Thursday, 29 July 2010

Loughries Ulster-Scots Summer Scheme

Sixty children are attending the Loughries Historical Society Summer Scheme which runs throughout this week in Castle Gardens Primary School in Newtownards.  They are full to capacity and the demand was greater than the number of places.  This is one of about 30 summer scheme supported by the Ulster-Scots Agency, with most of them in Northern Ireland and a few across the border in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal.

There is good co-operation between the society and the school and indeed the school is to the fore in bringing Ulster-Scots culture into the classroom.  There are some people who say there is no demand for Ulster-Scots in schools but summer schemes such as this show that there is a genuine demand.

I was impressed by the tuition in music and dance and it was good to see the boys participating in the country dances.  The children learning the fiddle did a good job on the old tune The Star of the County Down and certainly had our feet tapping.

It was encouraging to hear that the summer scheme has received some support from Ards Borough Council as well as the funding from the Agency but of course nothign could happen without the team of dedicated volunteers.

Cultural diversity

Yesterday I visited the McCracken International Summer School in North Belfast, which is now in its 11th year.  It is based at the 174 Trust and also at St Patrick's School further up the Antrim Road.  The summer school is part of the annual programme of the McCracken cultural society which promotes the Irish language in the north of the city and it was extremely well attended.  While I was there there were performances in Irish and Scottish Gaelic and there was an international and multicultural lunch.  I am very conservative in my tastes but the Colombian fruit salad was delicious! 

In the evening I also visited the Cairncastle Ulster-Scots Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary and growing year by year.  The quality of the performers was very high and the evening was enjoyed by a very large audience.  The festival runs through each day until Saturday, with the main cocnert each night in the the marquee, and then there is a Praise Service at 2.30 pm on Sunday.  The growth in the festival is due to the hard work of the Cairncastle Ulster-Scots Society and reflects the growth in Ulster-Scots activity across the Province.

Anne Frank exhibition

The Anne Frank exhibition, which is touring Northern Ireland is currenly at Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey and will be here until 29 September.  Anne Frank was one of so many Jewish chidlren who were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust and this is her story. 

The exhibition is the work of the Anne Frank Trust UK in partnership with the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and includes a near-life-size replica of Anne's room in hiding and a virtual tour of 'the secret annexe'.  It is well worth seeeing and it addresses a variety of moral questions.

I spoke at the launch and the main speaker was Gilliam Walnes MBE, the director and co-founder of the Anne Frank Trust UK.  The chairman for the evening was Gerald Steinberg, president of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel and vice-chair of the Belfast Jewish Community.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Olympic 'Open Weekend' 23 July 2010

Last weekend was Open Weekend to mark two years to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Open Weekend involved 119 events across Northern Ireland and was developed to help people see, touch, hear and take part in new things to spark interest and enthusiasm in the run up to the Games in 2012.

I attended the launch of this year’s Open Weekend with Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Pat Convery, at Belfast City Council’s ‘Try It’ event at the Ozone Leisure Complex in Ormeau Park. The community sports event involved over 500 children aged between the ages of 8 and 15 from summer schemes across Belfast. They had the opportunity to try out over 15 Olympic and non Olympic sports, as well as participating in dance.

We were joined at the event by Paul Deighton, Chief Executive Officer, London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and Boyzone’s Shane Lynch, who is an ambassador for Donaghmore's arts and sports project ImagineAction.

The clock is ticking

Recently I met four time Olympic gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent to highlight the fact that the London 2012 Olympic Games will commence in two years time.

'The journey began back in 2005 when London won the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since then my Department has been working closely with a range of key partners to ensure that the Games will leave a lasting legacy for the people of Northern Ireland.

A great deal has been achieved to date, on a sporting, social and economic level. For example, a total of 20 local projects have been awarded the prestigious London 2012 Inspire mark in recognition of their excellence and innovation. These projects have already had a considerable positive impact and will continue to do so in the run up to the 2012 Games and beyond, with combined projected participation figures of almost half a million people.'

On the economic front, local businesses have won contracts for providing facilities and services for the 2012 Games, which is great news for the local economy. Work is also ongoing to attract teams to undertake their pre-Games training in Northern Ireland, which will again be a bonus for our economy.'

'Northern Ireland has a successful track record at the Olympics, from Dame Mary Peters to Alan Campbell. I am confident that many of our local athletes will be taking part in the Games, with many of our leading sportspeople already focusing their training efforts towards 2012.'

John Hewitt Summer School 2010

The 23rd John Hewitt International Summer School runs throughout this week in the Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre in Armagh.  Among the well-known writers appearing at this year’s Summer School are Michael Longley, Louis de Bernières, Eavan Boland, top American poet, Sharon Olds, Terry Eagleton, Joseph O’Connor, Glenn Patterson and Blake Morrison.

I travelled down to Armagh to open the Summer School and was welcomed by the director Tony Kennedy OBE.

Im ,y speech I referred to Hewitts' book on Rhyming Weavers, which was published in 1974 and did much to stimulate interestin the country poets of antrim and Down, especially the rhyming weavers, many of whom wrote in Ulster-Scots as well as English.  The book was republished in 2004 with an introduction by Tom Paulin.  At the end of the introduction Paulin said:
John Hewitt's anthology, re-issued here, initiated a process of cultural recovery and restitution which needs to be constantly recognised and encouraged.
I was impressed by that phrase 'cultural recovery and restitution'.  Some important element of our culture and history in Ulster has been marginalised or forgotten, especially by what I sometimes call the cultural elite or the cultural establishment.  That is why the Ulster-Scots revival is so important.  It is recovering a 'missing strand' in our cultural diversity.

The Twelfth in Eire

Eire politician Michael McDowell, a former tanaiste, has suggested that the Twelfth might become a public holiday in the Republic.  The suggestion was made at the MacGill Summer School in County Donegal. 

During his address last Wednesday Michael McDowell, a former leader of the Progressive Democrats and a former attorney-general, asked if 12 July should become a national holiday.  He asked if it was 'perhaps now time to consider the Twelfth a national holiday across the island - that is if 'the Orange' is truly to be seen as part of 'the nation' at all?'

'Could an Irish government minister in the near future attend a Twelfth demonstration in Northern Ireland in the same way they now attend St Patrick's day parades around the world?' he asked.

He said that there was a failure in the Republic to address the significance of the orange panel of the Tricolour.  'It has been famously conceded that Northern Ireland was a cold place for Catholics.  But that raises a question,' he said.  'Are we in the south warm towards the Orange tradition?  Do we respect it?  Have we created a society, a history and a culture in which the Orange tradition, so understood, finds itself in a cold place?'

He said the 'great majority of the people of the Republic still have difficulty in according genuine parity of esteem to the Orange tradition in Irish history' but they needed a 'great change of heart'.

Michael McDowell raises important questions about how the Orange family, especially in the border counties, is accommodated in the Republic.

He also raises questions about how nationalists in Northern Ireland view the Orange tradition and treat that tradition.  I noted his reference to the Orange section in the Tricolour and recalled that republicans had erected Tricolours, with that Orange section, on the Crumlin Road in Belfast in order to express their opposition to an Orange parade on 12 July!

This was an interesting speech from Michael McDowell and I welcome it in that it shows a warmth and respect for the Orange tradition. It certainly contrasts sharply with the bitterness and sectarianism shown by many republicans and even by some nationalists in Northern Ireland.

Monday, 26 July 2010

National Day of Prayer

Yesterday morning I took part in a discussion on Sunday Sequence about a National Day of Prayer.  The other participants were Professor Norman Nevin and Professor Russell Stannard and Will Leitch was in the chair.  The discussion was prompted by the fact that Sunday 27 June was set aside as a special Day of Prayer in four American states to pray for God's help in the current situation caused by the BP oil leak.

The call came from four Gulf Coast governors.  Alabama's Bob Riley, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Mississippi's Haley Barbour and Texas' Rick Perry all issued proclamations calling on prayer for the spill.

'Throughout our history, Alabamians have humbly turned to God to ask for His blessings and to hold us steady during times of struggle. This is certainly one of those times,' Riley said in a statement.  Riley's proclamation reads in part, 'Citizens of Alabama are urged to pray for the well-being of our fellow citizens and our State, to pray for all those in other states who are hurt by this disaster, to pray for those who are working to respond to this crisis, and to pray that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon.'

Perry's proclamation says it 'seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join with their fellow Gulf Coast residents' and others across the country and around the world 'to thank God, seek his wisdom for ourselves and our leaders, and ask him for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.'

Barbour's notes that the spill threatens the 'livelihoods of our fellow citizens, the environmental beauty of our coast, and our quality of life.'

 Jindals's says 'Louisianians all across the world are united in hope for an end to this catastrophic event and pray for' the coast's recovery.  The Louisiana Senate also passed a resolution encouraging people to participate in the day of prayer.

There were times in the past when the United Kingdom had national days of prayer.  Several times during the Second World War King George VI called the nation to prayer. 

Today however the United Kingdom is a much more secular society and a place where atheism is much more assertive.  Nevertheless the Bible commands us to pray for the nation.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Craft Month

August is Craft Month in Northern Ireland.  You can get a full list of the events and exhibitions taking place in August at the Craft NI website

Thursday, 22 July 2010

GAA and politics

The final of the Volunteer Martin Hurson Gaelic Football Tourament took place on Tuesday 13 July at Pearse Park, Galbally.  The tournament started on 28 June and the GAA teams taking part were McAnespies (Aghaloo), Donaghys (Carrickmore), Corleaghan Emmetts (Clogher), Loughdoo (Kildress), Galbally, Cappagh, Finulagh, Altmore and Hursons. 

The ladies' final was at 2.30. the men's final was at 4.00 and this was followed at 6.00 by the 2010 Tyrone Volunteers Day parade from Galbally Community Centre, which is beside Pearse Park, to the republican memorial in the main street in Cappagh.  The day ended with a function in Boyles bar organised by the new Dwayne O'Donnell Ogra Shinn Fein cumann. 

While some Gaelic football clubs, which are under the authority of the GAA, continue to organise and participate in events to commemorate members of the IRA, the GAA will be perceived to have a republican ethos. 

Meanwhile, on Tuesday 20 July the Belfast Telegraph reported that, 'A new GAA trophy has been named after the founding father of unionism.  Competitors in the first hurling event in the Stormont estate will play for the Edward Carson trophy on Saturday 7 August.'  The report was accompanied by a photograph of Gerry Adams with a hurling stick, close to the Carson memorial statue, and the report said that Adams has helped organise the event.  In fact the event, which is part of the West Belfast Festival, Feile an Phobail, is not actually a hurling match.  The inaugural 'Poc ar an Cnoc' will see hurlers hitting sliotars (hurling balls) up the mile-long Prince of Wales Avenue that leads to Parliament Buildings. 

The BCC report was more extensive and the comments from Gerry Adams were rather interesting.  He said, 'This notion of Gaelic sports being in any way for one section of people here, I think once you just lift the lid of it (that's not the case).'  This suggests that he wants Gaelic sports to be for everyone, including unionists.  If that is so he must realise that the constitution of the GAA is a nationalist constitution, which supports a united Ireland.  It is a constitution which excludes unionists.  If Adams really meant what he said then he would be asking the GAA to change its constitution and drops its nationalist aspiration!  Is that what he meant and is that what he intends to do? 

Adams also said that Carson had played hurling when he was a student at Trinity and then described him as 'a Gael'.  Does he believe that playing a Gaelic game makes the person a Gael?  Dancing a Viennse waltz doesn't make the dancer Viennese! 

The sideshow in the grounds of Stormont got al lthe media coverage but it is very much a sideshow.  On the other hand the Volunteer Martin Hurson event did not attract the same attention from the mainstream media.  In fact it seemed to attract no attention at all.

In the meantime I wait with interest to hear how Gerry Adams answers my two questions.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Red kite returns to Ulster

The red kite is one of the most magnificent birds of prey and it is good to hear about the reintroduction of the red kite to Ulster.  Four pairs of the birds have successfully bred five chicks, the first of the birds to be born here for more than 200 years.

This is the result of a very carefully managed programme involving environmentalists, public and private bodies, and farmers.  All of them deserve our thanks for their efforts.

The red kite survived longer in Scotland but became extinct in 1886.  It was reintroduced in 1989-1992 and now there are more than 130 pairs. 

Patrick and Patterdale

There are various suggestions as to where St Patrick was born.  It was almost certainly somewhere near the west coast of Great Britain, probably in south-west Scotland or north-west England.  One suggestion is that he was born in Cumbria and in connection with this mention is sometimes made of a place called Patterdale, or 'Patrick's dale'.  There is a legend that Patrick landed at Duddon Sands and then walked 30 miles overland to the valley now known as Patterdale.  Some people even suggest that he was born there.

During a short holiday in the Lake District I came across a reference to this in the May 2010 issue of Cumbria Life.  There was an article about St Patrick's parish church and the writer said:
Legend has it that St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, made his way to the southern shore of Ullswater during the first half of the fifth century and set about converting local people to Christianity.  Not far from the church is St Patrick's Well where baptisms are said to have taken place and in time Patricksdale became Patterdale.  It's more likely, says church warden Richard Theobald, that St Patrick's was built by monks from a monastery dedicated to the saint.
There was a stone church on the site in the 14th century and it was rebuilt around 1620 but the present church was built in 1852-53.

There is also a tradition that Patrick was born at Ravenglass in Cumbria.  This is based on the similarity between Patrick's birthplace, Banna venta Berniae, and Glannaventa. the old Roman name for Ravenglass.  However I still think it is more likely that he was born in south-west Scotland.


Alloway Publishing has republished Bairnsangs, a collection of nursery rhymes in Scots, which was first published in 1955.  It was a collaboration of three Ayrshire men - Sandy MacMillan, an English teacher at Ayr Academy and Irvine Royal Academy, Thomas Limond, who became a noted Town Chamberlain of Ayr, and A L (Ross) Taylor, rector of Cumnock Academy.  Together they wrote Bairnsangs under the name of Sandy Thomas Ross. 

The following is one of the simpler and shorter rhymes:
The Wee Rid Motor
In my wee rid motor,
I can gang for miles,
Up an doon the gairden,
Through the lobby whiles.
Mony a bigger motor
Gangs tae toons afaur.
Nane can gang whaur I gang
In my wee rid caur.

There is a very useful glossary, with more than 300 words, for those who may not be familiar with all the Scots words.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Golden Thread Gallery is currently hosting the Northern Ireland Press Photographers Association Annual Awards Exhibition.  Every year NIPPA launches its search for the best photo journalists in the province. Through the BT Northern Ireland Press Photographer of the Year competition the outstanding work of Northern Ireland’s press photographers is duly recognised and rewarded.

Alan Lewis Chairman NIPPA, Nelson McCausland, Finola Meredith Chair of the Golden Thread Gallery, & Justin Kernoghan, winner of BT Northern Ireland Press Photographer of Year 2010

The quality of the photographs is excellent and the exhibibition is well worth seeing. The Golden hread Gallery is at 84-94 Great Patrick Street, just beyond the Cathedral Quarter.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Arts Fund Prize 2010

The Ulster Museum has been awarded the 2010 Arts Fund Prize for museums and galleries.  My department has invested approximate £11.7 million in the world-class transformation of the ulster Museum and I congratulate the Museum and all those involved in this competition on their commitment and creativity which has enabled the museum to win this superb award.

There were four museums chosen by the judges to form the short list - the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Blists Hill Victorian Town, which is part of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in coventry, and the Ulster Museum in Belfast.  Members of the public then voted for their favourite musuem from the short list and the winner was the Ulster Museum.