Saturday, 26 February 2011

Patrick Bronte - 'in the Scotch manner'.

There is an article about the Ulster roots of the Bronte family in the February issue of Verbal magazine, which is published by the Verbal Arts Centre in Londonderry.  This has been prompted by the fact that a new edition of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, is in the book shops and a new film adaption is in the making.

The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who gave us a number of fine novels, were the daughters of Rev Patrick Bronte (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 Bronte 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 Bronte wrote several volumes of poetry and some time ago 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, which was published in Dublin and London in 1908, he said:
Patrick Bronte was something of a poet, but wrote in the Scotch rather than the Irish manner.
Patrick Bronte died on 7 June 1861 and so this year is the 150th anniversary of his death.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Well done Wrightbus!

Wrightbus in Ballymena is one of Europe's leading providers of buses, with a reputation for high quality design and world class engineering.  The company employs 1,000 people in Ballymena making it one of the largest private sector employers in Northern Ireland.

The company has just announced an order worth £55million from British bus operator Arriva.  This is a massive order for 334 buses, 204 double-decker and 130 single-deck, and it is the biggest order from a UK operator since the start of the economic downturn.  Arriva is one of the largest transport organisations in europe and in the UK alone it has 6,800 buses, of which 1,800 were built by Wrightbus.

Last year the firm unveiled the design for a modern-day version of London's famous Routemaster bus and these buses wil be in service for the London 2012 Olympics.

But Wrightbus produces vehicles for places that are much further afield.  In September they won a £21million contract to produce and export 300 double-decker bus kits for Singapore.

Congratulations to William Wright, managing director Mark Nodder, and all those who have made this such a successful company.  Ulster needs more businesses like this. 

Libya and the IRA

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has called on Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi to step down and allow his people to have full democratic rights.

Adams said, 'My sympathies are with those demanding democracy and freedom.  The Libyan government, like Egypt and many other Arab governments, have been partners in business and oil with Britain, the US and the EU for many years.'

Gerry Adams made specific reference to business partners but omitted to mention another partnership with Libya and that is the IRA partnership with Libya.  Gadaffi began to arm the IRA in 1971 and continued to arm it throughout the 1970s and the 1980s.  It is estimated that Libyan weapons may have contributed to 1,000 deaths during the Troubles.  Attacks carried out with Libyan Semtex included the Enniskillen bomb in 1987, which killed eleven people, and the Ballygawley bus bombing in August 1988, which killed eight soldiers.

Of course it is just possible that Gerry Adams forgot about the IRA partnership with Gaddafi.  It may have just slipped his memory.  He can't remember being in the IRA, he forgets that Libya armed the IRA ... now there's a man with a serious case of memory loss.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Sculpture for Shankill Road Library?

Today I visited the Falls Road Library and then travelled across to the Shankill Road Library to see the refurbishment work which is becing carried out by Libraries NI and funded by my department.  In both cases the work will really improve the appearance of the buildings and enhance the facilities for users.

The Falls Road Library is a Carnegie library and opened in 1908., while the Shankill Road library was built in 1928 but in both cases Belfast Corporation demonstrated a regard for quality and art.

Above the door of the Falls Road Library there is a set of beautiful sculptures by the Ulster sculptor Rosamund Praeger (1867-1954), who lived in Holywood and whose work can be found in varous parts of Belfast, including Belfast City Cemetery and First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street.

In the case of the Shankill Road Library, the main room upstairs was designed as a museum with appropriate lighting to protect artefacts.  The contents of that museum were later handed over to the Ulster Museum and are probably in storage.  Even more surprising was the discovery that a sculpture entitled Early Sorrow, by the Belfast sculptor Patrick MacDowell (1799-1870), used to stand on the top landing. 

The name of Patrick MacDowell may not be familiar to many people in Belfast today but his work probably is.  It includes the statue of the original Black Man, the Earl of Belfast, which stands on the rotunda in Belfast City Hall, and the white marble scene of the dying earl and his mother, which is inside the entrance of the City Hall.  There is a third sculpture by MacDowell in the City Hall and that is the bust of Sir James Emerson Tennent, which is also on the rotunda. 

Tennent, who was MP for Belfast from 1832 to 1845, became a patron to MacDowell and played an important role in the development of his career.  Ironically there are two streets across the road from Shankill Road Library, Tennent Street and Emerson Street, and these were named after Sir James Emerson Tennent.

I was told by the librarian Mark Knowles that this beautiful sculpture is now in storage in the Ulster Museum but that it may be placed on loan to the library when the refurbishment is completed and I hope this can be a long term loan.  It is good to get art out of the stores and visible to the public and what better place than the library which was the former home of this wonderful sculpture.

I understand that the Ulster Museum also holds the artefacts which were in the old upstairs library and again it would also be good to consider whether some of these artefacts can be brought back and exhibited in the library.  If they are not being exhibited in the Ulster Museum or any of the other national museums then surely it is better to look at alternative places where they can be seen and enjoyed, rather than staying in storage.

The refurbishment of the library is a contribution to the development of a Shankill Cultural Quarter and wll complement the improvments at the Spectrum Centre across the road.  The return of the MacDowell sculpture and other artefacts would also contribute to the development of a cultural quarter.
The Belfast councillors who built these libraries, are often portrayed as hard headed Ulster businessmen who had little regard for art and culture.  The fact that they wanted people to enjoy the works of such great Ulster sculptors as Praeger and MacDowell says otherwise.

A debate on education

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin gave a long and interesting address to the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies at Magdalene College  on Tuesday 22 February.

In it he said that the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in the patronage of primary schools in the Republic is 'a remnant of the past and no longer tenable today'.  He went on to say that the government in the Republic had been 'very  slow in providing a plurality of patronage models' and called for a national forum to debate such plurality.

The 'massive dominance of the Catholic Church in the management of schools is patently a remnant of the past and no longer tenable today.'  A very high proportion of Roman Catholics would prefer their children to attend a school with a pluralist mix, albeit with some basic religious culture.  'I believe that there is need for a national forum to debate the issue.  Plurality in management is needed to address the changed Irish society.  Plurality in school management can only benefit the true Catholic identity of Catholic schools.'

He spoke of the decline in church attendance among Roman Catholics and said that 'Ireland was 'undergoing a further phase in a veritable revolution of its religious culture.'  The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland would 'inevitably become more a minority culture.  The challenge is to ensure that it is not an irrelevant minority culture.'

This address was highly significant.  It is not clear what sort of future educational arrangements Archbishop Martin has in mind but he sees that there will be change and he wants a national debate in a national forum.  This represents a departure from the traditional stance of the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rigid and dogmatic.

I hope that here in Northern Ireland there can also be a debate about the future of education.  Here we have a range of sectors and a very complex architecture of educational administration.  What is being proposed by the Sinn Fein education minister is even more complex and at the same time unacceptable to many because it is inequitable. 

We need a thorough rethink and a proper debate about the future structure and administration of education in Ulster.  Four years has been wasted because Sinn Fein has been incapable of facilitating such a debate.  It is trapped in its own rigid and dogmatic framework and neither the Sinn Fein minister nor her party have been able to understand the issues and the concerns of those outside the Irish medium and Roman Catholic sectors.  The Sinn Fein minister has shown a lack of vision, a lack of understanding and a lack of ability.  When questions are asked she simply trots out some of her stock of catch phrases and frustrates every effort to have a constructive engagement.

I hope that after the Assembly election we can have a real educational debate in Northern Ireland.  It must be an inclusive debate, an open and constructive debate and one that has a focus on what is right for the children and the rights of the children.  I know the DUP is ready to engage in such a debate and I hope that all the other stakeholders will be ready to play their part too.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Gerry McGeough and the AOH

The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a fraternal orgnaisations that is open to people who are Roman Catholics and Irtish nationalists.  It is generally an organisation that draws little attention but recently it has been mentioned in a number of newspapers.

In the photograph above, Gerry McGeough, President of the Tyrone County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, makes a presentation to Se├ín Pender, Chairman of the American AOH Freedom For All Ireland committee  The event took place in Omagh on 1 February 2011 and the person in the centre of the photograph was Jere E. Cole, National Director of the American A.O.H.  McGeough had been elected president of the AOH in Tyrone the previous month.

The photograph was taken just a few weeks before McGeough was convicted of IRA membership in 1975 and the attempted murder of DUP councillor Sammy Brush in 1981.  In fact McGeough had been elected president during the time of his trial.  Members of the AOH in Tyrone chose as their president a man who was on trial for IRA membership and murder!

As well as being a convicted IRA terrorist, McGeough is a 'traditionalist Roman Catholic' who attempted to use the AOH to promote his ideology.

In 2006 advertisements appeared in newspapers in rural areas of the Irish Republic and the border counties for those interested in joining a revitalised AOH which would focus on the promotion of so-called 'Hibernian' values.  McGeough said that a significant number of people associated with his brand of extreme Roman Catholicism had been recruited into existing AOH dicisions and that new divisions had been formed in Dublin and other areas.

In May 2006, McGeough, as editor, and Charles Byrne, a 28-year-old from Drogheda, launched a monthly magazine called The Hibernian, dedicated to “Faith, Family and Country”. The magazine, which was professionally produced, had prayers and pictures of the Virgin Mary, as well as articles espousing the views of Fr Denis Fahey and others promoting the Society of St Pius X.  Twenty-nine issues of The Hibernian were published between May 2006 and September 2008, when it ceased publication due to the bail conditions imposed on McGeough.

There are certain similarities between Gerry McGeough and Sean South in that both were IRA terrorists and both were religious extermists, sympathetic to the far-right ideology of Fr Denis Fahey.

The fact that the AOH in Tyrone elected McGeough as their president has attracted very little attention in the media.  I wonder what the reaction of the media would have been if the Orange Order had elected someone as a County Grand Master, a post that is similar to that held by McGeough, when the person was standing trial for murder! 

Another GAA trophy named after IRA terrorists

The Derry Intermediate Football Club Championship (currently known for sponsorship reasons as the M&L Contracts Derry Intermediate Football Club Championship) is an annual Gaelic football club competition between the intermediate (second tier) clubs in County Londonderry. The winners of the Derry Championship qualify to represent their county in the Ulster Intermediate Club Football Championship and if they win Ulster, advance to the All-Ireland Intermediate Club Football Championship. The current Derry Intermediate County Champions are Castledawson who became champions with a 0-11 to 0-10 win over Steelstown on 3 October 2010.

The trophy for which they compete is named after John Bateson (aged 19), James Sheridan (20) and Martin Lee (18), all members of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA who died when a bomb they were priming exploded prematurely in Magherafelt on 18 December 1971.  All three men came from Ballymaguigan and played for the St. Trea's GFC at Ballymaguigan.  The three IRA men are commemorated and celebrated in a republican song entitled The Ballymaguigan Martyrs.

This is not the only GAA trophy in County Londonderry to be named after members of the Provisional IRA. 

The Hughes/McElwee Cup is a 13 a side (as opposed to the usual 15) knock-out competition for the top Minor clubs in South Londonderry. It is named after Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee, two cousins from Bellaghy, who were members of the Provisional IRA and died on hunger strike in 1981.  This is a new tournament which was inaugurated in 2008.
The GAA has made some progress in 'normalising' itself and removing the association with militant republicanism but it is clear that there is still some way to go. 

McGurk's Bar

This morning in the Northerb Ireland Assembly, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly raised the issue of the Police Ombudsman's report on the McGurk's Bar bombing.  I responded on behalf of the DUP and the following post is based on the points I made in the chamber.

Almost forty years ago, on 4 December 1971, 15 people were murdered when a bomb was placed in McGurk's Bar in North Queen Street.  The attack was claimed by the 'Empire Loyalists' but some years later a member of the UVF was convicted for the bombing.

The report will bring some sense of closure for the families of the victims and remove any doubt, if there was any, that this was a loyalist attack on the bar.

The Police Ombudsman's report is also important because it confirms that there is no evidence of collusion between the UVF and the police.  Down through the years there have been allegations of collusion but the report states clearly that there is no evidence for this.

The report is critical of the police investigation and says that there was a bias or presumption that the explosion had been the result of an IRA bomb that had gone off prematurely, while in transit.

However it also points to the context of the time.  The year 1971 was a dark year in Ulster history with 180 people killed in the Troubles.  In the previous weeks there had been a number of murders in North Belfast, all of them carried out by the IRA.  They had murdered two RUC men on the Oldpark Road on 17 November and one of them was the first Roman Catholic police officer to be killed in the Troubles.  Then on 1 December a young Protestant girl was murdered in a gun attack at Cliftonville Circus.

There are also several questions to be asked about the Ombudsman's report itself.  An earlier version was produced about seven months ago and then withdrawn.  What new evidence has emerged to lead to the revised report and has this evidence been presented to the PSNI?

This report may bring some closure for the McGurk families but there are thousands of other people in Ulster who are still waiting for justice.  Their relatives and friends were murdered and still no one has been brought to justice.  In a case such as this it is possible to look back at police and military records but paramilitary organisations do not keep records of their actions and atrocities.  Their information is locked away in their heads, not in filing cabinets.

There is then a certain irony, indeed hypocrisy, in that this matter was raised today by Gerry Kelly on behalf of Sinn Fein.  There are many in the republican movement who hold information about past crimes and atrocities and yet, while they call for disclosure by others, they themselves remain silent and withhold information about the atrocities carried out by members of the IRA.

Monday, 21 February 2011

More on Sean South

On 9 February I posted about Sean South, who was killed during an IRA attack on Brookeborough RUC station in January 1957 and who is eulogised and commemorated every year by Sinn Fein.

I have just received  a copy of an article about Sean South that was written by Sean Gannon and appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of The Old Limerick Journal.  The article is entitled 'Schools of Corruption:' The Contexts for Sean South's Antisemitism.

The atricle, which has been thoroughly researched and documented, exposes the extremism of Sean South and also the sources that contibuted to that extremism.  I have reproduced below the first and last paragraphs.

Sean South's elevation to the Republican pantheon after his death during an IRA raid on Brookeborough RUC station in January 1957, coupled with his well-documented reputation as a kind and courteous individual, 'in manner and bearing always a gentleman,' a 'shy, gentle-natured, even-tempered' young man who 'never raised his voice, never got angry or annoyed [and] never complained' perhaps explains what appears to be a reluctance on the part of recent biogrpahers to engage with one of the most troubling aspects of his ideology - his antipathy towards Jews.  This antipathy can only be properly understood by examining it through the context of South's involvement with extermist organisations of the 1940s and 1950s, most notably Maria Duce.

Sean South's antisemitism was therefore shaped by the same 'emotive and militant cocktail of language, history and religion' that, according to Barry Flynn, led him to Brookeborough in 1957.  In pursuing the 'three loves in his life; the Irish language, Irish history and the Catholic Church,' he aligned himself with extremist fringes of each, organisations such as Ailtiri na hAiseirghe, Maria Duce and the IRA which became for him the 'schools of corruption' through which he was instructed in contemporary antisemitic philosophy.
Sean Gannon records Sean South's involvement with Maria Duce and also  his association with Ailtiri na hAiseirghe (Architects of the Resurgence), which he describes as 'a proto-fascist Gaelic revivalist political organisation formed in May 1942 by Gearoid O'Cuinneagain, a Dublin-based tax consultant and prime mover in a number of Irish pro-Axis groups.'  I will return to this organisation in a further post.

Some folk criticised my earlier post on Sean South and subsequent posts about Sean Russell and suggested that I was motivated by unionist prejudice  However that criticism cannot be levelled at Sean Gannon or the publishers of The Old Limerick Journal.  I welcome this article which helps to open up an era that Sinn Fein would prefer to forget.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Irish Daily Star

Recently, in answer to an Assembly question, I reported that £20,673 had been spent on a project to prepare an Ulster-Scots 'word glossary and spelling and pronunciation guide'.  This modest investment supported a project which involved a number of linguists and and is part of a programme of language planning.

This simple fact drew the attention of a Dublin journalist named Terry McGeehan, who described Ulster-Scots as 'basically a bastardised version of the English language as it is spoken in these here parts.'  Later he described it as a 'demi-dialect' and and 'a local lingo that everyone who speaks English as their native tongue can understand without any great difficulty.'

The Irish Daily Star carried this rant under the headline 'THEY'VE SCOT TO BE FECKIN' JOKING.'

Now on the basis of what he has written I doubt very much if Terry McGeehan is a linguist or a native Ulster-Scots speaker and the Irish Daily Star is certainly not noted for its cultural and academic insights.  Other Dublin publications such as the Irish Times take a much more balanced and sympathetic stance but then of course the Irish Times is a real newspaper.

Clearly Terry McGeehan is a man who does not allow abject ignorance to stand in the way of expressing strident views but it is disappointing that in this day and age such abject ignorance can pass itself off as journalism.

In an attempt to justify his rant, McGeehan ended his article by saying, 'It's pure bull shit - or coo clabber as they might say in Ulster-Scots.'  Now clabber is the Ulster-Scots word for 'mud' or any 'soft dirty matter' and seems to have been borrowed from the Gaelic clabar, meaning 'filth, mire or clay' but clap is the usual word for animal dung.  There is also the word shairn, which means 'dung or excrement, especially of cattle' and which was attested in Ulster in 1880 in William H Patterson's Glossary of Antrim and Down.

However more interesting is the fact that Terry McGeehan clearly does not know that coo is the female of the animal, not the male.  Ach ye wudnae hae a gleed o wut, Terry, wud ye?

Saturday, 12 February 2011


This afternoon when I was in town I popped in to Spacecraft, which is a craft shop, exhibition and gallery space in the Fountain Centre in College Street, between Fountain Street and Queen Street.  You go up the escalator and then turn left.

It is run by a Craft & Design Collective and they have a wide range of beautiful items for sale - ceramics, textiles, glass, prints, jewellery etc.  If you are looking for an interesting gift for someone, perhaps for a special occasion, I would suggest a visit to Spacecraft. 

For more information about the collective and about Spacecraft, you can check out their website at

While I was in the shop I was talking to the assistant and also to a young man who was installing a new IT system for stock control and marketing etc.  This has been funded through the Creative Industries Investment Fund, which was created by my department, so it was good to see at first hand one example of what the fund has supported.

There are 125 members in the collective but I believe there is great potential to grow the craft sector in Northern Ireland and to create more employment.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Eire and the Nazis

The 1930s saw the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany and eventually in 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France then declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 but Eire remained neutral.

In the Irish Republic there was some support and sympathy for the Nazis. As early as April 1937 the Irish Times had published a translation of an interview given by the Irish minister in Berlin, Charles Bewley, to the evening newspaper Uhrblatt. In it Bewley said, among other things, that ‘my government will always do everything to promote the old friendship between Ireland and Germany’ and that Hitler and his colleagues had ‘many admirers among our youth’.  Bewley was eventually recalled on 8 August 1939 by de Valera, who was embarrassed by Bewley’s outspoken pro-Fascist views. Indeed Bewley believed that the West should back Hitler against Communism.

As Jewish persecution increased in Europe, a trickle of Jewish refugees started to enter Ireland but there was a significant anti-Jewish sentiment. On 20 November 1938 the 1916 Veterans’ Association adopted a motion ‘that we hereby register our emphatic protest against the growing menace of alien immigration and urge on the Government the necessity of more drastic restrictions in this connection’.

Then on 23 February 1939 the Irish Times carried the text of a manifesto issued by the Irish-Ireland Research Society declaring its refusal to ‘stand by and allow the Jewish hold on our economic life to develop’.  In an editorial the Irish Times described this as 'the crudest form of anti-Semitic propaganda'.  Subsequently the manifesto was printed in the Nazi Party newspaper Volkischer-Beobachter on 26 February.  Investigations by the police suggested that the group did not actually exist and that the manifesto was the creation of a female journalist and two employees of the Irish Press.

Most people are familiar with the fact that Eire remained neutral during the war but few people are aware of the exent of anti-Jewish feeling in the country.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Irish Republican praise for Hitler

For those who might doubt the extent of Irish republican sympathy toward Hitler and the Nazis, here is a verse from the Irish Republican War News of November 1940:

Oh here's to Adolf Hitler,
Who made the Britons squeal,
Sure before the fight is ended
They will dance an Irish reel.

The IRA wanted Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to win the 2nd World War. believing that a Nazi victory over Britain would hasten a United Ireland.

Sean Russell - Nazi collaborator and IRA terrorist

In Dublin there is a statue of Sean Russell (1893-1940), who was the IRA chief of staff.  It is said to be unique in being the only statue in Europe to someone who collaborated with the Nazis.

Russell was born in Fairview, Dublin, in 1893 and he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913.  He was an officer in Dublin Brigade's 2nd Battalion, serving under Thomas MacDonagh, and took part in the 1916 Easter Rising but afterwards he was interned in Frongoch and Knutsford.

By 1926 the IRA was much-reduced but Russell was one of those who pushed for more militant activities.  Along with Gerald Boland he travelled to the Soviet Union on a mission to purchase weapons for the IRA.

He was appointed IRA quartermaster general in 1927 and held that position until 1936.  As such he travelled widely throughout Ireland between 1929 and 1931 reorganising the IRA. 

Russell visited the United States in the autumn of 1932 and he returned in 1936.  During that second visit he seems to have conceived, along with Joseph McGarrity, the plan for an IRA bombing campaign in England.

Russell was elected chief of staff of the IRA in April 1938 and he put in motion the bombing campaign.  He also established contact with Nazi Germany and and declared war on Britain.  Under his leadship the IRA launched their bombing campaign in Britain and in February 1939 the Germans sent Oscar Pfaus as an agent to Ireland to establish direct contact with the IRA.  Pfaus met with its inner circle which included Sean Russell and Jim O'Donovan, who said Pfaus made a good impression and they trusted him.

Sean Russell travelled to the United States in April 1939 and met with his Clann na Gael host Joseph McGarrity and Robert Monteith, who was director of Father Charles Coughlin's National Union of Social Justice.  Coughlin was a controversial priest whose radio broadcasts were described as 'a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture'.  Indeed Woody Guthrie described Coughlin as having 'Hitler on the brain'. In America Russell made contact through McGarrity with a German agent and this led to arrangements for Russell to travel across the Atlantic to Genoa, where he arrived on 1 May, and then for a reception in Berlin, where he arrived four days later.

In Berlin he liaised with SS-Standartenfuhrer Edmund Veesenmayer and by 20 May Russell had begun training with Abwehr (German military intelligence) in the use of the latest German explosives.  The training lasted three months and was conducted at the Abwehr training school near Brandenburg, which specialised in the design of explosives as everyday objects.

On 15 July 1940 Frank Ryan, an IRA man who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and had been captured by Franco's forces, was handed over to the Abwehr and taken to Germany.

Abwehr chief Wilhelm Canaris sanctioned the transport of Russell to Ireland and both Russell and Ryan, who had arrived in Germany on 4 August, sailed from Wilhelmshaven on 8 August aboard the U-65.

Russell became ill during the journey and complained of stomach pains but U-65 did not have a doctor on board and he died on 14 August 1940, 100 miles short of Galway.  He was buried at sea and the mission was aborted.

During the 1950s Sean Russell became the idol of traditional Irish republicanism and a memorial to him was unveiled by the National Graves Association in Fairview Park in September 1951.  Among the most prominent participants in the ceremony were Cathal Goulding, Brendan Behan and Ruairi O Bradaigh.

In September 2003 the Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald spoke at a rally at the site of the Sean Russell statue.  The rally was also addressed by Brian Keenan, who was then a member of the Provisional IRA Army Council.

However the statue has attracted a series of acts of vandalism.  On 31 December 2004 the statue was damaged and decapitated but the NGA announced that it would be replaced in bronze to deter vandals.  The new bronze statue was unveiled by the NGA on 28 June 2009 but it was vandalised again on 9 July 2009 with graffiti proclaiming Russell to  have been  a Nazi. 

That may or may not have been the case but there are two things about Sean Russell which are absolutely certain.  The first is hat he collaborated with the Nazis and was therefore a Nazi collaborator.  The second is that he was an IRA terrorist who planned a campaign of terrorist bombings against targets in Great Britain.

According to a Channel 4 documentary, directed by Gerry Greg and broadcast in 1997, Sean Russell's quartermaster was Dominic Adams, an uncle of Gerry Adams.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sean South

Rev David Frazer is a Church of Ireland minister and a member of Sinn Fein.  Back on 1 January he posted on his Facebook wall the Wolfe Tones singing the republican song Sean South.  He also posted the comment: 'In memory of Sean South and Fergal O'Hanlon and all those who laid down their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.'

For the benefit of those who may not know, it may be useful to recall exactly who Sean South was and the type of man that David Frazer was eulogising.

On 1 January 1957 fourteen IRA men mounted an attack on Brookeborough police station in county Fermanagh.  They were well armed but the attack failed and two of the IRA men were killed, Sean South and Fergal O'Hanlon.  Their bodies were taken across the border into the Republic and there followed what J Bowyer Bell describes as 'a week of all but national mourning'.

Vast crowds lined the route of South's funeral cortege to Dublin and many local authorities passed resolutions of sympathy with the families of the two dead IRA terrorists.  At midnight on 4 January, twenty thousand people including the mayor, waited in Limerick for the hearse and the next day fifty thousand people attended the funeral.  The song Sean South appeared in the Irish Catholic, a weekly Roman Catholic paper, within a week of his death.  Sean South became the most famous IRA figure of the 1956-62 campaign and as Dr Pat Walsh comments:
South was the very embodiment of the Catholic-nationalist ideal, a Gaelic scholar, a fervent Catholic, a nationalist writer, an officer in the FCA (the part time section of the Free State Army) and IRA volunteer.  [Irish Republicanism and Socialism  p 42]
The Belfast Telegraph (8 January 1957) reported that two local authorities in Eire, Dublin City Council and South Tipperary County Council, passed votes of sympathy with relatives of the two dead terrorists.  In Dublin Con Lehane, speaking in Gaelic, proposed: 'That we salute the memory of Sean South and Fergal O'Hanlon, who gave their lives for Irish Freedom.'

Sean South was deeply religious, a former member of the Legion of Mary and Maria Duce (Mary our Leader), an ultra-right wing Roman Catholic organisation led by Fr Denis Fahey of the Holy Ghost Order in Dublin.  South established the Limerick branch of Maria Duce and between August 1954 and January 1956 he published a whole series of articles promoting Maria Duce teaching in the Gaelic League monthly newspaper Rosc.

Fr Denis Fahey was closely involved with Fr Edward Cahill's An Rioghacht study group and wrote a number of books including The Rulers of Russia (1938) in which he argued that communism was a conspiracy organised by Judaism and Freemasonry.  Following the death of Cahill in 1941, An Rioghacht became more moderate and so in 1945 Fahey founded the organisation Maria Duce, whch was stridently anti-Protestant and anti-Semitic.

The position of Maria Duce was set out by its secretary J P Ryan, in a statement in the Irish Times of 7 March 1950.  In this he stated, 'What then must be the attitude of Catholic States, sych as Spain and Ireland, towards Protestantism and non-Catholic sects in general?  The ideal (as outlined in the Syllabus of Pius XI, Ubi Arcano and Quas Primas of Pius XI) is that the Catholic State ... should not only not connive at the proselytism of non-Catholic sects, but should suppress them as inimical to the common good.  Such intolerance of error is the privilege of truth.'

We know then that Sean South was an IRA terrorist but he was also a member of an extremist society, Maria Duce, that was both anti-Protestant and anti-Semitic.  Republicans who commemorate Sean South try to ignore such things as his anti-Semitism but the evidence is irrefutable and it gives the lie to those who portray Irish republicanism as progressive.

We also know that he was an Irish language enthusiast who used the journal of the Gaelic League to promote the extremist ideas of Maria Duce.  The Gaelic League was supposed to be a purely a cultural organisation but it opened the pages of its journal to the extremism of Sean South and Maria Duce.

This is the anti-Semitic IRA terrorist who is eulogised by Rev David Frazer and by Sinn Fein.  This year the annual South - O'Hanlon commemoration at Roslea on 1 January, which is organised by Sinn Fein, was addressed by Sean Lynch, a Sinn Fein candidate in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Toom - anither wee Ulster-Scotch wurd

Diarmaid O Muirithe explained the word toom in the Irish Times on 24 January.  It is found in Ulster and Scotland and means 'empty'.
The word is found in Scotland, where Ferguson's 1641 book of proverbs had 'A toom purse makes a blate [bashful, timid] merchant.'  Hence half-toom, half empty, toom-full, full to running over, toom-brained, empty-headed, and the phrases found both in Ulster and scotland, as toom as a whistle, and as toom as an egg-shell, entirely empty.  Burns has 'Her mutchkin [a Scots liquid measure, about three quarters of an imperial pint] stoup [a pitcher] as toom's a whissle,' in his poem Earnest Cry.
Toom is also used of vain, empty-sounding  words.  Burns, in Kirk's Alarm, has 'Ye hae made but toom roose [rough noise]!' 
Then there is the verb toom, which means to empty; to pour out; to draw off water from anything boiling.  The Ballymena Observer of 1882 has 'Toom the potatoes; toom them up.'  The verb in this meaning is still used in Co Antrim. Hence toomed, swayed on one side, as in pouring water from a bucket; of a woman, delivered of a child; toom the stoup, noun, a drunk.
This is a variant of the verb teem, which means 'to empty' and also of rain, 'to pour down in torrents'.  The Dictionary of the Scots Language gives an 1880 Ulster example of the word as, a noun, meaning 'a downpour' - 'I was out in a perfect teem'.

Does God Believe in Atheists?

Internationally known author, teacher and conference speaker Dr John Blanchard has written over twenty-five books, with over fifteen million copies of his publications in print in over sixty languages.

He will be speaking in the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey on Friday 18 March at 7.45 and the title of the evening is that of one of his books, Does God Believe in Atheists?

In a fast-moving presentation, Dr Blanchard will give a defence of belief in God.  He will present the existence and nature of the universe, the mystery of life and the amazing qualities and characteristics of human beings and show that these all point to the existence of God and not to the mindless march of evolution proposed by Richard Dawkins and others.

The event has been organised by Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church in Mossley and tickets are free but advance booking is essential.  Box Office 028 9034 0202 -

Friday, 4 February 2011

GAA stars endorsed Sinn Fein

I believe that there are changes taking place in the GAA but there are some areas where change will be very slow and one of them is Tyrone.

Earlier today, while I was searching for something else on the internet, I came across several references on Sinn Fein websites to something that seemed to confirm that observation.

Back at the Westminster election on 6 May 2010, Pat Doherty was the Sinn Fein candidate in the West Tyrone constituency.  As part of his campaign West Tyrone Ogra Shinn Fein produced a youth election broadcast, which was launched on 21 April 2010 and included a number of endorsements.

According to the Ogra Shinn Fein website:
The youth broadcast features endorsements for Pat Doherty MP from Tyrone GAA County Star Sean O'Neill, Tyrone Hurler Mickey Kelly, and Dromore GAA supremo Fabian O'Neill who captained the triumphant 2007 Dromore Team to their first County Championship.
That sort of endorsement for the Sinn Fein candidate by three leading figures in the GAA would probably not occur in any other county but there it is and there are two things that strike me about it.

The first is that three prominent figures in the GAA in Tyrone were prepared to endorse the Sinn Fein candidate.  The fact that they did so suggests that their views may well reflect the views of the vast majority of the GAA fraternity in the county. 

I cannot recall a situation in Northern Ireland where current leading sportsmen in any other sport have endorsed a political party.  Yes some sportsmen went into politics after their sporting careers had ended and an obvious example is Trevor Ringland.  But these are men who are still very active in the GAA.

The second thing is that Sinn Fein sought these endorsements because they recognised the powerful influence of the GAA in Tyrone.

Of course we live in a liberal democracy and people are free to express political views but this incident reinforces the perception of many people that there is a connection between the GAA and republicanism.  It also suggests that Tyrone may be one of the counties that is most resistant to moving forward.

Curiouser and curiouser

The Ulster Unionist Party fought the Westminister election in partnership with the Conservative Party, under the title Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force (UCUNF), but the partnership plan devised by Reg Empey and David Trimble is disintegrating by the day. 

Back in December UUP leader Tom Elliott said that he was about to hold talks with the Conservatives and wanted his party to be the local 'franchise' of the Conservative Party.

However Tom's 'franchise' proposal has been rejected by the Conservatives.  They have announced that they are setting up a campaign office in Bangor and will oppose the UUP in the Northern Ireland council elections in May.  Not surprisingly that announcement has drawn criticism from the UUP.

Meanwhile Irwin Armstrong, the former chairman of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland, who resigned in December because the Tories would not be fielding Assembly candidates, is to return to the fold, in spite of the fact that they are still not fielding Assembly candidates!  Armstrong stood unsucessfully as a UCUNF candidate in North Antrim in the Westminster election last year and described the fielding of a joint unionist candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone as 'a sectarian carve-up'!

At the same time, In an interview on the BBC programme Hearts and Minds, the Conservative Secretary of State Owen Paterson said that the election of Martin McGuinness as First Minister 'would be an extraordinary endorsement of the progress that has been made.'  'I don't think it would be appropriate for a new coalition government to change things round.'

This was said in response to questions from Noel Thompson as to why he had refused to change the rules on the election of First Minister after requests from the UUP.  The main selling point of the UCUNF strategy was that it was supposed to afford the UUP influence with the Conservatives but that influence seems to have evaporated, if indeed it ever existed at all.

The bizarre comment from Owen Paterson provoked David McNarry of the UUP to say that Paterson should 'consider his position as Secretary of State' and also 'consider his professed unionism'.  The Belfast Telegraph reported this under the headline 'Tory chief should go: UUP' with the sub-title 'Rift between parties deepens after call to Paterson'.

The story seems to be getting 'curiouser and curiouser' by the day and must be deeply debilitating for the UUP.

The Ulster Covenant and the Ulster-Scots (3)

Thomas Sinclair (1838-1914) - the Ulster-Scot who penned the Ulster Covenant

Thomas Sinclair was born at Hopefield House in north Belfast on 23 September 1838 and he was the second son of Thomas Sinclair senior and Sarah Archer.  The family had come from Scotland to Ulster and the earliest known member of the family in Ulster was William Sinclair of Dundrod.

Thomas was educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and then entered Queen's College, Belfast.  He had a glittering academic career but instead of continuing in the world of academia he entered the family business, which had been founded by his father and uncle, J & T Sinclair, who were provender merchants in Tomb Street.  On the death of his father in 1867 he became head of the firm and he held that position until his own death in 1914.

Thomas Sinclair was the man who introduced golf from Scotland into Ulster in 1881 and he was really the founder of the Royal Belfast Golf Club but he is remembered more for his contribution to Ulster Presbyterianism and to Ulster Unionism.

Thomas Sinclair was the leading layman in the Presbyterian Church and he was thoroughly evangelical and evangelistic.  The family contributed much of the cost of Duncairn Presbyterian Church and Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church was a memorial to his uncle John Sinclair.  Thomas was also a strong supporter of  foreign missions and home missions, especially the Belfast Town Mission and he became president of the Town Mission, later the City Mission, in 1893.

In politics he was one of the leaders of Ulster Liberalism and a founder of the Ulster Reform Club in Belfast.  However like most Liberals he was a committed unionist and when the Liberals divided over Home Rule he became the first president of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association.

He was chairman of the committee which organised the Presbyterian Anti-Home Rule Convention on 1 February 1912.  The opening declaration of the Convention recognised the Scottish ancestry of Ulster Presbyterianism and stated: 'Our Scottish forefathers, in their struggles for religious freedom and civil right, cast their burden on the Lord Omnipotent, who gave them signal victory. Facing as we do now, dangers similar to theirs, we shall follow in their footsteps and emulate their faith. In the profound belief that God reigns, we commit our cause in all confidence to Him.' 

The Ulster-Scots looked back to the struggles of their Scottish forefathers for inspiration and they saw an imperishable Ulster-Scottish bond as being at the heart of the matter.

Thomas Sinclair spoke in the Assembly Hall in the afternoon.  He said that they had met that day face to face with a crisis in the history of the church and country not exceeded in its gravity by any that had preceded it, since their forefathers of Scottish Presbyterian blood were planted in Ulster three centuries ago.  Sinclair referred back to the 1641 rebellion when 'it seemed as if the Ulster Scots would be overwhelmed or driven out.  In their extremity they cried to their motherland for help and help quickly came.  Collections for their benefit were taken in the Scottish churches.  Supplies of food were sent over and several Scottish regiments despatched to Ireland and the Scottish colony was saved.'

Later that year, in May, he presented the case against Home Rule to Scottish Presbyterians in the Synod Hall in Edinburgh.

Thomas Sinclair was a prolific writer on behalf of the Unionist cause and a particularly fine example of his work was an essay entitled The Position of Ulster. This appeared in a volume of essays with the title Against Home Rule - The Case for the Union, which was published in 1912. In it Sinclair said: 'The Ulster Scot is not in Ireland today upon the conditions of an ordinary immigrant. His forefathers were 'planted' in Ulster in the troublous times of the seventeenth century. ... Large numbers of settlers were brought over to Ulster, many of them English, but the majority Scotch.' 

In due course Thomas Sinclair was the man who penned the Ulster Covenant and at the first pre-covenant rally in Enniskillen he explained the document he had drafted.  By this time Sinclair was an elderly man but he attended the eve of covenant rally in the Ulster Hall and the following day he signed the Covenant he had penned.

Sinclair died at his home, Hopefield House, on 14 February 1914, as the crisis of the Third Home Rule Bill reached a crescendo.  The funeral was on the following Tuesday and men from the four Belfast battalions of the Ulster Volunteer Force accompanied the coffin as it made its way along the Antrim Road, and headed towards the City Cemetery.  A memorial window was unveiled in Church House, the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church, on 8 June 1915 and the Sinclair Memorial Hall at Duncairn Presbyterian Church was opened on 10 September 1915.

The Ulster Covenant and the Ulster-Scots (2)

Some years ago historian Gordon Lucy wrote a book entitled The Ulster Covenant: A Pictorial History of the 1912 Home Rule Crisis.  In it he said:
The Presbyterians, with their tradition of sturdy independence, the very backbone of Ulster Unionism, were well acquainted with the concept of the solemn covenant in the religious history of Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The concept came from that tradition but the content of the Ulster Covenant owed much to more recent events. 

The Covenant text was the inspired creation of one man.  Thomas Sinclair, a wealthy Belfast merchant,  a convinced Presbyterian, a son of the twin traditions of the British Whigs and the American Revolution with their emphasis on human rights and ultimate freedom of action.  Sinclair, a modest figure, has long been forgotten, but it was his finely constructed phrases which, in 1912, articulated eternal essential freedoms and thus gave him some claim to be modern Ulster's Thomas Jefferson. 

No one can read Sinclair's text, the text of Ulster's Solemn League and Covenant, without being struck by its masterly construction: concise in its wording; comprehensive in its scope; reasonable in its tone, yet conveying a sense of cool determination.  It was a document which, given its content and tone, could be signed by a wide range of people with a clear conscience.
The Ulster Solemn League and Covenant stands in the tradition of the Scottish covenants and its author, Thomas Sinclair, was proud of his Ulster-Scots heritage.  He was the leading Presbyterian layman of his day and a prominent Liberal who became a Liberal Unionist.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Ulster Covenant and the Ulster-Scots

We are fast approaching the centenary of the Ulster Covenant of 1912 and it is really the start of a decade of centenaries that will run through to 2021 and the centenary of Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Covenant was inspired by the Scottish covenants - the Scottish Covenant of 1581, the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643.

Most of the leading figures associated with the Ulster Covenant were Ulster-Scots - James Craig, Thomas Sinclair and Fred Crawford were thoroughly and proudly Ulster-Scots and although Edward Carson was born in Dublin his grandfather was Scottish.

Many of the sermons preached before Ulster Day and on Ulster Day, especially in Presbyterian churches, recalled the Scottish covenants.  There was a strong awareness of the historical roots of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant.  The Ulster-Scots knew their history.

As folk went out on Ulster Day to sign the Covenant, many of them would have read the Northern Whig, the daily newspaper that was the voice of Liberal Unionism.  In it there was a poem by Rev W F Marshall., who was not only a young Presbyterian minister but also a poet and a loyal Ulster-Scot.  

The Blue Banner
Firm-leagued we face the future, tho’ the road be dark and steep,
The road that leads to honour is the lonely road we keep,
And, though all the world forsake us, this is the course we hold,
The course our fathers followed in the Cov’nant days of old.

We fain would look for comfort to the land from whence we came,
Where still abide our kith and kin and clansmen of our name.
Where lives were deemed of small account by valiant men and true,
For Christ, His Crown, His Cov’nant and the war-worn folds of blue.

Long years have been and faded since the old-time banner waved,
See! How it flashes once again ere dangers must be braved,
The Cov’nant oath we now will swear that Britain may be told,
We stand for faith and freedom and the memories of old.

For all they died for gladly in the homeland o’er the sea,
For blood-won rights that still are ours as Ulsterborn and free,
For the land we came to dwell in, and the martyr’s faith we hold -
God grant we be as leal to these as were the men of old!
Marshall looked back to the Scottish covenants and the Scottish Covenanters with their blue banners and their commitment to Christ, His Crown and Covenant.  The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, which provided the name for the Ulster Covenant, was signed in Ulster as well as Scotland and those who signed it were indeed their forefathers.  Marshall also looked to Scotland as the 'homeland o'er the sea' and the people there were 'kith and kin' to the 'Ulsterborn and free'.

The story of the Ulster Covenant is very much an Ulster-Scots story.