Monday, 29 November 2010

Culture Matters (3)

Cultural Absorption (1)

Throughout history various groups and peoples have arrived in Ireland but they have generally been absorbed into Irishness. For example, the Anglo-Normans or Old English, who came to Ireland in the 12th century, became known as Hiberniores Hibernicis Ipsis, or 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'. Of that process the English poet Edmund Spenser wrote, ‘Lord how quickly doth that country alter men’s natures.’
[A View of the Present State of Ireland p 151]

Since the advent of the Gaelic revival and Irish cultural nationalism in the 19th century, the cultural vision of Irish nationalists has generally included as a core element the absorption orassimilation of all others into their culture and identity.  They believe that those who arrive and settle in Ireland either become Irish or should become Irish, not merely in some vague geographical sense but in terms of cultural identity.

This view was expressed many years ago by David Patrick Moran (1871-1936), the voice of the Irish-Ireland movement, who wrote The Philosophy of Irish Ireland in 1905: 'The foundation of Ireland is the Gael and the Gael must be the element that absorbs.'

Such a view is thoroughly racist but it was very prevalent at that time in the Gaelic movement. Moran had a vision of an Ireland that was thoroughly Gaelic and he also had a vision of an Ireland that was Roman Catholic. He founded a weekly journal called The Leader and in it he said: 'When we look out on Ireland we see that those who believe or may be immediately induced to believe in Ireland as a nation are, as a matter of fact, Catholics … The Irish nation is de facto a Catholic nation.' [The Leader 27 April 1901]

It should not be imagined that Moran was a lone and isolated voice or somehow untypical. He was expressing the common view of Irish Gaelic nationalism. Professor David George Boyce states that: ‘Moran has been criticised for his alleged ‘racism’; but his real purpose was to spell out, regardless of cant and humbug, the principles which others accepted but preferred not to examine too closely.’ [Nationalism in Ireland p 243]

The vision of cultural absorption was also expressed by Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), who was the founder of the Gaelic League and later the first president of the Irish Republic: 'In two points only was the continuity of Irishism in Ireland damaged. First in the north-east of Ulster, where the Gaelic race was expelled and the land planted with aliens, whom our dear mother Erin, assimilative as she is, has hitherto found it difficult to absorb. … In spite of the little admixture of Saxon blood in the north-east corner, this island is and will ever remain Celtic at the core.'

Sir John Randolph Leslie (1885-1971) was born on the family estate at Glaslough in county Monaghan and he was a descendant of Bishop John Leslie, a Scottish churchman who became bishop of Raphoe in 1633 and Bishop of Clogher in 1661. At Cambridge John Randolph Leslie converted to Roman Catholicism, became a passionate Irish nationalist and changed his name to Shane Leslie. In 1923 he wrote the novel Doomsland and in it the character Francis Joseph MacNeill is a thinly disguised representation of the Belfast nationalist Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926). At one point in the novel MacNeill expresses in very succinct form the general view of Bigger: 'I tell you, there is no such thing as Scots-Irish, man or material. You might as well speak of a Scots-Irish potato. What comes to Ireland becomes Irish. Besides, Scotland is an Irish dependency beyond the seas.'

The Catholic Bulletin was an important expression of Irish republican thinking and in the post-1916 period its editor was John J O’Kelly (1873-1957), who was president of the Gaelic League (1919-1922) and acting chairman of Dail Eireann (1919-1921). In 1924 The Catholic Bulletin provided this demand for cultural assimilation: 'The Irish nation is the Gaelic nation; its language and literature is the Gaelic language; its history is the history of the Gael. All other elements have no place in Irish national life, literature and tradition, save as far as they are assimilated into the very substance of Gaelic speech, life and thought.' [Irish Kulturkampf p 10]

It is true that some Ulster Protestants such as Bulmer Hobson, Roger Casement, Francis Bigger and Alice Milligan were absorbed or assimilated and they played major roles in the Gaelic movement but as Professor Richard Kirkland has observed, ‘they were exotic figures in the often sectarian atmosphere of Northern nationalism.’

Moreover in A History of Ulster Dr Jonathan Bardon comments that these folk were ‘utterly unrepresentative of the mass of Ulster Protestants who were repelled by these new interpretations of cultural identity.’ [A History of Ulster p 422]

Unfortunately the vision or aspiration of Gaelic absorption is not dead. Brendan Clifford, who has provided a number of important insights into recent Irish republican thinking, refers to it in one of his booklets: 'This is the end part of a strategy which was worked out by some very respectable supporters of the Provisional IRA in the republic in 1970-71. …. A process would begin which would end with the people who are now unionists being indoctrinated into the nationalist culture.'  [Parliamentary Despotism – John Hume’s Aspiration January 1986]

Down through the years many of those groups that settled in Ireland were absorbed but there is one notable exception. In 1914 Rev J B Woodburn published his book The Ulster-Scot. The book was an immediate success and when it was reviewed in The Times on 30 April 1914 the reviewer commented: 'He is a mystery, this Ulster Scot. All other peoples Ireland tends to absorb.'

Almost a century later there is still an Ulster-Scots culture and an Ulster-Scots cultural community in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The fact that the Ulster-Scots have not been absorbed was also noted, albeit in a thoroughly intolerant way, by John Francis Taylor (1850-1902), an influential Dublin barrister and Irish nationalist: 'Wherever the English have come they blended with the people … but these unthinkable Scotch, why indeed were they kept upon the planet?'

Today Irish nationalism and Irish republicanism are more sophisticated and subtle in their approach but they remain largely intolerant of those cultural traditions which are not Irish and Gaelic and therefore they continue to seek preferential treatment for Irish and Gaelic culture.

The Gaelic vision of cultural absorption set out by Moran, Hyde and others was an intolerant vision and one that should have no place in out society. We must seek to build a shared and better future in Northern Ireland, a future based on equality, diversity and interdependence, and that should also be the way forward for the Republic of Ireland.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Culture Matters (2)

Irish cultural nationalism

Irish nationalism is essentially cultural nationalism and the Irish cultural movement has always been essentially nationalist.  That was certainly the case at the start of the Gaelic revival in the 19th century.

The Gaelic League was formed on 31 July 1893 to revive the Gaelic language and Patrick Pearse identified the formation of this organisation as the start of an Irish revolution.  Writing in The Irish Volunteer (7 February 1914) he said, 'The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that has ever come into Ireland. The Irish revolution really began when the seven proto-Gaelic Leaguers met in O’Connell Street.'

Meanwhile the GAA was founded in 1884 on the initiative of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and it has been a thoroughly nationalist organisation throughout its existence. Clubs, ground and trophies have been named after Irish republican heroes, past and present, and the constitution of the GAA still affirms its support for a ‘United Ireland’.

The early history of both the Gaelic Athletic Association, formed in 1884, and the Gaelic League, shows clearly the way in which both organisations were used by Irish nationalists as a means of promoting Irish nationalism.

It is often pointed out that there were some ‘Protestants’ involved in the Irish cultural movement eg Francis J Bigger, Roger Casement and Alice Milligan, and it is true that there were Protestants in the movement but they were nearly all Irish nationalists. Generally their interest in Irish culture developed into a commitment to Irish nationalism. 

Today Sinn Fein continue to pursue a cultural nationalist agenda.  Around the time of the IRA hunger strikes they launched a new cultural campaign and at a conference in West Belfast Padraig O’Maoicraoibhe, a Sinn Fein cultural officer, said, 'I don’t think we can exist as a separate people without our language. Now every phrase you learn is a bullet in the freedom struggle. The process of decolonisation will have stopped half-way if, the day we succeed in driving the English from our shores, what is left behind is an Irish people possessed of the language, culture and values of the English.'

At the conference in Conway Mill on 26 May 1982 another Sinn Fein activist, Tarlach MacIonractaigh, said, 'The armed struggle is the highest point of the cultural revival.'  The proceedings of the conference were reported in a Sinn Fein publication entitled Learning Irish and in this Sinn Fein observed that, 'Everyone [at the conference] was agreed that there was a definite link between the National Struggle and the Cultural Revival.'

Today Sinn Fein see Irish culture as a means of:
1. Broadening the battlefront – they added the cultural front to the terrorist front and the political front and later they added the parades front.  Their terrorist war is over, although it is being continued by dissident republicans, but they have placed a greater emphasis on their cultural war.
2. Strengthening the nationalist community – providing cultural confidence, strengthening solidarity and building capacity.
3. Undermining the Protestant/unionist community – they deny or demean our cultural expressions and try to convince unionists that they are really Irish.  Their tactics are those of cultural humiliation and cultural assimilation.

That is why Sinn Fein place so much emphasis on culture and make so many cultural demands. They know that culture matters.

There is nothing inherently problematic about the Irish language, Gaelic games or any other form of Irish culture.  They are part of our cultural wealth.  The problem is about the way they have been used by Irish nationalists and republicans to further their political agenda.

Gillian Welch - I'll Fly Away

I'll Fly Away was written in 1929 by Albert E Brumley, who wrote around 800 songs.  It has been described as the most recorded gospel song of all time and has been recorded by Ralph Stanley, Hank Williams, Alan Jackson, Johnny Cash, Alison Krauss, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Culture Matters (1)

Recently I have commented on the need for cultural inclusivity in Northern Ireland and I was thinking about that again this evening.

Earlier tonight I was singing at the weekly Saturday night praise service in the Bethel Elim Pentecostal Church in Berlin Street, off the Shankill Road.  The church building is in the heart of the Shankill area and it has been there for many years.  The Saturday night meeting is part of their weekly programme and starts at 7.00 with tea and toast for the congregation.  The service then gets underway at 7.30 with the congregation singing some choruses and then there are usually three singers, who each sing three or four gospel songs, two in the first half and then one or two in the second. 

All the pieces are simple gospel songs, with a focus on basic Christian themes of God, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and the accompaniment is often provided by the singer on a guitar or accordion. 

Many of the songs are well known to the congregation and folk will often join in and sing along, especially in the choruses.  Sometimes the singer invites them to sing along and at other times it just happens spontaneously.  This is possible because either the songs are well known or the choruses are simple and can be learned quickly.

Many of the songs are taken from the general repertoire of gospel music but some singers write some of their own songs and some put alternative words to popular tunes.  There is a long tradition of this and as an example the hymnbook of the Faith Mission includes hymns set to Scottish tunes such as Auld Lang Syne and tunes written by the Scotch-Irish composer Stephen Foster.

After each singer had sung tonight the pastor made a short comment on each of the songs, explaining and applying the message of the songs, perhaps using a Bible verse or through an illustrative story.  In some other places the pastor will simply introduce the singers and then give a short address at the end.

During the service there was a collection for the Northern Ireland Hospice, which raised several hundred pounds, and the evening finished around 9.00.  For many of those who attended this is an important part of their week and this is how they spend Saturday nights for much of the year.

This type of praise service, with songs sung in a country gospel or Southern gospel style, takes places regularly in many evangelical churches and mission halls across Ulster and it is is a long established part of our rich cultural diversity.

I suspect that few if any of those in the cultural establishment attend such meetings and it is a cultural expression with which they are probably unfamiliar.  For that reason this type of music does not feature in mainstream cultural festivals.  But if we are to have the inclusivity that I believe to be essential for a shared and better future then such music must be brought in from the margins to the mainstream.

It is undoubtedly popular, not just in the setting of a praise service in a church or mission hall, but on the radio and in major venues.  Radio Foyle has a weekly Sunday afternoon programme called Rejoice, which includes a lot of this type of music, and in recent times I have attended Southern gospel events in the Odyssey and the Theatre at the Mill in Mossley.  Some of the singers have been visiting singers from America but others have been local gospel singers and groups and some of those local singers are of a very high standard.

If a festival is an Irish traditional music festival, then it should deliver Irish traditional music, and if it is a jazz festival then the programme should be jazz.  However there are also festivals which are general in their content and which should be inclusive in their programming.  The organisers may not themselves be familiar with this music genre but they could engage with those who are.  In recent months I have raised the issue with a number of people and I hope that they will now rise to the challenge.

In the world of culture there is much talk about the importance audience development and here is an opportunity for those who manage festivals and venues to reach out to new audiences by including another musical genre in their programmes.

Some other parts of the world are way ahead of us in this regard.  Earlier this year I visited North Carolina, which is part of the 'Bible belt', and I was interested to hear from the deputy director of one major venue about how they see this as an opportunity. Her venue includes an open-air performance space and when it opened they used that space to put on an open-air gospel concert.  For them it was a natural thing to do.  There are many evangelical Christians in the state and they are happy to programme events that will appeal to them.  To them it seems so simple and so sensible.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Land o' the Leal

This is another of the Scots songs by Lady Nairne (1766-1845).

Land o' the Leal

I'm wearin' awa', John
Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,
I'm wearin' awa'
Tae the land o' the leal.
There 's nae sorrow there, John,
There 's neither cauld nor care, John,
The day is aye fair
In the land o' the leal.

Our bonnie bairn 's there, John,
She was baith gude and fair, John;
And O! we grudged her sair
Tae the land o' the leal.
But sorrow's sel' wears past, John,
And joy 's a-coming fast, John,
The joy that 's aye to last
In the land o' the leal.

Sae dear 's the joy was bought, John,
Sae free the battle fought, John,
That sinfu' man e'er brought
Tae the land o' the leal.
O, dry your glistening e'e, John!
My saul langs to be free, John,
And angels beckon me
Tae the land o' the leal.

O, haud ye leal and true, John!
Your day it 's wearin' through, John,
And I'll welcome you
Tae the land o' the leal.
Now fare-ye-weel, my ain John,
This warld's cares are vain, John,
We'll meet, and we'll be fain,
In the land o' the leal. 

Meaning of some of the words:
  • awa = away
  • bairn = child
  • baith = both
  • cauld = cold
  • e'e = eye
  • fain = loving, affectionate
  • leal = loyal, faithful
  • sair = sore
  • snaw = snow
  • tae = to

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Peasall sisters - Where no one stands alone

The Lily of the Valley

The Poppy

This is the text of a letter I have just submitted to the Irish News.

Jackie McAnee (23 November) states that the poppy is 'a British symbol'.  He also states that, 'The French, Belgians, Dutch, Americans etc do not wear the poppy - this is purely a British thing.'  However McAnee is wrong in both statements.

In the United States of America the American Legion sells poppies to raise funds for its work.  I was also struck by the symbolism of the poppy when I visited the National World War I Museum in Kansas.  Poppies were on sale in the museum and at the entrance there is a Western Front poppy field where each of the 9,000 poppies represents a thousand combatant deaths.

There is also a strong poppy tradition in Canada, where it is the official symbol of remembrance.  Indeed it was a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae, who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915.  The first line of that poem is 'in Flanders fields, the poppies blow' and this poem did much to establish the poppy as an international symbol of remembrance.

Today the poppy has become such a powerful symbol that in some countries, such as Malta and South Africa, Remembrance Day is actually referred to as Poppy Day.  Even in Belgium, one of the countries mentioned by Jackie McAnee, there is a Poppy Parade to the Menin Gate in Ypres and poppies are released from the roof of the Menin Gate.

If we are to create a shared and better future in Northern Ireland then we need to explore and plode the myths that have contributed to so much misunderstanding.  I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to explode the myth that the poppy is 'purely a British thing'.

Nelson McCausland MLA
256 Ballysillan Road

Caller herrin'

This week  Diarmaid O Muirithe turned to the Ulster word caller in his column Words We Use in the Irish Times.  According to the Concise Ulster Dictionary it means, of fish or vegetables, fresh, in proper season, newly caught or gathered.

The word used to be very common in Ulster and in Scotland and Northumberland.  Robert Burns wrote in his poem The Holy Fair (1785), 'I walked forth to view the corn, An' snuff the caller air.'  Walter Scott in The Antiquary (1816) has: 'There's fish nae doubt, - there's sea trout and caller haddocks.'

I can recall hearing the word many times on the White Heather Club when Moira Anderson sang the old Scottish song Caller Herrin', which was written by Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne) in the early 19th century.
Wha'll buy my caller herrin'?
They're bonnie fish and halesome farin';
Wha'll buy my caller herrin',
New drawn frae the Forth?

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Easter Rising that didn't take place!

Today in the Assembly three Sinn Fein members had tabled oral questions about commemorations and of course their focus was on the forthcoming centenary of Easter 1916.  I took the opportunity to share with them some of the facts about what happened in Ulster at Easter 1916 because it is helpful to raise awareness of the facts rather than the fiction.

Denis McCullough (1883-1968) was born in Belfast and in 1901, at the age of 17, he was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  However he was disappointed by the moribund state of the organisation and in 1905 the young activist decided to revitalise the IRB.  Along with Bulmer Hobson and Sean MacDermott he formed the Dungannon Clubs as a means of recruiting new people into the IRB.

Late in 1915 McCullough was elected president of the Supreme Council of the IRB but he was not a member of the Military Committee responsible for planning the Easter Rising and he may not even have known of its existence until later.  Nevertheless as Easter approached he heard of what was planned and travelled down to Dublin to question Thomas Clarke and Sean MacDermott, the other two members of the IRB executive.  They avoided him as long as they could but in the end they informed him of their plans and eventually he supported them.

McCullough was an officer in the Irish Volunteers in Belfast and had two hundred men under his command but it was agreed that there were not enough members in Belfast to stage a rising there.  Instead he was to take his men to Dungannon in county Tyrone and then link up with Liam Mellows in Connacht.

McCullough took 150 men and Cumman na mBan women with him on the train from Belfast to Dungannon to meet up with the Irish Volunteers in Tyrone, who were led by Patrick McCartan (1878-1966).  However McCartan said that the Tyrone volunteers would not rise until they received confirmation that the Pope had received word that a Rising was due to take place and that the German guns had landed in County Kerry.  In the end McCartan and his men refused to move.

The abortive rising petered out with McCullough returning home to Belfast but he managed to shoot himself accidentally in the hand.  That was the extent of the bloodshed in Ulster!

Is that what Sinn Fein want to commemorate - a futile trip by train to Dungannon and a leader who managed to shoot himself?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

With God on our Side

On Armistice Day 11 November the film With God on Our Side was shown in a room at Stormont. According to the American director of the film, Porter Speakman Jr, it is a critique of the theology of Christian Zionism.

The following report was taken from the website of Rev Stephen Sizer, who is a Church of England minister and vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water. He promotes the film and its stance and he is the person on the right of the photograph, which shows some of the people at the film showing.

Yesterday on Remembrance Day, the film With God on our Side was shown to an invited audience at Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Those present represented the spectrum of political opinion and religious tradition that make up Northern Ireland. All present were impressed with the film and the question time had to be extended afterwards.
On the day we remember with great respect, the dead from two World Wars as well as the 50 or more regional wars since 1945, in which allied servicemen and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of mankind, it was most appropriate to be showing the film at Stormont.

In With God on our Side we meet Jews, Moslems and Christians who have disavowed racism, ethnic cleansing and violence as a means of resolving conflict, but instead are working for justice, peace and reconciliation for all who live in the Middle East.
The event was indeed held at Stormont but it was not held in any of the public rooms. As the photograph shows it took place in a party room belonging to Sinn Fein. 

Sizer and Speakman are entitled to their views on Christian Zionism but is there not something inappropriate about asking Sinn Fein to host a film about Israel?  During the Second World War, while the Nazis were persecuting Jews in Europe, the IRA allied themselves with the Nazis.  They saw Britain's difficulty as their opportunity and ignored the record of the Nazi regime.  Stephen Sizer seems to be remarkably naive and ill-informed.

His blog gives the impression that this was in some way an 'official' showing associated in some way with the Northern Ireland Assembly.  In fact it was not - it was just a private event sponsored by Sinn Fein.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


In 1921 the American historian James T Adams (1878-1949) wrote The Founding of New England, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History.  In it he said: 'The Puritanism of any individual today may derive quite as directly from an ancestral Bermudian, Georgian, Jamaican Commonwealth man, Carolinian Scotch Covenanter or Pennsylvanian Ulsterite as from a settler in Salem or Plymouth.'  A century ago the word Ulsterite was in common use for an Ulsterman and this is but one example of many.'

On 22 September 1913 the New York Times carried the headline: 'Carson Getting Bellicose: But Liberals are loath to take action against the Ulsterite'.

Back in 1914 James Connolly wrote Labour in Irish History.  It was reviewed in the Socialist Standard, a journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain,  in June 1914 and the reviewer said that Connolly's work 'cuts through the sham superficialities of the struggle between Home Ruler and Ulsterite, Catholic and Protestant'.

In December 1919 the Chicago Tribune also described Sir Edward Carson as an Ulsterite.

A headline in Time magazine on 16 November 1925 said, 'Book Flung across House of Commons!' 'Wild Ulsterite Attacks Winston Churchill!'  This was a reference to an occasion when Ronald McNeill MP threw a book at Churchill.

Dr H M J Klein wrote A History of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania in 1926 and said: 'It is generally recognized that the first dominant Scotch-Irish settlements in Lancaster county were in its 'Upper End' or northern part, not in the 'Lower End', as the five Scotch-Irish townships of southern Lancaster are sometimes called.  The settlement of the aggressive Ulsterites in Lancaster county seated a power which soon became evident in the local government.

Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker (1879-1966) wrote The Planters of Colonial Virginia, which was published by Oxford University Press and Princeton University Press in 1922.  In it he referred to waves of immigration and said, 'The indentured servant differed in no essential from the poor Ulsterite or German who followed him in the Eighteenth century, or the Irishman, the Italian or the Slav in the Nineteenth.'

Lewis Clark Walkinshaw wrote Annals of Southwestern Pennsylvania [c1939] and in a short biography of Judge Richard Drum Laird he said that 'his first American ancestor was John Laird, an Ulsterite from County Donegal'.

Time magazine used the word again on 14 July 1947, describing the golfer Fred Daly as 'jaunty little Ulsterite Fred Daly of Belfast'.

Today the word is comparatively rare but it is an alternative word for an Ulsterman.

The word is also used in relation to a resident of Ulster County, New York.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Commonwealth bid gaining momentum

This article appeared in the  News Letter on 18 November.

The camaign to send a Northern Ireland hockey team to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 is gathering momentum.

The management board of Ulster Hockey is investigating the possibility after receiving a letter from the squad members of the successful Ulster under 18 side.

The Sports Minister Nelson McCausland said it would be up to the Ulster Hockey Union and the Irish Hockey Association to consider how such a move would impact on the development of hockey in Northern Ireland.

But he went on: 'I am always keen to see Northern Ireland well represented in international competitions.  All our athletes should have the opportunity, wherever possible, to represent their country in international competition under their national banner.'

One of Northern Ireland's best hockey players has backed the idea.  Emma Clarke, who currently plays for the top team in the English Premier League, Leicester, says it would be an amazing opportunity for players to represent Northern Ireland on the big stage.

'It would be a great experience to compete against some of the best teams in the world and with hockey being a main focus in Ulster, the aim of Glasgow 2014 would mean the development of a very strong squad who could do very well in the Games,' said Emma.

Ulster Elks coach Ricky Lee was at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi to assist the Northern Ireland team.  He believes there is nothing to compare with the sheer size of the Games.

'The 6,500 athletes and officials from 72 nations and territories from all round the Commonwealth, competing across 17 sports in 12 spactacular venues was a real eye opener,' Ricky explained.

'Northern Ireland had medal successes in boxing, cycling, lawn bowls and shooting and many other personal successes in the 11 sports that we were represented in.  As a hockey player and coach I would have loved to see our wee country compete in that sport.'

The Chief Executive of the Irish Hockey Association, Angus Kirkland, said the idea [had] been reviewed in the past and a team from Northern Ireland had been ineligible to be considered for entry as Northern Ireland is not an affiliated member of the FIH and therefore has no official world ranking.'

'The issue of Northern Ireland competing in the Commonwealth Games at hockey is with the Ulster Hockey Board and we await communication from them in this regard.'

This is an important development as it has been initiated by hockey players themselves.  These are Northern Ireland athletes and they should surely be able to participate in the Commonwealth Games as part of a Northern Ireland team.  However we were unable to enter a hockey team in the 2010 Delhi Games.  The next games in Glasgow are four years away and I hope that the Ulster Hockey Board will press forward on this matter with urgency.  The current situation is the result of the way that hockey is organised on an all-Ireland basis and it needs to be addressed.

We did well in Delhi but there were some sports in which we did not enter a team and if we had entered teams in those sports we might well have done even better.  The same situation applies in rugby.  When I travelled out to Delhi there was an English rugby team on the plane and rugby is a popular sport in Northern Ireland but we did not have a Northern Ireland team in the Games.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Culture in the classroom

This morning I visited the fife and drum class in Glengormley High School in my own constituency of North Belfast.  The tutor is Mark Anderson, who is a peripatetic tutor with the Ulster-Scots Agency, and there is a keen interest in the fife and drum tuition.

Nelson McCausland with the school's head of music William Hill and pupils from Years 9 and 11 participating in the fife and drum tuition, which is being delivered by Mark Anderson on behalf of the Ulster-Scots Agency.

There is also a fife and drum class in the Boys Model Secondary School and Mark Anderson is delivering tuition week after week in schools across the province.  This shows the potential to introduce this form of traditional music into more schools, both primary and secondary.

Nelson McCausland with pupils Holly Lee and Ryan McKay at Glengormey High School

This is good for the students, who learn musical skills and are then able to perform at community and cultural events.  It is also good for the school and for the cultural tradition of the fife and Lambeg drum.  It is important that such musical skills are passed on to a new generation of young people.

I was pleased to meet both the principal and the head of music in Glengormley and to hear them speak enthusiastically about the fife and drum tuition.  They commented on the benefit of the class as regards the personal development of the young people and that is something that I have heard from teachers in other schools that are participating in the scheme.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms the right of children in school to learn about and enjoy the culture of their community and these schools are implementing that right. 

It is most encouraging to visit schools such as Glengormley which are introducing aspects of cultural heritage from the cultural community to which the children belong.  Some have introduced the fife and Lambeg drum, whilst others have introduced tuition in fiddle music, Scottish highland dance and Scottish country dance.  Culture has always been at the heart of the Roman Catholic maintained sector and the Irish-medium sector and it is right for the children and indeed the right of the children in the controlled sector that they too can enjoy and celebrate their cultural traditions.  Culture should be celebrated and affirmed in our schools and not left outside the school gate.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Ancient Island Celts - are they simply a modern invention?

DCAL is sponsoring a series of talks entitled Exploring Culture and the first is this Thursday evening in W5.  The inaugural lecture ‘The Ancient Island Celts – modern invention or rediscovery?’ will be delivered by archaeologist Dr Simon James from the University of Leicester and the chairman for the series is William Crawley.

Dr James believes there are serious difficulties with some of the common, basic assumptions of Celtic history. He writes that the concept of the Scots, Welsh, Irish and other groups in the British Isles being called 'Celtic' evolved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Simon James asks how far is it a rediscovery of a forgotten past reality? Or is it simply a modern invention, imposed on the past? His presentation will provide a highly visual and entertaining analysis of these issues.

The word Celtic is the name of a football club in Glasgow but it is also used in many other ways.  Yes there are Celtic languages but are Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire really 'Celtic countries' as they are sometimes described?  The word Celtic is sometimes used to link them together and to differentiate them from England and we see this in the names of a range of organisations, networks and competitions.

Is there such a thing as 'Celtic music' and what is 'Celtic art'?  Is a Celtic cross really Celtic?  In what way are 'Celtic spirituality', 'Celtic Christianity', 'Celtic knotwork' and 'Celtic artwork' really Celtic? 

This first lecture takes place at 6pm on Thursday 11 November at W5 in the Odyssey Complex – tea and coffee from 5.30pm.  The lectures are free and you can contact Catherine Lowe at: or 028 9051 5035 for further details.
You can also get an insight into Dr James's research at

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Team GB or Team UK?

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell has tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling for the UK’s Olympic team to recognise the entirety of the United Kingdom.

The official name of the team is Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but the brand name is the shortened form of Team GB, which excludes Northern Ireland, and this brand name appears on all the literature and information about the Olympic Games.

Gregory Campbell has called for this to be changed to the equally succinct but more accurate name of Team UK.

This was an issue that he lobbied on when he was Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure and it is one that I continue to lobby on today.

As well has receiving support from within the House of Commons, the proposal to change the name to Team UK has been supported by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Act of Remembrance

The main Act of Remembrance in Belfast is on Remembrance Sunday, which is 14 November this year, but each year some people who are working in the city centre or out shopping gather informally at the Cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall at 11.00 am on Armistice Day, 11 November.  This is the actual anniversary of the end of World War I.

They stop the normal activities of the day and gather for a few minutes at the Cenotaph to remember whose who died in two World Wars and other conflicts.

Last year several people approached me at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day and said that it would be helpful to have something organised so that there was a formal Act of Remembrance rather than just an informal gathering.  

In response to their suggestion I raised this in Belfast City Council and the Royal British Legion has agreed to organise a brief Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph at 11.00 am on Thursday 11 November.   

If you are working in the city centre or out shopping on Thursday morning I would encourage you to come along to the Cenotaph for those few minutes to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who died.  Perhaps you could also pass this information and invitation on to others.

QUB apology to Jewish academic

Professor Peter Gregson, the vice-chancellor of Queen's University, has written an apology to Professor Geoffrey Alderman, the lead columnist in the Jewish Chronicle, who was invited to join a panel discussion in the Belfast Festival, only to have the invitation withdrawn.  In his letter he stated that he endorsed the 'full and unreserved apology' already offered by the festival director.   I have already blogged about the background to this matter and do not intend to cover that ground again but I do welcoem the apologies.

This is the premier arts festival in Northern Ireland and it should be inclusive and fair, in keeping with the vision of a 'shared and better future'.  It certainly accommodates a wide range of events, provides a platform for a wide range of  perspectives and caters for a wide range of tastes.  However if we look back over a number of year there are some views and some types of event that appear to have been ignored.

The programmes may well have reflected a consensus within the cultural establishment but if there are views and interests that are not reflected or represented within that establishment, then the festival organisers should engage with those who hold those views and have those interests.  That is the first step on the road to addressing the problem of exclusion.

Recently I talked to Professor Gregson about my commitment to a 'shared and better future', a future that is built on equity, diversity and interdependence, and I was encouraged by his response.  If the festival organisers pursue that vision they will undoubtedly enhance the festival and increase their audience.  There are significant opportunities to reach new audiences who may never have attended festival in the past and surely that is good for everyone.

A King on Zion

I came across this today in the Fountain Centre in Belfast.  It is on the glass wall beside the escalator.  It is rather unusual and I wonder what inspired someone to put it there.  I have been at the Fountain Centre many times but have never noticed it before.

The first part of the text appears to be the New International Version of Psalm 2:6.  This is a Psalm that speaks of a world in rebellion against God but also of the ultimate triumph of God and it includes an appeal to men and women to be reconciled to God and so avoid the wrath of God.  The second part is the New King James Version of 2 Samuel 7:13 which is prophecy that the Throne of David will last forever.

It is extremely refreshing to find that someone felt led to incorporate a portion of the Bible in the fabric of a commercial building.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Putting the case for sport

This is a slightly expanded version of an article I wrote for the Platform piece in the North Belfast News.

As the Northern Ireland Executive works towards setting a budget there will undoubtedly be many conflicting voices.  As Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, I will be in there arguing the case for culture, arts and leisure.  However there will also be those who say that if there are cuts to be made then areas such as health and education should take priority over sport and arts.  Some will even suggest that sport and arts are simply entertainment and scarcely deserving of public support at all.

However that is a very superficial view of the situation because sport and arts are much more than entertainment.  They provide enjoyment and they enhance our quality of life but they do much more than that.

Earlier this year I published a new sports strategy for Northern Ireland and it set out a vision based around participation, places and performance - getting more people involved in sport, providing the right facilities for posrt, and helping athletes to achieve their very best.  The strategy also highlighted the contribution that sport makes to various aspects of life.

It contributes to improving the health of society, especially in tackling the problem of obesity and the illnesses associated with obesity.  Young people today spend more time than ever indoors, often sitting in front of a computer or a television, and this can lead to inactivity and obesity, which is a serious health problem in itself but also causes other problems.  Tackling obesity must be a priority.

We spend a lot of money in the Health Service addressing the results of ill health but how much better it is to prevent ill health by promoting a healthy lifestyle and sport has an important role to play in health promotion.  Prevention is better than cure.

Sport also contruibutes to education.  There is good evidence that young people who engage in sport and other healthy activities tend to perform better in school.  Competitive sport also enables young people to learn social skills and team games teach young people about working as part of a team.  We should not set sport and arts against health and education because they can contribute to health and education.

Yes, every department will face pressures but if we were to ring-fence every single penny in the education and health budgets, as some politicians are demanding, the cuts in sport and arts would be especially severe.  However the fact is that you could wipe out the DCAL budget entirely, close all our libraries and museums and stop funding sport and arts, and it would hardly do anything to meet the demands of health and education.

A lot of money has been invested in our sports infrastructure but during the years of the Troubles there was a prolonged period of underinvestment.  Now we are making up for that underinvestment and catching up on others.

Since my appointment to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in July last year I have visited many sports facilities and I have seen the imrpovements that are taking place but there is still a long way to go.  And here I am thinking not only of the planned stadium development at Windsor Park, Ravenhill and Casement Park, but of such things as the provision of more 3-G pitches in local community facilities.

Some time ago I visited a gymnastics club in Bangor and was pleased to hear that they had just had an influx of young people.  The reason was that a young gymnastics team had won Britain's Got Talent!  The success of the Northern Ireland team in the Commonwealth Games has highlighted the sporting talent we have in this country and the Olympics in 2012 will also increase the number of young folk wanting to play sport.

If we are to avail of those opportunities and provide the facilities for our young people, then we need to invest in sport.