Monday, 31 May 2010

The Uster Museum controversy (8)

One of the most obvious omissions in the Ulster Museum is the Hamilton & Montgomery settlement in east Down, which began in May 1606, the year before the Flight of the Earls and several years before the official Plantation of Ulster.  Thousands of Lowland Scottish families migrated to Ulster in the years that followed, providing the foundation for the later Plantation of Ulster.

Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery were the 'founding fathers' of the Ulster-Scots and yet there is no mention of them.   Their settlement was 'the dawn of the Ulster-Scots' and yet it is omitted from the museum story.

In his book The Narrow Ground, the respected historian Dr A T Q Stewart said:
Hamilton & Montgomery... did not wrest a fertile, cultivated and prosperous region from Gaelic proprietors. They came instead to a country devastated by war and famine... they created the bridgehead through which the Scots were to come into Ulster for the rest of the century...
It is the eastern Scots plantation, old and new, which is the real Plantation of Ulster … When we try to establish a relationship between the Plantation of Ulster and the existence of Northern Ireland in the twentieth century, we must be aware of certain ambiguities and some imponderable factors. The distinctive Ulster-Scottish culture, isolated from the mainstream of Catholic and Gaelic culture would appear to have been created not by the specific and artificial plantation of the early seventeenth century, but by the continuous natural influx of Scottish settlers both before and after that episode ... Immigration from Scotland was fairly continuous for centuries before 1609, and was a fact of geography rather than a fact of history.
What explanation can there be for the omission of the Hamilton & Montgomery settlement?

Anyone seeking information on the Hamilton and Montgomery should visit which was researched and written by Mark Thomspon and Dr John McCavitt.

The Ulster Museum controversy (7)

One of the disappointments in the refurbished Ulster Museum is the way in which the Ulster-Scots community and Ulster-Scots culture have been airbrushed out of the exhibits.  This was one of the issues I raised in the letter which I sent to the trustees of the museum and which has now been leaked to the media.

The omission of the Ulster-Scots dimension of Ulster history was also identified by Mark Thompson, the former chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency, on 31 October 2009 on his own blog, Bloggin fae the Burn, at   He made a passing comment on the Troubles section and then added:
But of FAR bigger concern to me is the Ulster-Scots component.  Why? Because there isn't one.  This cannot be an accident.  Museum people spend a lot of time, and money, considering what artefacts to show and how to display and interpret them.  Therefore, there has been a purposeful decision to exclude a meaningful Ulster-Scots dimension from the new Ulster Museum.  For all of the 21st century interior design and graphic design (both of which are excellent), I'm very disappointed to say that the Ulster Museum can be added to the list of those institutions still trapped in a medieval Anglo-Irish mindset. 
I have visited the Ulster Museum several times and have yet to find even the term Ulster-Scots on any of the exhibits.  Yet that term was first used as far back as 1640 to describe the people who had come across from Scotland.  How can anyone justify excluding the term entirely from the Plantation to Power-Sharing section of the museum?

The Ulster Museum controversy (6)

During the course of the Seven Days programme on Radio Ulster yesterday, there was several very significant comments by Richard Warner, who was formerly a curator in the Ulster Museum. 

He said, 'Nobody who is a properly trained museum curator, let's say in the history of Northern Ireland, is going to ignore the Orange Order. The Orange Order will be put there within the display. It is part of what formed Northern Ireland. There has always been reference to the Orange Order in there. The balance may or may not be right, according to other views. It has always been seen by the curatorial staff in the Ulster Msueum as a very important part of Ulster history.'

The Ulster Museum reopened on 22 October 2009, after a major refurbishment, and just a matter of days before the opening there was no representation of the Orange Order at all!  The cursory reference that is there now was inserted in the last few days, when it was pointed out to the museum that they had ignored the Orange Order.

Yet Richard Warner states that, 'Nobody who is a properly trained museum curator, let's say in the history of Northern Ireland. is going to ingore the Orange Order.  It has always been seen by the curatorial staff in the Ulster Museum as a very important part of Ulster history.'

Yes the Orange Order was included in the Ulster Museum story before it closed.  Why then was it that just days before the Ulster Museum reopened the Orange Order had been airbrushed out of the story?  That is a question that requires an answer.

Earlier in the programme Richard Warner also spoke about museums 'using objects to illustrate the story they are telling.'  That comment is particularly relevant to the Orange Order because there are no Orange Order artefacts in the exhibition.  The museum has artefacts in its stores but they not in the exhibition for the public to see.

The fact is that in the last few days before the Ulster Museum reopened a single board was added with five or six sentences about the Order.  That board was added as an afterthought and that is why it looks like an afterthought.  It was possible to add a single board with text on it but without redesigning that part of the museum there was no space to add a cabinet with Orange artefacts.

The fact that it was an afterthought is highlighted by the stark contrast with the adjacent displays on the Irish Volunteers and the United Irishmen, where there are a number of cabinets with artefacts.

The Ulster Museum controversy (5)

I have just listened on BBC iPlayer to the Seven Days programme on Radio Ulster. The programme, which was broadcast yesterday, included a discussion on the Ulster Museum and the contributors were Christopher Stalford (DUP councillor), Richard Warner (archaeologist and a former curator in the Ulster Museum), Daniel Jewsbury (artist and co-editor of Variant) and Deirdre Nelson (Independent councillor in Ballymena).

Deirdre Nelson was critical of my position and said, 'The Orange Order is now, whether people like it or not, a minority organisation within Northern Ireland. It also has its own very well equipped museum up at Schomberg House. If the Orange Order wants to promote and portray its history, they have a museum.'

This is a bizarre argument from the Ballymena councillor. Yes there is a interesting display of Orange artefacts at Schomberg House and the Orange Order plans to develop a museum located in Schomberg House and Loughgall but that does not justify the exclusion of any Orange Order artefacts from the Ulster Museum.

The Ulster Museum controversy (4)

Yesterday the Sunday World reported that it had copies of the minutes of a meeting that I held with the chairman and some of the trustees of the National Museums of Northern Ireland on 28 April 2010. 

Not only has someone leaked the letter that I sent to the chairman but they have also leaked minutes of a meeting with a number of trustees.  This confirms my point that the malign individual who leaked the letter and now the minutes has no respect for the museum or the trustees.

Of course the Sunday World started its article by claiming that 'The Minister wants the museum bedecked with Orange flags,' but then the Sunday World has been known to engage from time to time in sensationalism and exaggeration!  The word 'bedeck' means to 'decorate lavishly' and the inclusion of an Orange banner would not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit the description of 'decorate lavishly'.  At present there is a trade union banner on the wall and no one would suggest that the museum is 'bedecked' with trade union banners.

During the course of that meeting on 28 April I simply suggested that some artefacts associated with the Orange Order might be displayed in the Ulster Museum.  After all, what s a museum without artefacts?  There is already a trade union banner up on the wall of the museum and there is no reason why the museum could not add banners to represent some of the fraternal organisations, including the Orange Order.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Ulster Museum controversy (3)

Eamonn Mallie's comments on the museum controversy

Even if one disagrees with Creationism v Science what would be wrong with juxtaposing the two illustratively in Museum? End absolutism.

3:17 AM May 26th via UberTwitter

We must all learn to be a broad church in NI. I would like to know and be exposed to manifestations of Ulster Scots even in Museum.

3:14 AM May 26th via UberTwitter

Can you imagine if the Ulster Museum mounted a century of GAA history the hundreds of thousands of people that would suck into the Museum?

3:10 AM May 26th via UberTwitter

World has moved on. Member of Orange Order gives talk in my Alma Mater Abbey CBS Newry. Why not? We need to understand each other.

3:09 AM May 26th via UberTwitter

Some kneejerking to N/Mc Causland's untimely intervention in Museum affairs just as Museum is in running for top award. Debate worth having.

3:06 AM May 26th via UberTwitter

I welcome these thoughtful comments from Eamonn Mallie and there is a debate that is worth having.  We need to understand each other better if we are to build a 'shared future' and that was the basis of my letter. 

He refers to members of the Orange Order speaking in the Abbey Christian Brothers School in Newry and some years ago, when I was convenor of the Orange Order's education committee, I visited the school to speak to the students and answer their questions.

The Ulster Museum controversy (2)

Alf McCreary has commented on the issue in tonight's Belfast Telegraph.

Nelson's right to make 'art luvvies' live in real world

It is amusing to watch the 'art luvvies' in hysteria because our esteemed Culture Minister Nelson McCausland suggested that our museums should reflect more of our local culture.

I am not one of those who embrace Creationism, nor am I a member of the Orange Order or a Hibernian, but these are all part of our culture.

There is already a wonderful William Conor painting of The Twelfth in the Ulster Museum.

Nelson McCausland, or any minister, certainly cannot and must not dictate what should go into our museums, but he has a right to make suggestions.

Sometimes the 'art luvvies' need their cages rattled to remind them of real life.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Ulster Museum controversy (1)

I indicated recently that I would post some general observations on  the issues I had raised in my letter to the trustees of the Ulster Museum and this is the first of them.

Back in 1988 the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum had a magnificent exhibition entitled Brotherhoods in Ireland.  It told the story of the many fraternal organisations that have been such a feature of life in Ulster for hundreds of years.

They included monastic and medieval organisations such as the Knights Templar, the Knights of St John and merchant, craft and religious guilds.  There were also the 'charitable and convivial brotherhoods' such as the Freemasons and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.

Friendly Societies were a significant feature of life in the 18th and 19th centuries as a 'poor man's life assurance'.  These included the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Irish National Foresters, and the British Order of Ancient Free Gardeners.  In the long run, however, National Insurance and competition from insurance companies led to their decline and today only the Irish National Foresters survive as an organisation.  There were also temperance brotherhoods such as the Independent Order of Rechabites and the International Order of Good Templars.

Finally we have the Orange Order, the Royal Arch Purple Chapter, the Royal Black Institution, the Independent Orange Order and the Knights of Malta, as well as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Knights of St Columbanus.

The 1988 exhibition was comprehensive and informative and showed that many of these organisations had much  in common, with their lodges, passwords, degrees, regalia, banners and processions.  This was a high quality exhibition that was truly a credit to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.  It showed what can be done.

Of course this was a special exhibition but even a general exhibition on the history of Ulster must take account of and give adequate, appropriate and proportionate representation to the main fraternal organisations, especially the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, both of which have played a signficant role in the political history of Ulster.  The Orange Order has always been associated with Unionism and the AOH was for many years the power base of Joe Devlin and the Nationalists.  Devlin was president of the AOH from 1905 until his death in 1934.  We cannot understand the history of Unionism without acknowledging the role of the Orange Order and we cannot understand the history of Nationalism without appreciating the role of the AOH.

Moreover, do these organisations not lend themselves very naturally to incorporation and representation in a museum?  It is the artefacts in a museum that make it special for the visitor.  The interpretation is important but without artefacts there is no museum and both the Orange Order and other fraternal organisations have plenty of artefacts, with their regalia, banners, symbols and warrants etc.

I have seen such artefacts in museums in Scotland, England and the Irish Republic and is it unreasonable to expect similar representation here in Northern Ireland, the place where both the Orange Order and the AOH were founded?

As we seek to build a shared and better future in Northern Ireland we need to increase our understanding of each other and of our cultures, our histories and our traditions.  Our museums and other cultural institutions  have an important role to play in that process of mutual understanding and we must do all we can to encourage them in that role.

Antrim Coast Road

The current issue of the DRD magazine On The Move reports the unique challenges surrounding the Antrim Coast Road, which was originally constructed in 1842 by the 'men of the Glynnes'. 

It did not require any major improvement works until 1967, some 125 years later.  At that time a new section of road was constructed further out to sea to remove any danger from the eroding rock face south of Glenarm.  This stretch of road forms a physical barrier to the sea erosion on one side and the cliff and land erosion on the other.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

National Museums and a 'shared future'

Today was one of the busiest for some time.  I started off by travelling down to the NSMC offices in Armagh for an NSMC meeting in relation to Waterways Ireland and then a second meeting in relation to the cross-border language body.

Nelson McCausland MLA & Pat Carey TD
At a time when the tourist industry is under pressure, partly as a result of the economic climate, it was encouraging to hear about the growth in the number of hire boats and private boats on our waterways, both in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic.

Much of the day was then taken up with interviews about my letter to the chair of the trustees at National Museums Northern Ireland.  The letter was sent to the trustees about two weeks ago and it identified the promotion of a 'shared future' as a priority.  That future must involve a recognition of diversity and respect for diversity.  I believe very strongly that all public bodies must take account of such matters as good relations, equality and human rights and that it is my responsibility as minister to remind arms-length bodies of these things.

That was the context for my letter which asked the trustees to consider the representation of the Orange Order and othen fraternal organisations.  In a meeting with some of the trustees last month I had highlighted the omission of any recongition of other fraternal organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

I also referred to the omission of any mention of the Ulster-Scots, including the Hamilton and Montgomery settlement of 1606, when Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery, the 'founding fathers' of the Ulster-Scots, arrived in Ulster from Ayrshire.

The third issue was the consideration of alternative views on the origin of the universe and the origin of life.

The leaking of the letter was disappointing and showed a lack of respect for the trustees and the museum.  Moreover it was interesting that the leak came just a few days after a meeting between representatives of the Orange Order and a senior member of the museum staff.  I intend to coment on each of these issues in more detail over the coming days.

This evening I attended the annual school play by the children of Malvern Primary School in the Lower Shankill area.  The children performed really well and the play was Cinderella Rockerfella, which is a modern panto-style reworking of the classic story of Cinderella.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

'Devolved administrations'

In the wake of the recent announcement from Westminster about budgetary cuts, there was a meeting in Belfast of the first ministers of the administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  This was reported accurately on BBC but on the UTV news it was described as a meeting of the 'Celtic countries'.

I referred to the use of this term on a recent post and it is an inaccurate term.  Northern Ireland is not a 'Celtic country', either lingustically or ethnically.  There are some people who speak Gaelic but it is a minority language and so we are not a Celtic country in a linguistic sense.  Neither are we a Celtic country in an ethnic sense as many peoples have arrived and settled in Ulster down through the years - Pre-Celts, Cruithin, Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Normans, English, Scots and Welsh.  My mother's family were originally of Dutch origin, although she was born in Scotland.

The use of the term 'Celtic countries' is therefore erroneous.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sentry Hill

Yesterday afternoon I visited Sentry Hill, which was for many years the home of the McKinney family.  It is owned by Newtownabbey Council and is described as the History House.  The McKinneys were originally called McKenzie and they came to Ulster from Scotland after the 1715 rebellion led by James Stuart, the 'Old Pretender'..

The McKinneys settled in the Carnmoney area, a thoroughly Ulster-Scots community, and the history of the family illustrates much of the history of that Ulster-Scots community in east Ulster, with stories of emigration, Presbyterianism, the 1859 revival, a Liberal tradition that gave birth to Liberal Unionism,  and the loss of a son at the Somme in 1916. 

I would ertainly recommend a visit to Sentry Hill as a way of learning more about our history and a way of spending a very pleasant afternoon.

As we were leaving I went into the reource room and came across a history of Ballycraigy Congregational Church.  This contains the following quote from the report of the Irish Evangelical Society for 1853 - 'The district of Ballycraigy was first occupied and a chapel built through the efforts of the Haldane brothers of Scotland.'  They were followed by another Scottish preacher named Douglas, who preached in the open-air in 1804 and 1805 and drew large congregations.

Robert Haldane
The Haldane brothers, Robert Haldane (1764-1832) and James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851), were the sons of Captain James Haldane of Airthrey House in Stirlingshire.  They were thoroughly evangelical and fervently evangelistic and their opposition to the established Church of Scotland led to the formation a Congregationalist church in Edinburgh in 1799.  They were leading figures in Scottish Congregationalism but they also came over to preach in Ulster and Ballycraigy is one of the fruits of their labours. 

Many people imagine that the Scottish influence on religion in Ulster was restricted to Presbyterianism but in fact it was much wider than that.  The Scottish influence on Congregationalism is but one example of that wder influence and other examples include the Faith Mission, which was born in Scotland but has a strong presence in Ulster, and Scottish evangelists such as Seth Sykes, who were regular visitors to Ulster.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Thomas Smith booklet

A new booklet about Sir Thomas Smith's Forgotten English Colony of the Ards and North Down in 1572 was launched in the Londonderry Room in the Old Town Hall in Newtownards on Friday evening.

The booklet, which was researched and written by Mark Thompson and published by Loughries Historical Society, helps to explain the background to the subsequent settlement by Hamilton and Montgomery, 'the founding fathers of the Ulster-Scots', in 1606.

The Londonderry Room was filled to capacity for the launch and we were entertained with music from Keith Lyttle and Matthew Warwick.  Mark himself spoke, with the aid of a powerpoint presentation, about the Thomas Smith story, and I was invited to make a few impromptu remarks at the end.

I commended Mark Thompson for uncovering and recovering both the Hamilton and Montgomery settlement and the earlier attempted colonisation by Sir Thomas Smith.  Too much of our history is forgotten or misrepresented and there is important work to be done in recovering the 'lost stories' of Ulster history but such work must be credible, authentic and historically accurate. 

This new booklet is of a very high quality as regards both the content and the presentation and deserves a strong commendation.  Copies can be obtained from the Loughries Historical Society and they can be contacted at

Belfast Marathon

The Development Committee of Belfast City Council has reversed a previous decision in relation to the Belfast Marathon and so the 2011 marathon will be held on the Bank Holiday Monday, instead of the previous day, which is a Sunday.

The debate in the committee was interesting but one fact came through very clearly and this was that the organisers of the marathon had made no attempt at all to consult with those affected by a proposed change to a Sunday.  There had been no discussion at all with any of the churches in the city and they were simply ignored.

We live in an age of 'consultation' and almost every decision requires a consultation process.  Indeed the list of consultees for some decisions can run to several pages.  However in this case, when the people affected were Christian churches, they were simply ignored.  Indeed they were treated as second-class citizens.

A number of good points were made during the debate including the following:
1. A Sunday marathon would have an impact on Sunday morning services because almost any route will take it past a number of churches.
2. Quite a number of evangelical church-based youth groups, such as companies of the Boys Brigade, enter teams in the marathon.  A Sunday marathon would exclude them from participation.
3.  These youth groups often use the marathon to raise money for good causes and a Sunday marathon would put an end to this good work.

Common sense has prevailed this year and I hope and pray that it continues to prevail in future years.  I also hope that organisations such as that responsible for the marathon will not treat Christian churches as the 'invisible sector', one which they can simply ignore.

Year after year the marathon has been held on the Bank Holiday Monday and every year it has been a great success.  Why then should anyone want to change it?

Balmoral Show

The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society show at Balmoral is one of the highlights of the year for the farming community and for many others and I took the opportunity of visiting the show to see the stands relating to some of the DCAL arms-length bodies, including the Public Record Office, Libraries NI, the Ulster-Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Thomas M Sinclair - Ulster-Scots entrepreneur

This morning I attended a service in Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church for the Northern Ireland Disabled Ex-Service Men's Association and the Royal Naval Association.  It is an annual service and each year Belfast and Newtownabbey councillors receive an invitation to it.  The preacher was Rev Dr David McGaughey, minister emeritus of Mourne Presbyterian Church and a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church.

The church was built by the Sinclair family as a memorial to John Sinclair of The Grove in North Belfast, who died in 1853, and his nephew Thomas Sinclair was the treasurer of the congregation for forty years.  On the wall beside the pew where I was sitting there was a memorial to two members of the Sinclair family, both of whom died in America while they were still under forty.  At the bottom was the text 'Be ye also ready Matt 24:44' and the fact is that both young men were indeed ready to meet the Lord.  The following is a short account of one of them.

Thomas McElderry Sinclair (1842-1881) was the son of John Sinclair of The Grove and after completing his education he entered the family business of J & T Sinclair.  The company was based nearby in Tomb Street and produced cured hams and bacon. 

It had an international reputation for its products and in 1862 Thomas M Sinclair went to America to develop the business in that country.  He landed in New York and established a packing house for the curing of bacon and hams during the winter season.  Later he decided to withdraw from the old business and establish an independent business in New York.  This was a great success but a fire in 1866 destroyed the plant.

Eventually Sinclair decided to move his business nearer the source of supply and in 1871 he moved with his wife and child to Grand Rapids in Iowa.   There he built a packing house and developed a business which became one of the most important industries in the United States.

At that time Cedar Rapids had a population of just 5,000 people and Sinclair did much to develop the town.  For example he organised the provision of a fresh water supply.  He was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church and held a Sunday afternoon Bible class for men in his home, as well as a Friday night prayer meeting in his factory.  When the Coe Collegiate Institute got into difficulty he paid off its debts and arranged for it to come under the auspices of the Synod of Iowa.

Thomas M Sinclair died in Grand Rapids on 24 March 1881 as a result of an accident in his factory.  A Sinclair Memorial Presbyterian Church was built in 1903 and there is a T M Sinclair Memorial Chapel in Coe College.  Today Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in Iowa and both the city and Coe College owe much to the young Ulster-Scot who arrived there back in 1871.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

North West 200

I travelled up to the North Coast today for the 2010 Relentless International North West 200 Race Day.  As well as watching some of the races from the paddock I visited the BBC complex, the media centre and the emergency services, and was able to view one of the races and see the entire course from a helicopter. 

Sports Minister Nelson McCausland on the grid with motorbike racer John McGuinness. McGuinness went on to win the Superbike race at the annual sporting spectacular.

This is the largest annual sporting event in Ulster and indeed in Ireland and the organisation behind it is extremely impressive.  Great credit must go to the race director, Mervyn Whyte, and his staff and team of volunteers.

The North West 200 shows that Northern Ireland is capable of hosting and organising world class events at the highest possible standard.  Each year this event draws more than 100,000 people and depending on various factors it can even reach up towards 150,000.  I saw visitors today from many countries around the world and such events are an important boost to the local economy.

The Northern Ireland Executive provides support through DETI and DCAL, for promotion and for safety.  Every year the organisers improve the safety of the course and this year, for example, a chicane was added at Mathers Cross and improvement works were carried out at Station Corner.

Such is the popularity of road racing in Northern Ireland that with ongoing support, with the leadership of Mervyn and his team, and with the dedication of the volunteers, the North West 200 can go from strength to strength.  Moreover with events such as this and the Ulster Grand Prix there is no reason why Northern Ireland cannot be the 'road racing capital of the world'.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Mount Vernon youth project

Brenda Dowie, Jacqueline Stewart, Nelson McCausland, Shannon Beggs & Rebecca McClure
A group of young people from the Mount Vernon estate in North Belfast have been taking part in a cross-community project with young people from Portadown, Ballymurphy and Claudy and last night they had a meeting in the Community House to showcase their part of the project.

Brenda Dowie, Jacqueline Stewart, Shannon Beggs, Rebecca McClure & Alex Hobson
The project, entitled Away from Violence,  has been organised by Public Achievement, which is a youth focussed civic education organisation.  Through a series of residentials, practical workshops, exhibition visits and groupwork, the young people were equipped with the relevant skills to create their own exhibitions and reflect the communities they live in.

Brenda Dowie and Alex Hobson work for Public Achievement and both the organisation and the young people from Mount Vernon are to be commended for this worthwhile project.  The website of Public Achievement is