Friday, 28 August 2009

Celebrate the invention of Irish coffee!

The birth place of Irish Coffee, Jacksons Hotel, Ballbofey

Everyone is welcomed to come to Ballybofey and celebrate the invention of Irish coffee at Jackson's this weekend. Irish Coffee was originated and perfected by the hotels progenitor, Joe Jackson, way back in the late 1940s. As part of this weekend's Twin Towns Festival, Jacksons Hotel is sponsoring a competition for Best Irish Coffee and has announced this will be an inaugural event which will be an annual contest.

After WW II Joe Jackson returned home to his wife Margaret (née Slevin of Ruskey near Convoy), who had bought a hotel in Ballybofey in 1945. The Jacksons started serving Irish coffees and other specialty drinks in their bar and the rest is history. The drink's reputation spread when in the early 1950s, a Scottish motoring magazine, described Joe's amazing new drink.

the very comfortable bar in Jacksons Hotel

Monday, 24 August 2009

Stranorlar Presbyterians Celebrate 300 Years!

Anyone with an interest in or a connection to Donegal and more specifically to the village of Stranorlar, may be interested in the tercentennary of Stranorlar Presbyterian Church. And in the history of the congregation itself...

Stranorlar Presbyterian Church 0r 'Meetin'hoose' has been a rock for successive generations of Presyterians in this locality for more than three centuries. Family names such as Adams, Alexander, Arle, Armstrong, Baird, Bates, Blair, Bell, Boggle, Campbell, Carson, Ewing, Fairman, Hastings, Henderson, Irwin, Knox, Leeper, Love, Lucas, MacGregor, Magee, McCain/McKane, McClean, McClure, Neilands, Roulston, Russell, Kee, Taylor, Virtue, Wallace, Wauchop, Woods, Wilson and Whyte are examples of the many planted family names associated with this congregation since the early days.

The village of Stranorlar like so many other remote Ulster villages of this time quickly developed a strong Presbyterian influence as the planted Scots of that era brought with them their 'Scriptural Creed, and habits of industry and love of Liberty'. Their strong faith combined with their high moral standards and work ethic has laid the foundation of the proud Ulster-Scot heritage we enjoy today.

Stranorlar lies on the outer edge of the Laggan Presbytery in East Donegal which is noted as the second Presbytery established in Ireland in the year 1649, after Carrickfergus in 1642. According to its early records the first commissioners in Stranorlar requested supply of a Minister as early as August 1675: "John Armstrong from Stranorland (sic.) desired a visit and some supply for that people, who now have of late become more willing to receive the Gospel than before..."

Rev. Alexander Leckey, Minister in nearby Convoy village from 1870 and a renowned local historian, remarked in his notes in 1905: "this previous unwillingness to 'desire and receive the Gospel' on part of the people of Stranorlar and the neighbourhood should not lead us to think that they were sinners above all others that dwelt in the Laggan, but should, rather, I suppose, be attributed to the fact that they lived within what would have then been considered at an inconvenient distance from two other Presbyterian places of worship, viz., Donoughmore and Covoy."

As both meetinghouses at Convoy and Donoughmore were at a considerable distance we can assume that Stranorlar folk had been gathering for worship locally in a somewhat informal manner for some time before August 0f 1675, and felt that their numbers and their needs justified the formal calling of a Minister to lead them.

However, due to various underlying reasons such as the scarcity of such Ministers, serious poverty and wretched living conditions among the people, as well as the on-going and continued suppression by the established church, the Presbyterians in Stranorlar were not successful in installing their first official Minister, Master Robert Wilson, until 25th June 1709. And the congregation has had an interesting and colourful past and, like most others, has gone through various phases of growth and decline since its inception.

Many able men have passed through our pulpits since Master Wilson passed on in 1727 including Rev. Joseph Kinkead (1745-1755); Rev. Joseph Love (1767-1807); Rev. James Neilson (1808-1821); Rev. James Steele DD (1821-1859); Rev. Hugh Clarke Graham (1859-1874); Rev. WJ Macaulay (1874-1880); Rev. James Curry (1881-1940); Rev. John McFall (1941-1947); Rev. Charles McKimm Eadie (1948-1951); Rev. Herbert Courtney (1951-1955); Rev. WJE McClure (1955-1965); Rev. John Sproule ((1966-1971); Rev. W McI Craig (1971-1977); Rev. GD Campbell (1978-1986); Rev. Eleanor Henning (1988-1997); Rev. Alan Carson (1998-2004); Rev. Tom Luke (2005-2007) and Rev. Stanley Stewart, our present minister.

Meetinghouse Street pictured c.1910 with the existing Meetinghouse (built in 1906), Sunday school building just visible on the upper left and the Manse on the right (built in 1881).

The existing church building replaced the earlier 18th century building which would originally have had a traditonal thatched roof, clay floor and no seating! Worshippers simply brought their own seat, sat on the floor or remained standing for worship!

The centenary of the present meetinghouse was celebrated by the congregation in April 2006 and the Tercentenary of the founding of the congregation is currently being celebrated since the anniversary on 25th June 2009.

Stranorlar is an interesting corner of Ulster-Scot history and much work is still required to unearth what is still out there. However, a fairly detailed history of this congregation (produced to mark the centenary of the church building in 2006) is available in booklet form and includes various facts, figures, personal memoirs, photos, family names & information as well as a general overview of the church and locality since the 17th century. A glimpse into our forfather's lives after arriving here all those generations ago...

They always stood up for what they believed and many suffered to preserve what we have today - we trust that Presbyterians will continue to worship in Stranorlar for many generations to come!

Mark M Knox

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

4,000-year-old timber circle found in Tyrone

(from the BBC news website)

The remains of a timber circle from more than 4,000 years ago have been uncovered by archaeologists in County Tyrone.

The timber circle was found by the Headland Group near Ballygawley in 2006/2007 as part of an excavation project linked to the A4 and A5 road improvements scheme.

Project Officer at Headland Archaeology, Kirsty Dingwall, said radiocarbon dating had confirmed it was from around the middle of the third millenium BC, "although some elements of it may be earlier".

"The specific use of timber circles are not well understood but it is thought that they were used as ritual sites, perhaps for feasting or for commemorating the dead," she said.

"The find is very significant for archaeology and for Northern Ireland in particular, as very few timber circles have been fully excavated.

"It might seem that stone circles are more common as they survive better, but we are learning more and more about this type of site and how widespread they were.

"The postholes containing the timbers were carefully excavated and the pottery and charcoal found on the site are now undergoing close inspection and analysis by the Headland experts to reveal more about the activities which took place in the timber circle.

"The results of the analysis will be submitted to the Roads Service in 2010."

Kirsty said the circle near Ballygawley was an example of a "relatively rare type of site, generally dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age".


She said it was "made up of two concentric rings of timbers focussed on a central area, which appear to have replaced an earlier series of large pits".

It "had a large monumental porch on one side with a line of substantial timbers along the front, which would have formed an impressive façade for anyone approaching the circle".

"The outer ring of the double circle comprised pits holding four posts in a square arrangement, which would themselves have pinned sections of wattle or planked walling in place," she added.

"As a result, we can be fairly certain that it would not be possible to see into the centre of the circle from the outside, unlike other timber circles elsewhere in the British Isles, or at stone circles such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire or Callanish in Scotland, where an observer would have had glimpses of the activity.

"As timber circles are generally thought to have some form of ritual importance, the issue of restricting the views of what was happening inside the circle is an interesting one."

Kirsty said the archaeological investigations undertaken as part of the A4 and A5 road improvements scheme were "currently undergoing post-excavation analyses and reporting which are likely to throw interesting new light on the prehistoric archaeological record of the area".

The Department for Regional Development said road construction would not be affected by the discovery of the timber circle remains.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Celtic Colours Festival 2009 Approaching

Bridging the Atlantic with Music and Culture

Since 1997, the Celtic Colours International Festival has featured hundreds of musicians from throughout the Celtic world and attracted tens of thousands of visitors to Cape Breton Island. For nine days in October, the Festival presents dozens of concerts all over the island, an extensive line-up of workshops, a visual art series of exhibitions, and a nightly Festival Club. Over the years, artists have traveled from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Brittany, Spain, Denmark, Germany, and Cuba as well as from across the United States and Canada to join the finest of Cape Breton's musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers and tradition-bearers for the annual Autumn celebration.

One of the things that sets Celtic Colours apart from the vast majority of festivals taking place around the globe is that it isn't limited to just one location. Communities around Cape Breton Island host concerts and workshops at a time when the fall leaves are at their most brilliant and traveling around the island offers one breathtaking view after another. These communities are the places where the culture has been nurtured for over 200 years providing context for the roots of the music and celebrating each community's contribution to the Island’s living Celtic culture.

During the past 12 years, Celtic Colours International Festival has offered a wide range of music from Celtic nations around the world. While this has been a very effective way to introduce some of the broad influences on Celtic music and culture world-wide, this year’s event will concentrate on one region, Ireland. As usual, the Festival will feature local and international artists, but with a focus on the Irish influence on Cape Breton’s Celtic music and culture and the immense contribution Irish music and culture has had on the Celtic music of the world.

The festival kicks off with Island to Island: The Cape Breton-Ireland Musical Bridge, in Port Hawkesbury on October 9. It’s a concert that goes to the root of it all, says Artistic Director Joella Foulds. “In 1993, a group of Cape Breton musicians were invited to Ireland to put on a Cape Breton festival in Cork. Now, we have invited the Irish here to share their cultural traditions in this concert and throughout the nine days of the Festival.”

Twenty-four artists from Ireland will be participating in the Festival this year which runs from October 9-17. Their presence will contribute to an exploration of tradition and culture and how that is maintained through generations and in communities. People might not recognize the names of some of the Irish artists, but they are the people who are carrying on the tradition.

“We want our audience to experience the real thing,” Foulds explains, “just as they would with our Cape Breton artists. These Irish artists represent the best of the various traditions including Donegal fiddling, the Irish harp, uillean piping, Irish Gaelic and sean nos (meaning “old style”) singing, accordion, sean nos dancing, and story telling.”

Some of the visiting artists Celtic Colours fans may recognize from Ireland are harper Laoise Kelly from the popular group Bumblebees, Maireád Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan, and of course, Liam ó Maonlaí who was a big hit last year. Returning from Scotland this year is the fiddle harp duo Chris Stout and Catriona McKay; fiddler Sarah McFadyen from Harem Scarem and the Unusual Suspects; Mairi Campbell who performed with the Cast in 1997; and Gaelic singer Brian Ó hEadhra.

Canadian artists returning to the Festival this year include Le Vent du Nord from Quebec, fiddler Sierra Noble from Manitoba, and Jim Payne & Fergus O’Byrne from Newfoundland while Abby Newton and Kim Robertson will be traveling from the US.

This year, there will be concerts paying tribute to influential Cape Breton fiddlers Sandy MacIntyre, Angus Chisholm and Jerry Holland. There are also a couple of very special shows in the works. One is Suite Silver Dart, featuring Symphony Nova Scotia, which will premiere Friday at the Savoy with an encore performance on Saturday afternoon at Strathspey Place. Another is a show called The Fiddle Tree, October 12 in Sydney Mines at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, a new venue this year. This show will put luthier Otis Tomas’s work, both his instruments and his music, on display in a way not to be missed. And also fitting into the category of not be missed shows is Traveling Tunes, a show that takes advantage of the expertise of this year’s Artists in Residence Paul Cranford from Cape Breton and Máire O'Keeffe from Ireland. They will be discussing tunes and how they make their way around the world in a show that includes some of Cape Breton’s foremost composers and carriers of the tunes. As usual there will be a number of shows featuring Gaelic song, piping, fiddling and traditional dance as well as the Acadien roots of Cape Breton’s music.

For those who want to experience the festival more deeply, there is once again an extensive program of hundreds of Cultural Opportunities available in communities all around the Island.

For the full schedule and lineup of artists visit Tickets can be purchased online or by phoning 1-888-355-7744 (toll free in North America).

Friday, 14 August 2009

John Wayne, Scots-Irish Icon

In one interview in the early 1950's John Wayne described himself as 'just a Scotch-Irish little boy.' John Wayne, or as he was known before his fame, Marion Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa. His family emigrated from County Antrim, Ireland, in 1799. The Morrison family, like so many families in Counties Antrim and Donegal, were of Hebridean ancestry and the Morrisons were Scottish Gaels that came to Antrim from the outer Hebrides. His immigrant ancestor was Robert Morrison born in 1782, son of John Morrison. The Morrison family were active in the United Irishmen movement and their decision to emigrate was brought about by a British warrant issued for the arrest of Robert Morrison.

Robert Morrison and his mother arrived in New York City, in 1799. Like so many Scots-Irish the Morrison family had a tradition of being strong willed, opinionated, and carried a well developed sense of right and wrong. Like so many Ulster settlers the Morrisons pulled up stakes many times and followed the frontier west. The first wave of Ulster settlers headed west and south and people the Southern Uplands and the hill country of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Morrison were part of a second wave of Scots-Irish that moved along the rivers west into Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Iowa. They became the Mid West Scots-Irish.

John Wayne is arguably the most famous and most successful actor in history, quite an accomplishment for a Scots-Irish boy from Winterset, Iowa. He was a complex man, his family very Presbyterian, yet John Wayne often described himself as a 'cardiac Catholic.' He lived his life as a Christian with noticeable Presbyterian focus and drive, yet his wife Pilar was Roman Catholic, as were all his children. John Wayne himself converted to the Catholic Church officially just days before he passed away.

John and Pilar Wayne

John Wayne's childhood home in Winterset, Iowa


John Wayne Museum in Winterset, Iowa

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The State of the Ozarks

the beautiful Ouachita Mountains

One very important part of the Ulster story is found in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and Arkansas, and the Ouachita Mountains in central Arkansas. Both areas were settled by the descendants of the 18th Century Ulster Migration which began in 1718. The hardy Ulster folk followed the frontier south and west and by the early 1800s began to settle the hills and mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. In this culturally conservative environment they thrived and created the basis for the unique people and society of the Ozarks.

The Ozarks and Ouachitas existed in a state of cultural isolation well into the 20th Century. To this day the upland areas of Arkansas and Missouri retain a wealth of traditions and folklore brought there by the sons and daughters of Ulster. The area is noted for its music, food, Christian faith, and a society in which the extended family and clan are still important parts of daily life. The people of the Ozarks and Ouachitas have a profound appreciation for the beauty of their land and tend to measure time by the seasons.

A good place to read about the Ozarks and Ouachitas is the State of the Ozarks website and online magazine.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Ulster Scots Gathering at Ballyearl

Ulster Scots Celebration at Ballyearl

Ballyearl Arts & Leisure Centre & The Courtyard Theatre

* Time: 8:00 PM
* Date: 5 September 2009
* Ticket Price: £10
* Booking/Info: Courtyard Theatre: 028 9084 8287

Further Details:

The Broadisland Gathering, Ulster's longest established Ulster Scots Festival, is a moveable feast! The Gathering, founded in 1993, celebrates Ulster Scots culture and music.

Fronting the concert will be Session Beat, whose musical tastes revolve around the tradition of Scottish and Irish music. The group uses Irish and concert flutes, bagpipes, tin whistles, fifes, guitars, bouzouki, keyboard, snare drum, Congo drums, drum kit and Bodhran. Their exceptional sound is not to be missed, and this is their first appearance at a Broadisland Gathering.

The Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band also join the line-up and are regular performers at the Gathering, bringing excellent music and a bit of chat!

This is sure to be an excellent night of musical entertainment for all those who enjoy the skirl of the pipes and Ulster Scots songs and chat!

The Broadisland Gathering has ventured outside Ballycarry for the first time so book not and don’t miss out!

For additional information contact: Newtownabbey Borough Council

Monday, 3 August 2009

Colmcille group strengthens the age old links between Ireland and Scotland

Gaelic: A vibrant living language in Ireland and Scotland
The vision of Colmcille is "a vibrant interactive Gaelic community spanning Ireland and Scotland". The organisation is named after the 6th century Saint Colum Cille. It works where the Gaelic speakers of Ireland and Scotland meet; and works to bring them together. Colmcille also promotes awareness of Gaelic language and culture: it has offices in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Colmcille was set up in 1997 with funding from the Governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with a remit to 'create a vibrant interactive community spanning Ireland and Scotland'.
Colmcille aim to do this is two ways:
1. Giving grant funding to projects that meet our strategic aims and...
2. Organising projects that raise awareness of the shared heritage of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Colmcille website anseo