Friday, 17 December 2010

A Stitch In Time

I was glancing through a recent edition of The Scots magazine when I came across an interesting article about the Prestonpans Tapestry.

More than 200 volunteer embroiderers worked over 25,000 hours from January to June 2010 to create the 104 X 1 meter panels, which is now the longest tapestry in the world and contains over 10 million stitches. The tapestry commemorates Bonnie Prince Charlie's journey from France to his victory at Prestonpans in 1745 and is said to "celebrate the enduring triumph of youthful Hope and Ambition".

Now I know that readers will have differing opinions on Bonnie Prince Charlie, or The Young Prestender, or whatever you want to call him, but you've got to admit that it was a quare interesting period in history, whatever your viewpoint.

The tapestry even has its own website - where you can view each of the panels. This is a great website and includes background on the historical events depicted, the research and design which went into the making of the tapestry, and education resources.

Wouldn't it be great if the Ulster-Scots could take a leaf out of the Scots' book and produce something similar depicting significant events in our history. Apart from the artistic, historical and cultural significance, this would be a great educational resource relevant to various subjects within the school curriculum.

That said, before I get the needle and thread out, I have to admit that the last thing I embroidered (when I was about 18) was the back of my Wrangler jacket, with the name of the wee rock band I knocked around with - No Hot Ashes (as in the stickers they used to put on the wheelybins) in red silk.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Another New Challenge

Yesterday afternoon, Keep 'Er Lit were playing at an event in Donaghadee where there were displays of military weapons and regalia, a re-enactment group in period costumes with horses, cannons and muskets, plus a lovely lady making soda farls on a griddle, who normally does this at the Cockle Row cottages in Groomsport (see Davy Angus, who plays with The Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra, also had a stand selling his hand-made wooden fifes (website

Needless to say, I came away stuffed to the gills with soda farls, with half a jar of delicious home-made raspberry jam in one pocket and a fife in the other, and have had to add "learn to play the fife" to a very long list of things to do. At least I can now get a note out of her, so that's some progress - and I can't blame the instrument as I heard it played beautifully by the maker!

Friday, 20 August 2010


Our wee group, Keep 'Er Lit, is only starting to develop the singing side of our act and I'm currently experimenting with all kinds of songs, including:
  • Bonniewood Green
  • Carrickfergus
  • The Flower Of The County Down
  • The Ballad Of William Bloat
  • Maids When You're Young Never Wed An Old Man
  • The Lea Rig (Burns)
  • Ye Banks And Braes (Burns)
  • The Diel's Awa Wi The Exciseman (Burns)
  • Willie Brewed A Peck O Maut (Burns)
  • The Wee Cooper Of Fife
  • Wild Mountain Thyme (Will Ye Go Lassie, Go)

I'm also looking at Jackie Boyce's Songs Of The County Down and the Ulster-Scots poets such as James Orr and Robert Huddleston for inspiration, as I'd like to include some local material, particuarly songs that haven't already been done to death and your ideas on this would be most welcome.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Another County Down reference

Following on from my recent "Changing Times" post, I found another County Down reference last night, this time in Bernard Cornwell's Peninsula War novel "Sharpe's Honour" (yes, I probably do have unusual tastes in books for a female!).

Anyway, to set the scene, Richard Sharpe is flat broke and discussing with Patrick Harper the possibility of selling the battalion tents and mule to the storekeeper:

Sharpe swore again. He could doubtless get five pounds out of the battalion accounts to bribe the storekeeper, but the job would be a nuisance. 'He's no friend of your's this storekeeper?'
'He's from County Down.' Harper said it meaningfully. 'Sell his own bloody mother for a shilling.'
'You've got nothing on the bastard?'
'No.' Harper shook his head. 'He's tighter than an orangeman's drum.'

As an aside, I was wandering through the streets of Queenstown New Zealand in 1999 when my (now) husband shouted, "there's that wee man you like". I had no idea who he was talking about and scanned the area for the nearest person of small stature, to no avail. Turned out it was Sharpe himself, actor Sean Bean, bearded and looking distinctly scruffy, on a break from filming his role as Boramir in Lord Of The Rings. Now, I wouldn't call Sean Bean small, but it seems my other half thinks anyone under six foot is a midget. Anyway I caught sight of him as he went into a pizza restaurant and, somewhat sheepishly, followed him in and asked for his autograph. I'm sure actors get totally fed up with this, but he very kindly fulfilled the request on the back of the restaurant's business card and I exited stage left, totally embarassed as I hadn't had a clue what to say to him.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Keep 'Er Lit

2011 Gigs

Saturday 13th August, Vintage Tractor Rally, Rosemount, Greyabbey
Thursday 8th June, TV show with Paul Rankin/Nick Nairn, D'dee
Saturday 4th June, Portavogie International Fish Fest
TBC for March/April, Conlig LOL, Ulster-Scots Night
Friday 29th April, Ballyhalbert Orange Hall
Friday 15th April, Kirkcubbin LOL at the Yacht Club
Thursday 17th March, Donaghadee Orange Hall, St Patrick's Night
Friday 4th March, Glastry High School, Ulster-Scots Showcase
Wednesday 9th February, Castlereagh Borough Council Burns Supper

2010 Gigs

Saturday 11th September, Private Party, Millisle
Saturday 21st August, 1.00-2.00pm, Donaghadee Orange Hall
Friday 20th August, 7.30pm, BBQ, Aughlisnafin Orange Hall, Clough.
Saturday 14th August, 7.30pm, Men On A Mission Hog Roast, Scrabo GC
Saturday 14th August, 2.30pm, Vintage Tractor Rally, Greyabbey
Saturday 31st July, 2.00pm, Party In The Park, Comber
Saturday 3rd July, 8.30pm, Ballyhalbert Orange Hall
Friday 23rd April, 8.00pm, Marie Curie Concert, Greyabbey Village Hall
Saturday 20th March, 8.00pm, Dinner, Causnagh Orange Hall, Loughgall
Wednesday 17th March, 8.00pm, Fundraiser, Gatsby Hairdressers, Comber
Friday 5th March, 7.30pm, Ulster-Scots Night, Kirkcubbin Sailing Club
Thursday 18th February, 7.30pm, Private Birthday Party, Comber

2009 Gigs

22nd August, 2.00pm, Glebeside Ulster-Scots Street Party, Ballymoney
5th August, 7.30pm, Private Birthday Party, Millisle

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


Tha bonnie wee lass abune is yin o ma grannies an, as ye can see, she's houlin a skippin raip in her hauns. Noo, A haed a skippin raip whun A wus a wean, an guid use A made o't fur A wus aye leppin aboot. A freen telt me no sae lang beck that she'd bocht a skippin raip fur her wee lass (sieven yeir oul) an tha chile didnae hae a notion whut tae dae wi it - noo gie her a DS ir a Wii an it's a differnt metter aathegither, but a weechile no knowin hoo tae skip - whut's tha warl cumin tae, A esk ye?

Monday, 2 August 2010

A Load O Balls

Noo, A'll no pretend onie great luv o, ir unnerstaunin o rugby fitba, ir cricket but, as A hae bin warkin at ma femmlie tree A wus surprised tae fin oot A'm (far oot) related tae a quare lot o (Ulster-Scotch) Irish internationals. Sae far, A hae tha follaein:

  • fae Limavady - Sir Samuel Thompson Irwin C.B.E.,M.Ch.,F.R.C.S.,M.P.(1877-1961)
    9 keps fae 1900-1903
    President of Irish Rugby Union 1935-6
    surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital

  • (Samuel's sin) John Walker Sinclair Irwin M.B.,F.R.C.S. (1913-2004)
    5 keps as a beck row forrit 1937-39
    scored tha winnin try at Twickenham in Feb 19 an 39
    President o Irish Rugby Union 1969-70
    surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital

  • Justin Bishop (1974- ) great-nephew o Sinclair Irwin -
    25 keps at wing - 1997-2003, echt tries

  • Dr John (Jackie) Wilson Kyle O.B.E. (1926-)
    46 keps at fly-hauf, 1946-1958, 7 tries
    In 2002 he wus caa'd tha "Greatest Ever Irish Rugby Player" by tha Irish Rugby Fitba Union.
    Efter a solo try agin France at Ravenhill in 1953, yin o tha newspaper men daen a parody o Tha Scarlet Pimpernel, wi tha lines:

    They seek him here, they seek him there
    Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
    That paragon of pace and guile,
    That demned elusive Jackie Kyle.

  • fae Newton - Dr James Alexander MacDonald M.D, M.Ch., L.L.D. (1853-1928)
    13 keps as a front row forrit fae 1874-1884
    grandsin o John McDonald that knit tha quilt fur the Marquis o Londonderry (last poast)
    Forbye tha rugby, he played yin international association fitba match agin Englan an, alang wi thie o his brithers played a wheen o matches fur tha Irish international lacrosse team.
    He wus a wean-walloper at Methody afore gaun tae Queen's medical schuil. A heared he wus a doctor oan yin o tha big liners an, efter he'd saved tha life o a weel-aff boadie oan his boat, tha craiter gien him eneuch siller tae buy a wee practice in Somerset, whaur he leeved oot tha rest o his days. Ye'd thenk that wud dae but, forbye aa tha abune, he wus President o tha Cooncil o tha British Medical Association fae 1910-1920.

    A'm near sure tha neist twa boadies is related tae me onie A hinnae jist tied doon tha exact connection.

  • fae Commer - James MacDonald M.B.E. (1906-1969)
    Cricket - left haun batsman, slow left airm, 29 keps fae 1926-1939
    President o tha Irish Cricket Union in 1954, an national selector fae 1946 tae 1960.
    Hockey - 25 keps
    Headmaster o Regent Hoose schuil

  • (his brither) Thomas John MacDonald (1908-1998)
    Cricket - openin batsman, 17 keps

Tha yin thang A kin say fur definite is A hinnae inherited onie skeel at onie kine o sport - tha onie thang A can ketch is tha coul!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sucking Up To The Landlord?

A wheen o yeir syne, A cum on tha wee airticle abune, fae The Northern Whig o 25th March 18 an 26 an rin agane bi The Newtownards Chronicle in 19 an 26. Tha John McDonald in tha airticle wus ma great-great-great-granda's brither an (as a tenant o tha Marquis o Londonderry fae Mount Stewart) he haed a wee fairm o lan by tha name o Pinecroft oot at Loughriescouse tooonlan, jist oot o Newton (John's grandsin Alec soul tha fairm in 1915 afore settin aff fur New Zealan an Ian an Irene Moore hae it noo).

Noo, sim fowk wud mebbe thenk it strange tae hear o a man daein sic fine knittin in them days, fur ye'd mebbe thenk o it as wummen's wark. Nooadays ye hae tha like o Kaffe Fassett (see an A'd heared aboot tha fishermen in tha oul days knittin but whun A lukked intae it A fun oot tha menfowk hae bin at tha knittin this lang while (see Nooadays, knittin's aa tha go wi tha menfowk in Hollywood (USA no Coontie Doon!) an A hear there's clesses fur men tae larn hoo tae dae it, but tha likes o Brad Pitt an Russell Crowe ( ir no daein ocht new fur Newton men wus at it near twa hunnert yeir syne.

Tha ither thang A wunnert aboot wus hoocum oul John wus giein this fency bed quilt tae his lannlord's wife, but mebbe tha design o it (tha Royal Messon's airms) gies tha answer fur, like tha marquis, tha McDonalds wur aa in tha Messons, an mebbe he wus coontin on sim kine o favour ir commission. Mine ye, A wus a bit tuk beck fur it luks like a bit o sookin up an A didnae thenk oor lot wud hae bin tha soart tae dae thon!

Natural Ulster-Scots v the book-learned variety

My mum tells me that when she first came to live in Newtownards some sixty years ago, as a student nurse from south Down, she had great difficulty understanding the locals, as virtually all the indiginous residents (with the possible exception of a few snooty social climbers) talked what I would now call Ulster-Scots, or what my Newtownards born-and-bred dad referred to as "broad Newtown".

I happened to hear a BBC Radio Ulster news feature this week on Ulster-Scots summer schemes at various local primary schools. I think it's great that these summer schools exist and that they include tuition in music, dance and the Ulster-Scots language. Indeed, if such schemes are still operating when my baby daughter is old enough I will be at the head of the queue to sign her up to attend. However, Maggie Taggart's interview with the children at Castle Gardens Primary School about their Ulster-Scots language lessons saddened me. Don't get me wrong, the children were obviously enjoying the lessons and I'm not criticising what they were being taught. What upset me was that it came across that basic words and phrases (eg "Houl yer Wheesht") were strange and new to the children speaking them - children who I presume live in my home town in the heart of an Ulster-Scots area.

I suppose it's a combination of factors, including years of stigmatisation of the language. Maybe the parents or grandparents had the Ulster-Scots beaten out of them (literally or otherwise) and either have none left in them or assume that they also have to exorcise the remants from each successive generation. Then of course there's the pervasive influence of the media. While I can't claim to have escaped this myself, it annoys me that local youngsters seem to think it's cooler to sound more like extras from Home And Away or High School Musical than kids from county Down. Oh, and why is everything "random"? I probably have all of this heartbreak in front of me!

As a first time parent, I'm sure I will make many mistakes but I really will feel as though I have failed Isla if she isn't naturally bilingual in English and Ulster-Scots before starting formal education. I don't want her growing up thinking that Ulster-Scots is something you have to go to a class in order to learn from someone who probably didn't speak themselves when they were a child. I am so glad that my dad, who taught at a local primary school, was proud of the local way of talking and used it wherever he could, while ensuring that we also learned "proper English". Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I was always being to told to "wheesht", but never knew how to "houl" it and I was no stranger to a "guid skelp on tha arse" (I doubt the summer school classes teach that one)!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Robin's Readings

I'm a bit late with this post, as the series has already started but, for those of you who aren't already aware, BBC Radio Ulster is currently broadcasting an excellent series of stories from W G Lyttle's Robin's Readings. You can currently hear episode two on the iplayer at For my sins I even have a bit part in one or two of the later episodes! Indeed, those familiar with the Ulster-Scots scene will recognise most of the voices.

Hearty congratulations are due to to BBC Ulster-Scots producer Laura Spence for all her hard work in producing this series. Hopefully, Laura will do more shows along these lines, and perhaps even consider commissioning some contemporary Ulster-Scots radio plays.

Changing Times?

Last night, without even knowing I had been looking for it, my other half spotted the following quotation in chapter 13 of Compton Mackenzie's The Monarch Of The Glen (1941) - I'd convinced myself it was in a John Buchan novel which explains why I couldn't find it again. Anyway, here goes ...

"He had a forefinger which when pointed at his audience had the admonitory force of a loaded pistol. He was as warm and fluent as the hot water tap of a hotel bath, as self-confident as an Orangeman contesting a seat in County Down, and as full of catchpenny emotion as an illustrated daily."