Hunter (1910-1989) - artist
  • Francis Joy (1697-1790) - founder of the Newsletter
  • William Robert Rodgers (1909-1969) - poet and writer
  • Patrick Neill & James Blow (1676-1759) - first printers in Belfast
  • Otto Jaffe (1846-1929) - Jewish businessman & lord mayor
There is also a plaque for the Maritime Rhythm and Blues Club, which was the first blues club in Belfast.

The Ulster History Circle does some excellent work in highlighting important individuals who have contributed to society in various ways.

New Year nonsense

Both the BBC and Belfast Telegraph have carried reports about the fact that Belfast City Council did not stage a New Year's Eve celebration in the city centre.  In its editorial the Telegraph asked:
Would it be too much to ask the city authorities to consider a more fitting celebration in Belfast next year?  We have the facilities at the beautifully-restored harbour area, and we have the people of Belfast and elsewhere who know how to party.
The truth is that there are extra costs associated with staging an event over the holiday period and with the cost of entertainers, staging, lighting, security and advertising, an New Year's Eve event would cost Belfast ratepayers at least a quarter of a million pounds.  Moreover past experience shows that such events only draw around 5,000 people.  I notice that the Telegraph editorial made no mention of the cost to ratepayers.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Stephen Collins Foster

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was the pre-eminent songwriter in America in the 19th century and he is known as the 'father of American music'.  Among the best known are Beautiful Dreamer, Old Folks at Home and Old Kentucky Home, which is the offical state song of Kentucky.

His songs are still extremely popular and in April 2004, in an interview with the LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn, Bob Dylan said, ‘Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years. I go back to Stephen Foster.’

As a result of that interview American Roots Publishing decided to celebrate his legacy with a CD entitled Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster. Steve Fischell, producer of the tribute CD said that Dylan’s quote was our inspiration for this project.’ The artists featured on the CD included such well-known singers as Alison Krauss and John Prine.

Stephen Foster was of Scotch-Irish descent and the family was very much aware of its Ulster ancestry.  Stephen's brother Morrison Foster (1823-1904) was a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of America.  Their father William Barclay Foster was a businessman in Pittsburgh and his grandfather Alexander Foster (1710-1767) emigrated from Londonderry around 1728.