Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Our Boys

Away in France and Flanders,
   'Neath, the rays of a scorching sun,
Our boys are bravely fighting.
   To quell the ruthless Hun.

There where the guns' loud thunder
   Rends the air with a booming sound;
Fighting, wounded, or dying.
   Faithful our lads are found.

Here is the cuckoo calling,
   While the swallow skims 'neath the blue,
And thrushes blithely carol.
   And bees sip honey dew.

For God has given us spring time,
   With its singing of birds so sweet;
And fragrant, sun-kissed flowers --
   A Paradise complete.

But still to France and Flanders,
   Or wherever the boys may be;
Our thoughts are ever turning,
   Yearning our loved to see.

Weary at times with waiting,
   We heed not the thrushes' song.
For life has so much anguish.
   And waiting days seem long.

O, here the cuckoo's calling;
   But there is the cry of pain;
And hearts fn love are yearning
   To soothe, but all in vain.

O, Father, be Thou with them!
   Guide them, guard them night and day;
Thy loving arms still round them,
   Their succour and their stay.

And speed the day, O Father,
   When this cruel war shall cease;
And nations dwell for ever
   Beneath the bow of peace.


Poem from The Witness, 14th June 1918
Image: On the Wire by Harvey Thomas Dunn (oil on canvas 1918)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Evening Brings A’ Hame.

Just a simple Scottish saying,
   Yet it comes to the mind again;
So suggestive it is of rest —
   That evening brings a’ hame.

The thought to the weary toiler,
   Whether, with hand or with brain,
Comes like a whiff of caller air,
   That evening brings a’ hame.

To dwellers on heather-clad hills,
   Or in cities of world-wide fame,
The words have a pleasant echo —
   That evening brings a’ hame.

We stand in a busy street
   When the light begins to wane;
We see the crowd of folk who pass —
   For evening brings a’ hame.

The country children watch for dad,
   They hide in the shady lane
To give him a hearty welcome
   When evening brings a’ hame.

To the tired, but patient mother,
   Whose work seems sordid and plain,
Each duty is glorified
   Since evening brings a’ home.

Now many hearts throughout the world
   With quivering lips exclaim —
“Ah, not to us, O nevermore,
   Will evening bring a’ hame.

To the weary and tempest-tossed,
   Who trust in the Father’s Name,
The Home of Rest is safe and sure,
   Then — evening will bring a’ hame.

Cullycapple, Aghadowey.

Poem: The Witness, 31st May 1918
Image: Fields of Wild Heather on the Highlands by Paul Wolber

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Strange Facts in War

Only one in the family,
    One loved and only son;
He fell out there on the battle line
    Where noble deeds were done:
Now there is not one.

Six sons were in the home circle;
    Now all of them are gone;
They perished there on the battle line;
    The parents are alone.
Mourning every son.

Twelve sons were in the house at home;
    And there has died not one;
One has the scar of a little wound;
    Yet all have brave deeds done,
And have bright glory won.

How is it, Lord, that such can be?
    That the one loved son is gone,
That all six sons have perished there
    To help the triumph won,
And that twelve brave sons live on?

O, say the parents who have none,
    Amid the tears they shed,
Our sons are wearing crowns of bliss
    In the bright Home overhead;
They live; they are not dead.


From The Witness, 16th November 1917.
Image: The Cemetery, √Čtaples, 1919 by John Lavery

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Waitin' on the Sea

The Irish Mariner's Soliloquy

With the soul o' me in Erin, an' meself upon the sea
    Where the soundin' o' the battle I can hear,
Shure me thoughts are all in Erin, where I'm thinkin' long to be,
An the Autumn whispers tremble o'er the shinin' wave to me.
    For the time is in the fadin' o' the year.

Over there the lads are fightin' where the ceaseless bullets fall,
    But the waitin' on the waters falls to me,
An' they say the waitin's needed, but it tries you most of all,
An' you wouldn't be awonderin' why I hear me Erin call
    If you've listened to the callin' o' the sea.

Once you've seen the look o' Erin when the mists are on the corn
    You'll be mindin' it no matter where you roam,
Shure it's now I'm seein' visions o' the golden harvest morn,
An' across the rollin' waters there's a tender music borne
    That recalls to me the song o' “Harvest Home.”

Oh, they're singin' it in Erin, but they're sighin' as they sing
    For the sorrow o' the reapin' at the War,
They are wonderin' what the comin' o' the victory will bring,
For it's Erin's sons have mingled in the flghtin' for the King,
    Aye, they've answered her from other lands afar.

Shure before I did the waitin', it was me that used to go
    Where the sons o' Erin trod an alien strand,
An' I brought them back to Erin o'er the ocean's fretful flow,
There were some she'd near forgotten they had gone so long ago!
    But they hadn't lost the likin' for their land.

An' they couldn't help the yearnin' that the call o' Erin gave,
    For it whispered o' a memory pure an' blest,
An' 'twas me that took them onward to the lands that need the brave,
An' they've shared the pride o' Erin, some have shared a hero-grave
    For the glory o' the homeland in the West.

Have you ever gone athinkin' when the breakin' wave you see
    How on every shore it's just the same to view?
Other charms o' Nature differ when in distant lands you be,
But you'll always be familiar with the image o' the sea,
    An' you'll hear it singin' things you always knew.

It's the likes o' me that knows it, an' I'm thinkin' as I stay
    Where the rollin' ocean wave around me parts,
How the sea was also breakin' o'er the shore so far away,
Where I sailed the sons o' Erin to their honour's battle-day,
    Shure it seemed a link o' Erin to their hearts!

You'd have heard a welcome soundin' in its music's boundless strain,
    It had sung farewell by Erin's peaceful shore,
But the same unbroken spirit rang from out each proud refrain—
It was Glory out in Erin, it was Glory o'er the main
    Where another land it's trace o' battle bore.

I'd be likin' them to hear it when in battle now they stand,
    For they'd feel the guardian love o' Erin near.
Or if ever they were passin' to the silent Shadow-land
It would sing o' higher Glory, till they'd sleep, an' understand
    Why they died to do the winnin' o' it here.

Shure I'm wishin' I was needed where the battleships have gone,
    For you'd feel that you were doin' somethin' great,
An' you wouldn't be afearin' when the foe comes sailin' on,
But there's other kind o' danger that you mightn't think upon,
    An' it's this that makes them say you need to wait.

So I'm proud to do the waitin', though me thoughts are often twined
    With the land that sets me deepest longin' free,
But you're always like to thinkin' on the things you leave behind,
An' it's just the sorb o' Erin to be comin' to your mind
    When you have to do the waitin' on the sea.


The Witness, 15th September 1916.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt15


We interrupted our narrative of the movement towards peace and unity on the instrumental music question for the purpose of recalling the great event of the jubilee of the march towards unity in the Irish Presbyterian Church. As the union of the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod constituting the General Assembly was a red letter day in the history of the church in the first half of the last century, the jubilee was a red letter day in the second half. As the outcome of the movement towards union was the occasion of conflict and prayer ending in harmony, so was the movement toward peace and unity on the instrumental music question. And in one case as in the other, the result made for peace and well-being of the Church and the success of its great work of harmony, peace, and progress.

As the truce on the question that had lasted for three years came to an end in 1891, the question came up for reconsideration. The committee, of which the Rev. Dr. Heron was convener, brought up a report of their final effort to effect the object of their appointment. Dr. H. B. Wilson and Dr. D. A. Taylor, who had visited several of the Southern congregations, reported that in Clonmel, Waterford, Parsonstown, and Carlow the ministers and congregations regarded the instrument as a necessity, and could not give it up; Wexford would give up the instrument if all other congregations did the same; Mountmellick had tried to do with a precentor, and had failed; but if the Assembly would get them a precenter they would consider the question of trying it again. The two deputies added this sentence to their report — “It is due to the ministers and congregations referred to in this report to acknowledge that while in every case we failed to obtain an absolute promise that the harmonium would be discontinued, we became assured that the action of the congregations we visited resulted from their deep conviction that to give up the use of their musical instrument would be practically to silence the voice of the congregational praise in them and to peril their existence.” No deputation was sent to Queenstown, as Mr. Simpson “would not co-operate.” The session and committee of Newtonbreda submitted to the Assembly’s committee “that with their convictions and experience, it would be inexpedient to disturb existing arrangements in regard to the praise service at a time when they are engaged in the serious work of building the church.” A decision similar in substance was come to by the congregations of Enniskillen and Longford. Since the appointment of the committee it was stated that instrumental aid had been dispensed with in Magheramorne, Kilkenny, and Tullamore.

In 1891 the Rev. Wm. Park was succeeded in the chair by the Rev. Dr. N. M.. Brown, Limavady, who was one of the leading supporters of the anti-instrumental party, and one who as minister and citizen had taken a great part in the political life of the province, especially in connection with the land question and the Home Rule question. On the latter, it may not be without interest to quote one or two sentences from his opening address as indicative of the feeling and the interest on it. “Our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen are a genial, generous, and warm-hearted race, whose battles we have fought along with our own, and whose burdens and disabilities we helped to remove that we might have justice, equality, and fair play all round. But we have not the slightest notion of following the political vagaries of reckless, selfish, and designing men who have duped too many of the credulous and unwary by such cries as ‘Ireland for the Irish,’ ‘Ireland a Nation,’ and ‘Home Rule,’ all of which, translated into simple English, undoubtedly means a new tyranny in Ireland and the dismemberment of the British Empire. We are privileged and honoured citizens at present of an Empire on which the sun never sets; and we are not going to barter away such a birthright for a mess of pottage however cunningly cooked or deftly served.

The Rev. Dr. Johnston, who had been a great worker for harmony in the whole movement, brought up the report, and tabled the resolutions of the committee. These recorded thankfulness to God for the peace arrived at by the arrangement of ’86, expressed satisfaction that each party to the truce had kept faith, and no new instruments had been introduced; and having regard to the happy, arrangements, resolved to continue the arrangement for another five year, “in the hope that by the end of that time a way may be found out of the difficulty without injury to the peace or welfare of the Church;” meantime urging the brethren to consider the circumstances of the Church and the country, to avoid divisive courses, and to cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance. Of the committee appointed to watch over the matter, only the following are alive — Dr. Heron, Dr. Wylie, Dr. D. A. Taylor, Dr. John MacDermott, Dr. Wm. Park, Dr. Samuel Prenter, and Professor Dr. Hamill.

Dr. Johnston, in his brief conciliatory speech, made reference to the thundercloud represented by Dr. Petticrew’s notice of motion to rescind the resolutions of ’83 and ’84. Rev. Archibald Robinson, who at this time had become professor of the Assembly’s College and D.D., took, exception to the tone of some of Dr. Wilson’s remarks; but, taking tip the parable of the thunderbolt, be said — “There was now no thundercloud at all. He did not like a thundercloud. He was afraid when any great man or small told him that he had plucked the bolt out of it. He would rather that person stood under it than he (the speaker). He wanted no thundercloud, without bolt or with one. He wanted a sunny firmament such as they had had during the last five years. During these five years they had enjoyed a prosperity which had not been known for a generation. He wanted five years more at anyrate in which the Church would be able to put forth all her energies to the great work of the Lord instead of fighting with one another in that Assembly on a question which should never have been in it.”

At the close of Professor Robinson’s speech, the Moderator was about to put the resolution, when the Rev. Dr. A. C. Murphy ascended the platform amid cries of “Pass, pass,” and, taking off his coat, seemed resolved to be heard and to move an amendment. Professor Robinson thought Dr. Murphy should be heard; but the Rev. Wm. Simpson, Queenstown, who said that he was called a firebrand and a stormy petrel, to content himself, as he would by entering his dissent. Ultimately Dr. Murphy delivered a speech, in which he said he could not agree to the resolution, as he believed the Assembly should give the congregations liberty, and he tabled his dissent. Ultimately, the closure was carried unanimously, the Moderator put the motion, and only about a dozen hands were held up against it. The Moderator, in declaring the resolution carried, said nothing in the Assembly had cheered his heart more than that finding. He congratulated the Assembly and the entire Church upon the pacific finding they had arrived at — a resolution that would go forth as a note of rejoicing over the length and breadth of the Church. A couple of verses of the 91st Psalm were then sung, and the Rev. Dr. Johnston led in prayer, and the old committee on instrumental music was discharged.

From The Witness, 5th April 1918.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

In War

Now is Thine Earth one Calvary,
  Oh! Lord of Life, with Crosses set;
And in a sky of blood and tears
  The noonday sun hath set.

And every path is paved with thorns,
  And every Temple curtain rent;
And all the songs of love are lost
  In Grief’s lone sorrowful lament.

Amongst all other Crosses, still
  Is crowned the Cross of Christ, Thy Son;
That so Thy Fatherhood bows down
  And sorrows with each sorrowing one.


Poem: The Witness, 8th March 1918

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 14


We left the Assembly of 1886, so far as this question was concerned, in a spirit of truce, and for three years there was peace in the Presbyterian Israel. Though the truce was for five years, there was a provision that the question might be again raised after three years. In the three years the committee appointed under the truce carried on their work of inquiring, reasoning, and influencing with more or less success. In 1887 it was announced that the congregation of Magheramorne, of which the Rev. D. G. M'Crea was minister, had arranged to abandon the instrument; and that while in some other cases the feeling was hopeful, there were others in which the hope was slight, if entertained at all. In the report of ’88 the spirit of hopefulness still prevailed; but no submissions were announced. In that of ’89 the congregations of Wicklow, Kilkenny, and Tullamore were added to Magheramorne as having submitted to the request of the committee, and abandoned their instruments. In summing up the work, the committee said, “During the past three years the committee have adopted the measures which, in their judgment, seemed likely to be most effective for the end in view. In several instances their efforts have prevailed. They regret that a number of congregations, for the reasons indicated [set out in full in the report] have not seen their way to yield. They are bound to add that by the brethren and the congregations generally the written communications and their deputations, where they have gone, have been treated with the greatest courtesy.”

Might I be allowed to interrupt the narrative of a movement toward union in the Church on a long vexing question, to call attention to a feature of real and actual union as represented in the Assembly of the year 1890. This was the Jubilee of the formation of the General Assembly. It was an Assembly looked forward to with great interest by the Presbyterians, and its character realised all the brightest hopes entertained respecting it. As it was on the 10th July, 1840, that the happy union of the Synod of Ulster and Secession Synod was completed, it was arranged that the meeting of Assembly should be held this year in that month. And a memorable month and a memorable meeting it was — interesting as a historic celebration, gratifying as a demonstration of Presbyterian progress, unity, and strength in Ulster, and stimulating as to the life and work of the future. An unusually large gathering of Presbyterians from all corners of the land came up to Belfast to witness and take part in the memorable proceedings, and many distinguished representatives of sister Churches and others manifested their interest in the jubilee and its associations. Rosemary Street Church was selected for the meeting, and as one of the few churches in existence at the union, and from its age, character, and associations, was specially appropriate. And to complete the ensemble the Rev. William Park, not then as now D.D., but then as now a leading ornament of the Church as preacher and pastor, and loyal Presbyterian, was elected Moderator. An additional element of appropriateness was the fact that the same year was the Jubilee of the Foreign Mission of the Church, which may be regarded as one of the first-fruits of the union, and he was at the time convener of this mission, and its most enthusiastic and able exponent and upholder. In his address after election Mr. Park, as might be expected, struck a fine keynote for the Jubilee Assembly and the loyalty of Presbyterians to Church and country, and incidentally alluded to the fact that Rosemary Street had a church history of two hundred and fifty years behind it.

I have witnessed many interesting proceedings in connection with the General Assembly and Rosemary Street, but never one more interesting than this. It was in Rosemary Street the historic Lay Conference was held in 1869 in connection with the change the Irish Church Act had brought about, and the proposal to raise £30,000 annually to enable each minister to receive £100 a year in lieu of the Regium Donum of £69,000. That was an interesting and important Conference, the greatest of its kind and time. But it had to do with the future, while this one was concerned with the past, and a glorious past. It was not only a jubilee celebration, but it marked an epoch in the history of the Church, and I refer to it now because I think that too many Presbyterians are inclined to forget the glories of the past in the troubles and struggles of the present. I well remember the sight of the celebration on that memorable Thursday, the magnificent spectacle that the church presented with the sight of so many of the older men who had lived through much of the period recalled, and of young men who were just entering upon their Presbyterian heritage. It was glorious to witness, and it is to me gratifying to recall, for it represented so much of the old vitality that had characterised the earlier history of our Presbyterianism and the a new vitality which has sustained it since, and will, I hope, continue to sustain it in the time to come. All those who were old have passed away, and of those who were young many have disappeared; but enough still remain to whom I hope it will be interesting to recall the memories of those days and the spirit, unity, and vitality they represented.

After the singing of the 146th Psalm, the Rev. Professor J. G. Murphy, of the Assembly’s College, a pre-union minister connected with the Synod of Ulster, read a portion of Scripture. A number of papers which had been specially prepared for the occasion were then read. These addresses were all published in full in a supplement to “The Witness,” which had a great sale, and copies of which were long cherished as special possessions. I came across one some time ago that had been preserved in the family of a good Presbyterian of the day. The following is a list of the authors of the papers and their subjects — Rev. Dr. H. B. Wilson, Cookstown, “Before the Union;” the Rev. President W. D. Killen, Assembly’s College, “The Story of the Union;” The Rev. Dr. William Magill, Cork, “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit;” the Rev. Thomas Lyle (convener of the Committee on Statistics), “Half a Century of Finance;” Rev. Dr. Lynd, “The Place and Work of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland;” the Rev. the Moderator (Rev. Wm. Park), “Progress of our Mission Work During the Last Half Century;” the Rev. Dr. John Hall, New York, on “Irish Presbyterians in Other Lands;” the Rev. T. S. Woods, “The Fathers and Brethren of the Union Still Spared Among Us.”

During the reading of Mr. Woods’ paper, a historic picture which he had been specially requested to prepare for the occasion by the Irish Jubilee Celebration Committee, was unveiled. The Rev. Frederick Buick, Ahoghill, pre-union minister of the Secession Synod, engaged in prayer. About a dozen pre-union ministers attended the celebration. The sederunt and the celebration, so far as the Church was concerned, was concluded with praise and prayer led by the Rev. J. K. Leslie, of Cookstown, a pro-union minister.

But that did not end there. In the evening a public reception was given to the Assembly, the delegates and friends, in the Botanic Gardens, where a special tent was provided, and to which eighteen hundred invitations were issued. It also was a unique and interesting meeting, and was addressed by several of the delegates. I referred above to the fact that sister Churches were represented on the occasion, and their delegates delivered addresses either in Rosemary Street or at the evening celebration, and some at both. These included the Church of Scotland, Rev. James Frazer and Rev. Thomas Martin; the English Presbyterian Church, the Rev. John Thompson (Carlisle) and the Rev. Dr. William M’Caw, himself a native of the North of Ireland; the Pan-Presbyterian Council, Rev. Dr. Marshall Lang; the Presbyterian Church of North America, the Rev. Dr. John Hall, New York, and the Rev. Dr. John Hemphill, then of Philadelphia, both Irishmen whom I well knew in their Irish days — the first as minister of Rutland Square, and the second as one of the earliest of the students of Magee College; the Southern Presbyterian Church of America, represented by the Rev. W. Campbell; the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, represented by Rev. W. M'Donald; the Rev. Dr. Blackie, father of the Pan-Presbyterian Council; Professor Comba (Florence), Sir George Brice, and others.

I think in these days, with so many other questions and interests to distract our attention, it is not out of place to recall this interesting episode in our Presbyterian history, and to keep before our minds something of the history, position, and responsibilities of our Presbyterian Church — “Lest we forget; lest we forget.”

From The Witness, 22nd March 1918.