Sunday, 29 November 2009

Scottish Homecoming Service

Tonight I attended a Scottish Homecoming Service in Rugby Avenue Congregational Church, organised by the church and the Belfast Burns Association.  In spite of its name which reflects its previous location, the church is actually at Carryduff.

This year has been Homecoming Scotland 2009 and the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns.  As a result Burns clubs throughout the world were holding special services on Sunday 29 November, the day before St Andrew's Day.

The hymns were sung to traditional Scottish tunes such as The Rowan Tree and Auld Lang Syne, while the readings were paraphrases of Psalm 1 and Psalm 90 by the Scottish poet Robert Burns.  There was also a solo rendition of a grace composed by Burns.
O Thou, in whom we live and move-
Who made the sea and shore;
Thy goodness constantly we prove,
And grateful would adore;
And, if it please Thee, Power above!
Still grant us, with such store,
The friend we trust, the fair we love-
And we desire no more. Amen!

The preacher was Rev E D Smyth who is a member of the Belfast Burns Association and he reflected on the faith and fortitude of our Scottish forebears who crossed the sea from Scotland to Ulster.

The 1859 Ulster Revival

Several things over the past few days have led me to reflect on the great Ulster Revival of 1859.  On Thursday I purchased a DVD about the revival featuring Rev Stanley Barns and Rev william McCrea.  On Friday I visited 1st Derry Presbyterian Church in Londonderry and saw in the vestibule a memorial to a former minister Rev William McClure. There had been a revival in America in 1858 and McClure was one of two Presbyterian ministers sent to America by the General Assembly to find out more about that revival.  Then this morning in church we sang the old Fanny Crosby hymn Revive us again.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the revial and it has been marked with special services and lectures, the publication of books and booklets, articles in newspapers and magazines and the production of commemorative DVDs.

There was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the  revival transformed the spiritual life of Ulster with tens of thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  The revival touched most of the Protestant denominations but it started amongst Presbyterians in mid-Antrim and its impact was greatest among the Presbyterians and other dissenters.  There were great revival meetings, which in some cases continued throughout the night, and great open-air meetings where thousand gathered to worship and pray.  The largest meeting was in Botanic Gardens in Belfast where around 40,000 people gathered on 29 June 1859

The revial strengthened evangelical faith in Ulster, both in terms of belief and behaviour.  There was a significant increase in church attendance and a decrease in crime and immorality.  Many new churches were built to accommodate the new worshippers.

Among the significant features of the revival were the power of prayer, a passion for evangelism, the prominent role of laymen and a breaking down of barriers between Protestant denominations.

God had already blessed Ulster with revival, especially in the Sixmilewater Revival in the 17th century, which really established Presbyterianism in the Ulster-Scots heartland in the valley of Sixmilewater of county Antrim.


Saturday, 28 November 2009

Ulster-Scots Agency

The following is the answer I gave in the Assembly on Tuesday 24 November to a question about the Ulster-Scots Agency.

During my time as Minister and before, many individuals and groups within the Ulster-Scots community have expressed concerns to me about the internal and external operation of the Ulster-Scots Agency.  Concerns have also been raised by the Northern Ireland Audit Office and I share those concerns.

The agency is a body that uses public funds and I want that money to be used in an efficient and effective way.  It is essential that the Ulster-Scots Agency uses the resources allocated to it effectively and for the benefit of the community.  It must also deliver value for money, because that is what is best for the community that it serves.

It is clear that there are issues regarding the strategic direction of the agency and issues around its governance and administrative processes.  I am aware of the issues and I will be taking steps to try to address them.

I am determined to ensure that the Ulster-Scots Agency is fit for purpose and provides value for money.  That is good for the community that the agency serves and that view is shared by Minister O Cuiv in relation to both the Ulster-Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge.

Up in the North-West

On Friday I travelled up to the North-West for a series of meetings and events.

The first was a visit to the Sollus Ulster-Scots Centre at Bready in county Tyrone to see their building and hear about the range of activities that go on there, both cultural and community.  We were met by James Kee, secretary of the Bready and District Ulster-Scots Development Association, and other committee members.  The activities there include the Bready Ulster-Scots Pipe Band, which has been in existence for 80 years, and the Sollus Highland Dancers.

From there I travelled across the border into Donegal to visit the Monreagh Ulster-Scots Centre.  The centre has been developed in a former Presbyterian manse, opposite Monreagh Presbyterian Church, and was opened on 28 May 2009.  The exhibitions relate to the history of the Ulster-Scots community in the Laggan area and the emigration of Ulster-Scots to America.  Among those I met were Jim Devenney, chair of the centre, his daughter Jackie Reed, who is a member of the board of the Ulster-Scots Agency, and Rev David Latimer, who is the Presbyterian minister at Monreagh.



Later I visited the An Gaelaras Irish language centre in Great James Street in Londonderry.  The centre has now been renamed Culturlann Ui Chanain and incorporates classrooms, conference facilities, a youth club, a 200 seat theatre, a bookshop, a craft centre, cafe, business incubation units and office space.  I tend to prefer more traditional buildings but the architects must be commended for their contemporary design.

From there I travelled across to the historic 1st Derry Presbyterian Church in Upper Magazine Street, where I was welcomed by the minister Rev David Latimer, whom I had met previously at Monreagh - he is minister of both congregations.  The church dates back to 1690 and was built as a reward from Queen Mary for the bravery of the Presbyterian Ulster-Scots during the siege of 1688-89.  Because of serious structural problems with the roof the congregation has been out of the building for the last seven years and has been meeting in Carlisle Road Methodist Church but it is planned that the building will be reroofed, restored and back in use by September 2011.  As part of the plan it is proposed to provide interpretation of the story of the Ulster-Scots in the city.

In the evening I took part in the opening of the new Playhouse Theatre in Artillery Street. The theatre was based in two former schools, both of them listed, and they have been retained and refurbished with the new building to the rear.  The whole project is a tribute to the vision and passion of Pauline Ross and her team and they describe the centre as 'arts and the community working together'.  In recent times there has been substantial investment in arts and cultural infrastructure in the area through the £4m set aside as the North-West Challenge Fund.  Among the developments through the fund have been the Nerve Centre, Verbal Arts Centre, the Gasyard, An Gaelaras, the Waterside Theatre and the Playhouse.  This investment has significantly enhanced the cultural life of the city.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Festival of Marching Bands


The Ulster Hall was packed to capacity on Thursday night for the inaugural Festival of Marching Bands.  The event was sponsored by the NewsLetter and organised by Quincey Dougan, chair of the Ulster Bands Forum.  The compere was Dan Gordon, who was in great form, especially in his alter ego of 'Red Hand Luke' and the programme was sponsored by the Ulster-Scots Agency.

This was marching band music at its best with four bands performing in each half of the programme.  Cookstown Sons of William Flute Band, Gertrude Star Flute Band, Church Hill Silver Band from Fermanagh and Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster Flute Band performed in the first half, while Mourne Young Defenders, Kilcluney Volunteers Flute Band from Markethill, William King Memorial Flute Band from Londonderry and Dunloy Accordion Band performed in the second.

The following short paragraphs are taken from an introduction which I contributed to the official programme:
Northern Ireland is a musical nation and music in its many forms permeates our history and culture.  It is a soundtrack to our lives.
We have a wealth of musical talent here and huge numbers of musicians develop their skills through practice and performance with marching bands.


There is a long tradition of marching bands in Ulster and the Churchill Flute Band from Londonderry is our oldest band, having been formed in 1835.  In the programme there was a good account of the history of Ulster's marching bands and it ended with this assessment:
Today in Northern Ireland there are over 600 bands encompassing Melody flute, Blood and Thunder Flute, Silver, Accordion and Pipe, and the movement and styles have been exported around the world including Scotland, England, Canada and Australia.  An ever developing and growing scene, 11 new bands have been formed in 2009 alone, the Ulster Marching Band movement can count itself as one of the most vibrant and unique cultural and musical groups in the world.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Andrews and Drennan

Every day the Irish News has an interesting column by Eamon Phoenix entitled 'On This Day'.  In it Eamon looks back to some event or report in the newspaper, on that day some years ago.  Today he was looking at 26 November 1940, with the appointment of John Miller Andrews as the second prime minister of Northern Ireland, following the death of Lord Craigavon.  The column noted that:
One of Mr Andrews' maternal ancestors was Dr William Drennan, the 1798 poet and physician who was one of the founders of the United Irishmen and the author of the celebrated Test.'

This reminds us of the fact that after the Act of Union, which abolished a corrupt Anglo-Irish parliament in Dublin, most of the United Irishmen in Ulster became unionists.  Drennan himself was reconciled to the union and his son John Swanwick Drennan was a poet of Ulster unionism, just as his father had been a poet of the United Irishmen.

William Drennan, a Belfast Presbyterian, was one of the great figures of the United Irishmen and is widely recognised as the real founder of the movement.  It was therefore disappointing to see that there was no mention of Drennan in the refurbished Ulster Museum in the section dealing with the United Irishmen.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Yes it was Irish blarney

Back on 31 October I wrote:
'Today I came across an article from the 2 July edition of the Sinn Fein newspaper Republican News / An Phoblacht. In it the writer refers to Belfast City Cemetery and states that 'many of the graveyard's Protestant headstones bear Irish inscriptions'.  I found that somewhat surprising and so perhaps someone who is familiar with the graveyard can tell me just how many of the headstones do in fact have Irish inscriptions. I know that there are a few Protestant headstones with inscriptions in Irish but is it true that there are 'many'? Is it a fact or is it just another bit of Irish blarney from Sinn Fein?'

The only response was from 'igaeilge', who said... 
Nelson knows full well that he should consult with former Mayor of Belfast, Tom Hartley, if he wants information on the graves of Belfast City Cemetery. I saw such an inscription in Irish on the grave of a once prominent Orangeman in that cemetery - were there more? Maybe?

I decided therefore to look at Tom Hartley's book about the graveyard Written in Stone.  In it he states that by 2006 there had been over 91,000 burials in the cemetery.  There are many thousands of headstones in the City Cemetery so how many of these headstones have Irish inscriptions?

According to Hartley (p 121), 'the Irish language and Irish speakers are here', so what exactly is there to support the claim in An Phoblacht?
1. Rev Dr Richard R Kane was a prominent Orangeman, a patron of the Gaelic League and 'reputedly an Irish speaker'.  However Hartley makes no mention of Irish on the gravestone.
2. There is a line of Irish on the headstone of Captain Norton Butler Alexander.
3. Dr John St Clair Boyd was prominent in the Belfast Gaelic League but there is no mention of Irish on his headstone.
4. There is a single line in Scottish Gaelic on the gravestone of Rose Elizabeth Cameron.
5. Robert Lynd was an Irish language activist but there is no mention of Irish on the gravestone.

As regards the original claim in the Sinn Fein newspaper, there is nothing to support it and there is only mention of one 'Protestant headstone' with an Irish inscription.  According to Sinn Fein 'many of the graveyard's Protestant headstone bear Irish inscriptions' but as far as I can see Hartley mentions only one.  It is clear that the original claim in the Sinn Fein newspaper was pure Irish blarney. 

A great night with Cairncastle

The Cairncastle Ulster-Scots group is based in Cairncastle Orange Hall, where they hold a monthly soiree and an annual festival.  Tonight they were launching their latest DVD in the Halfway House Hotel in Ballygally. 


It was a great night and the function room was packed to the doors.  The Grousebeaters were there on stage but there were also musicians from Donegal and even a Queen's University student from Kentucky.

The button key accordion was the most popular instrument but we also had fiddles, flutes, banjos, guitar and drums.  There was also a man from Ballymena who was sitting in the row in front of me playing the tin whistle.  This was community music making at its very best and everyone was thoroughly enjoying the night.

At the interval there was plenty of tea and biscuits and then they were back for another session but I had to leave at that point.  Before going I spoke from the platform and commended Bobby Acheson and his team from Cairncastle for all their good work.  One of the songs that had been sung earlier in the evening was about travelling from Ulster across the narrow sea to Scotland and I commented on the fact that standing in Cairncastle, Ballygally or Ballycarry, and looking across to Scotland, it is indeed so very near.

It was great to meet so many good folk and talk to them and I even met a Presbyterian minister and his wife who were visiting from Australia.

Are you interested in art?

Recently I was at an event where there was a stall for the Arts Council. I was standing at the stall when a woman came along and one of the people at the stall asked, ‘Are you interested in art?’ There was a pause and then the lady, whom I could describe as ‘middle-aged’ and ‘middle Ulster’ said, ‘Not really.’ I left at that point but it set me thinking about how people in Ulster view ‘art’. 

I am sure that if she had been pressed on the matter there could have been an interesting conversation about perceptions of art but there is a challenge here for the arts sector and the arts establishment. Why is it that so many people do not see ‘art’ as interesting or relevant?

There is much discussion about funding for the arts, both from the public sector and the private sector, but there is another source of income and that is from those who attend arts events. If we can increase the income from this source, by attracting more people to the events, there will be more money going into the arts.

This brings me back to the question about how people in Ulster view ‘art’. It is not just an interesting topic for discussion, it is a question that has to be asked and answered by those seeking to increase their audiences and generate more income.  Answers please .....

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Another long day!

This was an extremely long day for me with an early start in the morning and not home at night until almost 11.30.  It was also extremely busy.  I started with a meeting of the DUP ministers in the Executive and then had a debate in the Assembly on a CAL committee report on funding for the arts.  This was followed by a departmental question time and there were questions about the Irish language, the Ulster-Scots Agency, amateur football and the Public Record Office.

In the evening I travelled up to Portadown for a 10th anniversary celebration for a community initiative named PLACE, which works in the PUL (Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist) estates in the Portadown area - Brownstown, Corcrain, Rectory, Redmandville and Killicomaine.  This is an example of good practice in community development and the communities and the organisation deserve great credit for all they have achieved.

McDonald's football festival



This picture was taken with former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings and some young footballers at a McDonald's football festival event.

Olympic contracts

The 2012 London Olympic Games provide opportunities for Northern Ireland companies to win business contracts and some have already done so.

Belfast-based Lagan Construction has won a major contract to construct the Central Park Bridge in the Olympic Park in London and Colin Loughran, deputy managing director, said, ‘We are delighted to have secured the tender for such an important project at the heart of the Olympic Park. It’s a tremendous boost for the company to be an integral part of one of the largest construction projects in the United Kingdom.’

Another Northern Ireland company, Macrete Concrete from county Antrim, has won a major contract for parapet support structures.

We were all disappointed at the way in which the government diverted money away from Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom to fund the Olympic Games in London but credit is due to those local companies that have brought business back to Northern Ireland through the Olympics.

We must also do all we can through the focus on the Olympics to increase participation in sport and thereby help to address the problem of obesity in our society, especially among young people.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Dissident republican attacks

At the start of Assembly business today one member from each party spoke under 'matters of the day' in relation to the dissident republican attacks on Saturday. 


Forensic officers examing the car used in the bomb attack

A car containing a 400 lb bomb was left outside the offices of the Northern Ireland Policing Board in the Laganside area in my own constituency in North Belfast.  Fortunately the bomb only exploded partially, otherwise there would have been extensive damage to property in the area and possibly the loss of a number of lives.  Afterwards a burned out car was found in the New Lodge Road area, a short distance from the scene of the bomb attack, and it is thought to be connected to the dissident republicans who carried out the attack.

Meanwhile in county Fermanagh, there was an attempt to murder a Roman Catholic policeman in the village of Garrison, close to the border with the Irish Republic.  Here the police had mounted a covert opertaion and they arrested three men while a fourth man was arrested across the border in county Leitrim.  The attack on the policeman was reminiscent of the old IRA tactic of targeting Roman Catholic policemen in order to deter Roman Catholics from joining the police.


'A cohesive force'

Recently I came across this quote from Sam Hanna Bell, which I found in his book Erin’s Orange Lily, written in 1956.
'The Orange Order, as a cohesive force, is of much greater significance to the Protestants, divided as they are into various denominations, than the Ancient Order of Hibernians is to the Roman Catholic laity.'

DUP Conference 2009

The 2009 DUP Conference was the best I have attended and there was a real buoyancy and confidence in the party. I contributed to a late afternoon session as part of a panel and then as a speaker.  Among the themes I touched on was the forthcoming centenary of the Ulster Covenant in 2012, which is the start of a decade of centenaries, leading through to the formation of Northern Ireland in 2021.

'I think of 2012 and the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant, the document that has become known as the ‘birth certificate of Northern Ireland’. It is a document that was inspired by the old Scottish covenants and it is a document that was written almost 100 years ago but the great principles that are embedded in it are still as relevant today as they were then and they will still be relevant tomorrow.

The centenary of the Ulster Covenant is just three years away and we are duty bound to prepare for it. It is a time to look back to the faith and fortitude of those who signed it but it is also a time to look at the principles in the Covenant and build on those principles as we look forward to the future.

It speaks of Britishness – those who signed were ‘loyal subjects of the king’ and citizens of the United Kingdom, men who sought to preserve their equal citizenship in the United Kingdom. 

It speaks of the benefits of the Union – material wellbeing – we must never forget the benefits of our position within the United Kingdom, benefits that are enjoyed by every citizen of Northern Ireland and we must seek to convince others of those benefits.

It speaks of civil and religious freedom – human rights. This is not, of course, the human rights agenda of Monica McWilliams and the Human Rights Commission. It is not the human rights agenda of the far left. For that is simply the unelected and the unelectable seeking to impose their aims without the backing of the ballot box.

It also speaks of Ulster – the men who signed the Covenant signed it as ‘men of Ulster’ and the women who signed the declaration signed it as ‘women of Ulster’.

The authors of the Ulster Covenant were men of strong faith and the main author, Thomas Sinclair, was the leading layman in the Presbyterian Church. And when it came to signing the Covenant the leaders of the Protestant churches were there to the fore, signing it immediately after Carson. We live in a day when there is an attempt to secularise our society and to sideline religious faith. That is something which we are right to resist.'

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Ulster hymnwriters (5)

Tonight I was preaching in Jersey Street Mission Hall and we sang as our closing hymn Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, which is one of the most popular hynms of all time.  Indeed it is thought to have been translated into more languages than any other hymn.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Chorus:
Come home, Come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home.

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.

Oh! for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me;
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.

Both the words and the music were written by Will Lamartine Thompson, who was known as the ‘Bard of Ohio’ and was one of America’s most popular song writers. He wrote ballads and love songs as well as marches and comedy songs but his greatest joy was to write and perform simple gospel songs. 
 
He was born on 7 November 1847 in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and he was the grandson of an Ulster-Scots emigrant.  His paternal grandfather William Thompson was born in Ulster ‘of Scotch parentage’ and was brought to America in 1790 by his father Matthew Thompson, who was born in the town of Ballymena in 1763.  William Thompson married Eleanor McDowell and they were the parents of Josiah Thompson, a banker and politician, who was the father of the hymnwriter.

Satan is 'sleekit'

This morning in church the preacher said, 'The devil doesn't play fair.  He's sleekit.'  The first part of that statement is a common one that appears in sermons around the world but the second part will probably only be heard in this part of the world, either in Scotland or Ulster.

The word sleekit, is a Scots and Ulster-Scots word that means 'sly, cunning, deceitful' and that is true of Satan.  In Ephesians 6:11 the Bible speaks about 'the wiles of the devil'.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Confederation of Ulster Bands



This morning I was one of the two keynote speaker at a bands convention organised by the Confederation of Ulster Bands and the Community Conventions and Development Company.  The convention was held in Brownlow House in Lurgan and the other keynote speaker was Darwin Templeton, editor of the NewsLetter.

The confederation is an umbrella body comprised of band forums from across Ulster, from within the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist tradition.  They include the Armagh Bands Forum, Ballymena Parades Forum, The Bands Forum, Fermanagh Bands Forum, 36th Ulster Division Regimental Bands Association, Ulster Bands Association, Ulster Bands Forum and West Ulster Bands Forum.

I spoke about 'the role of bands' and Darwin spoke about 'the bands movement and the media'.  In the course of my contribution I referred to the contribition that marching bands make as being musical, cultural, social and personal.  Bands provide access to musical instruction and music making for many thousands of people and as they improve their standards they also provide a pathway to music excellence.  There was also an opportunity to explain the support that DCAL gives to bands, through the Arts Council and the Ulster-Scots Agency, for funding for musical instruments and tuition.

There are hundreds of marching bands in Ulster - flute, accordion, pipe and silver - and perhaps as many as 20,000 people who make music in those bands.  This is probably the largest community arts sector in Northern Ireland and yet it does not receive the recognition and the resources it deserves.

The two addresses were followed by a question and answer session and this was extremely constructive and encouraging.  The questions and the dicussion raised a number of important issues and I will certainly want to speak to the confederation again to explore some of those issues.  I would also wish the confederation well as they seek to support local band activities, develop an agreed bands agenda and lobby at regional level.

It was my first visit for many years to Brownlow House, which was built in 1833 for Rt Hon Charles Brownlow, Lord Lurgan.  It was designed by the Edinburgh architect William Henry Playfair and built of Scottish sandstone.  Brownlow house is am imposing building and is now on the list of buildings of special architectural and historical merit.  The restoration of the house is truly impressive and is a credit ot the owners, the architect and the craftsmen who worked on it.  We have lost too many of our historic buildings and I am delighted that this house has been restored and is in regular use.  The tea room is open from Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 3.00 and serves lunches, tea, coffee, scones and tray bakes.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The cost of translation

Bro McFerran, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce,  delivered a wide-ranging speech last night at the organisation's annual banquet in Belfast City Hall.


He raised a number of issues about the economy and public expenditure and asked, 'Where is the cost benefit in Irish language and Ulster-Scots translations?  We're not anti-Irish or anti-Ulster-Scots - just anti-translation at great expense.'

I wonder how many people in Northern Ireland share his view, especially at a time when the cost of translations is increasing?  The increasing cost has been particularly evident in the case of Caitriona Ruane and the Department of Education, with endless unnecessary and unwanted translations into Irish.

A similar point was made in the Republic earlier this week by Michael Ring TD of Fine Gael who questioned the need for translating official government documents into Irish.  He said that 1.8m euro was spent last year translating English documents into Irish, which is the first official language in the Republic. 


The Official Languages Act, which provides a 'statutory framework for the delivery of services through the Irish language' was signed into Irish law in 2003 and in the six years since then central government and local authorities have spent 6m euro producing translated documents.  Michael Ring added that almost no one was buying them or using them and he asked if it was time for the act to be reviewed.

Of course Michael Ring is a TD for county Mayo, the birthplace of Caitriona Ruane, so clearly there is a difference of opinion in that county!

This is an issue to which I will return, in relation to both Irish and Ulster-Scots, but I simply want to note that it is an issue that is out now in the arena of public debate, north and south of the border.







Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sean Scully

The latest Culture Northern Ireland Newsletter contains a review of the new Ulster Museum by John Gray.  I have reproduced below his assessment of the art section of the museum, which is devoted entirely to a retrospective exhibition of the work of the Irish-American artist Sean Scully and I wonder how many people share his view of the exhibition?


"What then of art? The flagship re-opening exhibition is Constantinople or the Sensual Concealed, a major retrospective by Sean Scully. As with much modern abstract art the appeal of this is decidedly obscure. In the context of the re-opening this suggests a new ambition; to place the Ulster Museum centre stage in the world of modern art. In the meantime the specifically local or Irish art actually in its collections seems to have disappeared, though a re-appearance beckons by March 2010. It seems a misplaced order of priorities."

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights and it was adopted by the United Nations on 20 November 1989.  As a result 20 November is known as Universal Children's Day.

The United Kingdom signed the Convention on 19 April 1990, ratified it on 16 December 1991 and it came into force in the UK on 15 January 1992. When a country ratifies the Convention it agrees to do everything it can to implement it.

The rights set out in the UNCRC include, among many others, certain cultural rights and these are related to the education system. They are to be found in articles 29, 30 and 31 which incorporate the following commitments:

Article 29
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.

Article 30
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

Article 31
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Children have cultural rights and within our schools and youth provision they should be able to learn about the culture of their home and community.  This is something to which children are entitled and should be part of their cultural entitlement.  I believe that there is a differential in the implementation of this right across the school sectors, with a higher level of provision in many schools in the Roman Catholic and Irish medium sectors, where there is a strong emphasis on Irish culture, including Irish traditional music, Irish dancing, Irish games and the Irish language.

We are starting to see a change and I was delighted to see the introduction of tuition in the Lambeg drum and fife in the Boys Model School in Belfast but there is a need to monitor the implementation of this right and ensure that children in all sectors, including the controlled sector, learn about their own culture.


Who do you think you are?

This is the text of the article which I wrote for the Belfast Telegraph (13 November).

Simplistic labels ignore our multi-layered identities

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Ed Curran referred to the importance of culture, heritage and identity in Northern Ireland. He said, ‘In reality politics today is about our heritage, and principally about our British/Protestant and Irish/Catholic traditions.’

That is a very simplistic approach to identity and one that ignores the complexity of identity in the modern world. The fact is that identity is multi-layered and each of us has more than one identity.

Sometimes I have been told by Irish nationalists that unionists have an identity crisis and that we are not sure what we are. ‘Are you British or are you an Ulsterman? Are you a Protestant or are you a unionist? What are you? Can you not make up your mind?’

The truth is that I am all of these and more, because all of these are aspects or layers of my identity.

My national identity is British because I am a citizen of the United Kingdom.

However I also have a regional identity in that I live in Northern Ireland and describe myself as an Ulsterman. I am therefore both British and an Ulsterman, in the same way as someone can be British and a Scotsman, a Welshman or an Englishman.

But there is more to it than that. I also have a cultural or ethnic identity and my cultural identity is that of an Ulster-Scot. Others may have a different cultural identity in that they may be Irish or Anglo-Irish or whatever.

Most of us will also have a religious identity, which in my case is that of an evangelical Protestant. However that does not mean that all Protestants are Ulster-Scots. Someone else may be a Protestant and have an Irish cultural identity.

Moreover I have a political identity and I am a unionist. However that does not mean that all Protestants are unionists or that all Roman Catholics are nationalists. There are some Protestants who are nationalists just as there are many Roman Catholics who wish Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Such is the complexity of identity.

But one layer of identity in particular has come to the fore and that is cultural identity. For too long the cultural establishment has been dominated by those who hold to an outdated analysis of two cultural identities in Northern Ireland – simply British and Irish. That is actually a flawed analysis and one that fails to grasp the cultural reality and the cultural diversity in Ulster.

At the bottom of the hill in Downpatrick, below the Church of Ireland Cathedral, there are three streets that meet at the traffic lights – they are English Street, Irish Street and Scotch Street, and that is a reflection of the three traditions that have helped to shape modern Ulster. However the Scottish influence in Ulster has often been ignored.

Twenty years ago the BBC published a book entitled The People of Ireland, which contained a chapter on the Scots by Professor Finlay Holmes. In it he said that, ‘History and geography have combined to make Ulster as much a Scottish as an Irish province.’ It was true then and it is still true today.

Only when we appreciate this diversity can we understand the complexity of Ulster history. Why is it that in 1798 many Presbyterians in Antrim joined the United Irishmen, while in Armagh they joined the Orange Order? Why is it that within a few years of 1798 most of the United Irishmen had become unionists? Why is it that a century later the vast majority of Presbyterian Liberals joined with Conservatives to become Ulster Unionists?

These complexities and seeming contradictions can only be understood when we appreciate our cultural diversity.

Ed Curran is right to highlight the importance of identity and I believe that the cultural establishment in Ulster – our schools, our universities, our academics and our museums – have a responsibility to help us understand both our complexity and our diversity.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Price and Adams

The arrest of Marian Price in connection with the Real IRA murder of two soldiers in Antrim in March has prompted a number of newspapers to carry fairly lengthy articles about Price.

Today The Independent recalled her republican family background and the role that Marian and her older sister Dolours played in the IRA bombing campaign in England.  The newspaper also recalled some comments that she made about Gerry Adams.  It reported that:  One interviewer described Ms Price as 'spitting scorn' when she spoke of Mr Adams.  According to Ms Price: 'Adams says he was never in the IRA.  That is total hypocrisy.  Gerry Adams and I were once friends.  We certainly aren't now.  He may have difficulty admitting his IRA past but I'm very, very proud of mine.

Of course Marian Price is not the only member of her family to state that Adams was a member of the IRA.  On 16 March 2001 the Daily Telegraph carried a report, based on an article in the Irish Echo, about a statement by Dolours Price.  She was at a republican ceremony in Ballina, county Mayo, in February 2001, to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Frank Stagg. 

The Irish Echo said, 'Price had asked to speak because, she siad, like Stagg, both she and her sister had endured a hunger strike in 1973 and 1974.  Witnesses say she discarded her script and said she would 'speak from the heart'.
She then attacked high-ranking members of Sinn Fein who now dissociate themselves from the IRA. According to Ruairi O Bradaigh, the president of Republican Sinn Fein, who attended the event, she said that it was 'too much' to listen to people now saying they weren't in the IRA. Ms Price said: 'Gerry Adams was my commanding officer.'

Both Marian Price and her sister Dolours Price have stated categorically that Gerry Adams was a member of the Provisional IRA and the arrest of one of the sisters has drawn attention back to their statements.

I find this interesting because I was suspended from the Assembly on two occasions for speaking about Gerry Adams and the IRA.  We can all remember Adams statement about the IRA, 'they haven't gone away' and it seems that the same words can be applied to the words of Marian Price and other former members of the IRA.

Gerry Adams continued denials that he was ever a member of IRA carry no credibility at all and the longer they continue the more ludicrous he becomes.  Adams seems incapable of facing up to his past but the facts 'haven't gone away'.

Not only did Dolours Price state that Adams was a member of the IRA, at the time when she set off on her bombing campaign in March 1973.  She stated that he was actually her commanding officer, a senior figure in the IRA in the Belfast.  We then have to ask the question, 'If he was an IRA commander in Belfast in March 1973, what was he in July 1972 when the IRA murdered nine people and injured 130 on Bloody Friday?'

The Fighting Temeraire

In 2005 the BBC Today radio programme ran a poll to find Britain's favourite painting and more than a quarter of the votes went to JMW Turner's The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up.  He painted it in 1838 and today it hangs in the National Gallery in London.   The Fighting Temeraire received 31,892 votes out of the 118,111 votes cast and it was the painting that emerged as Britain's favourite. 



The Temeraire was built in the 1790s and fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  It suffered considerable damage at Trafalgar but continued in service and then after some years as a prison ship and supplies depot it ended up in the Chatham Dockyard.  The painting depicts the ship being towed by a paddle steamer to its final berth to be broken up and it is a beautiful painting with a magnificent sunset, the ghostly relic of the Temeraire and the blackened tugboat in front of it.

The popularity of the painting is reflected in the recent publication of a new book, The Fighting Temeraire, by Dr Sam Willis, a maritime historian and archaeologist.  Reading a review of the book I was reminded that when I was 11 years old my parents bought me the Children's Britannica, a children's encyclopaedia with 12 volumes.  I was captivated by the information and also by the illustrations, which included a number of full colour reproductions of famous paintings.  One of them was The Fighting Temeraire and it was my favourite, all those years ago.  That was my introduction to art and an appreciation of art.

We must do all we can to ensure that young people growing up today have an opportunity, at an early age, to see beautiful art and we must do all we can to encourage an appreciation of art.


Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Voluntary Arts Ireland

Today I had a meeting with Brenda Kent and Pauline Matthew from Voluntary Arts Ireland and received an update on some of their initiatives as well as hearing about the concerns of the voluntary arts sector. 


Laura O'Hare and Nelson McCausland

It was particularly encouraging to hear about their efforts to engage young people in setting up and running arts events for themselves and their peers.  Pauline is the project coordinator for the Larne Young Arts Cooperative and Laura O'Hare, who is one of the participants in the project, told me about how the young people in the cooperative had benefited from the project.

VAI, which is part of the Voluntary Arts Network, seeks to promote a passion for participation in art, to lobby and advocate on behalf of the sector, and to provide support for voluntary arts groups.  This is a large and important arts sector and yet it is one that is sometimes overlooked.

Brenda has been the chief officer of the VAI for a number of years and has provided valuable service but she is now leaving and moving on to another post dealing with arts and disability.  I wish her well in her new role.

A Shared and Better Future (2)

In 1966 Roy Jenkins, as United Kingdom Home Secretary, established cultural pluralism as government policy.  He described his new approach as 'integration', which he defined 'not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, coupled with cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance'.  he three core elements of his policy were equity, diversity and mutual tolerance. 

Today we promote a 'shared and better future' in Northern Ireland and the three core principles are equity, diversity and interdependence.  It seem fairly obvious that this is a development of the former policy, with mutual tolerance giving way to interdependence, which is something stronger than just mutual tolerance.

Can anyone detail the steps by which the thinking has moved forward over the past forty years?

Monday, 16 November 2009

A School of Design for Belfast

A new book by Mike Catto charts the development of the Belfast School of Design, which was founded in 1849, through to the 1960s when it became the Ulster College of Art and Design.  Later it became part of the University of Ulster.

The school opened in 1849 in the north wing of the Belfast Academical Institution and the first headmaster was Claude Lorraine Nursey.  Among the many notable students was the sculptor Samuel F Lynn (1836-1876), whose work included the statue of Dr Henry Cooke, known locally as 'the Black Man', and the statue of Prince Albert on the Albert Memorial Clock.

A major retrospective exhibition will open at the Ormeau Baths Gallery on 3 December, the day that the School of Design opened in 1849, and it will feature work by staff and students from 1849 through to the present day. 

I look forward to reading the book and to seeing this exhibition, which should be well worth a visit.

Another busy day

Today started at Stormont with routine ministerial papers and then at 11.00 a party assembly group meeting which lasted until 12.00.  At that point I went to speak to a group of A-level politics students from the Belfast Royal Academy.  After that I signed off some answers to written questions and also some correspondence.

This afternoon I met with DFP minister Sammy Wilson and senior officials from his department to discuss the financial pressures on the next financial year.  This was one of a series of meetings that he is holding with all departments.  There is no doubt that every government department and all our arms-length bodies will feel additional pressures next year.

The next meeting was with the chair and chief executive of National Museums Northern Ireland.  I have arranged bimonthly meetings with DCAL's main arms-length bodies - Sport NI, Arts Council and National Museums Northern Ireland - and this was the first meeting with NMNI.  We talked about the opening of the refurbished Ulster Museum and a wide range of issues, including the role of museums in building a 'shared and better future'.

Assembly business continued until 6.30 tonight and then I had to go on to a party executive meeting.  After that it was back home to read some papers and prepare for tomorrow.

Carson uniforms

National Museums Northern Ireland, which is an arms-length body of my department, has purchased ceremonial uniforms which once belonged to Sir Edward Carson.  The uniforms, which had been in the possession of a Belfast businessman, were bought at an auction in Dublin.

Dr Jim McGreevy of NMNI said, 'We are very pleased to have acquired these ceremonial uniforms.  Sir Edward Carson was a formidable lawyer and one of the most prominent politicians of his time.  He played a defining role in shaping our history.  The acquisition offers opportunities for the future display of the uniforms in appropriate historical contexts not least the forthcoming centenary in 2012 of the Ulster Covenant, an event already referenced in the Ulster Museum through the very pen used by Carson to sign the Covenant.'

NVTV Blogtalk

I see that my blog was discussed last week on the NVTV Blogtalk by Gerard McKeown, a performance poet from Ballymena, liberal unionist blogger Owen Polley, and Conall McDevitt, consultant and senior member of the SDLP in South Belfast. The discussion was chaired by Donal Lyons. 

Gerard was disappointed that in the course of blogging I had only referred to our two indigenous minority languages and had not referred to ethnic minority languages such as Chinese, Urdu or Polish. He has no need to be disappointed. The fact is that indigenous minority languages fall within the remit of DCAL whereas Chinese, Urdu or Polish do not.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Ulster hymnwriters (4)

This morning at church we sang a lovely hymn by the Scotch-Irish American hymnwriter Baylus Benjamin McKinney.

Take up thy cross and follow me,’ I heard my Master say;
‘I gave My life to ransom thee, surrender your all today.’

Chorus
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.

He drew me closer to His side, I sought His will to know,
And in that will I now abide, Wherever He leads I’ll go.

It may be thro’ the shadows dim, Or o’er the stormy sea,
I take my cross and follow Him, Wherever He leadeth me.

My heart, my life, my all I bring, To Christ who loves me so;
He is my Master, Lord and King, Wherever He leads I’ll go.


McKinney was the man who brought gospel music to the fore amongst Southern Baptists in America and he was the son of an Ulster-Scot from the townland of Carnaff, in the parish of Derrykeighan in North Antrim.

James Alexander Calvin McKinney (1853-1914) was born at Carnaff and emigrated with his family from Ulster to America, where they settled in Louisiana.  His son B B McKinney was educated at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and then received further musical training in Chicago.  Afterwards he devoted his life to gospel music as a song leader, hymn writer and editor of hymnals.  He died in a road accident in 1952 and was buried in Nashville, Tennessee.  His songs appear in many gospel hymnbooks and he is included in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

McKinney wrote this hymn after a conversation with a missionary who was unable to go back to the mission field because of ill health. When asked about his future plans, the missionary replied, ‘I don’t know, but wherever He leads I’ll go.’

McKinney is one of a number of important Christian hymnwriters with Ulster roots and yet most folk in Ulster are unaware of this aspect of our cultural heritage.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Carr's Glen Primary School



Carr's Glen Primary School in North Belfast is 70 years old and as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations the school organised a world record attempt.  More than 300 children, teachers and friends dressed up as story-book characters and gained a place in Guinness Book of Records as the largest gathering of storybook characters. 

As a former pupil of the school as well as a governor, I was delighted to be there and equipped with passport, hat and walking stick I was Phineas Fogg, a character from the Jules Verne novel Around the World In Eighty Days.

Seaview and Windsor

Although I started the day at the Ulster Museum, this was a day that was dominated by football.

I visited the refurbished Ulster Museum shortly after it opened but wanted to get back on a day when it was less crowded and I took the opportunity this morning to have a walk around.  The crowds were smaller than on my previous visit but nevertheless the place was quite busy, mainly with family groups of parents and children.



Later I went over to Seaview, the home of Crusaders Football Club, for the press launch of their new 4G pitch.  This was funded by my department through Sport NI and it was certainly money well spent.  The new pitch will mean that it is available throughout the week for use by Crusaders teams but also for use by Newington FC, another North Belfast team, as well as community-based and school teams.  Afterwards I stayed for the game against Glentoran and the result was a 1-1 draw, which was fair to both sides.

Meanwhile Crusaders and Newington FC  have exciting plans for a new football stadium on the North Foreshore and these were outlined on Thursday morning at a breakfast reception in the Lansdowne Hotel.

From Seaview it was over to Windsor Park for a friendly international against Serbia.  The visitors secured a 1-0 victory after a very entertaining game.

Who do you think you are?

On Monday the Belfast Telegraph carried an article by Ed Curran on the ubsject of identity.  I took the opportunity to respond to this with an article entitled Who do you think you are? and this appeared in the Telegraph on Friday.  Unfortunately the newspaper changed the title to Simplistic labels ignore our multi-layered identities.

As the new title suggests the article explored the multi-layered or multi-faceted nature of identity and I explained that I have a national identity, a regional identity, a cultural or ethnic identity, a religious identity and a political identity, as well as others.  I do not have to choose to be either British, or an Ulsterman, or an Ulster-Scot or a unionist or a Protestant.  I can be all of these and more.  Many other people will have different combinations of identities and that is the reality and the complexity of identity.

At the end of the article I sent out this challenge:
Ed Curran is right ot highlight  the importance of identity and I believe that the cultural sector in Ulster, including our schools, our universities, our academics and our museums, have a key role to play in  helping us reach a deeper understanding of both our complexity and our diversity.

The Gaels were planters too

Back in 1970 the poets John Hewitt and John Montague had a reading tour with the title The Planter and the Gael.  The accompanying booklet stated, 'Montague defines the culture of the Gael ... Hewitt that of the Planter.'  Subsequently the phrase 'the Planter and the Gael' entered the vocabulary of cultural and political conversation.  However it is a phrase with which I have never felt comfortable and it is interesting that Hewitt admitted, 'In the community I come from we never call ourselves the planters.'

I was reminded of the phrase this week when the GAA planted some ash trees at Stormont to mark the 125th anniversary of the organisation.  In its report of the event the Irish News created the clever headline 'Gaels become the planters as GAA puts down roots at Stormont'.

The flaw in the 'Planter and Gael' analysis of history is that of course the Gaels were 'planters' too!  Every ethnic group, including the Gaels, came to Ireland from somewhere.

The current issue of Time (9 November) has an article about the Swiss National Museum.  Earlier this year the museum opened a new permanent exhibition to chart the history of immigration since the Bronze Age and in it there is a section entitled 'No one has been here all the time'.

Some elements in the cultural establishment cling to the Planter and Gael dichotomy but is is a false dichotomy and one that should be abandoned.

British-Irish Council



On Thursday and Friday I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Jersey.  The BIC was established under the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and formally established on 2 December 1999.  Its stated aim is to 'promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands'.

The main isssues on the agenda were the economy, indigenous minority languages and the location of the BIC secretariat.

There are eight partners in the BIC, the United Kingdom government, the three devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland government, and the three crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

I spoke on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive about indigenous minority languages and outlined my approach to preparing a strategy for Irish and Ulster-Scots, as set out in the St Andrews Agreement.  There is a BIC working group on minority languages and through this the different countries and administrations share their experiences and exampels of good practice.  The report from the working group was tabled and provided some useful information on different aspects of language planning.

During the summit I was able to meet with the Welsh culture minister, Alun Ffred Jones, and intend to visit Wales some time next year.  I have already visited Scotland as part of the process of developing East-West links with other parts of the United Kingdom and this is a process that will continue.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance Day

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I joined many others at the Cenotaph in Belfast to remember the soldiers who have given their lives in defence of freedom.  It was good to see so many people gather for those few minutes of reflection but several of them commented on their disappointment that there was no ceremony.  Even a very simple and brief ceremony would have been appreciated and it is something that deserves careful consideration by Belfast City Council and the Royal British Legion.

The main ceremony is now on Remembrance Sunday but there is good reason to have a simple ceremony on the 11th day and I believe that if it was known that there was a short cermony, it would draw even more of the shoppers and workers who are already in the city centre.

The tradition of having a two minute silence on 11 November dates back to 1919, when King George V asked the public to observe a silence at 11am.  This was one year after the end of World War 1 and he made the request so that 'the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead'.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Glasgow's motto



The motto of the city of Glasgow is Let Glasgow flourish and it can be traced back to an inscription on a bell that was made for the Tron Kirk in Trongate in 1631.  The steeple of the church still stands as part of the Tron Theatre and the original inscription was Lord, let Glasgow flovrichse throvgh the preaching of thy word and praising thy name.

In 1663 the motto became Lord, let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and in 1699 it was shortened to Let Glasgow flourish.

Sporting Legacy Board

I travelled to Glasgow today for a meeting of the UK Sporting Legacy Board, which was established to maximise the legacy from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. The board is chaired by the UK Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP and consists of sports ministers from the devolved administrations as well as the chairs of the four sports councils and representatives from local government and sports agencies.

This was the second meeting and it was held in the Glasgow City Chambers. In the absence of Gerry Sutcliffe, because of parliamentary duties, the chair was taken by Scottish sports minister Shona Robison MSP.  I met Shona some weeks ago during my visit to Scotland and hope to invite her over to Northern Ireland for a visit in due course.

Afterwards we went across the city to Hampden Park, where we received a presentation on the preparations that are being made in terms of sporting infrastructure for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Ulster's Three Traditions (2)

On 26 October I commented on Ulster's three indigenous cultural traditions, a theme which has also been taken up by Mark Thompson in his blog http://clydesburn.blogspot.com/.

For some time there has been a tendency by elements in the cultural establishment to adopt a a two traditions model for Northern Ireland.  However that has not always been the case and in this and some future posts I intend to give some examples of academics and authors who have recognised that the three traditions model is the right one. 

Thirty years ago, in 1979, Professor F S L Lyons, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, endorsed the three-traditions model in his book Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939.  He also illustrated it in this way:

It will be remembered that whenever President de Gaulle wished to commune with his soul he withdrew to his country estate at Colombey les Deux Eglises. So also Captain Terence O’Neill (as he then was) when prime minister of Northern Ireland, would sometimes leave the hurly-burly of Belfast and seek refuge at his ancestral home in the little town of Ahoghill. The parallel did not escape the wits and before long Ahoghill was rechristened Ahoghill les Trois Eglises. Like most Ulster jokes this one has a sting in its tail. The single phrase, ‘les trois eglises’, reminds us not only of the co-existence of three local cultures within the context of the dominant English culture but also that these three cultures were embedded in three different varieties of religion - Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.

The ‘two traditions’ model in Northern Ireland is outdated and redundant.  It is a flawed model and the sooner it is buried the better.

Monday, 9 November 2009

North West 200


Michael Rutter, Mervyn Whyte, Nelson McCausland & Stephen Thompson

This morning I travelled up to North Antrim to Mather's Cross, a bend on the North West 200 circuit.  It was an opportunity to see the work being undertaken by DRD Roads Service to improve the bend and make it safer.  This work is part of a general road improvement programme but it will also benefit the North West 200 and Mervyn Whyte, the race director, has been advising Roads Service on the changes to be made.

The improvements at Mathers Cross will contribute significantly to improving safety at the NW 200.  Every effort must be made to improve the safety of our road races and my own department has set aside £2 million over the next two years to help motorsport improve safety at events. 

Motor cycle road racing is extremely popular in Northern Ireland and we have some excellent circuits.  The English rider Michael Rutter, who was there this morning, said that the NW 200 is the best road race in the world and he should know for he has won it twelve times. 

I also met Mervyn Whyte and the seven strong management team who have come together with him to take the race to a new level.  My department has been working with Mervyn, the Coleraine & District Motor Club, Coleraine Borough Council, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and others, to secure the future of the race and that has now been done.

There is the potential to make Northern Ireland the road-racing capital of the world, with the best circuits and the best races, and that should be our ambition.  Not only can we provide excellent racing for the riders and spectators but we can generate considerable income for our tourist industry.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday


This morning I attended the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Belfast and there was a good turn out of councillors from the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance.  The first wreath was laid by the new Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Dame Mary Peters, as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen.

Tonight I attended the Remembrance Day service in the Free Presbyterian Church in Magherafelt.  It was a good service and Rev William McCrea took as his text John 15:13 - Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  He said that we should remember (1) the soldiers who fought for our freedom (2) the saints of God who suffer for their faith and (3) the Saviour who died for our forgiveness.

The Good Shepherd

The 23rd Psalm is the best known of all the Psalms in the Bible and it has been translated and paraphrased into Scots and Ulster-Scots many times.  In fact an anthology of some twenty versions of Psalm 23 in Scots was compiled and published in 1987.

The following version of The Good Shepherd appeared back in 1995 in the second edition of Ullans, the magazine of the Ulster-Scots Language Society  It had been rendered at a recent meeting of the society in Ballyclare by Ernie Scott, a native Ulster-Scots speaker and a member of the society's committee.  Ernie is still on the go and I met him back in September at the Broadisland Gathering in Ballycarry.

Wha is my Shephard wel A ken
The Lord hisel is He.
He leads me whaur the girse is green
An' burnies quaet that be.
Aft times A fain astray wud gang
An' wann'r far awa.
He fins me oot, He pits me richt
An brings me hame an' a'.
Tho' A pass through the gruesom sheugh
Fin' A ken that He is near.
His muckle cruk wull me defen'
Sae A hae nocht tae fear.
Ilk comfort whilk a sheep cud need
His thochtfu care provides.
Tho' wolves an' dugs may prowl aboot
In safety me He hides.
His guidness an' His mercy, baith,
Nae doot wull bide wi' me,
While faulded on the fields o' time
His hame ma dwellin' be.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Willie McBride

Tonight there was an excellent concert in the Belfast Waterfront Hall to mark the 40th anniversary of the East Belfast Ulster Volunteer Force Regimental Band.  According to the programme it was also an evening to remember 'those sons of Ulster who bravely charged forth in France and Flanders embedding the name of the 36th Ulster Division for ever into the annals of British military history'.

The band provided an excellent and varied programme, drawn from Ulster, Scottish, Irish and international music.  Great credit must go to those who have done so much to raise the musical standard of the band to this high level.  Great credit must also go to the band for the excellent organisation of the event.

The other performers were the Ulster-Scots Experience, with their mixture of fiddles and accordions.  They incorporated some Ulster-Scots and Orange songs into their part of the programme and were received enthusiastically by an appreciative audience.

They had several songs about war and one of these was Eric Bogle's Green Fields of France, also known as Willie McBride, which is about a young soldier who died in France in 1916 at the age of nineteen.  It is not entirely clear whether Bogle actually saw the name on a headstone but there are two soldiers of that name buried at the Authuile Military Cemetery on the Somme.  One of them is Private William McBride of the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who died on 22 April 1916.  His parents were from Lislea in county Armagh but he was twenty-one when he died.  The other McBride in the cemetery was a private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusilers and he is identified only by the initial W.  He died on 10 February 1916 but his age is not given.  Another soldier, Rifleman William John McBride of the Royal Irish Rifles is recorded as having died on 2 July 1916 but has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.



The Christian Sabbath

Recently someone posted on this site commenting that I had posted on the Sabbath. He asked if this was working and if it conflicted with my stance of not attending sporting and other events that take place on Sunday. 

I believe that God has given us the Lord's Day or Christian Sabbath and that it is a day set apart for rest and relaxation, for worship, for the family and for Christian activity. After a very busy week I value the rest, the opportunity to attend church and to be at home with my wife. As a result I do not attend sporting events or go shopping on Sunday.

Since starting this blog I have posted several times on the Lord's Day but a careful look at what I posted will show that there is a difference in the matters I comment about on Sunday. Three of them have been about Christian hymns and hymnwriters, one was about the old Covenanter preacher Alexander Peden and the other was about the Ulster Sabbath.

A Sabbath is not about doing nothing but about doing things that are appropriate.

HMS Caroline

HMS Caroline, a First World War light cruiser, was built by Camell Laird in Birkenhead and launched and commissioned in 1914.  She is therefore the second oldest commissioned warship in the Royal Navy and saw action at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.


Caroline was placed on the reserve list in 1922 and in 1924 Sir James Craig had her transferred to Northern Ireland as headquarters for the newly formed Ulster Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.  However her time as a commissioned ship is coming to an end and she will be formally decommissioned early next month.  She will then become the property of the newly created National Museum of the Royal Navy.  I had already visited the ship on 24 September but it was a privilege to be invited to the decommissioning dinner, which was held on the ship last night.

An informal group of stakeholders has been convened to consider the future of HMS Caroline - with representatives from DCAL, DSD, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Belfast City Council, as well as the Royal Navy, and there is a desire that she remain in Belfast permanently as a museum ship and part of our maritime heritage.  However this will be dependent on preparing a sustainable business plan.

The guest of honour at the dinner was Rear Admiral Martin Alabaster, Flag Officer for Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland and Flag Officer for the Reserve Forces, and it was interesting to meet several former members of the RNR, whom I have known down through the years without realising that they were actually members of the Reserve.  A message of loyal greeting had been sent by the Commanding Officer to the Queen and Her Majesty had sent a letter of congratulation to HMS Caroline after 85 years of unbroken service as the Ulster Division of the Royal Naval Reserve.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Game of Thrones

George R R Martin is an American author and is best-known for his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which is said to be inspired by the War of the Roses and Ivanhoe.  The first book in the series, Game of Thrones, was published in 1996 and it is now being made into a pilot television film for HBO Productions.

Work on the pilot film, which stars Sean Bean, is currently underway at the National Trust property at Castleward in county Down.  HBO will evaluate the pilot and then make a decision on whether to proceed with a full ten-part series. 

This morning I visited Castleward, along with Rick Hill and Richard Williams of Northern Ireland Screen, to see the film in production.  It was extremely interesting to be on the set and to see how some of the buildings had been turned into a medieval castle.

Northern Ireland Screen, which is one of my department's arms-length bodies, provided funding to secure the pilot film for Northern Ireland which has the potential to put around £10m into the local economy.  This shows the potential for us to develop our creative industries, including film-making.

The co-producer of the film, Mark Huffam, was born in Northern Ireland and educated at Campbell College.  He has been in the film industry for over 24 years and his credits include Saving Private Ryan and Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster was in Belfast on  27 October to consider broadcasting in the province.  The committee was chaired in his inimitable style by Sir Patrick Cormack MP and those present included two Ulster MPs, Iris Robinson and David Simpson.

In a session which lasted about two and a half hours they put their questions to Peter Johnston, Northern Ireland controller of the BBC, Michael Wilson, the managing director of UTV, and Stuart Cosgrove, head of nations and regions at Channel 4.

The session was held in the Senate Chamber at Stormont and I was able to get a DVD of the proceedings, which I watched last night.  Many of the key issues for Northern Ireland were addressed, including local television production in Northern Ireland, the cultural balance of local broadcasting and the representation of Northern Ireland on television programmes seen in Great Britain.

David Simpson asked some important questions about the imbalance between the broadcasting of Ulster-Scots language and culture and Irish language and culture.  He also said that someone in the BBC had told him there was an anti-unionist bias in the BBC.  Peter Johnston said the balance of Irish and Ulster-Scots was appropriate and he denied there was an anti-unionist bias.