Friday, 27 April 2018

Stephen Foster - the songwriter and the statue

A statue of the Scotch-Irish songwriter Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) has been removed from a public park in Pittsburgh.  Workmen moved in on 26 April 2018 to remove the statue and put it in storage,

Stephen Collins Foster
Stephen Foster has been described as 'the father of American music' and he was the author of such songs as Hard Times Come Again No More, Beautiful Dreamer and I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.

Many of his songs have been popular down through the years and are still popular today, more than 150 years after his death.  Beautiful Dreamer was recorded by both Bing Crosby and The Beatles and Hard Times Come Again No More has been recorded by many singers including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris.

He also wrote minstrel songs such as Oh! Susanna, Poor Old Joe and Old Folks at Home.

So why has the city's Art Commission decided to remove the bronze statue of Foster been removed?  The main objection to it seems to be that it depicts Foster standing with a black American sitting at his feet strumming a banjo.  Critics have described it as racist and demeaning to black Americans while supporters have argued that it depicts Foster gaining inspiration from a black musician.

Foster was certainly a man of his time and wrote in the vernacular of his time.  As a result some of his songs contain words that today would be regarded as derogatory but he is also credited with being one of the first composers to dignify and humanise black folk through his songs.  He was not a racist and indeed he was an abolitionist but that was not good enough for the zealots who demanded the removal of the statue.  They kept up their campaign and in the end the Pittsburgh Art Commission caved in.

The statue  will remain in storage until a permanent home for it is identified.  The Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto has stated that he wants it moved from council-owned property to private property but the city has yet to find a taker.

Well if the city fathers are unable to find a suitable location in Pittsburgh perhaps there could be a new home for the statue on this side of the Atlantic, in the Ulster homeland of his ancestors.

The Foster family were very much aware of their roots in Ulster and Stephen Foster's older brother Morrison Foster (1823-1904) was a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of America.  

William Barclay Foster
Their father William Barclay Foster (1779-1855) was born in West Virginia and became a prosperous merchant in Pittsburgh.

Their grandfather James Alexander Foster (1738-1814) was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and served in the American War of Independence as a private in the Liberty Company of the Londonderry Volunteers.

His grandfather's brother Rev William Foster (1740-1780) was a Presbyterian minister and an ardent patriot.  He married Hannah Blair (1745-1810), daughter of Rev Samuel Blair (1712-1751), who was a Presbyterian Ulster-Scot.

The first of the Foster family to arrive in America was Alexander Foster (1710-1767), who was born in Ulster, into a family of Presbyterian Ulster-Scots, and then emigrated from Londonderry to America.

Some years ago The Playhouse in Londonderry staged a play about the life and work of Stephen Foster and I had the opportunity to meet the author of the play and some of the cast during a visit to The Playhouse.  I also enjoyed a performance of the play when it was performed in Belfast.

The play was written by local playwright Martin McDonald who said, 'His grandfather, Alexander Foster, emigrated from Derry in 1735.  He is an important part of the history of this city and we are keen to celebrate his connection.'

So if the city of Pittsburgh is looking for a new home for the statue, perhaps it could be donated to the city of Londonderry, from which Foster's great-grandfather had emigrated.

Meanwhile back in America Stephen Foster will continue to be remembered through his songs.  Though he died at the age of thirty-seven he left a considerable body of work, more than 200 songs, and the Library of Congress has described him as 'one of America's principal and most influential songwriters'.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

More hypocrisy from Sinn Fein

It seems that Michelle O'Neill, vice-president of Sinn Fein, has accused the DUP of having an 'anti-rights agenda'.

Of course the most basic right of all is the right to life, something that was denied to so many people, Protestant and Roman Catholic, who were murdered by the Provisional IRA.

Yet Michelle O'Neill and her Sinn Fein colleagues continue to praise members of the murder-machine that was the Provisional IRA.  Indeed Sinn Fein leaders say they are proud of the IRA.

Sinn Fein is utterly shameless and so we need to keep reminding them every time.  When you talk about 'rights' what about all those who were denied the right to life by the republican movement?

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Mary Lou, Sinn Fein and the 'L' word

Michelle O'Neill TD , Rev David Latimer, Declan Kearney MLA,
Mary Lou McDonald TD and Elisha McCallion MP
On Monday the Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald used the term 'Derry or Londonderry' after a meeting with some young people in Londonderry.  The meeting had been organised by Rev David Latimer, minister of First Derry Presbyterian Church.  

His role in the visit was not surprising in view of what he described as his 'unbelievable relationship' with his close friend, the late Martin McGuinness.  That relationship found expression in Mr Latimer's seminal role in the Martin McGuinness campaign for the presidency of the Republic of Ireland.  It was Mr Latimer's speech at a Sinn Fein ard fheis which encouraged the Independent TD Finian McGrath to sign McGuinness's nomination papers for the presidency and when Sinn Fein held a rally in the Bogside, before McGuinness embarked on the presidential campaign, Mr Latimer appeared in the platform party.

This visit seems to have been part of the Sinn Fein programme of 'unionist outreach' which they claim is directed towards 'national reconciliation'.  That means their strategy of convincing unionists to support a 'new Ireland', in other words a 'united Ireland'.

However that campaign has never really gained much traction.  They have been working on it for more than a decade and it was back in 2007 that they published their 'Charter for Unionist Engagement'.  The programme was fronted at one time by Alex Maskey and at another time by Martina Anderso but neither of them had the necessary skills to present plausible case.  More recently Sinn Fein have turned to their national chairman Declan Kearney, who is in the picture behind David Latimer and is a more polished performer.

The insincerity of the Sinn Fein outreach programme was illustrated in February this year when Alex Maskey tweeted about Northern Ireland being 'a putrid little statelet'.

This outreach programme is part of Sinn Fein's wider political strategy and the visit to First Derry Presbyterian Church has come at an appropriate time for a party that wants to improve its image in the Republic.  Recently Leo Varadker described Sinn Fein as a 'sectarian' party and that must have stung Mary Lou.  She is also trying to deal with the aftermath of the Barry McElduff tweet, which was then retweeted by Mairtin O Muilleoir, and the equally offensive tweet by a Sinn Fein senator about a man who was murdered by the IRA.  The visit to Londonderry and the subsequent media coverage will be of some use in addressing those difficulties .Indeed some elements of the media, the more gullible elements, have been almost gushing in their reporting of the way in which the Sinn Fein leader used the word Londonderry.  

Nevertheless the Sinn Fein programme of 'unionist outreach' is something which unionists would do well to note and reflect on.  It is limited but there may be more of it going on than most unionists realise.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

A 'war of words' in Antrim and Newtownabbey

Back in March 2017 Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council agreed to the installation of Ulster-Scots heritage signs in the historic Scotch Quarter in Antrim.  It was part of a branding exercise of the area, the name of which reflects the Scottish settlement in the old town.

More recently the council rejected a proposal for bi-lingual street name in the borough.  This affects both the Irish language and the Ulster-Scots language equally so is clearly not an equality issue but that is not good enough for Sinn Fein and an Irish language group in Crumlin, who are keen to install bilingual Irish-English street names in parts of the borough.

Sinn Fein councillor Anne Marie Logue said this was a slap in the face for Irish speakers and that it was 'a breach of equality legislation'.

Meanwhile Cait Ni Ruanaidh (Cathy Rooney) from Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach, an Irish language centre in Crumlin, was more expansive.  She said, 'This is downright sectarianism.  It demonises our Irish language community.  We will be lodging a complaint with the Equality Commission.  We believe the Council is in breach of equality regulations.'

It is a spurious argument which attempts to rewrite the position by equating heritage signage in a small quarter with a council-wide policy but it is significant that both Sinn Fein and the group in Crumlin focus on an 'equality' argument and of course 'equality' is what Gerry Adams said should be used to 'break the b......s'.

But perhaps there is an equality issue here.

Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach is the proud owner of a brand new and purpose built centre in the village of Crumlin.

Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach
The centre was part-funded by An Coiste Infheistiochta Gaeilge, an £8 million fund that was demanded by Sinn Fein and and provided by a former Labour government at Westminster.  The £8 million was handed over by the Treasury in London to a fund whose board is chaired by a veteran Sinn Fein politician and whose director is a former Sinn Fein councillor.

Oh and here are a few photographs from the Irish language centre's Facebook page!

1916 republican Easter Rising commemoration
on the Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach Facebook page

1916 republican Easter Rising commemoration
on the Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach Facebook  page
There is no equivalent capital investment fund for any other cultural tradition and that is an equality issue but of course Sinn Fein managed to avoid the equality issue and the scrutiny of the Equality Commission by getting the money straight from London.

So ten heritage planters in the Scotch Quarter, paid for by the Ulster-Scots Agency, causes an outcry from Sinn Fein and the Irish language group in Crumlin.  But they prefer to 'houl their wheesht' about the millions that have been lavished on the Irish language by London, with no concern for equality.

Oh and as regards the Irish language family centre in Crumlin.  Was that the location for the celebration of the 1916 Easter Rising, with replica weapons and uniforms, as published on their Facebook page?

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Sinn Fein's 'five year' target

Michelle O'Neill, vice president of Sinn Fein, was the main speaker at the Easter Sunday republican commemoration in Belfast.  

Speaking at the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery she said that Sinn Fein wanted a referendum on the border 'within the next five years'.

However this time last year she was calling for a border poll 'within the next five years' and the Sinn Fein manifesto for the 2017 Westminster general election said: 'Sinn Fein believes there should be a referendum vote on Irish unity within the next five years.'

Now if the time limit last year was five years, surely this year it should be down to four years?

Sinn Fein are not very good at history but now it seems they're very poor at arithmetic as well.

In truth Sinn Fein want to talk up their demand for a referendum because they know a referendum would be divisive and disruptive and Sinn Fein favour division.  They also want to distract their supporters from the fact that they failed to deliver on their promise of a United Ireland by 2016.