Sunday, 30 January 2011

James McHenry (1785-1845) - an Ulster author

There are a number of notable grave in the little graveyard at St Cedma's parish church in Larne and oen of them is the grave of the Ulster-born author James McHenry.

He was born on 20 December 1785 at Livingstone's Court, off Dunluce Street, in Larne and he was the son of George McHenry and his wife Mary Smiley.  His maternal grandparents were Samuel Smiley of Larne and Christina Robinson of Fox Hall, Cairncastle.

James McHenry was educated at an academy in the home of Rev John Nicholson, minister of the Seceding Presbyterian congregation in Larne.  He studied for the Presbyterian ministry but turned away from this and studied medicine in Belfast and Glasgow. 

McHenry wrote poetry and in 1807 some of his poems appeared in a Belfast newspaper under the pseudonym McERIN, which is a combination of the Scottish prefix with an alternative name for Ireland, a combination that could be described as Scotch-Irish.  These and other poems were published in Belfast in 1808 in a volume entitled The Bard of Erin and Other Poems, Mainly National.

He practised medicine in Larne and Belfast and then in 1817 he emigrated from Ulster to America with his wife, Jane Robinson, and their infant son. 

His first publication in America was The Pleasures of Friendship (1822), a collection of poetry, and this was followed by Waltham: An American Revolutionary Tale (1823), a poem in three cantos about George Washington's experience at Valley Forge.  This was one of the earliest poetic treatments of an American patriotic theme.

Also in 1823 he published in three volumes a novel entitled The Wilderness, which was signficant in that it portrayed the first Ulster emigrant family in American fiction.  It told of a family of Ulster pioneers on the Pennsylvania frontier during the French and Indian War during the 18th century.  In the foreword he noted that: 'The language spoken by the Presbyterians of Ulster, the class of Irishmen to which the character, with whose adventures the following tale commences, belonged, is, with some slight shades of difference, the same as that of the Lowlands of Scotland.'

The family settled in Philadelphia in 1824 and there he became a draper but in that same year he published O'Halloran; or The Insurgent Chief; and Historical Tale of 1798.  This was the first of his Ulster novels and according to ERR Green: 'These novels are of great interest as they mark the first appearance of a distinct consciousness of a separate Ulster identity.' 

It was followed the next year by The Hearts of Steel and in the preface he wrote that 'the majority of actors in both works belonged to the population of Ulster; the lower and middle classes of whom speak a dialect very similar to that spoken by the Scotch Lowlanders, from whom they are mostly descended'.

His other works included The Usurper (1829), a five-act play, The Betrothed of Wyoming (c 1830), Meredith or The Mystery of the Meschianza (1831) and several volumes of poetry.

In America he took an active interest in politics and he was a close friend and ardent admirer of President Andrew Jackson, whose parents had emigrated from Carrickfergus, just a few miles from McHenry's birthplace in Larne.  In 1829 he published a volume entitled Jackson's Wreath or National Souvenir.

In 1842 or 1843 McHenry was appointed United States consul in Londonderry but he he spent much of his time in Belfast and he died in Larne on 21 July 1845.  He was buried there in St Cedma's graveyard alongside his mother.

His son James McHenry (1817-1891) was a well-known financier who moved from America to Kensington in London. and his daughter Mary, who married J Bellargee Cox of Philadelphia, was widely known for her philanthropic work.

McHenry is just one of the notable figures who were buried in St Cedma's.  He is now largely forgotten but deserves to be remembered as a notable Ulster author.

There was another James McHenry (1753-1816), who was born in Ballymena and became an early american statesman.  Fort McHenry in Baltimore was named after him and this was the scene of the battle that inspired the American national anthem.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Look out for 'Born Fighting'

During a visit to Washington last year I met Senator James Webb, author of Born Fighting. During the meeting he mentioned that he was working on a new television series about the Scotch-Irish and that it would be based around his book.

I have just received confirmation that the landmark two-part documentary, which is a partnership between UTV and STV, will be broadcast on both channels on 1 and 8 February.

It follows Senator Webb as he charts the incredible story of the Scotch-Irish and discovers how they helped to build one of the most powerful nations in the world. Webb, who is himself of Scotch-Irish descent, travels from his home in Virginia to Scotland and Ulster, where he visits Belfast, Carrickfergus, Newtownstewart and Londonderry, to tell the story of the Scotch-Irish and how they shaped present day America.  Dramatic reconstructions take viewers through key historical moments such as Bannockburn, the siege of Derry and the American Civil War.

'I wrote Born Fighting after many years of thought and painstaking research,' noted Senator Webb.  'It is a pleasure to have been able to work with UTV, STV and the Smithsonian Channel to bring the essence of this book into a powerful, visual format.'

I am certainly looking forward to this two-part series and I am sure that many of those who read this blog will also look forward to it with anticipation.  There was a time when the Ulster-Scots people were an invisible people as regards television broadcasting but thigns are changing and both the Ulster-Scots people and Ulster-Scots culture are moving in from the margins to the mainstream. That process will be supported in future by the new Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund and there are many great stories to be told.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Burns and the Northern Star

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

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

There are two copies of that first Belfast edition in the Linen Hall Library and the library has recently produced a limited edition facsimile of the Belfast edition.  This was launched tonight and I spoke at the launch.

However there is an interesting sequel to that original Belfast edition.  A few years later, in 1792, James Magee's son William Magee helped to finance the radical Belfast newspaper, the Northern Star, which was the newspaper of the Society of United Irishmen.  Indeed it is surely not unreasonable to suggest that the money which Magee's father accrued from the sale of the Belfast edition of Burns may have helped to finance the Northern Star.

The Northern Star was notable for publishing from time to time some of the poems of Robert Burns as well as poems written by some of the Ulster-Scots weaver poets.  However this was not the only connection between the United Irishmen and the Ulster-Scots poets.

Samuel Thomson (1766-1816), the bard of Carngranny as well as a schoolteacher, was one of the Ulster folk poets who was influenced by Burns. He wrote several poems about Burns including an Epistle to Mr R[ober]t B[urn]s, which was published in 1792. Thomson sent a copy of the poem to Burns who expressed his appreciation and sent a present of books to the Ulster poet. He dedicated a volume of his poetry published in 1793 to ‘Mr Robert Burns, the Ayrshire poet’ and in 1794 he travelled to Dumfries to meet Burns and exchange poems. Thereafter he corresponded with him until the death of Burns in 1796.

In 1793 Samuel Thomson published Poems on Different Subjects, partly in the Scottish Dialect. This was the earliest volume of collected poems published by any of the Ulster folk poets and it had a list of subscribers that included quite a number of prominent Belfast gentlemen. Among them were Samuel Neilson and Henry Joy McCracken, who were members of the Society of United Irishmen.

Indeed can it not be argued that the United Irishmen in Ulster did more for the Ulster-Scots language than they did for the Irish language?

The great enthusiasm at the end of the 18th century for the poetry of Burns and the Ulster folk poets is not in any way surprising.  When the French aristocrat Le Chevalier de la Tochnaye visited Belfast in 1797 he found that, 'Belfast has almost entirely the look of a Scotch town, and the character of the inhabitants has considerable resemblance to that of the people of Glasgow.'  Moreover when Amyas Griffith came to Belfast in 1780 as Surveyor of Excise he noted that ‘the common people speak broad Scotch, and the better sort differ vastly from us, both in accent and language.’

Belfast was still a very small town but it was an Ulster-Scots town and Ulster-Scots was the language of the hearth and home in the town just as it was the language of the hearth and home in many rural areas. It was the language of the ordinary people and was passed on from generation to generation.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Burns Clubs in Londonderry and Larne

Tonight the memory of the Scottish poet Robert Burns will be celebrated in many parts of Ulster.  The awareness of Burns is greater now than it was some years ago and yet there is only one Burns Club in Ulster and that is the Belfast Burns Association.

However at one time there were Burns clubs in other parts of Ulster, including Londonderry and Larne.  In the course of general reading I came across these references which confirm the existence of the clubs.

There was a Londonderry Burns Club and Caledonian Society and it endowed a Burns cot in the City and County Hospital in Londonderry in 1929.  There is a reference to this in Altnagelvin’s Thirty Glorious Years by Cahal Dallat and a photograph of the Duchess of Abercorn at the Robert Burns bed.

At one time there was also a Larne Burns Club and one of those associated with it was the Glenarm poet Dr William Clarke Robinson, who died on 3 January 1932.  The February 1932 issue of The Glensman carried an article on Dr Robinson and recalled: 'In Larne he will be long remembered as a delightful expositor of Burns, his recitations of ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ and other poems being always eagerly looked forward to whilst more than once he delivered the oration at the annual dinner of the Larne Burns Club.'

However it seems that the earliest Burns Club in Ulster was in Belfast.  A Belfast Burns Club in 1872 but this was reorganised in 1886, one year after the formation of the Federation of Burns Clubs, which had been set up in 1885.  This world-wide organisation has had well over 1,000 clubs on its roll and the Belfast Burns Association is number 15.  It was formed by members of the Belfast Benevolent Society of St Andrew, which had been established in 1867.

Bruns had a profound influence in Ulster and he was central to the Ulster, and particularly to the Ulster-Scots, literary tradition.  The novelist Benedict Kiely, who was born in Tyrone in 1919, said:
Burns became a popular folk-author in Ulster, Catholic and Protestant, as he never was or could have been in any other part of Ireland.  He still remained so in my boyhood: and I recall the local ragged rhymster sayign to me, with a seriousness at which it was not possible to laugh, that: 'Burns was the best of us.'
We know there were Burns Clubs in Londonderry and Larne but is there any information about them, including when they were formed and when they ceased to exist, and is there any information about other clubs that may have existed on this side of the North Channel?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Some advice to an American visitor

I came across this old article by Diarmaid O Muirithe from the Irish Times (24 May 2010) about the Ulster-Scots language:

Amy Jamieson is an American student over here for a year abroad to widen her horizons.  She is anxious to know as much as possible about Ulster-Scots before heading north to do her own explorations and asked me to recommend reading material.
In his introduction to Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology ((Four Courts Press, Dublin 2008) its editor, Frank Ferguson, writes: 'Ulster-Scots has been implicated in the cultural wars of Northern Ireland where it tends to be perceived as the preserve of one tradition, and often only exists as a term of abuse or condescension in the minds of those who do not wish to place themselves within this category.  Ulster-Scots is viewed as part of the Unionist, Planter and Protestant set of cultural belongings, in opposition to Nationalist, Republican, Catholic and Gaelic intellectual inheritance.'
That apart, he says, 'the mention of the epithet Ulster-Scots in some quarters is liable to generate a profound aversion, an Ulster form of cultural cringe, which presents a problem to an upwardly mobile populace both Unionist and Nationalist, who do not want to be considered as throwbacks to perceived uncouth antecedents or lacking in cultural graces.'
The interest in Ulster-Scots has increased and it has been given a great deal of scholarly attention by the likes of the Longleys and Tom Paulin.
The Antrim poet, Charlie Reynolds (b 1950), remembers his own schoolmaster: 'Hae daen best tae change oor tunge/ Tae him its worth wus joost lake dung, / It wus English, English, moarn til nicht / An oor ain mither tunge wus niver richt.'
Reynolds is just one of many modern Ulster-Scots poets featured in Ferguson's book.  Here we have a collection of texts ranging from 17th-century religious tracts to works by Philip Robinson (b 1946) and Charlie Gillen (b 1051).  I heartily recommend it, not alone for its invaluable texts, but for its introduction which discusses the main difficulty that Miss Jamieson, say, may have in the study of Ulster-Scots: according to Ferguson, the initiation by the academy of the cult of the native speaker, and the problems associated with the preservation of an authentic dialect literature and language.  There are pointers everywhere to valuable reading material, such as The Hamely Tongue by James Fenton, and Across the Fields of Yesterday by Hugh Robinson of the Ards Peinsula.
If Miss Jamieson, a lady of Ulster-Scots descent, studies Ferguson's massive book of 550 pages, with Caroline Mcafee's Concise Ulster Dictionary at her elbow, she maun gang awa hame knowing a lot more about her people than she knows now, feeling even more proud of her heritage.

For He is my Saviour

There is a tradition of writing Christian words to be sung to popular tunes.  We find it, for example, in Songs of Victory, the hymn book of the Faith Mission where there are tunes written by Stephen Foster as well as Scottish tunes such as The Rowan Tree and Auld Lang Syne.  These words were given to me some time ago and were written to the tune of the Scottish song These are my Mountains.

For He is my Saviour
And He is my Friend.
He’s promised to lead me,
Right to the end.
He bought me salvation
On dark Calvary.
He’s all that I ask for.
He’s precious to me.

The road may be weary.
The road may be long.
With Jesus beside me,
I’ll conquer the storm.
I’ll trust Him for ever,
Whate’er may befall,
And give Him the glory
And give Him my all.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Lesley Macaulay and 'cultural identity'

Lesley Macaulay contested the last general election for the Conservatives and Unionists and is a prospective Ulster Unionist candidate in East Londonderry for the Assembly elections in May.  However it is not her politics that I want to explore but rather her views on cultural identity.

Some years ago she contributed an article on cultural identity to the autumn 1998 edition of Lion and Lamb, the magazine of ECONI (Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland), now the Centre for Contemporary Christianity.


To make a personal comment on the nature of cultural identity is never easy. To do so in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing is particularly difficult. That atrocity has once again raised questions about the role that ideology and political allegiance plays in our lives, and of the importance we give to our culture and history.

The label of 'Ulster Protestant' has never sat comfortably on my shoulders. Maybe its because I grew up in an area where Protestants were the minority, and my childhood friend of many years belonged to a famous republican activist family.

Not wearing the 'Ulster Protestant' label has always surprised, confused and alarmed my family, who all seem to wear the label with pride. Many a time I have seen my family look at me, wondering where they went wrong in my upbringing!

So why do I feel that I don't fit in, and what does typical Ulster Protestant Culture mean to me? In short it's the following:
The Orange Order
Country Gospel
The Red Hand of Ulster
Cabaret singers at weddings
Neat gardens and clean cars
You have to be 'Saved/Born Again' (Protestant style) before getting to heaven
Portstewart on a Sunday night
The harvest festival

Of course this is not what Protestantism represents in total, but is it not how we appear to people from other cultures, to Catholics in Northern Ireland? I can honestly say that I not do like to be labelled as a Protestant. The sad fact is that I am not proud of my culture. I feel it has let me down, and today of all days I believe this even more strongly.

I saw signs of our shallow cultural activities at a recent cross community event in my village. Both sides of the community were asked to organise entertainment. The Catholics organised a harpist, Irish dancing and folk singing. The Protestants organised a pianist and two soloists. The songs and music did not represent their culture, they were English in origin!

But I am not Catholic either. So where do I fit in, and what cultural identity do I persuade my young children to adopt? To allow them to experience Irish Culture, I take them to Irish dancing lessons. It's obvious that I am the token Protestant parent, because I have to ask questions about the difference between a jig and a reel, and a feis and a fleadh! I didn't even know how to spell these words! Here too it can be hard to fit in.

I have so many questions on the subject, but no answers. Therefore I have to look at my role model. To me it seems that Jesus also struggled with the same dilemma. Was he a Jew or wasn't he? On various occasions he crossed mainstream barriers and went into places where 'his sort' didn't go. He socialised with the other side, and challenged the people of his culture in their old traditional ways, ways that often took pride in rejecting people who didn't belong. Is it so important to fit in? Being a child of God is all the identity that I need.

Lesley Macaulay - member of the ECONI Steering group. She lives with her husband Tony and two daughters in Magherafelt, where they belong to the local Methodist Church. She is a consultant in Rural Development, Personal Development and Fund Raising.

This article by Lesley Macaulay touches on a number of things I have written about in the series on Culture Matters and some that I have yet to address.  Therefore I will let the article speak for itself and make just a few observations.
  1. In this article Lesley Macaulay displayed a very shallow understanding of the cultural wealth and rich tradition of the 'Ulster Protestant' community.
  2. She seemed to have an aversion to what she described as her own culture: 'I can honestly say that I not do like to be labelled as a Protestant. The sad fact is that I am not proud of my culture. I feel it has let me down.'
  3. A number of those associated with ECONI adopted the position of having a Christian identity and really no other.  I would certainly suggest that anyone with an interest in this should read the book Castrating Culture: A Christian Perspective on Ethnic Identity from the Margins by Dewi Hughes, who was a theological advisor to Tear Fund.  As a Christian I believe that it is absolutely necessary to be born again and become a 'child of God' but the fact that I have a Christian identity does not mean that I have to abandon other identities, including my cultural identity.  Identity is multi-layered.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Political Killings in Cork

The following letter apeared in the Irish Times (19 January 2011)
The subject of the fate of southern Protestants during the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War has featured again recently in your columns.
For those who wish to learn more baout this matter, I would like to recommend an important contemporary source  to which all have easy access (for a very modest fee!)  I refer to the excellent historical archive of The Irish Times.  This is available now on the web and can be searched easily for subjects or individuals, by date.
A valuable insight into the position of southern Protestants in this early period is provided by the reports of Church of Ireland diocesan synods which were usually held annually and which covered the whole country.  Thanks to your web search facility these can be found quickly.
These reports in The Irish Times reveal a harrowing picture of what many members of the Protestant community experienced at this time.  On June 14th 1923 the paper recorded that at the Cork diocesan synod, Bishop Dr Charles Dowse spoke of how: 'many of our people have gone.  Neither we nor their country could afford to lose them.  Their homes have been burned.  Destruction has marched through the land.'  At the Kilmore synod, reported on July 6th, 1923, Bishop Dr William Moore described how: 'One of the saddest features of the situation is that so many of our communion have been driven from the country.  By their expulsion such citizens ... are now much fewer than they were'.   Another insight can be found in the frank and courageous condemnation of these events contained in pastoral letters and speeches of various Catholic bishops.
The paper reported on February 17th 1923 that the Bishop of Cork, Dr Daniel Colohan, described how 'Protestants have suffered severely during the period of civil war in the south' and urged that 'charity knows no exclusion of creed'.  On May 8th 1923, it recorded an appeal from the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Michael Fogarty, to a higher sense of patriotism, noting that 'their Protestant fellow countrymen - he regretted to have to say it - were persecuted and dealt with in a cruel and coarse manner.'
Thanks to your excellent website, people can now investigate our history for themselves.'
Yours etc.
School of Politics
Queen's University of Belfast
For too long this period of Irish history has been largely ignored.  In recent years there has been a growing acknowledgement of the persecution of Protestant in southern Ireland in the 1920s but there is much more that needs to be done to research this era.  A lot of attention has been focussed on the situation of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland but much less on the plight of the Protestant minority in southern Ireland and the sectarian persecution directed against them by Irish republicans. 

Annual Sporting Reception at Stormont

Last night I hosted the second annual Sporting Reception at Stormont to recognise local sporting success.

Due to competitive and training commitments many of our top sportsmen and women are unable to attend the annual reception but it was an excellent opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Northern Ireland sportspeople in 2010, especially the success of many of our younger folk.

The range of sports was impressive and included football, hockey, volleyball, golf, bowls, cycling, Gaelic football and boxing, as well as wrestling, javelin, tug of war and surf kayaking.

Linfield U13 Boys won the Tesco UK Cup final and Newry City U14 Girls won their section of the same competition.  There was a very large entry from across the United Kingdom and yet two Northern Ireland teams came home as winners.  Meanwhile three young sisters from Newtownabbey won gold medals at the British Junior Wrestling Championships.

These are just two examples of the strength of sport in Northern Ireland and it was a privilege to commend the hard work and dedication of the young folk and the older folk who were at the reception.  It was also good to talk to many of the athletes and hear about their sports and their experiences.

A number of parents said that they really appreciated the reception and the recognition of the success of their children.  I introduced the annual reception last year and hope that it will be continued in the future.


Diarmaid O Muirithe explained the Ulster-Scots word claut in the Irish Times on Monday (17 January 2911).
An interesting word from Ulster and Scotland is claut, also found in places as clat.  A noun, it means a grasping hand, a hold, clutch.  Jamieson's 19th century Scots Dictionary has, 'Of a covetous person it is said, He takes a claut wherever he can get it.' ...  The noun also means a handful, as much as the hand can hold. ... Walter Scott in Midlothian has, 'An auld carle wi' a bit land an a gude clat o' siller besides.'
In both Scotland and Ulster you'll find the word claut to mean a long-handled scraper to rake cinders from a fire, or leaves for the burning.  And so a rakeful, what is scraped together, such as Scott has in Rob Roy: 'Clauts o' cauld parritch, gude aneuch for dogs.'

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Theatre to mark 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version

This year is the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible.  Work on the translation began in 1604, at the request of King James I of England, and carried on until 1611.  A team of forty-seven of the best Bible scholars of the day worked on translating the text into English and it is believed to be the best selling book ever produced.

The occasion is to be marked in various ways, including the production of commemorative stamps by Royal Mail.  I was also glad to see that the Globe Theatre in London will host a cover-to-cover reading of the text.  It has been said that it will be a rare opportunity to 'experience one of the most significant pieces of world literature in its entirety'.  The readings will happen between Palm Sunday 17 April and Easter Monday 25 April and it is estimated that they will take 69 hours.

The Globe Theatre opened in 1997 and is a modern reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, which was built in 1599.  The new theatre stands just a short distance from the site of the original Globe.

I wonder if any of our local theatres and cultural institutions in Northern Ireland are planning to mark the 400th aniversary of a translation which has had such a profound influence on our language as well as on the spiritual life of the British Isles and many other lands.  There is a special affection for the Authorised Version among many folk in Ulster and here is a great opportunity for cultural institutions and venues to reach out to the evangelical community.

Friday, 14 January 2011

L'Office du Jèrriais: Nelson's View: The Vennel

L'Office du Jèrriais: Nelson's View: The Vennel: "Nelson's View: The Vennel: 'The Vennel is the name of a narrow street in the Antrim coast village of Glenarm. The Dictionary of the Scots L..."

My post about the word Vennel has been picked up in Jersey, where the word also appears.  Of course the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France resulted in a number of French words being absorbed into Scots and ultimately Ulster-Scots.

It is interesting to see how we make contacts through the internet and it is good to make contact with those who promote the Jèrriais language in Jersey.  As I understand it this is a variety of the old Norman language and it was once the dominant language on the island but today it is spoken by 2,600 of the 87,000 people on Jersey.  Around 200 children are learning the language in schools and around 15% of the population have some understanding of Jèrriais.

Sir Thomas Smith map detail, 1572

Sir Thomas Smith map detail, 1572

On his blog, entitled Bloggin fae the Burn, Mark Thompson has reproduced a section of 1572 map from the English settlement of the Ards by Sir Thomas Smith during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  I see that Belfast is represented as Belfurst.

1572 map of east Ulster

Mark Thompson has posted this 1572 map on his blog, Bloggin fae the Burn,  and I have borrowed it from there.

The map relates to the 1572 English settlement organised by Sir Thomas Smith, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Culture Matters (14)

Culture in the Classroom (2)

In Northern Ireland there are a number of different school sectors with controlled schools, Roman Catholic maintained schools, voluntary grammar schools, integrated schools and Irish medium schools.  How is culture handled in each of these sectors and what are the differences among them?

Irish medium schools, with their emphasis on the Irish language and culture, provide a rich cultural education for children who attend them.  Moreover in at least some of the schools there is a strong Irish nationalist ethos as well as an Irish cultural ethos.

Scoil na Fuiseoige is an Irish medium school in the Twinbrook area of West Belfast and according to the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht (28 October 2004):
Scoil na Fuiseoige, built on the site of the first Twinbrook Residents Association established by Bobby Sands, takes its name from Sands' story - written while he was on the Blanket protest - of The Lark and the Freedom Fighter.  Lark is the English word for fuiseog.
Bobby Sands is certainly set up as a role model for the children and an Irish language biography of the IRA hunger-striker was specially prepared for children by Denis O'Hearn of Queen's University and another former hunger-striker, Laurence McKeown,  Copies of the book were officially presented to Bunscoil an Iuir, an Irish medium school in Newry, by Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy.

Roman Catholic maintained schools also provide an Irish cultural dimension for children through the teaching of the Irish language and Irish cultural activities, such as Gaelic sports, Irish dancing and Irish traditional music. This was noted by Dr Jude Collins, who was the senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Ulster:
Catholic education supports a sense of Irish identity. The schools don’t talk a lot about this in their official curriculum, but it’s part of what they do. Children attending Catholic schools are helped to see that … Irish music and Irish games and the Irish language are a wonderful source of fun and fulfilment, as well as a rich heritage to be proud of. They give children an Irish lens through which to view the world. [Daily Ireland 24 November 2005]
It was also noted by journalist Malachi O’Doherty:
If you had asked Catholic parents and teachers what the strength of those schools was they would have a range of arguments. … Catholics needed a separate system within which their gaelic culture might thrive. And there was some point in this, too. It’s hard to imagine that had I been sent to a state school rather than to the Christian Brothers that I would have learned Irish or ever wielded a hurley stick. [Belfast Telegraph 28 October 2010]
Even Bishop Donal McKeown, when he addressed the Irish Inter-Church Meeting in Swords on 22 October 2010, admitted that:
There are not a few who have seen Catholic schools as wonderful places for protecting gaelic culture.  For some, if it came to a choice between faith and culture, the latter might seem more important.
You couldn’t get it much clearer than that.  Roman Catholic schools have a religious ethos but they also have a strong cultural ethos.  They are Roman Catholic schools but they are also Irish schools because they teach Irish culture and affirm an Irish identity.

During a visit to one Roman Catholic school I was interested to hear that they even put on a school play about the Irish republican rebel Robert Emmet (1778-1803), who was executed after staging an abortive rebellion.

The situation in the controlled sector is very different and overall there has been a much more tentative and nervous approach to culture.  We might expect that in most controlled schools, where the vast majority of children are from the unionist community, they would be able to experience and enjoy the cultures of their community but quite often that has not been the case.  For example, a Roman Catholic school will have an Irish traditional music group but how many controlled schools in unionist communities will have a flute band, a pipe band, an accordion band or a Lambeg and fife group.  I know of some who do but they are few and far between.

Earlier I mentioned a Roman Catholic school which staged a play about Robert Emmet but how many controlled schools would even consider putting on a school play about the Siege of Derry or some aspect of Protestant or unionist history?  Why is that?  Is it because a Roman Catholic schools is much more rooted in the community and the parish it serves?

Voluntary grammar schools, other than Roman Catholic grammar schools, are generally fairly circumspect about culture, although some of them have used the Gael Linn programme of Gaelic enrichment.

Integrated schools should accommodate the cultural diversity of Northern Ireland although in some of them there appears to be a greater emphasis on Gaelic culture than might be expected.

The sector where there is most work to be done is clearly the controlled sector.  The Ulster-Scots Agency has provided peripatetic tutors in areas such as Lambeg drum and fife and they have also supported Ulster-Scots summer-schemes in schools but such work must be mainstreamed.  The cultures of the children should not be relegated to an add-on but should be part of the life and the cultural ethos of the school.

If we are building a 'shared and better future' in Northern Ireland then children should also learn about other traditional cultures but they do have a right, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to learn about and enjoy their own culture.

Culture Matters (13)

Culture in the classroom (1)

The role of culture in the classroom has long been recognised by educationalists and the extent to which their language and culture are incorporated into the school programme is significantly related to the children’s academic success and personal development.

A Language for Life, otherwise known as the Bullock Report, was published in 1975 and was the report of a committee of inquiry, appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Bullock.  The report stated:
No pupil should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as though school and home represent two totally separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart.
In the light of this it is important that a pupil’s specific cultural identity and cultural heritage are both recognised and valued in the school. 

Culture in the classroom is right for the children but it is also the right of the children, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The rights set out in the convention include, among many others, certain cultural rights and relate these to the education system. They are to be found in articles 29, 30 and 31.

Article 29
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.

This means that the education system should encourage and facilitate the development of respect for the cultural identity, language and values of the home and community from which the child comes.

Article 30
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

Article 31
1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

The UNCRC is not directly enforceable in UK courts but that does no in any way diminish the responsibility of the government, and in particular the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, to afford children in all schools the cultural rights contained in the Convention.

That requires a positive commitment and resolute action, including appropriate teacher training, both initial training and in-service training; training for schools governors, who set the ethos of the school, including the cultural ethos; and the provision of appropriate teaching resources.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Culture Matters (10)

Kulturkampf - demoralising unionists

Mainstream Irish republicans have ended their terrorist war but they are still fighting a cultural war or kulturkampf and it is directed at the cultural traditions of the unionist community.  One of the main tactics in that cultural war has been to deride or dismiss our culture and claim a cultural superiority.

Many Irish nationalists and republicans extol the value of Irish or Gaelic culture while at the same time they treat other indigenous cultures with derision and contempt. This approach is widespread but it has found its sharpest and most sectarian expression in republican newspapers such as the Andersonstown News and the now defunct Daily Ireland, a daily newspaper from the same stable

Sometimes such views reach a wider audience.  In an outrageous article in The Guardian on 16 July 1994 Ronan Bennett, an Irish republican playwright, waxed lyrical about Irish culture and dismissed Ulster as ‘a world where culture is restricted to little more than flute bands, Orange marches and the chanting of sectarian songs at football marches.’

As Professor Arthur Aughey pointed out some years ago: 'The constant proclamation of the cultural superiority of the Irish ‘nationalist’ people is designed to demoralise Ulster Protestants.'  [Ulster Review October 1994]

In any war the demoralisation of the other group is a very effective tactic and it is one with which republicans are very familiar.  Another obvious example is the republican claim that a United Ireland is 'inevitable', something that Gerry Adams and others repeat regularly.  Such claims are intended to wear down unionists and demoralise them.

Lord Kelvin
The fact that much of the culture of the unionist community has been marginalised by the media and the education system has made it easier for nationalists to perpetuate their false propaganda.  Unionists are less aware than they should be of their rich cultural heritage and so they are less able to respond to the propaganda of cultural nationalism.

With men of the stature of Lord Kelvin, the greatest scientist of the Victorian era, and Francis Hutcheson, the 'Father of the Scottish Enlightenment', we have a heritage of which we can be proud.  Equally the works of C S Lewis and the hymns of Mrs C F Alexander cannot be dismissed as of little value.

The science of Kelvin, the philosophy of Hutcheson, the literature of Lewis and the hymns of Mrs Alexander are just as much 'culture' as the spectacle of Riverdance.

The birth of Presbyterianism in Ulster

The following brief account of the birth of Presbyterianism in Ulster is taken from a commemoration sermon preached by Rev Professor R L Marshall in First Presbyterian Church in Carrickfergus on the afternoon of 10 June 1942.  This was the start of a commemoration to mark the 300th aniversary of the founding of the first presbytery in Ulster.  R L Marshall was a professor at Magee University College in Londonderry and a brother of Rev W F Marshall, the 'Bard of Tyrone'.

Presbyterianism came to Ireland before the Ulster Plantation but it was weak and unorganised.  From 1613 until 1630 it grew apace, and its ministers and members were tolerated and accepted by the Established Church under the mild rule of Archbishop Ussher.

Then across the sea, in the Church of England, a party became supreme which was wedded to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, and determined to stamp out Presbytery and Puritanism from the Church, both in England and Ireland.  Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Irish bishops went with the tide; and when Wentworth, the willing tool of [King] Charles, came to Ireland, Presbyterians were no longer permitted to minister or worship in the fold of the Established Church.  A golden opportunity for the union of Irish Protestantism passed, and Presbyterian ministers were driven out.  The Black Oath followed, with its brazen denial of the rights of conscience, and the gaols opened their doors to many of the Ulster Scots.  Others of them fled back to their native land.

After the Rebellion and Massacre of 1641, by an arrangement made between the Scotch and English Parliaments, a Scotch army, ten thousand strong, was sent to Ireland for the protection of the Irish Protestants.  Four kirk-sessions were organised in this army, and it was then determined to form a Presbytery according to the discipline of the Church of Scotland.  On the 10th of June, 1642, that Presbytery, consisting of four ruling elders and five ministers, was constituted here in Carrickergus.

On the 350th anniversary of that first presbytery the Carrickfergus Window was installed in Church House in Belfast.  The window depicts a ship arriving from Scotland to land at Carrickfergus, which is represented by the 11th century Anglo-Norman castle.

The Vennel

The Vennel is the name of a narrow street in the Antrim coast village of Glenarm.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language defines a vennel as 'a narrow alley or lane between houses'.  It notes that the word still occurs frequently in street names in many Scottish towns, such as Edinburgh, Ayr, Dumfries, Forfar and Perth.  The word also occurs here in Ulster, in Glenarm and in Bangor.  There may well have been other examples and it was certainly used at one time in Strabane.

This is another Ulster-Scots word we do well to preserve and use.

Raphoe Presbyterian Church

Here are some more photographs, this time of the old Presbyterian Church in Raphoe, which is now closed.  The inscription, Scottish Church reflects the Scottish roots of Presbyterianism in Ulster.

Scotch Church, Armagh

Mark Thompson has kindly sent me these photographs of the Scotch Church inscription on the Mall Presbyterian Church in Armagh.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Anither guid Ulster-Scotch word.

This week Diarmaid O Muirithe in the Irish Times highlighted the word brace or brace-piece, which means a chimney-piece or a mantlepiece.  He says that the word can still be heard in parts of Ulster and across the Sea of Moyle, in Scotland, as well.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language gives an Ulster example of its use in W H Patterson's Glossary of Antrim and Down, which was published in 1880.  Patterson defined a brace as 'a screen, made of stakes interwoven with twigs, and covered inside and outside with prepared clay used to conduct the smoke from a fire on the hearth to an aperture in the roof.'

It is important that these old Ulster-Scots words are preserved.  Without them the vocabulary of Ulster-Scots is seriously diminished.

Aye an there's mair forbye:

Diarmaid also looked at an English dialect word, brank, which was a kind of bridle, and he compared it to the Dutch prange, a horse muzzle, and the German, pranger, a pillory.  Finally he noted that the Scottish Gaelic word brang, which has the same meaning, comes from the English word.  All languages borrow from other languages and there are examples to be found in both Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.

Ulster - Nashville

I have just started a second blog entitled Ulster - Nashville.  Belfast and Nashville are Sister Cities and Nashville was founded by Scotch-Irish Americans of Ulster descent.  People from Ulster or of Ulster descent have also contributed much to the development of the city.

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards

Last night I attended the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards in the Ramada Hotel.  It was a great night with a great array of sporting talent, including some sportsmen and women from earlier days, such as rally driver Paddy Hopkirk and rugby international Jack Kyle, who is now 85. 

The winners were:
Sports Star of the Year - Graeme McDowell [golf]
Hall of Fame - Tony McCoy [horse racing]
Player of the Year - Paddy Barnes [boxing]
Young Player of the Year - Ciara Mageean [athletics]
Team of the Year - Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Team
Young Team of the Year - Tyrone Minors [GAA]
Manager/coach of the Year - Stephen Friel and Michael Hawkins [boxing]
Paddy Patterson Award (lifetime service) - Bobby Platt [rowing]
Local Heroes - Banbridge Academy boys hockey team
George Best Breakthrough Award - Craig Cathcart [football]
Special Award - Bryn Cunningham [rugby]

I presented the team award to the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Team, who did so well for us in Delhi - 10 medals, 13th out of 71 countries and most improved country.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Cross of St Patrick

The origin of the red saltire which is described as the Cross of Saint Patrick has often been explained by reference to the Order of the Knights of Saint Patrick, which was instituted in 1783. It is said that prior to this there was no heraldic symbol associated with Patrick and that the red diagonal cross was borrowed from the arms of the Fitzgerald family and included in the coat of arms of the Order.

However a flag bearing a red saltire was carried by the Catholic Confederates in 1644.

Even before that in 1612 a saltire appeared in the arms of Trinity College.

But the most significant fact, as regards a connection between the cross and Patrick, is that a saltire was featured on the old seal of the Dean and Chapter of Armagh.

This earlier use of the saltire tends to disprove the Fitzgerald explanation of the origin of the cross.