Saturday, 18 September 2010

Calvin and Knox

Recently Rev Dr Trevor Morrow, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, said, 'John Calvin remains a towering figure of influence in the church.'  [News Letter 11 September 2010]  Not only was he a powerful influence in the church but he was also a powerful influence in Ulster.

It was through the theology of John Calvin and the preaching of John Knox that the Church of Scotland was established as a Presbyterian and Protestant Church and the Presbyterian Church in Ulster is the eldest daughter of the 'mither kirk' in Scotland.

The Ulster-Scots settlers of the 17th century introduced Presbyterianism into Ulster.  They brought Scottish Presbyterian ministers with them and within a few years the Sixmilewater Revival embedded Presbyterianism in east Ulster.  The arrival of a Scottish Covenanter army in Ulster in 1642, to defend the Ulster-Scots settlers, led to the creation of the first Presbytery in Ulster and thereafter Presbyterianism was a powerful influence in the shaping of modern Ulster.

Food for body and soul

This morning I enjoyed a hearty 'men's breakfast' at the Templeton Hotel at Templepatrick.  The speaker was Roy Walker, former manager of Crusaders and now manager of Ballymena United.  He is a very able speaker and communicator and he spoke to us about his Christian faith and the challenge of the gospel.  He also reflected on the way in which the faith of a Christian should influence every part of his life if he is truly a 'follower of Christ'.

Earlier this week I was interviewed by a university student for his dissertation, something which happens on a regular basis with many politicians.  He is considering the relationship between faith and politics and during the conversation I recalled a little outline that I read some years ago about the biblical phrase 'man of God'.  The writer, Guy King, said that a 'man of God' is one who believes on Him, belongs to Him, and behaves like Him.  That is a very simple summary of what a Christian should be.

Friday, 17 September 2010

New republican band

A flute band has been established in Glasgow to honour an IRA terrorist who was killed when a bomb she was handling exploded prematurely.

The Volunteer Patricia Black Memorial flute Band was formed in February in Glasgow and its website states that it is 'politically aligned to Irish socialist republican party Eirigi'.

Patricia Black grew up in the Lenadoon area of Belfast and joined the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army at the age of 17.  Eventually she moved to London as part of an IRA Active Service Unit.  She died, along with fellow Volunteer Frankie Ryan, on 15 November 1991, when an explosive device she was carrying detonated prematurely near London. A British Army military band had been playing in a theatre on St Peter's Street in St Albans and the two IRA terrorists had planned to target the members of the band.

The new republican flute band makes its first appearance in Northern Ireland tomorrow night (18 September) at the Donegal Celtic Social Club on the Suffolk Road in West Belfast.  There will be some speeches, a performance by the band and then a disco. 
At a time when so much excellent work is being done to tackle issues such as sectarianism in football it is disappointing that such a prominent football club has allowed its clubrooms to be used for such an event by a 'dissident republican' band. I recognise that Northern Ireland is a society in transition but it shows just how far we still have to go.

Red Hand of Ulster

There will be many Red Hands on show in Dublin this weekend with the arrival of Tyrone GAA supporters but the Red Hand is indeed a wonderful 'cross community' symbol in Northern Ireland. 

Today the Irish News carried a short item from its issue of 17 September 1941.
Brooke extols Red Hand of Ulster
Sir Basil Brooke, the Northern Minister of Commerce, broadcasting in the BBC feature 'Ulster Gazette', said those of his listeners who had been to Ulster would remember how they liked shaking hands.
'Well we still shake hands,' he continued.  'We in Ulster have a hand as the emblem of the province, a hand that in the 14th century appeared on the scene of the O'Neills, the ancient Kings of Ulster.  It is a strong right hand - a hand that looks as if it could tackle a job - it is the Red Hand of Ulster.'

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Belfast Music Week

I picked up a programme for Belfast Music Week and there is certainly an extensive programme of events, in a wide range of venues, running from 12 to 19 September.   Much of the programme is Irish traditional music but there is also some country music, soul, jazz and classical music.
However I was disappointed to see that there is nothing in the programme at all to reflect the music of marching bands.  It is Belfast Music Week and there are plenty of marching bands in Belfast.  Is their music not part of the musical diversity of the city?

We have some excellent bands and that will be reflected in the forthcoming Festival of Marching Bands in the Ulster Hall., which is supported and sponsored by the NewsLetter.  If flute bands, accordion bands and pipe bands can fill the Ulster Hall, in this case for two nights, and if they can also fill the Waterfront Hall, why were they left out of Belfast Music Week?

Another popular genre that has been omitted is gospel music.  We have plenty of churches in the city centre that could provide a venue and plenty of really good gospel singers and musicians.  And so my second question is why was gospel music left out of Belfast Music Week?

It seems from the programme that Belfast Music Week has been funded by Belfast City Council and the European Regional Development Fund and coordinated by the Council.

Perhaps one of the organisers can provide some answers and perhaps they can do something to compensate for these disappointing omissions.  If we are to build a shared and better future that accommodates our cultural diversity then we cannot afford to settle for cultural exclusion, where some cultural communities and some cultural traditions are locked outside the door.

James Galway

Tonight Belfast City Council held a reception in the Ulster Hall to honour the great Belfast flautist Sir James Galway. 

It was a very enjoyable event and there were contributions from the Lord Mayor, the chair of the development committee, and David Byers.  Sir James recalled his childhood days in Belfast and his introduction to music.

He also entertained us with a few tunes, including 'I'll tell me ma' and he certainly got our feet tapping.

World Police and Fire Games

Today I joined with the Justice Minister, David Ford, Cllr Pat Convery, Lord Mayor of Belfast, senior representatives from the PSNI, Fire Service and Prison Service, and Dame Mary Peters, to launch the 2013 World Police and Fire Games.  Dame Mary has kindly taken on the role of patron for the WPFG.

Later week, at the Executive, we got approval for a budget for the WPFG and so we can now move forward to the next satge.  So far the organisation of the games has been undertaken by an informal stakeholder group but it is proposed to set up a limited company to carry the project forward.

The games were in Vanouver last year, they will be in New York in 2011 and then they come to Belfast and Northern Ireland in 2013.  There will be around 10,000 competitors in the games and another 10,000 to 15,000 people will accompany them.  That will be a major boost for the tourist industry and not just during the games, because many of them will stay on beyond the games for a holiday.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Gail Walker

Gail Walker has a way with words and tonight in the Belfast Telegraph she wrote about 'a supposed secular, civilised consensus'.  That's a great phrase. 

Anyone who holds clear religious views that do not accord with that 'supposed secular, civilised censensus' is then viewed as a 'bad person' and someone to be condemned.  But then there is no one more illiberal than some of the liberals and equally no one more intolerant.

Monday, 13 September 2010

New Ulster-Scots courses

Dr Carol Baraniuk is the tutor for two new courses at Stranmillis College. 

The first is on The Ulster-Scots in History and it starts on Tuesday 12 October at 7.00 pm.  The course runs for 8 weeks and the fee is £50 with a concessionary rate of £40.

The second course startes on Wednesday 13 October and is on Ulster's Weaver Bards: Northern Rhymers.

Dr Baraniuk, who is a member of the committee of the Ulster-Scots Language Society, gained her doctorate on the work of James Orr (1770-1816), the Bard of Ballycarry.

More details are available on the Stranmillis College website

Belfast Telegraph

Last week I gave a long interview to Steve Beacom, sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph, and it appeared in the newspaper on Friday night.  It was a great opportunity to comment on a wide range of issues in relation to sport in Northern Ireland.

Ulster-Scots Language Society magazine

I have just received a copy of the Augutum 2010 issue of Ullans, the magazine of the Ulster-Scots Language Society.

This is an excellent magazine as regards the quality of the content and the quality of the production.  There is a useful editorial with a report on the work of the society, some Ulster-Scots poetry and articles on various aspects of Ulster-Scots language, literature and culture.

Gordon Lucy has contributed an article on W F Marshall and other contributors include Dr Crawford Gribben and Dr Carol Baranuik, a member of the USLS committee, whose doctoral thesis was on the Ulster poet James Orrr.  John Erskine has written an article on Reading Robert Burns: an Ulster perspective, 1786-1796 and there are three new poems from Charlie Reynolds in North Antrim.

The title Ullans is an acronym for Ulster-Scots Language in Literature and Native Speech as well as a pun on the Scots word Lallans, which was used by Robert Burns for the language of the Lowland Scots.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

'A Highland reel, not an Irish reel'

Get up, our Anna dear, from the weary spinning wheel;
For your father's on the hill, and your mother is asleep;
Come up among the crags, and we'll dance a Highland reel,
Around the Fairy Thorn on the steep.
In the first verse of his poem The Fairy Thorn, the Ulster poet Samuel Ferguson described a young couple who were about to dance ‘a Highland reel’. It is interesting to note that he said ‘a Highland reel’ not ‘an Irish reel’. Ferguson grew up at Glenwherry in county Antrim and was buried at Donegore, also in county Antrim. He was familiar with the culture of the Ulster-Scots in Antrim and he specifically mentioned ‘a Highland reel’. 

As regards musical instruments we find in the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Carnmoney, a thoroughly Ulster-Scots area, that: ‘The violin is the usual instrument but the Highland pipes are also sometimes introduced.’

There is some other useful information about instruments in a letter to the Cork Evening Post (11 July 1763).  It was noted that there had been a parade by the Hearts of Oak near Markethill, ‘when they ‘filled at least two miles of the road and were formed into companies, with each a standard or colours displayed; of which [companies] he says he counted thirty with drums, horns, fiddlers and bagpipes’. 

As regards the tunes and songs of the Ulster-Scots the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Carnmoney states: ‘Their airs and ballads are merely those commonly known in the country and are strictly Scottish.’ 

Further information about the tunes and songs of the Ulster-Scots is available from many sources but has never been fully researched. However we know many of the tunes they used because these were often named alongside poems and songs when they were printed. For example, when the poet Andrew McKenzie, the Bard of Dunover, was initiated into Greenhill Masonic Lodge No 985 on 2 February 1810 he marked the occasion by writing a song entitled Greenhill and we know this was to be sung to the Scottish tune ‘Lochaber no more’. 

It is important to preserve the authenticity of Ulster-Scots culture and therefore it is necessary to research the music, the song, the dances and the instruments of the Ulster-Scots. Cultures develop and evolve but they do so from an authentic core.

Schomberg Society

On Saturday afternoon I travelled down to Kilkeel for an event organised by the Schombrg Society to mark the 70the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I was met at Reivers House by Jim Wells and Jim Donaldson and after hearing about the latest improvements to the building we went outside to watch the parade of local bands, flute pipe and accordion, and historic military vehicles.

The main event was in a field at the other end of the town and the warm weather and excellent programme was appreciated by the large crowd of people who had come along. There was an exhibition of military memorabilia, a display by the Wild Geese sky diving team and performances of music and dance. This was extremely well organised - a good event, on a beautiful day in a beautiful setting at the foot of the Mournes - and it was a credit to the society.

At the time of the Battle of Britain the people of the area had contributed £5,000, an extremely large sum of money in those days, to the Belfast Telegraph spitfire fund and one of the planes was named the Mountains o Mourne.

On the platform with me was Tommy Todd MBE, aged 93, a war veteran who served with the RAF.

European Heritage Open Day

On Saturday I visited the First Presbyterian Church (Non Subscribing) in high Street, holywood. This was a European Heritage Open Day and the church was opened for folk to visit and find out more about the history and architecture of the building. I was welcomed by the minister, Rev Colin Campbell, and the clerk of session, Myrtle McConnell. 

The building was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon around 1850. Inside the porch there are two sculptures by Rosamond Praeger, who was a Sunday school teacher in the congregation, and she also designed the war memorial.

There were some interesting memorials to former members and I noticed that one of them was for a member of the Davidson family of the Sirocco works, which suggests that the family may have been Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.

European Heritage Open Days are a great opportunity to explore and to enjoy the cultural wealth of our built heritage.

From the glaur to the glory

Today I was reading some verses from the Psalms and came across three that describe the plight of men and women as sinking in the 'mire' or the 'miry clay'.  The Psalmist then calls on God who saves him and lifts him up on to the solid rock.
  1. I sink in deep mire (Psalm 69:2) - the problem
  2. Deliver me out of the mire and let me not sink (Psalm 69:14) - the prayer
  3. He brought me up out of the miry clay (Psalm 40:2) - the praise
Soem years ago I heard an Ulster preacher describe that experience of salvation as being taken 'from the glaur to the glory'.  The Ulster-Scots word glaur, which has passed into Ulster dialect, is a good translation of 'mire' or 'miry clay'.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Commonwealth Games

Last night there was an official launch at the Waterfront Hall for the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games 2010 team.  The games take place between 3 and 14 October in Delhi and there are over 80 competitiors on the Northern Ireland team and they are competing in archery, athletics, badminton, bowls, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, shooting, squash, swimming, table tennis and wrestling.  Wendy Houvenhagel will be competing in the cycling and Paddy Barnes is one of the boxers.  The team includes a number of competitors such as Neil Booth in bowls and David Beattie in shooting, who have already won Commonwealth Games medals. 

Friday, 10 September 2010

Kind Hearts and Gentle People

The Playhouse Theatre in Londonderry has announced that it has commissioned a new play based on the life of Stephen Collins Foster - the 'father of American popular song'.  It will be called Kind Hearts and Gentle People - the life of Stephen Collins Foster.

Regarded as America's first professional songwriter, Stephen Collins Foster is one of Londonderry's forgotten famous sons. His great-grandfather, Alexander Foster, emigrated from Londonderry to America in the early part of the18th century.

Stephen Foster went on to write over 200 songs including some of America's earliest and most famous songs.  Songs such as 'Oh! Susanna', 'Camptown Races', 'Old Folks at Home', 'Hard Times Come Again No More', 'My Old Kentucky Home' and 'Beautiful Dreamer' remain popular over 150 years after their composition.

The play, which will feature a number of Foster's songs, is being written by local playwright Peter McDonald  and will be directed by Anne McMaster.  It will be performed next April and the Playhouse will be holding auditions for various parts later this year.

The producer Martin McDonald said, 'We are absolutely delighted to announce this brand new Playhouse production. Stephen Collins Foster is a fascinating character to study, he was an immensely talented musician, and we really wanted to tap into the fact that his grandfather (sic), Alexander Foster, emigrated from Derry in 1735.  He is an important part of the history of this city, and we are keen to celebrate this connection.'

I must congratulate the Playhouse Theatre on commissioning a play about this great Scotch-Irish songwriter.  This will undoubtedly raise awareness of one of the iconic figures in the Ulster-Scots diaspora.

Not only did Foster have family roots in Ulster but so did his wife, Jame McDowell, whom he married in 1850.  Her ancestors came from Glenoe in County Antrim.  The Foster family valued their Ulster-Scots heritage and Stephen's brother Morrison Foster was a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of America.

Building Tourism in North Belfast

This is a platform piece I wrote this week for the North Belfast News.

Building Tourism in North Belfast

At this time when countries around the world are facing economic difficulties, it is important to identify those areas in the economy where we can increase activity and employment.

Some time ago I wrote a ‘platform piece’ about creative industries and this time I want to comment on another potential growth area, tourism. Visitors stay in hotels, spend money in shops, and eat in restaurants. They put money into the local economy and they create employment.

People are probably not going to come to Ulster for our sunshine. The weather is one area where we cannot compete with Spain or Italy. 

However we do have real tourist opportunities and one of them is undoubtedly cultural and historical tourism. One obvious example in Belfast is around the story of the Titanic and our shipbuilding and industrial heritage. 

But if we want to bring more visitors, encourage them to spend more money, and hopefully get them to come back again, we need to build the tourism product, the things that visitors can see and experience. 

At present Belfast City Council is preparing a ‘tourism strategy’ and councillors have been meeting with council staff, commenting on the draft document and contributing ideas to it. 

It has been an interesting process and it has confirmed that if we work at it we can strengthen the tourism product. However the process has also highlighted a number of other things. 

The first was that during the process councillors from West Belfast really built up the West Belfast element in the strategy. Fair play to them, they were merely looking after the interests of their area, but it resulted in a draft document that was rather imbalanced. That is unacceptable we need every part of the city, including North Belfast, to get a fair share in the strategy and in the work that flows from it. 

At the Development Committee I and my DUP colleagues asked for the draft document to be taken back to the party groups for further comment and eventually that was agreed. We needed an opportunity to do what West Belfast had already done and build up the Northern Belfast content. That has now happened. 

The second was that during that process I was encouraged to see the potential that North Belfast has as regards tourism. For example, with maritime heritage, the Titanic was built in East Belfast but shipbuilding started in Belfast in 1792 on the north side of the river. 

Moreover we do not need to build a heritage centre. We already have historic and authentic things to see. The old graving docks are still there at Clarendon Dock and the Belfast Harbour Office is a building that should certainly be on the tourist trail. 

We have the potential and we have the opportunity. Let’s make sure that we take it. 

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Back to the Dictionary of Irish Biography

Earlier this week I visited Cultra Manor at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.  The house, which is being refurbished, was built at the start of the 20th century by Sir Robert John Kennedy (1851-1936), a great Ulsterman, a British diplomat and a member of an old Ulster-Scots family.

Today I looked in the Dictionary of Irish Biography to see what it said about Kennedy but was disappointed to find that he was one of the folk omitted from the DIB.  Neither was here any mention of his uncle Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy (1810-1883), who was a British colonial administrator and served as governor of a number of British colonies - Sierra Leone, Western Australia, Vancouver Island, Hong Kong and Queensland.  Those are two surprising omssions, especially as there is a good article on Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

I understand that when work on Cultra Manor is ocmpleted there will be an exhibition in it about Sir Robert Kennedy and the Kennedy family and I presume that it will include a section on Arthur Kennedy as well.

Talking to terrorists

Recently there has been much comment in the media about the need to talk to dissident republicans.  Should the government enter into discussions, formal or informal, direct or indirect, with dissident republicans?  Some commentators have argued that it is a good thing to do but have failed to produce any substantial evidence or argument.  In that context it is perhaps worthwhile reflecting on what happened in 1972. 

There was a secret meetings between the IRA and MI6 in Northern Ireland and these led on to another secret meeting between two IRA representatives, David O'Connell and Gerry Adams, Frank Steele of MI6 and Philip John Woodfield of the Northern Ireland Office.  The IRA demanded that Adams, who was interned at the time, be released for the meeting.

This paved the way for another secret meeting but this time with the Conservative Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, in London.  This took place in the home of another senior Conservative politician, Paul Channon and the IRA was represented by Sean MacStiofain, David O'Connell, Seamus Twomey, Ivor Bell, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Mac Stiofain later confirmed that all the representatives were members of the IRA. 
The meeting took place on 7 July and just a few weeks later, on 31 July, the IRA placed three car bombs in the little village of Claudy and murdered nine civilians.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

They shoot children, don't they?

Michael Francis Magee was born on 8 October 1958 in Ballymurphy and joined the republican youth organisation Na Fianna Eireann.  He died 'on active service' on 13 May 1972 when he was accidentally shot dead.  Michael was just 15 years old.

Michael Sloan was born in West Belfast on 30 July 1956 and joined Na Fianna Eireann.  He was also 'on active service' when he was killed as a result of an accidental shooting during an arms training lecture.  He was just 16 years old.

These two young Roman Catholics were not shot by the British Army and they were not shot by loyalists.  They were shot with republican guns which were in the hands of republicans.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Declan O'Loan

It was very disappointing to hear the attack by Declan O'Loan on funding for the Ulster-Scots Academy.  He clearly did not know what he was talking about but did not let ignorance get in the way of making a statement.  He also displayed a cultural prejudice which shows a politican who is locked into the past.

I intend to respond to his comments in some detail, showing where he has got it wrong and what the role of an academy will be in relation to such things as cultural tourism, creative industries, education and a 'shared and better future', all of which are priorities for government.

As a start here is my challenge to Declan - ye wudnae hae a gleed o wut, wud ye - an if he doesn't understand it then perhaps one of his party colleagues from North Antrim can translate it for him.

Ulster Folk Museum

During my visit to Cultra this morning we had tea in one of the traditional houses and here are two photographs I took in the house.

This tile is at the doorway and bears the stamp Caledonia.  I wonder if this means that the tile came from Scotland?

The other photograph shows a milk jug which was sitting on a piece of furniture in the house.  I am informed by Mark Thompson that this is called wither Torquayware or Cornishware and that Scots phrases were added to local pottery to appeal to the once large Scottish tourist market.  He has some of these at home.  The significant thing is that something aimed at the Scottish market, with a Scots phrase on it, found its way to Ulster.  'Straucht frae the coo' - so presumably this is a milk jug.

Cultra Manor

Work is underway on the refurbishment of Cultra Manor, at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. This house was built at the sart of the 20th century by Sir Robert Kennedy, a British diplomat, a great Ulsterman, and a member of an old Ulster-Scots family that settled in the area in the middle of the 17th century. 

Dan Harvey (NMNI chair), Tim Cooke (NMNI chief executive) & Nelson McCausland

The refurbishment, which will be finished by next spring,  will cost £2.9m but will provide a high-quality education centre and a facility that can accommodate corporate events.  The work is being carried out by a local building firm, which is good for the construction industry.


One of the photographs in the Belfast Boxing Ring exhibition caught my attention and it was not so much becasue of the boxing but rather because of a name.  The Magill family from Meetinghouse produced several boxers who were also members of the RIC and the RUC.  The story of the Magill family will be told in a book by Paul Magill which is due out later in the year but where is Meetinghouse?  Paul explained to me that Meetinghouse is the old name for Cairncastle.

The origin of the Old Meeting House or Presbyterian Church in Cairncastle goes back to the 17th century and of course in the past a Presbyterian chruch was known as a Meeting House.  The first minister was Patrick Adair, who arrived there in 1646, just four years after the first presbytery was organised in 1642.  He was prominent in Ulster Presbyerianism as a pastor, a negotiator and the first historian of Presbyterianism in Ulster.  Is this Old Meeting House the reason why Cairncastle was called Meetinghouse?

The name has also been taken by the local public house, which was known as The Meeting House and more recently as Mattie's Meeting House.  According to the website of the bar it is said that at one time the judge had his 'court sitting' in the bar and that this was origin of the name of the public house.

So did the church give the name to the hamlet?  How did the public house get its name?  Did the public house give the name to the hamlet or the hamlet give the name to the public house?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Belfast Boxing Ring

Last night I attended the opening of an exhibition in Belfast City Hall organised by the Belfast Boxing Ring.  It is a collection of newspaper cuttings and photographs recalling the great boxers that Belfast has produced in the past.such as Rinty Monaghan, Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell.  The intention is to build on this - it is only a start - and members of the public with photographs or information will be encouraged to add to the exhibition, which will be there for the rest of the month.  For a place the size of Belfast it has certainly produced a remarkable number of successful boxers. 

Private William Hugh Kirkwood

Private William Hugh Kirkwood was a soldier in the 27th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry during the First World War.  He died on 3 May 1917 and was buried at Vimy in France.  William was born on 30 May 1890 and so he was 27 years old when he died. 

Although he died while serving in the Canadian Infantry he was born in Belfast and was the son of James E Kirkwood of Hilkiah, Ballysillan Road.  Hilkiah is an Old Testament name and this may suggest that the family were devout Christians who chose to give their home a biblical name.

I wonder if there is any connection with the Kirkwood family who gave their name to Kirkwood's Brae, the old name for the Old Ballysillan Road.  It will certainly be worth checking the old Belfast Street Directories for more information on the family.

Stoney Loaney

My constituency office is on the Ballysillan Road at the corner of Ballysillan Park.  I was interested therefore to discover on an old map that Ballysillan Park was once known as Stoney Loaney.  This is another of the Ulster-Scots placenames that were once common in the area.

Ulster-Scots Agency

I hosted a lunch at Stormont to mark the 100th board meeting of the Ulster-Scots Agency.  It was an opportunity to speak to the board members and I spoke about:

looking backward
I recalled the formation of the Ulster-Scots Language Society in 1992 and the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, now the Ulster-Scots Community Network, in 1995.  It was an opportunity to pay tribute to those who were the pioneers in the field.  I also outlined some aspects of the progress that has been made since then.

looking inward
We must also look inward at the Ulster-Scots cultural movement and recognise both the strengths and the weaknesses.  I identified the need for high quality projects and for quality assurance and authenticity in all projects.  There will always be critics but it is foolish to provide ammunition for them.

looking outward
It is also important to look outward and see what perceptions Ulster folk have of Ulster-Scots culture.  In that regard the recent DCAL-commissioned surveys will be extremely useful.

looking forward
Finally I spoke about the forthcoming Ulster-Scots strategy, the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund, the Ulster-Scots Academy etc.  The next few months will see major changes in the field of Ulster-Scots culture.

NI Human Rights Commission

Is there no limit to the arrogance of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission?  Stephen Farry MLA of the Alliance Party welcomed the government's ban on the NIHRC taking money from Atlantic Philanthropies  to lobby in relation to a Bill of Rights.

In response to this a spokesman for the NIHRC said, 'It is not for the the first time that the commission has had to remind elected politicians that it is their comments which could be regarded as interference in the work of a United Nations- recognised institution.'
[New Letter 5 September 2010]

The NIHRC is not merely unrepresentative but also anti-democratic.  Indeed it smacks of Stalinism!  But then some of the strongest supporters of the NIHRC are from a background that once supported Stalinism.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Patrick Bronte - 'in the Scotch manner'

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who gave us a number of fine novels, were the daughters of Rev Patrick Brontë (1777-1861). He was minister in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire for more than forty years and exercised a thoroughly evangelical ministry.

However Patrick Brontë was not born in England. In fact he was the eldest of ten children of Hugh Brunty, a farm labourer from Drumballyroney in county Down.

Patrick Brontë wrote several volumes of poetry and the other day I came across this comment on his poetry by David J O’Donoghue, author of The Poets of Ireland. In another of his works, The Geographical Distribution of Irish Ability, published in Dublin and London in 1908, he said: Patrick Brontë was something of a poet, but wrote in the Scotch rather than in the Irish manner.

UK School Games

The Sainsbury’s UK School Games were held in Gateshead, Newcastle and Sunderland and they included ten sports – athletics, badminton, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, judo, swimming, table tennis, volleyball and road cycling.

I travelled over for the start of the games on Thursday to support the Northern Ireland team and also to see the sports facilities in the area.  During the opening proceedings at the Gateshead International Stadium I met Jeremy Hunt MP, the UK Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.  I also met Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury plc, who sponsored the games. It was interesting to hear from him about the process by which Sainsbury came to the decision that this was the right sponsorship for the company.

The Northern Ireland participants were certainly giving of their best and they were most enthusiastic in supporting their team mates. Some of them had obviously borrowed songs and chants from the Northern Ireland football supporters.

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

This afternoon I was listening to Radio Foyle's excellent gospel music programme Rejoice, which is hosted by James McClelland.  He played a version of the song His Eye Is On the Sparrow and suggested that it was an old negro spiritual.  The song has been sung by many African-American gospel singers but in fact it is not a negro spiritual.

I discovered the story of this gospel song some time ago after purchasing a CD by the American singer Lynda Randle.  By the way I first heard Lynda Randle on Rejoice and then later heard her singing in the Odyssey in Belfast. 

The song was written back in 1905 by Civilla D Martin (1866-1948) and was inspired by a conversation that Civilla Martin and her husband Walter, a Baptist pastor, had with a Christian couple, Mr and Mrs Doolittle, in Elmira, New York.

Mr Doolittle was disabled and yet in spite of their afflictions the couple showed a deep Christian joy. Walter Martin asked them the secret of their joy and the woman replied, ‘His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.’ That answer was probably inspired by some words of Jesus in Matthew 6:26 and Matthew 10:29-31. When Civilla went home she wrote the words of the song and the next day she mailed it to Charles H Gabriel (1856-1932) who wrote the tune.

The song is particularly associated with the American singer and actress Ethel Waters (1896-1977), who was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on 31 October 1896 after her mother was raped at knifepoint at the age of thirteen. Ethel grew up in a violent, impoverished home and she married at the age of thirteen but had to leave her husband, who was abusive to her. At the age of seventeen she became a professional singer and in 1921 she produced her first record.
Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home
When Jesus is my portion
A constant Friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.
After a career as a blues and jazz singer, spanning thirty years, she wrote her autobiography in 1951. In her performances she often sang the song His Eye is on the Sparrow and she took the title of the song as the title of the book.  Ethel was converted through the preaching of the American evangelist Billy Graham and in her later years she sang at many of his campaigns.  The words were indeed her testimony of her faith in Christ.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

A busy Saturday

Today I visited the 2010 Northern Ireland International Airshow in Portrush and the Broadisland Gathering at Ballycarry.

Back in February it seemed that the airshow would be cancelled as Coleraine Borough Council was no longer able to provide funding  but subsequently a group of traders, represented by Coleraine Borough Chamber of Commerce, stepped up to the mark.  They raised more than £50,000 and the event was reinstated with a revised budget.

I was delighted that the people of Coleraine felt so strongly about the airshow that they were prepared to raise the money to keep the event going.  A special word of thanks is due to all the sponsors, especially the lead sponsor, Tesco, and congratulations are also due to the organisers, Coleraine Borough Council, who introduced more quality acts into the 2010 programme.

Later I travelled to Ballycarry for the 18th Annual Broadisland Gathering, which is the longest established Ulster-Scots festival in Northern Ireland.  This year the parade through the village included the Mid-Argll Pipe Band from Scotland, the Clontibret Pipe Band from Eire and the Schomberg Society from Kilkeel.  Along with local bands they provided excellent music which was enjoyed by everyone there.

The main street was closed off for the afternoon and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society put on a fine display of country dancing.  Under severe pressure from Lucy Mulholland I joined them for one of the country dances, along with a number of other visitors, including several children.  It was all good family fun but I determined to stick to politics and leave dancing to those who know how to do it. 

Risin Stour and Session Beat provided some excellent music in one of the marquees.  This was the first time I had heard Session Beat and they show great potential.  It is encouraging that we have more and more Ulster-Scots musical groups coming through to perform at festivals and concerts.

I always enjoy a visit to Ballycarry to meet with old friends such as David Hume and Rev John Nelson - both David and John have been involved in Ulster-Scots culture for many years - and to walk round and chat with people in the crowd.  Chris Spurr and Wilson Burgess were  there from A Kist o Wurds and they a short interview for the programme, which is broadcast on Radio Ulster.

This evening there is a concert in Ballycarry and the programme includes the Mid-Argyll Pipe Band and the Young Choir of Dalriada.  The Broadisland Gathering is always on the first Saturday in September - so put it in your diary for next year.

A good night for Ulster sport

Last night was a good night for Ulster sport with the Northern Ireland football team beating Slovenia.  This was a great start for 'our wee country' in the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers.  Congratulations to Nigel Worthington and the team, especially goal scorer Corry Evans, younger brother of Johnny Evans.

Thr cross from which Corry Evans scored came from Craig Cathcart and it was inch perfect.  Corry, his brother Johnny and Craig Cathcart all started out with Greenisland Boys Football Club at Newtownabbey before moving to Manchester United.

It was also a good night for the Ulster rugby team with a 27 to 26 win over Ospreys.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Shamrock and thistle

Anyone who imagines that Ulster-Scots culture is some sort of 'shamrock and thistle' culture might do well to consider how some football supporters in Blackburn see 'shamrock and thistle'.  This was previously Blackburn Shamrock Celtic Supporters Club but they changed their name to 'Shamrock and Thistle'. 

Here's another version of 'shamrock and thistle' at the Shamrock and Thistle pub in Florida, with its leprechauns and green beards.

Of course there's nothing wrong with 'shamrock and thistle' ... but it is not Ulster-Scots. It's Irish and Scottish.

Jack Higgins

BBC television has just broadcast Meet the Author, where Nick Higham talked to the popular author Jack Higgins, who came to fame 35 years ago when he wrote The Eagle Has Landed.  That book alone has sold tens of millions of copies. 

Jack Higgins is his pen-name but his real name is Harry Patterson and he spent much of his childhood in Belfast, a fact he spoke about in the television interview.

Harry Patterson was born in Newcastle in 1929 and his father left soon after he was born.  'My dad doesn't exist for me. I know he married again because a relative got in touch, but I'm not interested.'

His mother then brought him back to Ulster and he lived with her mother and grandfather in the Shankill Road in Belfast.  'We had to live with relatives on the Shankill,' recalled Higgins. 'I can remember top and tailing in bed, that sort of thing.'  It was there in Belfast that he developed an interest in reading and books.

The Culture Northern Ireland website says that he grew up in the Markets area, something that needs to be corrected. 

There is a proposal to develop a 'Shankill cultural quarter' in Belfast and this would celebrate the history and culture of the Shankill.  Part of that project will undoubtedly include prominent writers and artists who were born in or grew up in the Shankill area and Harry Patterson is one of that number.

When the former Shankill politician Johnny McQuade MP was a young man he boxed professionally under the name 'Jack Higgins'.  I don't know if there is any connection between that and Patterson's choice of 'Jack Higgins' as a pseudonym.

Ulster-Scots or 'Irish and Scottish'

Recently I have had a couple of conversations with different folk about Ulster-Scots culture and they are the basis of this post.

One person said that they had heard Ulster-Scots culture described as ‘a mixture or fusion of Irish culture and Scottish culture'.  They were appalled by that misunderstanding because it is not ‘shamrock and thistle’. It is not 'a bodhrán in a kilt' and neither is it 'riverdancing with a Lambeg drum'.

The legislation which created the Cross-Border Langage Body defined it as follows: ‘Ulster-Scots cultural issues relate to the cultural traditions of the part of the population of Northern Ireland and the border counties which is of Scottish ancestry and the influence of their cultural traditions on others, both within the island of Ireland and in the rest of the world.’

For all its shortcomings and inadequacies, that definition highlights two important points:
1. Ulster-Scots culture is a culture which is firmly rooted in Ulster.
2. Ulster-Scots culture is a culture which is authentically rooted in a community and is of that community.