Thursday, 18 December 2014

Yuletide "Whys."

In the first place, why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th? The precise day of the year on which Christ was born, nobody knows, and it must be remembered that nineteen hundred years ago the year was not calculated as it is now, in any case.

It is not even known what section of the Christian Church first looked upon this particular date as the one associated with the Birth of the founder of our religion. About the middle of the fourth century, Pope Julius issued an instruction that the proper day of the year should be ascertained, and the inquiry was undertaken by St. Cyril. He found that the festival was celebrated on varying dates by the several sections of the Church – January, March, April, May, and September – though the churches, in the West of Europe seem to have agreed on December 25th. That was sufficient for the Pope, and since his day Christmas has always been celebrated on the day to which we all look forward with such pleasure every year.


Thus having seen why we celebrate Yuletide on December 25th, let us examine the whys and wherefores of some of the festival's hoary associations. Those of us who are young enough have, say, a passing interest in the mistletoe, and the opportunities it connotes. Why is kissing under the mistletoe customary, or – shall we say? – permissible? It's an old idea, and for its origin we go back to the time of our Scandinavian forefathers. They built big "Jule" or "Yule" fires as a method of honouring the god Thor, a deity who was supposed to be the better pleased the higher the flames from the bonfires rose to the skies. And the tree whose sap was somewhat exhausted, the trees which were driest, were these on which the mistletoe, had battened, so to speak, and thus it cams to be believed that by this process the god – who had caused the mistletoe to grow on the trees – ensured big fires in his own honour.

Gathering Mistletoe
Under the branches of a tree on which the mistletoe grew the men dropped their weapons; they took home bunches of the shrub and hung them over their doorposts, and it was the custom that even if an enemy passed: into the house beneath that mistletoe he became for the time being a friend. From that it became usage to greet people who came under the mistletoe with a kiss in token of friendship, and – well, you know very well the manner in which the sentiment is manifested in this year of grace.

Incidentally it may be mentioned that the reason why mistletoe is never used in the decoration of our churches is that it was used by the Druids as a religious symbol in their rites at the sacrificial altars.


Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra
Then there is the question of good old Santa Claus, who seems nowadays to be almost a better known as Father Christmas, and more or less caricatured as such by the disguised individuals who masquerade at the Christmas grottos and other scenic arrangements at the big shops. "Santa Claus" may be taken as another way of saying "Saint Nicholas," for that very popular bishop of Myra, some sixteen hundred years ago, seems to have been the original of the gentleman who comes with cartloads of god things for the younger generation every Yuletide. The legend runs that the good bishop once climbed the roof of a house and dropped down the chimney a gift for an old gentleman who would have been greatly annoyed if he thought other people knew of his dire poverty. But the gift fell into the stocking which had been hung up to dry, and it was used as part of the dowry for the old gentleman's daughter. Thereafter, when a daughter of almost any house was about to marry, she hung up her stocking to see what gifts might fall therein from the skies. That is why we look for gifts in our stockings at Christmas; and some verisimilitude is given to the narrative by the fact that the anniversary of the saint's death, December 6th, is honoured in several countries – the close approximation of the two dates having further connected St. Nicholas with Christmas.

As to the whys and wherefores of the practice of giving presents at Christmas time there are several explanations. Probably we give them just out of some such feeling as impels us to make presents at Easter, on birthdays, and on sundry other occasions. Devout persons, however, prefer to associate their practice of giving presents with the story that the Magi from the East brought with them gifts to the lowly birthplace of our Lord at Bethlehem.


Mention of the gifts of the Wise Men brings to mind a reason for the association of plum puddings and mince pies with Yuletide. Formerly the contents of these toothsome affairs symbolised the offerings of the Magi, and this idea dates back to the very early days of the Christian Church. The meat, fruits and spices, which are the usual ingredients, were once upon a time known as "hacking," from the hacking or chopping, to which they were subjected before they were subjected before they were finally incorporated into the finished article and cooked, but in this country this somewhat barbarous name for our time-honoured plum pudding was changed shortly after the Restoration to that by which we now know it,

Plum pudding is a peculiarly English dish in these times, for, whatever other people did in bygone ages, they can no longer make plum puddings as we like them in Britain. Indeed, there is a story told of a Frenchman who, wishing to please an English visitor at Yuletide, instructed his cook to make a plum pudding according to the recipe which had been sent from this country. When that pudding came to the table it had to be brought in a soup tureen. The directions had been followed with close attention, but unfortunately the recipe did not state that when the ingredients had been duly cut up and mixed together they should be placed in a cloth!

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --


Beef is a characteristically British item of the Christmas festival. The reason must be sought for in those old pagan festivals from which we have obtained so many of the traditions and observances of Christmas time. It is, of course, well-known that the Druids set great store by the mistletoe, and we have already referred to its place in their sacred rites. Well, when the Druids gathered the mistletoe every winter it was their wont to sacrifice a couple of bulls. The special connection of beef with Christmas has been handed down, from those remote times, but, of course, not one person in a million who enjoys his Christmas dinner has ever associated his slice of sirloin with the gathering of the mistletoe. On the other hand, he may have some knowledge of how the loin of beef came to be knighted by a Stuart King, who enjoyed a hunting dinner so much one day that
     Quoth he "It is a noble dish!
      Ay, noble made by me!
By kingly right I dub thee knight
      Sir Loin henceforward be."

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --


Caroling in the Town centre
These are days when a great deal of attention is paid to the singing of carols. They were always popular, and a Christmas number without some sentimental picture of the old-time waits would indeed be regarded as an arid and uninteresting production. Since time immemorial, bands of singers have raised their voices in carols at this time of the year. But of late [1914], as the practice of singing all round the parishes has been less and less observed, an attempt has been made on the other hand to put the matter on a truer musical basis, and several of our ablest musicians and composers have taken the old carols in hand, have rescued them from old documents or revived them before they have passed from the ken of the few people to whom they have been transmitted from past generations orally, have given them more up-to-date settings, and thus enriched the resources of choirs and congregations everywhere. Thus at Christmas we are so frequently charmed not only by strangely sweet old melodies, but by the quaint verses which so strikingly illustrate the ideas of our pious forefathers.

Carol-singing found its way into Christian observance from the saturnalias of pagan peoples, and in various forms has been, as we all know, a continued practice until to-day. The older carols of this country have a great deal in common with folk-song, and, as perusal of a representative collection will show, they contain much in the way of old legend.

These articles appeared in The Witness of 11th December 1914.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Further Sketch of Belfast

Having, at the conclusion of the brief sketch of the history of Belfast in our 44th number, intimated our intention of giving some account of the present state of that town as regards its population, trade, manufactures, public institutions, &c., we now proceed to redeem that pledge.

Of the amazing rapidity with which Belfast has of late years been advancing to her present degree of importance, a tolerably fair estimate may be formed from a statement of her population at the following distant periods of time;

In 1754, the number of dwelling houses was 1,779, and the population was computed at 8,549; of these, but 556 were Roman Catholics. In 1782, the population amounted to 13,105: and in 1791, to 18,320.

By the last census, viz. that of 1831, the number of dwelling houses is stated to be 8,710; and the population, males 25,450, females 28,287; total 53,737. It is to be observed, that this is exclusive of the populous suburb of Ballymacarrett, which, (though in the county of Down, and separated from Belfast Proper by the river Lagan, across which the communication is at present carried on by means of the Long bridge of which we have already spoken,) may, we think, be fairly considered as part of the town of Belfast. The census of 1831 states the population of Ballymacarrett to be, males 2,490, females 2,678; total 5,168.

The relative proportion of Protestants to Roman Catholics in Belfast cannot be stated with precision; but we are informed that the present Roman Catholic population is estimated at 20,000.

The places of public worship are in number twenty-one, of which three are of the Established Church, namely, the parish church of St. Anne's, a chapel-of-ease, and a free church, lately built; six belong to the Presbyterian body; two of these are of what is termed the New-light; there are four meeting-houses of Methodist congregations; three of the Seceders; one of the Independents; one of the Covenanters; one of the Society of Friends, and two Roman Catholic chapels. In Ballymacarrett there is a parish church, a Roman Catholic chapel, and a Methodist meeting-house.

The number of vessels belonging to the port of Belfast, in 1686, was but 67, the tonnage of which was rated at 3,307 tons. The largest of these was the Antelope, of 200 tons which traded to Virginia. From the Belfast Mercantile Register, a paper published by government authority, we learn that on the 31st of December, 1832, the number of vessels registered at the port of Belfast, as engaged with others from various parts, both British and foreign, in its trade, was 219, the tonnage of which amounted to 23,681 terns. Of these sixty vessels, measuring 13,554 tons (averaging 225 tons to each ship) were employed in foreign commerce, and the remaining 159 (averaging 60 tons each) in the coasting and cross-channel trade.

The docks of Belfast are extensive and handsome; a large one was lately erected by Messrs. Dunbar and Holmes, at their own expense, and without any assistance from government.

The customs in 1688, were estimated at £20,000; for the year ending the 10th October, 1832, they amounted to £210,177 16s. 6d.

The founderies for the casting of iron and metal are on an extensive scale; and the manufacture of glass, salt, vitriol, and other less important matters, is by no means inconsiderable. But the chief manufacture is that of cotton, which is comparatively of recent introduction into this country, having been first brought to Belfast about the end of the last century. It now gives employment to a great mass of the population in this town, and the surrounding district; and has in a great measure superseded the weaving of linen, at least in the houses of the peasantry. There can be no doubt but that the domestic manufacture of linen has greatly retrograded of late years; but notwithstanding, we have learned from a source of unquestionable authority, that by the recent erection of flaxmills, and public establishments for the manufacture of linens, the export trade has now regained its former extent, and, in fact, was never greater than at the present day. There is one large flax-mill, the property of the Messrs. Mulholland at this moment in full operation, and several more are about being built.

The following authentic history of the introduction of cotton machinery into Ulster, has been obligingly communicated to us by a friend; and will, we apprehend, be found interesting.

In the year 1771, Mr. Robert Joy, who had a principal part in designing the establishment in Belfast, where the support of the young and aged poor is provided for, and who was the revered father of the volunteers in Ulster, conceived when on a tour through North Britain, the scheme of introducing into this, then desponding, kingdom, the more intricate branches of the cotton manufacture. He was mainly prompted to this by a desire to render service to the lower orders of the working poor, particularly linen weavers and spinners, whose livelihood was often rendered precarious, depending almost solely on a single manufacture -- that of linen.

Having suggested that the spinning of cotton yarn might, as an introductory step, be a fit and profitable employment for the children of the Belfast Poor-house, a spinning machine was made in Belfast, at the expense of Mr. Joy and a Mr. M'Cabe, assisted in the practical part by Nicholas Grimshaw, cotton and linen printer, from England, who had some time before settled in this country. Shortly afterwards an experienced spinner was brought over by Mr. Joy from Scotland, to instruct the children in the house. Also, under the same direction, a carding machine was erected, to go by water, which was afterwards removed to the poor-house, and wrought by hand.

After Messrs. Joy and M'Cabe had in vain solicited the co-operation of others, in prosecuting a scheme fraught with such national advantage, they proposed a transfer of their machinery, at first cost, to the managers of the Charitable Institution, promising as continued attention as if the emoluments were to be their own.

On the refusal of the Committee to run the risk of a new undertaking, the original proprietors formed themselves into a company with others. They dispatched a skilful mechanic to England, who obtained a minute knowledge of the most improved British machinery. On his return, they erected a new carding machine, of superior structure, and a spinning jenny of 72 spindles, which was then reckoned a very large size.

In a memorial to the Dublin Society, praying for aid, they informed the Board, that far from confining their hopes of gain to themselves, they had encouraged the public to avail themselves of their discoveries -- they had exposed their machinery to open view -- permitted numbers, even from distant parts, to be gratuitously taught in their apartments -- and promoted the manufacture of cottons, dimities, and marseilles quilting, equally by example and instruction.

The magnitude of those improvements at the time, is now to be estimated by comparison. Eight or ten cuts per day, were formerly the scanty produce of the most laborious spinner on the common wheel; while, in the same time, not more than a single pound could be carded by hand. On their jenny of 72 spindles, 72 Irish hanks were spun weekly, an increase of fourteen to one; and by their carding machine, twenty pounds of rovings were daily thrown off, an increase of twenty to one.

Their exertions were in time followed by Messrs. Nathaniel Wilson and Nicholas Grimshaw. To the talents, property, and adventurous spirit of the former of these two gentlemen, and to the practical knowledge, talent, and industry of the latter, this country stands highly indebted. The first mill for spinning twist, by water, in Ireland, was built by them in 1784, from which date the Irish cotton manufacture was considered firmly established.

In the year 1800, (only twenty. three years from the origin of the enterprize by Mr. Joy,) it appeared in evidence before Parliament, that the cotton manufactures, which had been thus introduced, gave employment to 13,500 working people; and, including all manner of persons occupied in various ways, to 27,000, within a circuit of only ten miles, comprehending within its bounds the towns of Belfast and Lisburn.

It is worthy of observation, that as far as machinery is concerned, a poor-house was the cradle of the present cotton trade of Ireland; and the detail now given, should be a stimulus to the exertions of every individual. -- It demonstrates how much may be effected by a limited capital and ardent zeal. In the present instance, the early introduction of a manufacture, already of immense and increasing importance, has been traced to the perseverance of private individuals, actuated by a wish to create useful employment for destitute children -- to assist the working classes at a time when the linen manufacture was in a most depressed state -- and to render a permanent benefit to the community at large. There are now eight large cotton mills in full work in Belfast and its neighbourhood.

There are four Banks, namely, the Belfast Banking Company, and the Northern Banking Company, the capital of each of which is £500,000; and a branch bank of the Bank of Ireland, and one of the Provincial Bank of Ireland.

Of the literary establishments, the first in rank is the Belfast Academical Institution, m which a comprehensive system of education of youth is carried on under a body incorporated by Act of Parliament, in 1810. Another of high character, is the Belfast Academy, instituted 25th January, 1786. There are, besides, various literary societies which meet periodically, and a Mechanic's Institute. Of the former, the Gaelic Society is particularly deserving of notice, on account of its national character; as is also the Irish Harp Society, which preserves our national instrument, and the race of native minstrels. At a short distance from the town is an extensive botanical garden. The Belfast National History Society, and the handsome edifice lately erected for their Museum has been already noticed in our 30th Number.

There are many distinguished names connected with literature, which should be recorded in the annals of Belfast, but we are exceeding our limits, and must restrict ourselves to the mention of one -- Dr. Alexander Haliday, the amiable and talented friend of Lord Charlemont; his character is thus given by a contemporary:

"Haliday was a scholar; a man of peculiar and varied genius and talents. As a physician, universally esteemed throughout the North of Ireland, or a considerable part of it; his medical skill was not less sought after than his conversation, which was truly valuable. He knew mankind perfectly; but his wit, which was abundant, in no wise partook of that saturnine complexion, which too deep an insight into our frail nature, and a vexatious intercourse with the world may sometimes generate, and will too often be found in company with a cold heart, and a fain mind, affecting that superiority to which it has no claim. He was as playful as intelligent; full of life and humour, candid, hospitable, and benevolent."

This may appear to be too laudatory, but we are assured that he truly, deserved it all; and the following lines written by an intimate friend of his, at the time when he was in the zenith of his popularity and practice, appears abundantly to corroborate it:--
"If to foibles, not faults, honest laughter's inclined,
 While the incidents hit, and the actions defined;
 If anecdote pleased, with nought out of joint,
 And well-seasoned epigram always in point;
 If humour be wanting to light up the feast.
 And art should be welcome, and genius carest,
 Ask the Doctor to set every guest in a roar --
 But what heart shall be light when his jests are no more?
                                                                                 R. W.

There is a fact we find we have hitherto omitted to state, which is worthy of being recorded: namely, that the first edition of the Bible ever printed in Ireland, appeared from the press of James Blow, in Belfast, in the year 1704. It is also remarkable, that the Belfast New-Letter is, (with the single objection of, we believe, a Limerick Paper), the oldest Newspaper in Ireland, having been established in 1737. The other Newspapers published here, are the Commercial Chronicle, the Mercantile Register, the Guardian, and the Northern Whig.


This article is reproduced from The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 2, No. 54 (Jul. 13, 1833), pp.12-14.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Sketch of Belfast

The town of Belfast, confessedly ranks the third in Ireland; yielding in importance but to Dublin and Cork. -- Though the period of its first attaining any degree of commercial consequence is well known, its origin is now lost in impenetrable obscurity. Conjecture, indeed, founded upon its locality, would lead us to suppose, that it took its rise from an obscure and mean village placed at a ford which formed the principle point of communication between the northern parts of the Counties of Down and Antrim. This prosperous and wealthy town, distinguished no less for its commerce and manufacture, than for its cultivation of literature and science, is situated at the mouth of the river Lagan, which falls into the sea at the extremity of the bay, anciently called Carrickfergus Lough, but which is now often designated as the Lough of Belfast. Although in its vicinity there are some lofty hills, and especially a very considerable range to the northwest, yet from the low situation in which the town itself is built, its appearance, from a distance, is not only unimpressive, but mean, and it is not till the stranger almost enters it, that he is convinced of its extent and commercial importance and wealth. This will, in some measure, account for its not appearing to more advantage in our illustration.

A castle appears to have been erected here at an early period of the occupation of Ulster by the English, supposed to have been founded by the well-known John de Courcey, to whom this part of Ireland was allotted, or by some of his followers. No historical record of its foundation, however, is to be found. It seems to have been held by the English in connexion with the castle of Carrickfergus, a strong hold, of vastly greater grandeur and importance, and their extensive possessions in the part of the county of Down, called the Ards. The first mention in history of Belfast relates to its destruction by Edward le Bruce, who, invited by O'Neil and other Irish chieftains, came over to Ireland in 1315, with a force of 6,000 men, and devastated the northern parts of the English pale, which, according to Spencer, then extended to Dunluce. Among the good towns and strong holds belonging to the English which he wasted and sacked, was Belfast, which thus fell into the hands of the Irish, who long after continued to hold undisturbed possession of almost the entire of Ulster, the attention of the English nation being diverted by the civil wars of the Roses, as well as by their French expeditions, from attempting to regain their lost possessions in the North of Ireland.

In the reign of Henry VIII., Gerald, Earl of Kildare, then Lord Deputy, finding it necessary to check the growing power of the O'Neils, made several expeditions into Ulster; in one of which in 1503, he took the castle of Belfast, but unable to hold his ground there, he dismantled it before his return to Dublin. This is the first distinct historical mention of the castle. Upon his retreat it was again repaired and occupied by the Irish, till in 1512, it was once more taken and destroyed by the same Earl of Kildare. In 1552, the Lord Deputy, Sir James Crofts, fortified the castle and garrisoned it. At this time it seems probable that the outworks were erected, considerable traces of which remained until a few years ago. They do not appear, however, to have consisted of any regular fortifications, but merely strong earthen ramparts and a deep fosse. To the custody of Hugh Mac Neil Oge, of Clan-hugh-boy, the castle was soon after confided, upon his swearing allegiance to the Crown of England; but he having soon after lost his life in a conflict which took place with a body of Scots, who made a predatory descent on the neighbouring coast, Randolphus Lane, an Englishman, was next appointed to the command of the castle; but the possession of the surrounding territory by the descendants of O'Neil, continued until in 1571, Elizabeth made a grant to Sir Thomas Smith and Thomas Smith his son, of a considerable tract of country, within the territories of Claneboy and the Great Ards, which had been vested in the Crown by act of parliament for the attainder of Shane O'Neil. Of this grant, the particulars are fully given in a valuable manuscript called -- "The Grand Inquisition of the County of Down," taken in 1621. In it the castle of Belfast is included with several others. The inquisition recites that "in the Queen's Earldom of Ulster, there be divers parcels of land that be waste, or inhabited with a wicked, barbarous, and uncivil people, some Scottish, and some wild Irish;" and that "the Smiths, with a power of Englishmen, agree to subdue all, and them plant with faithful subjects." It then recites various covenants on the part of the Smiths, to the effect, that all the adventurers who accompanied them should have certain portions of land, on certain tenures; that they (the Smiths) should have for every plow-land, one able English foot-soldier, well armed and furnished like the men of England; or for every two town-lands, a light English horseman accoutred in the same manner; and that on fifteen days notice they should appear before the Deputy at every general hostings, with a third part of all the horsemen and footmen they were bound to provide; that they should grant; no estate to any of the mere Irish or Scottish Irish, nor intermarry with them without permission. The Inquisition then states that Thomas Smith, the son, did, in 1572, enter the earldom of Ulster, but did not subdue it. It then proceeds to allege the violation of the various covenants in the grant, and the non-payment of the Crown rent; and that, therefore, the whole grant reverted to the King. (James I.)

It is a remarkable proof of the slight importance that Belfast had attained previous to 1586, that in Hollinshed's Chronicle, printed in London, in that year, there is no mention whatever made of it in the enumeration of the chief towns and havens of the Counties of Down and Antrim, among which are mentioned more than one, which at this day are but mere fishing villages.

Many forfeitures having taken place about the close of the 16th century, in the northern counties of Ireland, extensive plans were brought into operation by James I. and his ministers, for the settlement and plantation of them. The Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, having been most active in forwarding the King's views, was rewarded by considerable grants of land, and "as a further mark of his Majesty's lasting favour, he did, by letters patent, bearing date at Westminster 23d February, 1612, create him Baron of Belfast." -- In the year following a charter was granted to Belfast, constituting it a corporation, consisting of a sovereign, twelve burgesses, and commonalty, with the privilege of sending two members to Parliament. From this period may Belfast date its rise, not only in political but also in commercial importance; the latter, however, received decisive assistance from the purchase by Lord Strafford, on the part of the Crown, from the Corporation of Carrickfergus, in 1637, of their privilege of receiving one-third of the duties payable on goods imported into that town, and other extensive monopolies which it enjoyed; in consequence of which, the trade of Carrickfergus rapidly transferred itself from thence to Belfast. The unsettled state of the kingdom during the succeeding years, and the well-known rebellion of 1641, greatly retarded the advancing improvement of the town; which was successively occupied, during the contest between Charles I. and his parliament, by the Scottish troops under General Monroe, and the Parliament forces, under the celebrated General Monk. From them it was retaken by the Royalists by stratagem; and shortly after the arrival of Cromwell in Ireland in 1649, and the subsequent reduction of Drogheda, he sent Colonel Venables to reduce Belfast, which, after a resistance of four days, surrendered to him, having thus sustained four sieges, and as many times changed masters, in the lapse; of not more than six years.

In 1688 a new charter was issued hy James the II. in which the number of burgesses, was increased to thirty-five, and the privileges of the Corporation were much abridged; a power being invested in the chief governor and privy council of removing a sovereign, burgess, or other officer at pleasure. Our lips, are, in a great measure, sealed upon the subject of the political part which Belfast took in the great struggle which terminated in the establishment of William the III. upon the throne of these kingdoms. Certain, however, it is that in this town the cause of James was by no means popular, and the arrival of Duke Schomberg, in 1690, was hailed with joy. On the 9th of June following, William himself landed at Carrickfergus, from whence he proceeded immediately to Belfast, where he was received with enthusiasm, and remained there nearly a week, being lodged in the house of Sir William Franklin; the site of which is now occupied by the principal hotel in the town, the Donegal Arms.

The advantages derived from tranquillity soon began to manifest themselves in the increased prosperity of Belfast, which from this period advanced with rapid strides to the place it now holds among the commercial towns of Ireland. Its history, for many succeeding years, presents but few striking incidents; but it is quite obvious that this is by no means inconsistent with advancement in populations in trade, and in wealth. In the spring of 1692, seven arches of the Long Bridge fell in, it having been much shaken by the drawing of the heavy cannon of the Duke of Schomberg over it. This bridge, the foundation of which had been laid in 1682, but the completion of which was delayed for several years after by the unsettled state of the country, is generally supposed to occupy the site of the ancient ford across the Lagan, from which, as we have before mentioned, Belfast is said to have had its origin. The bridge consists of twenty-one arches, and is 2,562 feet in length. It has long been in a tottering condition, and its final removal, and the substitution of a modern one in its place, has long been contemplated. -- In 1708, the castle of Belfast was destroyed by fire, by the carelessness of a servant, and three daughters of Arthur, third earl of Donegal, unfortunately perished in the flames. Till lately some vestiges of the castle were to be seen, but now all trace of it has vanished, and its site is chiefly occupied by a fish and vegetable market. It is thus described by an English gentleman, who visited Ireland in 1635:-- "At Belfast, my Lord Chichester hath a dainty stately palace, which is indeed the glory and beauty of that town, where he is mostly resident."

The descent of the French squadron under Thurot, in 1760, and his occupation of Carrickfergus, naturally excited great alarm in Belfast, which it was his intention to have entered and plundered; but some delay having been fortunately occasioned by a difference of opinion with his colleague, M. Flobert, the inhabitants of the town and the neighbouring district, rapidly got under arms, a body of troops were quickly despatched to their aid, and the excellent Lord Charlemont, as Governor of the County of Armagh, proceeded to take the command of the militia of that county. The result was, that Thurot was obliged to abandon the enterprise, and re-embark; the three frigates composing his little squadron were afterwards captured or dispersed before they could get out of the Irish channel. From the apprehension of a repetition of such attempts upon the part ot the French nation to make descents upon the coast, arose the celebrated military associations known as the Volunteers; but it was not, however, till the year 1778, that these associations assumed a definite shape and name. In their formation Belfast took a leading and distinguished part; and here were held some reviews of the entire Volunteer force of the North of Ireland, upon a scale of great magnitude and splendour. It would be impossible for us now to enter upon the history of this celebrated body, which makes so conspicuous a figure in the annals of this country. We have already alluded, in the biographical memoir of Lord Charlemont in our 33rd Number, to its having effected the removal of various commercial restraints, and afwards [sic] established, in 1782, the independence of the Irish Legislature. This body finally ceased to exist in 1793.

At the earlier period of the memorable French Revolution, a powerful sensation was produced in Belfast, where it was hailed by many as the dawn of a new era in the history of the civil and religious interests of mankind. Imbued with an ardent love of liberty, they were caught by the enthusiasm, of the day, and until undeceived by the frightful scenes of bloodshed which rapidly followed, they hailed the progress of the revolutionists with unrestrained demonstration of the liveliest sympathy and joy. Addresses to the French people, expressive of such feelings, were rapidly prepared, and numerously and respectably signed. The fermented state of the public mind consequent upon these proceedings, afford we think the clue to the formation in Belfast of the secret societies, so well known afterwards by the designation of United Irishmen. But a narrative of their proceedings must not be expected from our columns; in the memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone, not long since published, are to be found the details of their objects and plans. The government, whose subversion they sought to effect, took active measures in self-defence, for their suppression, and in consequence Belfast was visited by many of the calamities necessarily resulting from the steps taken to provide against the anticipated conspiracy. Many arrests took place, and martial law was proclaimed. -- At length the rebellion of 1798 broke out; but we learn that to such a state of subjection were the conspirators here reduced by the unremitting vigilance and exertion of the civil and military powers, that, while insurrection was blazing forth in various parts of Ireland, not the slightest commotion betrayed itself here. The lapse of a few years restored peace to this distracted country; and Belfast once more restored her rapid advance to her present state or commercial prosperity, which no untoward events have since occurred to interrupt.

Having already much exceeded the limits to which we had intended to have restricted ourselves for the article, we are compelled to postpone our notice of the present state of Belfast, with regard to its trade, manufactures, public institutions, &c. to a future number.


This article is reproduced from The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 44 (Apr. 27, 1833), pp.349-350

Thursday, 27 November 2014

In Memoriam

The sword and the shield of the valiant are broken;
     In fragments they lie on the war-beaten field;
To him who hath borne them the Chieftain hath spoken,
     "No longer the weapons of earth you shall wield.
Come up higher my soldier, your warfare is ended;
     The peace of your Lord shall be yours evermore;
The outposts assigned you, right well you defended,
     In the face of the foeman, my standard you bore."

So his ashes were laid on the lap of the mountain;
     When the purple heath bloomed on the grey crags above;
Where a streamlet, new born, gushes pure from its fountain,
     Fit symbols or purity, life, and of love.
And now he rests well from his labours and sorrows;
     And his place in the fast-thinning ranks is a void;
While we, faltering, think of the doubtful to-morrows,
     And forget that the anchor holds firm, and is buoyed.
For we see not the Rock that the anchor is gripping,
     And but dimly the buoy that marks where it lies;
But we do see the sun in the red west dipping,
     While o’er all hangs the pall of the stormladen skies.


This poem appeared in The Witness of 11th September 1914.
Image: Courcelette Sunset by Paul Reed

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Whiskey and Cheap Beer - 19th Century Home Brew

"Drunkard" by Vladimir Makovsky


Every country has a spirituous liquor peculiar to itself. In England gin is the spirit in general use; it is flavoured with turpentine. In Holland, the spirit called Jeneva Brandewyn, is flavoured with juniper berries. – Both these are corn spirits, and are strongly diuretic. Brandy Eau dt Vie is the spirit of France; it is produced from wine; and the flavour peculiar to it, is derived from an essential oil, called the Oil of Wine: it is considered more cordial than other spirituous liquors, and is frequently prescribed as a stomachic. Pure brandy is colourless, but that most used in England is browned by burned sugar. Arrack is produced from rice, and is the favourite spirit in India. Kirch Wasser, or Cherry Water, is the local spirit of Germany and Switzerland; it is distilled from cherries, and holds in combination the prussic acid derived from the kernels. Rum is produced in the West Indies from the uncrystallizable liquor, which remains after the manufacture of sugar; it has a very disagreeable and empyreumatic flavour, when new; and requires age before it can be used. Whiskey is the favourite spirit of Ireland and Scotland; it is distilled from malt in Ireland, but in Scotland from oats, or oats and malt combined. The whiskey generally preferred, is that which has no particular flavour; but there are many who esteem that which has the smell of smoke or peat.

All the above spirits are highly stimulant, and when taken medicinally either to relieve spasm in the stomach, to act as a carminative, to increase the action of the heart and arteries, and to restore the energy of the nervous system, as is sometimes indicated in low fevers and other diseases, they may be resorted to with good and beneficial results; but the practice of drinking them, either ardent or diluted, daily, and to the frightful excess which is too often witnessed in these countries, is most injurious to the constitution of the individual, – prejudicial to the well-being and good order of society, and cannot be too strongly reprobated. We have not space to point out the varied acts of moral delinquency arising from it, suffice it therefore to enumerate some few of the destructive consequences upon the mind and body, which we trust may have the effect of deterring those who have as yet avoided it, from commencing; and causing those who have habituated themselves to the baneful practice, to pause ere it is too late. One of the primary effects, is loss of appetite, and inability on the part of the stomach to digest the food which is received into it; the frame is so debilitated, as a consequence of past excitement, and want of its natural support, that it is again felt necessary to seek temporary relief, from a repetition of the stimulus; this being frequently repeated, lays the foundation of biliary derangement, and ultimately destroys the structure of the liver. Debility, emaciation, and dropsy succeed, and the constitution, once healthy and robust, and which might have endured for a long life, vigorous, by temperance, is broken down, and is only relieved by a lingering death. Many other effects might be enumerated, such as that state or disease, known by the name of delirium tremens, in which the nervous system is so completely upset, that the martyr to it can only exist under a state of intoxication. The countenance becomes cadaverous, the mind looses its powers, and every muscle (if mere fibre can be called muscle) is perpetually in a tremulous state, and the being becomes rather a subject of disgust than sympathy. – Butler.

Cheap Beer

Sir, I send you some receipts for cheap beer, to which, I hope, you will give general publicity. I observe, first, that West Indian molasses is the best for the purpose. It is a kind of treacle, which is sold as it comes from the West Indies, and is known by a gritty substance at the bottom of the cask, more or less like sand, which substance is, in truth, an imperfect sugar. Common treacle will do as well, if the quantity be a little increased, say one pound in six or seven; but the best article of all is the coarsest brown sugar you can get; it is better than the higher-priced for this purpose; and you may use one pound in six less of it than the West Indian molasses. It is, however, dearer upon the whole, though still much cheaper than malt. In making beer from unmalted barley, it is necessary to take good care not to use the water too hot, as, if it be, the barley will set, that is, become pasty, and not allow the water to drain off. Be very particular about this; a little oat chaff well mixed with the barley will go a great way to prevent this accident.

Raw Barley and Molasses. – The use of raw grain with molasses, for making beer, is a most valuable discovery for the middle classes. Put a peck of barley or oats into an oven after the bread is drawn, or into a frying-pan, and steam the moisture from them. Then gird or bruise the grain roughly (not fine), and pour on it 2½ gallons of water, so hot as to pain the finger smartly. Mash it well, and let it stand three hours. Then draw it off, and pour on every two gallons nine of water rather hotter than the last; but not boiling (say not above 180°). Mash the liquor well, and let it stand two hours before you draw it off. Pour on afterwards 2 gallons of cold water; mash well, and draw off. You will have about 5 gallons. Mix 7 pounds of West Indian molasses in 5 gallons of water; mix it with the wort from the barley; then add 4 oz. of hops, and boil one hour and a half. When cooled to blood-heat, add a teacupful of yeast; cover it with a sack, and let it ferment eighteen hours. In fourteen days it will be good sound fine beer, quite equal in strength to London porter or good ale. The 9 gallons of beer will cost:— 1 peck of barley, 1s. 3d.; 7lbs. of molasses. 1s. 6d. to 2s.; 4 oz. of hops, 3d.: in all, 3s., or, at most, 3s. 6d.

2. Malt and Molasses. – Pour 8 gallons of water at 175°, on a bushel of malt. Mash well; let it stand three hours; draw it off, and add 8 gallons more water at 196°. Mash, and let it stand two hours: add 8 gallons of cold water to the grain, and let it stand three hours and a half. Mix 28 pounds of West Indian molasses in 20 gallons of water, and boil the whole with 2 pounds of hops for two hours. When the liquor is cooled down to 85°, add half a pint of yeast; cover it with a sack, stir it well, and let it ferment twenty-four hours. In proper time you will have 36 gallons of good ale for – 1 bushel of malt, 9s.; 28lbs. of molasses, 6s. to 8s. 2lbs. of hops, 2s.: in all 17s., or at most, 19s.

3. West Indian Molasses only. – Mix 14 pounds of West Indian molasses with 11 gallons of water; boil it for two hours with G ounces of hops. Let it become quite cool; add a teacupful of yeast, stir it up, and cover it over with a sack, to keep it warm. Let it ferment sixteen hours, put it into a cask, and keep it well filled up; bung it down in two days, and in seven days it will be fit to drink, and be stronger beer than London porter. This is the simplest of all; a washing copper and a tub, or even a large teakettle, only being requisite. Thus 9 gallons of beer can be made:– 14lbs. of molasses, 3s., or, at most, 4s.; 6oz. of hops, 4½d.: in all, 3s. 4½d., or, at most., 4s. 4½d.

A small quantity of copperas, or vitriol of iron, about as much as will lie on the point of a small knife, is in general use, to give beer a head, and make it drink pleasant and lively. It is not necessary, but it is not unwholesome in any respect. – Gardener's Magazine.

The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 15 (Oct. 6, 1832), pp. 114-115

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fairy Children

The superstitious belief which still prevails to a great extent in Ireland, with regard to fairy children, or changelings as they are called, is of very injurious tendency, and will, we trust, ere long, be extirpated. The entertaining historian of fairy lore, Mr. Crofton Croker, says -- "When a child appears delicate, or a young woman consumptive, the conclusion is, that they are carried off to be made a playmate or nurse to the young fairies, and that a substitute, resembling the person taken away, is deposited in their place, which gradually declines, and ultimately dies. The inhuman means used by ignorant parents to discover if an unhealthy child be their offspring or a changeling, (the name given to the illusory image,) is, placing the child, undressed, on the road side, where it is suffered to lie a considerable time exposed to cold. After such ceremony, they conclude a natural disorder has caused the symptoms of decay; and the child is then treated with more tenderness, from an idea, that had it been possessed by a fairy, that spirit would not have brooked such indignity, but made its escape. Paralytic affections are attributed to the same agency, whence the term 'fairy-struck;' and the same cruel treatment is observed towards aged persons thus affected."

The following very pleasing ballad, by our talented countryman, Dr. Anster, has been founded on this superstition; the mother is supposed to speak --

"The summer sun was sinking
      With a mild light, calm and mellow.
 It shone on my little boy's bonny cheeks.
      And his loose locks of yellow.

 The robin was singing sweetly,
     And his song was sad and tender;
 And my little boy's eyes as he heard the song,
     Smiled with sweet soft splendour.

 My little boy lay on my bosom,
     While his soul the song was quaffing;
 The joy of his soul had ting'd his cheek,
     And his heart and his eye were laughing.

 I sat alone in my cottage.
     The midnight needle plying;
 I fear'd for my child, for the rush's light
     In the socket now was dying.

 There came a hand to my lonely latch,
     Like the wind at midnight moaning,
 I knelt to pray -- but rose again --
     For I heard my little boy groaning!

 I crossed my brow, and I crossed my breast,
     But that night my child departed!
 They left a weakling in his stead,
     And I am broken-hearted!

 Oh! it cannot be my own sweet boy,
     For his eyes are dim and hollow,
 My little boy is gone to God,
     And his mother soon will follow.

 The dirge for the dead will be sung for me,
     And the mass be chaunted sweetly;
 And I will sleep with my little boy,
     In the moonlight church-yard meetly."

Text: The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 29 (Jan. 12, 1833), p. 227.
Illustration: The Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, Revised Edition, 1879.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Fairy Annals of Ulster -- No 2 (pt 3)

The following legend was communicated by a farmer, far advanced in years, who resides at the foot of Lurgeadon -- or Lurig, as it is usually called -- a curiously shaped hill in the immediate vicinity of Cushendall, which is said to bear a marked resemblance to the Table Mountain of the Cape of Good Hope. The farmer, like other dwellers in the Glens, was a true believer in Fairy annals.

"There's two races of people in this country, and always has been from the earliest time, one invisible and the other visible, like ourselves, and how long we are to have the dominion nobody can tell; them that lost it had great power at one time, and has it still in their present dominions underground. Some will have it that the other race took the air when we got the upper hand -- but God knows best.

"At the time the other race had the sway, they put Ireland under enchantment entirely. At that time, the King of Spain had five sons, and the youngest requested his father to give him three ships, made ready for sailin', and three years' provisions on boord, that he might go aff to gain knowledge, see forrin countries, and do all the good he could. So the king granted him the ships and the hands, and three years' provisions, and then the young prince sailed westward for longer than I can tell, when a storm cum on, and it raged night and day till the ships was near shattered to atoms. The prince was walkin' the deck, not knowin' what hand to turn to, when he saw by some signs that land was near, but he seen none; so he ordered his men to cast anchor on chance, and at a certain hour of the night he seen the land, and made for it at once, with all the hands that could be spared out of the ship. They landed safe, and took possession, but didn't get lave to keep it long; for an army cum down upon them, threatening to have their lives if they didn't leave that. The prince was a brave warrior, and he ordered his men to prepare for battle. They fought it out for three days with no advantage, for all the inemies they killed by day cum alive in the night, so the prince knew it was enchantment done that, and made off to the ships with the men that was left; and when he got into the boats, the land disappeared in the clappin' of your hand, and they never seen more of it.

"The prince got safe back to Spain, but the king was no ways glad to see him when he heard what had happened. 'Why didn't you come to a capitulation with the Gineral of the array you fought with,' says the king, 'and not lave the country the same as you found it.' 'I fought my best as long as I could,' says the prince, 'but could do nothin' again' enchantment.' This didn't pacify the king, so he sent for his Gran' Counsellor, to consult with him about puttin' the prince in prison, and sendin' a plinipotintiary to the enchanted island. The Gran' Counseller gov his advice that the king should give the young prince another chance, as the luck hadn't left him for good an' all on the one trial; so the king consinted to fit him out once more with five ships and five years' provisions, and as many more han's as he had the first time.

"The prince sailed away, in great heart, westward once more, and again a storm overtook him and wrecked two of his ships, on the north coast of this kingdom, but the other ships stood it out, and anchored once more in the ould place: and at the same hour of the night the prince saw the land appearing, and made for it with men and boats with all speed, and took possession. Once more down cum the army upon them, and the fightin' commenced. The prince left the field for a short time to get breath, when up cum an aged ould man, and says to him, 'what reward will you bestow on me if I put you in the way of vanquishin' your inemies?' 'Spain's at no short for gold,' says the prince, 'and I'll give you what you ask.' 'Very good,' says the ancient man, 'now mind my directions, take these slips of rowan-tree, give your men every one a bundle of them, and when-iver an inemy falls on the ground, pin him down with one of the slips, and he'll never rise.' The prince and his men followed the advice, and in a short time the inemy was fast pinned to the earth, the battle won entirely, and the enchantment broke. The land has never been invisible since, and the enchanted race, with them that ruled them, has disappeared, as we all know, to habitations of their own, and they bear us no malice worth mentioning, if we don't meddle with them, or what belongs till them."



Antiquarian Notes and Queries.

Supplementary to the notices in vol. vi. of the Journal respecting Fairy superstitions in the county of Antrim, I would notice some singular extensions of the prevalent ideas on the subject which exist in a part of that county not far distant from Cushendall. A well-known feature connected with this superstition is, that old thorn-bushes on the banks of streams, or near what the people call "Danes' forts," or, indeed, any place where standing alone, are considered to be the haunts or peculiar abodes of fairies; and, as such, are not to be disturbed without the risk of personal danger, sooner or later, to the person so offending. I have often endeavoured to explain, on rational principles, to persons putting faith in this belief, how it was that a thorn-bush might be growing alone -- that they were perhaps wrong in their opinion that it had never been planted by human hands -- that there was at least no proof of the fact -- or if so, it was possible that the birds of the air, or the little boys of a far distant age, might have carried away haws to those remote places, some one of which, out of a multitude, might have fallen on good ground, and escaped the thousand dangers to which young thorns, as well as other growing scions, are exposed in their progress from youth to maturity. My attempted explanations were always received with incredulity: and in truth, a solitary old gnarled thorn that has braved the storms of two or three centuries, standing on the bank of one of those beautiful streams with which this country abounds, distant from any human habitation or from any of its kind, is, to say the least of it, an object of some interest; and we can scarcely wonder that it should produce an impression on weak and credulous minds not easily removed. And this brings me to what I have called an extension of the superstition, though it might rather be considered a degradation of it, being destitute of any romantic associations whatever. Passing through a meadow lately with the occupier, I asked him why he did not remove a number of what are called "wild sallies," [willows,] perfect weeds, in fact, which were fast spreading over his ground, forming a most unseemly and unprofitable thicket. He said it was considered best  not to touch thorn, as they never had been planted by the hand of man. In the next field nearly, there is an ash-tree standing alone at the edge of a stream, and also thought to be of supernatural origin. The consequence is, that it is tended with the utmost reverence by the small farmer in whose land it is growing: it is even thought unsafe to cut a rod from it, stories being told of calamities befalling persons who had been so daring as to commit such an act; the grass around it is carefully shorn, and when brought home, a strict examination of it is made, to discover if any twig has been cut in the process and carried away unwittingly from the sacred plant; and in cases where this has happened, I have known the twig taken back again, and laid with due respect and caution beside the parent stem.

These instances are brought forward to show that this superstitious belief is not confined to old thorns only, but would probably be found, at least in some localities, to extend itself to a tree of any kind, growing alone, or of which the origin did not readily appear.
 G. B.

The above articles are reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 7, 1859.