Category Archives: Troubles

A ‘minor’ study in relativity

From the running strap-line, across the BBC News website:


Nine police officers were injured and 18 people were arrested during minor rioting in Belfast last night

Now, if it had been in Brixton, or Tottenham …


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What’s in a name?

… That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Juliet’s soliloquy, (II, ii, 44-45), of course and now so clichéed as to need an occasional reference for respectability.

And then there’s the vexed question of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. In English, this is “Northern Ireland”  — though the most northernly part of Ireland is Malin Head, which is in Donegal — and so, in the parlance, paradoxically in the “South”. Nor, of course, is a Northern Irishman exclusively an “Ulsterman” — because Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan are in the ancient province of Ulaidh, but are not in Northern Ireland.

My passport’s green

MorrisonMotionEven among the northern (missing capital deliberately so — see more on this below) Irish there is no agreement on what one is: British? Irish? Northern Irish? Ulster Scots? When Penguin Books included Seamus Heaney with Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon, in the The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, he was the one who famously objected:

Don’t be surprised if I demur, for, be advised
My passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast The Queen.

He made up for it, though, at Dublin Castle in May 2011.

The People with No Name

k7173That is the title of a fine book by Patrick Griffin, in Malcolm’s view the best account of the Ulster protestant diaspora who occupied and extended the Western frontier of the American colonies. It is subtitled: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764.

The opening paragraph of that book illustrates the nominal confusions with a variety of names:

BETWEEN 1718 and 1775, more than 100,000 men and women journeyed from the Irish province of Ulster to the American colonies. Their migration represented the single largest movement of any group from the British Isles to British North America during the eighteenth century. In a first wave beginning in 1718 and cresting in 1729, these people outnumbered all others sailing across the Atlantic, with the notable exception of those bound to the New World in slave ships. By sheer force of numbers, this earliest generation of migrants had a profound influence on the great transformations of the age. Even before they left Ulster, they contributed to the triumph of the Protestant cause in Ireland, paving the way for an unprecedented extension of English power into the kingdom. They also figured prominently in the British transatlantic trading system by producing linen, one of the most important commodities exchanged throughout the empire. Sailing when they did, Ulster’s Presbyterian migrants played a formative role in the transition from an English to a British Atlantic. Before their migration, Puritans and adventurers leaving England during the seventeenth century for the North American mainland and the Caribbean dominated the transatlantic world. After men and women from Ulster boarded ships for America, the cultural parameters of the Atlantic broadened, as they and thousands of land-hungry voyagers from the labor-rich peripheries of the British Isles sought their fortunes in a vast, underpopulated New World. In America, Ulster’s men and women again had a hand in a number of defining developments of the period, including the displacement of the continent’s indigenous peoples, the extension of the frontier, the growth of ethnic diversity, and the outbreak of religious revivals. In the abstract, therefore, the group contributed to the forces and processes that dwarfed the individual but yoked together disparate regions into a broad Atlantic system.

The editor of Gaelscéal, Ciarán Dunbar, has picked up Griffin’s essential thesis, inverted it, and now puts up a ruminative thread on Slugger O’Toole:

Whilst working on Gaelscéal on Tuesday last I realized that I did not know the correct Irish term for ‘Northern Irish,’ so I quickly checked, the ‘National Terminology Database’ for Irish.

That was a fruitless journey for they had no such term, I requested they provide one.

The term was one I have strangely never needed in Irish and I have never thought about it to date.

On the day, we simply used the English term in single speech marks.

That night I heard two terms used on TG4, ‘Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh’, agus ‘Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha’, both translating into English as  ‘Northern Irish’ but with a subtle difference in meaning in Irish which the English doesn’t capture.

One implies a mere geographical distinction, the other, perhaps, a clear political distinction.

A meaningless distinction for most but one could argue that constitutional  future of the Northern Ireland state rests on this distinction, whether the Northern Irish are ‘Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh’ or ‘Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha’ at the end of the day.

Malcolm queries whether English cannot capture precisely the distinction between Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh, and Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha by doing what he did above: capitalising or not the “n” of “northern”.


Beyond that, the thread provided Malcolm with a bit of further diversion, the Latin version of wikipedia. Yes, indeed: there is one — even if somewhat abbreviated for the present. And here is its definitive statement on the topic:

Hibernia Septentrionalis, quondam (H)ultonia (AngliceNorthern IrelandHiberniceTuaisceart Éireann) est provincia in Hibernia et Regno Britanniarum. Caput est Belfastium et dux gubernationis est Petrus Robinson; ille est dux factionis civilis qui appellatur Factio Unionistarum Democratica. Successit Reverendum Ioannem Paisley, qui abdicavit in Iunio 2008. Proconsul est Martinus McGuinness. Ille est membrum factionis civilis Sinn Fein (Latine: Nos Ipsi), olim dux Exercitus Republicani Hibernici.

Apart from stroking Malcolm’s self-esteem (that even after half-a-century, his TCD Latin, ever so rusty, can still cope), there were several amusements in that.

One was Máirtín Mag Aonghusa transmogrified from the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland into the far more concise, even poetic, ‘proconsul’. Which instantly directed Malcolm’s butterfly mind to Kipling:

Years betweenThe overfaithful sword returns the user
His heart’s desire at price of his heart’s blood.
The clamour of the arrogant accuser
Wastes that one hour we needed to make good
This was foretold of old at our outgoing;
This we accepted who have squandered, knowing,
The strength and glory of our reputations
At the day’s need, as it were dross, to guard
The tender and new-dedicate foundations
Against the sea we fear — not man’s award.

The subject there was originally Sir Alfred Milner, who was the British High Commissioner in South Africa during the Boer War. The “Oh, gosh!” thing is, stripping from one context to the other, the elevation of  Máirtín to ‘proconsul’ almost works.

“Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”

Moving swiftly on, there is the conceit of Petrus Robinson, dux Factionis Unionistarum Democraticae (3rd declension, feminine: genitive case!). Thus rendering the DUP into Latin gives us the acronym FUD:

generally a strategic attempt to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor’s product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

In the case of the DUP, precisely.

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Filed under DUP, Ireland, Literature, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, Rudyard Kipling, Seamus Heaney, Slugger O'Toole, Trinity College Dublin, Troubles, United States

… and one Englishman to sink it.

The punchline, of course, to that bitter Belfast gybe about the building of the Titanic.

Factor one: a tradition

Belfast was building ships as early as 1663. By the mid-nineteenth century the business was big, and getting bigger. When Anvil Point was launched (1st April 2003) she was keel number 1742 (and last) of the vessels to come off the Harland and Woolf slips.

Yet only one gets popularly remembered — and she was probably the shortest-lived of the lot.

Factor two: an image (bad)

Belfast hasn’t had a lot positively going for the city these last few decades.

The Europa was, after all, not just the place where the world’s press bedded down. And rarely ventured forth. And talked. And broadcast therefrom. And drank each other under tables. It was also, famously, the most bombed hotel in the world. Which included Beirut. For the record: twenty-eight, and hopefully not counting. For that reason, NBC news includes the Europa in its Ten hotels that made history — so consider the others for comparison:

  • the Ritz, Paris: Diana Spenser Windsor’s nookie joint before Pillar Thirteen, but more worthily the resort of Ernest Hemingway;
  • the Crillon, Paris, notoriously the Gestapo’s favourite watering-hole in occupied Paris;
  • the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where James Earl Ray did for Martin Luther King;
  • the Greenbriar, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, which was the Congressional nuclear bunker and Cold War funk hole, a.k.a. ‘Project Greek Island’;
  • the Berchtesgaden Resort, built on the site of Hitler’s Bavarian pad;
  • etc., etc.

To be truthful, Belfast is, was and always will be a long, long way from being a ‘beautiful’ city. Nobody is likely to croon that they left their heart in Belfast City, though it has its television transmitter high on a hill, and The morning fog may chill the air (and on occasion, not clear all day) — admittedly the sea is rarely blue, but it can certainly be windy.

The place can certainly do with a golden sun to shine for anyone.

OK: it’s irrelevant to the main argument here; but let’s do it:


By the millennium the two main cities of Northern Ireland, Belfast and Derry (let’s leave the wasteland of ‘Craigavon’ out of this), were both in positions to exploit their considerable waterfront potentials. Both did so, though — as Northern Irish politics go — the main money stayed east of the Bann.

In Belfast, with the demise of Harland and Woolf, there was one of the largest inner-city brown sites in Europe: though London’s King’s Cross ought to have beaten it for  the funny moolah (but that industrial desert had been hanging around, unexploited, for decades). Some smartass promptly designated the old H&W acres the ‘Titanic Quarter’ — and a legend was born:

Gosh: how Mediterranean! All we need now is the little cable cars.

Bayeux Tapestry — phooey!

Yes, Malcolm has seen it. And preferred the booklet version with added colouring. Apart from anything else, the dog-Latin makes more sense when it’s highlighted and not faded into oblivion. Nor, last August, were Malcolm’s grandsons greatly impressed either. Once seen, noted, included in school projects, soon forgotten.

But this is different:

The most expensive piece of Titanic memorabilia sold at auction – the 33-feet long design plan – is coming back to Belfast.

The 100-year-old scale drawing was sold last year in England for almost a quarter of a million pounds, but the anonymous buyer has agreed for it to go on show at the new Titanic visitor centre in Belfast.

The huge plan, regarded as the Holy Grail of Titanic memorabilia, shows the intricate detail of the ship – from the location of the squash court, to the Turkish baths to the first-class lavatories.

That omits a few crucial details:

  • why is such an artefact worth only a couple of hundred grand at auction?
  • how was it abstracted from the H&W plans office, except to be an exhibit at the official enquiry (still has the chalk markings drawn on it in 1912 to show where the iceberg struck — which must surely be ‘Crown copyright)?
  • how genuine is the ‘provenance’ of ownership, and can we be told it, please?
  • why, for heaven’s sake, is such an object not in public ownership, one way or another?

If this major piece of naval architecture arrives back at the Drawing Office (there, to the left of the picture), overlooking the Thompson Graving Dock, and is put on public view (admission will of course be charged), we have a feature which, so far, has been seriously missing from the whole Titanic farrago.

Except …

One important element in the legend has already been returned to Belfast.

The three great behemoths — the Olympic, the Titanic and the Gigantic (rapidly renamed Britannic) — were too big to enter Cherbourg harbour. Cherbourg was a major port for accepting passengers, both of the haut-ton and those rough, but profitable steerage emigrants. So a pair of tenders was commissioned, also from H&W: the Nomadic for the quality, and the Traffic for the plebs. Now aren’t those evocative, telling names? As with everything else in the Titanic story, we are not all in this together:

When that ship left England it was making for the shore,
The rich refused to ‘sociate with the poor,
So they put the poor below,
They were the first to go.
It was sad when that great ship went down.

The Nomadic is the noble vestige of the great days of Belfast shipbuilding, and likely now to be a permanent resident.

She has a heroic history, serving in two World Wars: first as a minesweeper and a ferry for American dough-boys arriving at Brest, then — in the second Unpleasantness — evacuating refugees from Cherbourg in 1940, then requisitioned by the Royal Navy as a minelayer and general transport. Back in post-war France Nomadic was again a tender to the great liners,until air-travel made that a memory, then a Parisian floating restaurant and night-club.At her lowest ebb, she was seized for debts, and bound for the breakers, so in 2006 the Northern Irish  Department for Social Development divvied up €250,001 to bring her home to Belfast, where is being conserved and restored.

Perhaps the best is yet to come.

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Filed under Belfast, folk music, History, Northern Ireland, travel, Troubles

Is that the blood of a hawk or a dove?

Wild horses and steel chains won’t get Malcolm to see The Iron Lady.

He’d rather have ninety-odd seconds of this:


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Wish you all adieu

There is a world out there, beyond spats about immigration.

For the next couple of weeks, Malcolm will be elsewhere.

The elsewhere will be via JFK, NYC, DC and Thanksgiving in Noo Joisey.

With luck it will involve substantial sampling of craft ales, book-stores, diners (the US’s gracious gift to international cuisine, and rarely matched), decent music (Mona’s in the East Village is inked into the agenda), a bit of family familiarity, along with the odd novel (real and literary) experience. In there somewhere will be thirst-slaking at  the Old Town Bar  — if only because, one celebrated afternoon, unshorn and weary, sitting beneath the image of Frank McCourt and other worthies, Malcolm was accosted by a pasty and insipid youth and asked was he Famous Seamus.

Redfellow Hovel will be left in full charge of he who answers to the code number of 1690: the password is “No Surrender”. That’s no joke: his name is Ken. He left just that message on the Redfellow answerphone when “The Troubles” were at their height. For months afterwards, there were strange clicks and quiverings whenever anyone else ‘phoned. Can’t think why.

So, this evening, Malcolm has been filling the iPod to get him from here to there and back. Just let’s hope that he doesn’t disgrace himself on AA107 if the iPod spills out Phil Coulter’s Scorn Not His Simplicity — 

Or (as is more likely) Luke Kelly’s angstier rendition:

It cracks him wide open every time. For a good reason.

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Filed under air travel., Apple, Beer, Dublin., folk music, Ireland, New York City, pubs, Seamus Heaney, travel, Troubles

Talking Bagehot

Malcolm takes some stick because he hides behind a pseudonym. Admittedly, in his/my own small way, it induces schizophrenia— particularly so when “Malcolm” concocts a juicy bon mot that needs retailing.

Moving swiftly on, there was a nice Bagehot item which popped up in the Economist blog:

TAKING a break from pondering the crisis in Libya, your blogger was asked to join a BBC radio debate this morning about politicians on holiday, and whether it is reasonable to expect prime ministers, presidents and their underlings to rush back from Tuscany, Martha’s Vineyard or wherever when a crisis breaks out.

I was up against a media historian, Jean Seaton …

By a venerable tradition, Economist pieces are anonymous. So, those of us attuned to BBC Radio 4’s Today on Tuesday heard:

Is it good for politics that we are in the habit of calling our leaders back from holiday when a crisis breaks?

“Although we all know that at some level this is nonsense, it kind of reflects the lives of voters too,” according to David Rennie, of the Economist magazine.

In practice, the Bagehot identity is a very thin disguise: it has been penetrated by the The Guardian and by wikipedia.

Anyone who feels that the London media represents a very tight circle should note:

  • David Rennie is son of Sir John Rennie.

Rennie père was a spook — and a very big cheese in Spookland at that — Harold Wilson’s nomination (1968) as Head of MI6, no less. That caused ructions in Spookland — Rennie was outside the magic circle; and thus earning the strong distrust of an even bigger spook, Sir Maurice Oldfield, who believed it was his turn. There were two further complications of Rennie’s tenure as ÜberSpookMeister:

  • On Ted Heath’s suggestion (1971), he sent an MI6 officer, Frank Steele, to Northern Ireland. This breached the rule that Ulster was an MI5 fiefdom (and the full inter-departmental ramifications of that may not be fully unravelled this side of the next millennium); but it also opened a back-stairs channel to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (which is why the ultras will never fully accept either).
  • The other Rennie son, Charles, got done for a heroin bust, and was gaoled. Der Stern, doubtless without too much provocation, in a fit of Germanic rectitude promptly named Rennie as Head of MI6, thus allowing — in due succession — Oldfield to re-assume the pallium, and peace to be restored between Spookdom and their political helots.

and —

  • Jean Seaton is the widow of Ben Pimlott.

Pimlott was one of the formative spirits of decent “Labourism” in the Thatcher years, exposing the Party’s lack of a credible economic alternative. He was a political biographer of major stature — his work on Wilson (see above) was far more exhaustive, and favourable, than others would like. Above all, he maintained that the post-War Butskellite consensus of British politics was a false conception. To nobody’s great surprise, his intellectual honesty and leftism were out of fashion when the Blairites took over.

  • Pimlott earned the unfailing suspicion of one of Fleet Street’s finest — Chapman Pincher. Pincher was, in E.P.Thompson‘s neat descriptiona kind of official urinal in which ministers and defence chiefs could stand patiently leaking, fully conscious it would be retreaded in the Daily Express next morning. Pincher (dribbled on, doubtless, by the likes of Peter “Spycatcher” Wright) was convinced Harold Wilson and other prominent Labour politicians were Russian agents.

What would be really, really interesting is to learn — not in fifty years or so, when Malcolm in all identities will be lost and gone before — is which present government ministers are sidelining on behalf of foreign powers — as Michael Stewart was for the CIA in Wilson’s Cabinet.

In passing, MI6 issued its first recruiting advertisement (April 2006) — in The Economist. Philby, of course, was one of several journalists who double-jobbed for The Economist and MI6.

Once upon a time, before computer analyses became available, Malcolm experimented with dendrograms of connections. It was truly illuminating to pair up individuals and their activities through comparisons of published sources.

A tree of the links between the BBC, the intelligence services, The Economist, the London School of Economics and … oh, say for examples … Policy Exchange and/or the Heritage Foundation.

See! It’s not just schizophrenia, it’s rampant paranoia!

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Filed under BBC, Daily Express, Economist, Harold Wilson, leftist politics., Northern Ireland, Tories., Troubles

Edgarstown: the symbolic end of Portadown

Sister shall speak unto sister, and so the news of serious disturbances came to Redfellow Hovel, here in Norf Lunnun, before the BBC and other networks picked it up.

A disinterested observer — such as, ahem!. Malcolm — was wondering just how long the doings in Belfast would take to be imitated twenty miles down the M1. Moreover, after Short Strand, then Ardoyne, it was clearly the Prods turn to make a mark.

All one needs is a balaclava (or a Rangers scarf) a brick or fifteen, and a small but select company of a few mayhem-minded friends. Then you, too, can have one from the Belfast Telegraph to stick in the family album (as left).

Portadown looks, and feels, as depressed a town as one could wish. It has mislaid all its original functions, and not yet discovered new ones.

The miserable, gimcrack shed that serves as the town’s railway station is appropriately sandwiched between the cinder car-parks for the in-town shopping, and the motorway. It remainsa stop on the Belfast-Dublin line, and the terminus of the cross-town commuter service to Bangor.

Once, though, the old station, a few hundred yards east on the other side of the Bann served much of eastern Ulster:

… the junction, the hub of the railway, the hub of Portadown and Portadown was the hub of the north. Here the tracks split and spread out in three directions. like a giant fleur-de-lis, the centre track heading straight as an arrow, for Armagh and on to the boggy Cavan countryside. On its left, leaving Portadown, was the unique round house engine shed, constructed in 1926 in mass concrete, with its twelve tracks within the shed radiating out from the turntable, like the ribs in an open fan.

The track which turned off sharply to the left was the main line to Dublin, the only one to survive to this day. On its way it crosses the magnificent quarter mile long Craigmore Viaduct, with its eighteen arches and at 150 feet high, the highest Viaduct in Ireland. A structure in Newry granite, it is a thing of beauty and a memorial to supreme workmanship.

The track on the right was the Londonderry line which passed through some of the loveliest scenery in Ireland as it ran between Newtownstewart and Victoria Bridge, with the Mourne river on its left for most of the way. The lines to Londonderry and Cavan are gone; lopped off, like the branches of a tree, and the truncated system, weakened by the amputations, could not resist the advance of motorway development. The old station at Watson Street, standing in the way of this advance, had to yield.

From the old station — a perverse admixture of railway brick with a pretentious Italianate portico — the newly-wed Lady in his Life and Malcolm headed on honeymoon and permanent exile. It was a grim, gritty, run-down structure by then, but it had a presence.

The cross-border line to Armagh and onto to Cavan and the West had gone in the (mainly politically-inspired) cuts of 1957. The Dungannon, Omagh and onto Derry services (same mind-set applied) went in the mid-’60s.

Similarly, Portadown was losing its significance as a market-town. First, the way cattle were sold was changing. Then, those roads, which had strangled the railways, established the norm of out-of-town shopping. Long before car bomb of May 1993 devastated the centre, town shopping was in decline. Today, the vacant booths in the two shopping arcades tell their own story. A walk along the High Street, outside of trading hours, with all the shutters down, fully defines this “tin town”.

That left few job-opportunities: Denny’s, the meat processors went at the turn of the millennium and transferred the business to Poole and Burton-on-Trent. Wade’s pottery and ceramics came to Portadown, even then a “depressed” area, on government prompting after WW2. Many of the insulators for rural electrification came from the converted Victorian mill. So did a whole stash of simpleware for the souvenir trade (as right, with the distinctive grey-green glaze of the Portadown factory), along with warehouse loads of brewers’ advertising. Over the years the ownership and product-line changed, until in 2002 production moved to Scotland.

Comparisons with other local areas suggest Portadown has lower unemployment. Everything is relative. Northern Ireland, as a whole, has had an improving job situation of late (below that of the whole UK) — but that may well be turning again, last month the numbers out-of-work was continuing to slide towards the bad, at a rate of some 400 a month. 17% of 18-24 year olds are unemployed. Half of Northern Ireland’s 60,000 unemployed have not had a job in the last year. It is also indicative of something that Portadown has a slew of employment agencies — all offering short-term, low-paid, low-skilled jobs.

In this context, it is not unnatural that the youth have moments of violence: it is a symptom rather than an end in itself.

A daft idea

Short of the unlikely arrival of some big employer, tourism looks an real prospect.

It remains odd that the south of the province doesn’t exploit what it’s got.

What it’s got, waiting for redevelopment includes the Newry Canal, to link Carlingford with Lough Neagh. At the moment that is no more than a twenty mile cycle route from Newry Town Hall to Portadown’s Bann Bridge. Re-opening the Canal would give access to the vast (and unpredicatble) stretches of Lough Neagh.

Any redevelopment of the  Newry Canal will, presumably, come only after — and if — the Ulster Canal is re-opened. This has been disused far longer, certainly since the 1920s. This is a much more ambitious undertaking: some 46 miles. Together the Newry and Ulster Canals would link the Irish Sea to the Erne and the Shannon, and create Europe’s longest recreational waterpark.

Failing all of that, toursits might, just might, be willing to turn up to witness the loonies at their Orangefests.

Bring your own Molotov cocktails.

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