Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Whitelaw Reid memorial lecture

One hundred years ago, in March 1912, the United States ambassador in London, Whitelaw Reid, gave a lecture in the Assembly Buildings in Belfast, the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church.

Whitelaw Reid was invited to Belfast by the Presbyterian Historical Society and his subject was the Ulster-Scots in Ulster and America.

The invitation to Reid came at a time when Ulster and Ireland were in turmoil as a result of the third home rule crisis.  It was also a time of heightened interest in the Ulster-Scots, their role in the shaping of modern Ulster and their role in the making of the United States of America.

Whitelaw Reid (1837-1912) was the longtime editor of the New York Tribune.  In 1892 he was the Republican candidate for vice-president alongside Benjamin Harrison, who was the candidate for the presidency.  It is noteworthy that Harrison's mother had Ulster-Scots ancestry and that their Democratic Party opponents, Grover Cleveland and Adlai Stevenson, also shared Ulster-Scots ancestry.  This was a time when the Scotch-Irish were very much to the fore in almost every area of life in the United States.  Harrison and Reid were unsuccessful but Reid went on to serve as the United States ambassador to the Court of St James from 1905 to 1912 and he died on 15 December 1912.

On Wednesday night at 7.00 pm I am due to deliver the first Whitelaw Reid memorial lecture in the Assembly Buildings.  Entrance is free and everyone is welcome.

I will be speaking about the signficance of Whitelaw Reid, a Scotch-Irish American of Ulster-Scots descent with family roots in county Tyrone..  I will also be considering the context of the times, socially, culturally and politically.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

'The leaven of the Ulster-Scots'

Each year the Belfast Burns Association holds a Burns Night supper to mark the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet.  Some years ago local newspapers carried extensive reports of these annual suppers and they provide some interesting insights into what people thought about the Ulster-Scots.

On Monday 25 January 1960 the Belfast News-Letter reported on the supper, which had taken place on the previous Saturday (23 January) in the Grand Central Hotel.

The toast to 'The land we bide in' was proposed by Mr A Kirk, principal of Srtanmillis Training College, who said that the Scots were treated kindly in northern Ireland, where the people went to the trouble even to 'dig up' a grandmother or other relation of Scottish ancestry.

The response was made by Alderman Robin G C Kinahan, Lord Mayor of Belfast, who said that:
The Scots had helped to found the Ulster Province.  He had always looked upon the Ulster Scots as something of a leaven in Northern Ireland.
The use of the term Ulster-Scot back in 1960 is another example of the way in which it was part of the common vocabulary of the time.  It is not some recent invention as some cultural fascists periodically claim.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Belfast City Marathon

The Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon will take place this year on Monday 7 May.  This is the 31st year of the marathon and last year it attracted over 20,000 competitors, a record for the city.

There have been efforts by some people to get the marathon changed from a Monday to a Sunday and so I am glad that the event will once again take place on the holiday Monday.

The record figures last year, which make it the largest mass participation sporting event in either Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic. prove that the Monday is not a deterrent to participants.  Moreover it is interesting to note that the Dublin marathon is also held on a Monday.

It is also good to see that the race has been sponsored by a non-alcohol sponsor, especially at this time when we are so conscious of the harm caused by alcohol abuse.  At one time the race was sponsored by a brewery but eventually that sponsorship ended and ever since there have been non-alcohol sponsors, which is appropriate for a family-friendly event that seeks to encourage health and fitness.

Well done to the organisers for holding to the Monday and a thank-you to the sponsors as well.

UKIP leader says our forefathers were wrong

On 3 February 2012 Nigel Farage MEP, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, was the guest speaker at a Making Politics Matter event in Christ Chruch University in Canterbury.

In the course of the meeting he expressed some surprising views on Scottish independence and the Irish nationalist demand for home rule.

Asked if UK independence should include Scottish independence, the once staunchly unionist politician said that though he used to be of the opinion that all of the United Kingdom should be ruled from London, now he realised just how ridiculous he was in believing this.

'I've now come to the view that if we listened to old man Gladstone in 1886, and we had given the Irish Home Rule, we wouldn't have had the IRA, we wouldn't have had thousands of deaths and all of the misery.'

This is a bizarre statement from the leader of UKIP, especially in the year that marks the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.  Our forefathers fought against home rule for Ireland because they would not accept domination by a Dublin parliament.  Now Nigel Farage says that Ulster should have been put under the control of a Dublin parliament! 

That was what Gladstone proposed in 1886 and that is what Ulster opposed.  Now Farage says that Gladstone was right and Ulster was wrong!  According to Farage, Thomas Sinclair, Sir Edward Carson, James Craig, Fred Crawford and every other unionist was wrong!

This is of course just the latest in a long series of bizarre statements by Nigel Farage and I am sure it will not be the last.