DISTURBANCE IN A SMALL TOWN
'You've to get up early in the morning to get up early in the morning.'
Mr McStoryteller at his finest. Nae jokin''
Mr McStoryteller himself linked to this in his previous post.. but in case you missed it, check it out at the link below
DISTURBANCE IN A SMALL TOWN
Our readers say: 'What do Paddy's ken aboot history onywey?'
'You've to get up early in the morning to get up early in the morning.'
Mr McStoryteller at his finest. Nae jokin''
Last year, when I was doing some research into the history of South Queensferry for my Irish mother’s biography, The Rebel’s Daughter, I came across the following report in The Scotsman dated April 25th, 1865:
SOUTH QUEENSFERRY – DEMONSTRATION AGAINST STREET PREACHERS BY IRISHMEN
Not having heard of the incident before, I was surprised to learn that “large numbers” of Irish people lived in the Ferry back as early as 1865. Remember, that was some twenty years before the more widely known influx of Irishmen eager to find work on the construction of the Forth Bridge. By 1883, therefore, when the latter enterprise began, there would have been even larger numbers of Irish in the town.
Just recently, I recalled that my sister Ann Marie, the family archivist, had sent me the results of her research into the ancestry of my father’s side of the family. Being more focused on my mother’s lineage, I hadn’t paid much attention to those results before. But a belated examination of them showed that not only did my great-great-grandparents, Daniel and Mary McKay, come over to Scotland from Ireland, they also resided in the Ferry at the time of the “disgraceful disturbance” – and may well have been a part of it.
A wee bit further delving revealed that Daniel and Mary are almost certain to have emigrated with their parents in order to escape Ireland’s Great Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, which lasted from 1845 to 1852. Probably attracted by the promise of work in the growing shale mining industry in the East of Scotland, both sets of parents ended up in a little place called Ratho, where Daniel and Mary met and married.
All of which supplied this writer with the ingredients for a short story, a factional account of the 1865 incident in the Ferry, which has been published on McStorytellers and is called A Disturbance in a Small Town.
That story aside, I’ve been puzzling over this whole business of the Irish in the Ferry. By the time work on the Forth Bridge was completed in 1889, the place must have been hoaching with them. Yet, when I was growing up there in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, I can’t remember hearing the merest hint of the brogue – apart from my mother’s distinctive accent, of course. Not only that, but the town’s Roman Catholic community seemed tiny in comparison with the rest of the local population. In fact, the only evidence of a past Irish heritage was to be found in one small part of the town called the Crossroads, where there was an abundance of old Irish surnames – so much so that in The Rebel’s Daughter my mother refers to the Crossroads as “Little Ireland”.
And that begs the big question. What happened to all the Ferry’s Irish folk? My theory is that, like Daniel and Mary in the story (as well as in reality), they stayed, but that the great majority blended into the wider community, leaving both their Irishness and their religion behind. I have three reasons for coming to that conclusion.
The first is bigotry. Clearly, as the 1865 incident testifies, there was a lot of local hostility to Roman Catholicism back then. It was still there when I was a boy – not the screeching, in-your-face type of hostility practised by those preachers, but something more insidious. I was beaten up and called a “dirty Pape” on three occasions that I can remember. You might argue that the perpetrators were just daft laddies. Aye, they were just (big) laddies, all right, but laddies who took their cue from their parents. Anyway, I reckon that in the face of sustained hostility back in the nineteenth century a lot of the Irish people went for an easier life by downplaying their religion and even their nationality. And who would blame them for that if their primary objective in life was to put food on the table for their families?
The second reason is to do with the dearth of opportunities for the Ferry’s Irish Catholics to practice their faith. The first proper Chapel wasn’t provided for them until 1884. A corrugated iron affair that stood originally in Madeira Street in Leith, it was dismantled and re-erected in the town. You can see its steeple in the old photograph at the top of this post. Prior to 1884, the Catholic community didn’t have a resident priest, and their “Chapel” was a room in a house, where services were held by priests travelling from elsewhere. In 1865, for example, Mass was said in the house every fourth Sunday by a priest from Linlithgow. Back then, if I was working six days a week for a pittance, I’d be inclined to forego Mass on a Sunday for a rest at home. With no priest to answer to, I might even be inclined to forego religious adherence altogether. Which is what I think many of the Irish people did.
The third reason concerns the absence of religious education. The Ferry didn’t have its own Roman Catholic Primary School until the late 1950’s. Before then, Catholic parents had a choice – send your kids to the town’s non-denominational school or have them travelling to schools elsewhere. In my case and that of some of my siblings, we went to the RC school in Winchburgh until the one in the Ferry was built. There was no such thing as a school bus back then, so we had to travel on the very limited SMT service – not a pleasant experience for a youngster, I can attest! Of course, back in the nineteenth century, there was no such thing as a public bus service, so the local non-denominational school it had to be for the Catholic children, which was probably the quickest route for them to lose their religious identity.
So what does all this mean? Well, if my theory is correct, there are many Ferry people who were brought up as non-Catholics and went to non-Catholic schools, and who are Scots to all intents, but who actually have their roots in Catholic Ireland. And not just in the Ferry. The same applies in towns and villages throughout West Lothian, the cradle of the shale mining industry, into which the Irish immigrants flocked.
You may be one of the people I’m referring to. If you’re wondering about that, why not do as my sister did and research your ancestry? Find out where your great-great-grandparents or their parents came from. You may discover that it was Ireland. But don’t despair. Forget about the religious baggage. Celebrate your roots instead. Celebrate your heritage, your Irishness. You know the words of the old song, don’t you? ♫ If you’re Irish…
… come into the parlour,
There's a welcome there for you;
If your name is Timothy or Pat,
So long as you come from Ireland,
There's a welcome on the mat. ♫
But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Irish, anti-Catholic bigot, who wants to send me some hate mail because of this article, I’d advise you to check your family tree first. You could change your tune quick enough and start singing ♫ I’m no’ a Billy, I’m a Tim! ♫
Find out more about Mr McStoryteller himself at his website Blazes Boylan's Book Bazaar and visit his Amazon Author Page or Contemporary Scots at the unco bookstore to buy his books.
This is the fourth (and last for the time being) in my series of contributions in defence of recent assaults on the reputation of SR Crockett. It’s my review of the lesser known sequel to Crockett’s most famous work.
I’m a big fan of the writing of Samuel Rutherford Crockett. I read and thoroughly enjoyed his novel, The Black Douglas. Maid Margaret is described as the sequel to The Black Douglas, but I enjoyed it even more. The first reason is because it is a much more personal account of the turbulent times of fifteenth century Scotland, times that were dominated by the internecine war between the Douglas and Stewart Houses. The second and more important reason is because it is narrated by the Maid of Galloway herself – or by Crockett impersonating her. And what an impersonation!
After only a few pages, you’ll forget that this is a man writing as a woman. Across the lifetime of the Maid, from petulant teens to creaky dotage, you’ll experience her joys and pains and anguish. You’ll rejoice with her at love found and you’ll grieve with her at love lost. And throughout the whole of the narrative, you’ll find that Crockett does not fail in his task of being the Maid – not once. I believe he has achieved something in this book that none of his contemporaries, not even the sainted RLS, could have accomplished. He is an astonishing writer. And Maid Margaret is an astonishing book.
You can buy the paperback at the unco online bookstore and receive the eBook free into the bargain. Or you can download the Kindle from Amazon.
I hope this and my three previous contributions have persuaded you to at least have a wee gander at the work of this wonderful and woefully neglected Scots author. You’ll find the other contributions at these links:
My Favourite Crockett Novel – Until the Next One
A Scots Classic Revisited
A Scots Game of Thrones
This is the third in my series of contributions in defence of recent assaults on the reputation of SR Crockett. It’s a review of Crockett’s most well-known novel that I posted here on McRenegades last October.
Don’t be fooled into thinking The Black Douglas is another historical romance of the kind churned out by contemporary Scottish writers. It couldn’t be further from that description. Yes, a romantic thread runs through the novel, but so also do political intrigue, bloody executions, terrifying witchcraft and paedocide most heinous. Set in fifteenth century Scotland, with a foray into the darkest corners of France, this is the Scottish version of “Game of Thrones”. Without the gratuitous sex, of course – it was written in the late nineteenth century, after all. But it does have its own larger-than-life villain who easily out-villains Ramsay Bolton!
And if all of that isn’t enough, there’s the writing – the beautiful descriptive writing of Samuel Rutherford Crockett, one of the best novelists ever produced by Scotland, but sadly much-neglected these days. I’m off now to read Maid Margaret, his sequel to this wonderful novel.
You can buy the paperback of The Black Douglas at the unco online bookstore and receive the eBook free into the bargain. Or you can download the Kindle from Amazon.
Back in March last year, I posted the following review here on McRenegades. As part of my series of contributions in defence of recent assaults on the reputation of SR Crockett, it’s time to reprise it.
Samuel Rutherford Crockett. I’m not going to go on about how he was once one of Scotland’s bestselling and best known authors. Or how he has been much neglected and often maligned by successive generations of literati. Or how both his reputation and his work have been revived in recent years through the singlehanded efforts of playwright, author, publisher, good friend of mine and fellow-McRenegade, Cally Phillips. Instead of all that, I want to go on about the book I’ve just finished reading.
Now, ever since that aforementioned revival by Cally through the estimable Galloway Raiders, I’ve read many of the great man’s novels. I’ve also enjoyed every one of them, but none more so than Strong Mac. So, first of all, how do I categorise the book? Well, it’s a romance, for sure – a love story runs through the heart of it. But it’s more than that, so much more. There’s treachery and murder most foul and torture and fighting – at one point, we’re even plunged into the midst of Wellington’s Peninsular War. But there are also scenes of high comedy, including the laugh-out-loud proceedings at a murder trial. And, of course, since it’s a love story, there are many moments of quiet tenderness.
In short, therefore, the book has everything – adventure, mystery, humour, romance. But what makes it stand out for me, what turns it into a Scots classic to compare with anything produced by Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott are the following three qualities.
First, there’s Crockett’s characterisation. From the adorable Adora Gracie, the novel’s heroine, through to the multitude of bit-part players – the taciturn blacksmith, for example – the characters are so finely drawn you feel you’d know them if you met them in the street. But, believe me, there are some of them you wouldn’t want to bump into!
Then there are the landscapes. Crockett can’t help himself. With every new scene, he’s compelled to paint the landscape, sometimes in the minutest detail. His paintings are so accurate, so alive, that you’re transported there with the characters. You can see that tiny icicle sparkling in the winter sun. You can witness the colours unfolding and hear the sounds building across that vast, empty moor as it awakens to a new spring morning.
Last, but not least, is the dialogue. Crockett has all his characters speaking in their native Scots tongue, not in the Queen’s English and certainly not in in some half-arsed English/vernacular hybrid. Now, I realise that whole theses have been written by the literati on the use of “dialect” in novels. But listen to the rhythm of Crockett’s dialogue, feel the sharpness of it, laugh at the wryness of it, and you’re bound to support the full-dialect side of the argument.
But don’t just take my word for it. Go read this neglected Scots classic for yourself. You can buy the paperback at the unco online bookstore and receive the eBook free into the bargain. Or you can download the Kindle from Amazon.
While fellow-McRenegades Cally Phillips and Rab Christie continue to man the barricades in defence of unwarranted and uninformed assaults by Scottish literary academia on the reputations of SR Crockett and JM Barrie, here from me is the first of a series of wee contributions to their struggle.
Thanks to the unflagging efforts of oor very ain Cally Phillips, who has almost singlehandedly resurrected the work and reputation of the much-neglected and unfairly scorned nineteenth century Scottish novelist, Samuel Rutherford Crockett, I am a big fan of that wonderful writer. Having read a good number of his sixty-odd works so far, I’m often asked, “What is your favourite Crockett novel?” My answer always is, “The one I’m reading.”
And that is so true. I’ve just finished reading one called The Cherry Ribband. Needless to say, it is my current favourite. It is set during The Killing Times of the late seventeenth century, when a deadly game of cat and mouse between the King’s Men and the Covenanters was played out across the hills and moors of South-West Scotland. While the story begins in Crockett’s beloved Galloway, much of the action takes place on the East Coast of Scotland, particularly on and around the Bass Rock, a territory that is certainly more familiar to this Edinburgh laddie.
To be honest, though, I’m never much bothered about the historical context and geographical settings of Crockett’s novels. It’s the writing that interests me. There are Crockett’s superb trademark descriptions of the landscape for a start. From blushing dawns over the moorland to velvety black forests at night, those descriptions never fail to move me.
Then there are the characters he brings to life. Heroes and heroines, of course. But of more interest to me are his secondary characters. In The Cherry Ribband, he presents us with an array of memorable players. There’s Rantin’ Rab Grier, scourge of the Covenanters. And there are the two East Coast fishermen: wily, scheming Prayerful Peter and his nephew, honest and laconic Long-bodied John. These are characters who will stay with me for a long time to come.
As will the Countess of Liddesdale, a loud, brash, courageous giant of a woman. And it’s her words that serve to illustrate a third and not less important reason why I love Crockett’s work – his masterly command of the Scots tongue. This outburst from the big lady almost had me in tears: “And what for then should I be afraid o’ wee Steevie Houston, daft or wise, guid or ill – me that could grip three Steevies in my left hand and shake them till their very banes played castanets!” So vivid. So Scottish. So perfect.
So there you have it. The Cherry Ribband is my current Crockett favourite. But I’m off now to The Galloway Raiders to peruse the great man’s catalogue for my next favourite!
(The Cherry Ribband is available from the unco online bookshop in paperback format and from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.)
So last night I watched back-to-back the first two episodes of this new BBC drama series, set in 1965 in British-ruled Aden, a place fondly referred to by many a soldier since the Great War as the arsehole of the Empire.
By the end of the initial episode, I was impressed. By the end of the second, I was depressed. You see, while lots of exciting things were going on at its periphery, at its heart the programme had degenerated into another soap, which should have carried the subtitle Officers & Their Wives. It had turned into middle-class military mush.
Stuff rankled. The only token Scotsman was a loud, overweight, heavy-drinking, angst-ridden NCO. Talk about stereo-fucking-typing!
But the clincher for me was when the surgeon, who had been called upon to save the life of the wife of a fellow-Officer, declared: “Her husband and I were at Sandhurst together.”
Oh, fuck, BBC, we don’t want this pish. We want more honest, working-class, believable dramas like Broken. Bring back Jimmy McGovern!
(By the way, Beeb, A Scottish Soldier was written in the 1960’s by Andy Stewart, who made his fortune from the stereotypical kilted Scottie image. It’s highly unlikely that a veteran of the First World War, dementia-suffering or not, would call it one of the “old” songs and ask his son – the aforementioned overweight NCO – to sing it to him down the telephone line. Just sayin’.)
FOR SALE: Nearly new deluxe lantern seed feeder for wild birds, made from pewter effect steel. Going cheap.
Early this morning, I emptied the last dregs from the bird feeder at the back of the garden, the shiny new replacement I purchased only a short while ago, and stowed the contraption away in the garden hut, never to be hung lovingly on a tree again. It is a bird feeder no more. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. It is an ex-bird feeder.
Yes, I have finally given up the long struggle. I no longer feed the birds. When we moved here a few years ago, we put up a feeder for the small family of house sparrows which nested in the eaves of the shell of the old cottage next door. Sadly, the house sparrows have gone now, probably ousted from their feeding ground by the horde of tree sparrows which nest in gardens beyond mine. Until this morning, I continued to feed that horde. By proxy, I’ve also been feeding two groups of freeloading wood pigeons and doves.
The bigger birds are obviously too big to perch on the feeder, so they mooch around below it, searching for fallen seed, which they gobble up while simultaneously defecating. Now, I don’t really mind the bigger birds tucking into the fallen seed. What I do object to is wading through their shit when I replenish the feeder in the mornings and then having to clean whatever footwear I have on.
I’ve tried every trick in the book to frighten away the big birds. Banging on the window of my study, which has a bird’s eye view (ha!) of the garden. Opening the window to clap and scream Apache war cries. Going outside to throw stones and other things that come to hand. But none of it has been of any use. Oh, yes, they fly off for a while, but they soon return. Like goldfish, the doves don’t have the power of recall. They waddle around the garden with impunity, not seeming to remember that a javelin (i.e. clothes pole) whizzed past their heads the day before. The pigeons, on the other hand, are much more wary. They appear to have clocked my movements, knowing when I’m unlikely to be at the study window and therefore when it will be safer to fly in and grab some seed.
I’ve also tried hanging the bird feeder from a tree closer to the house. But all that succeeded in doing was to make the garden furniture resemble the surface of the Bass Rock. And to give the neighbourhood bastard black cat, which is the size of a panther, the opportunity to spring out at the birds from the cover of adjoining trees and bushes. That big fucker should give up an’ all: it never catches a thing.
Anyway, after innumerable unsuccessful attempts yesterday to scare off the big birds, I decided this morning that enough was enough. So no more daily feeds for the wee sparrows. No more freebies for the wood pigeons and doves. No more opportunities for the panther-cat to practice its woeful pouncing skills. It’s a no-win situation. Except for Gisby. He receives peace of mind at last. Either that or he’s away with the birds. Cheep, cheep. Cheep, cheep.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. That has certainly proved to be the case with today’s Devil’s Pact between the repugnant Conservative & Unionist Party and the equally repugnant and sinister Democratic Unionist Party. It has succeeded in thrusting the latter Party from the obscurity of Northern Ireland politics into the glare of the British media’s spotlight.
And in so doing it has exposed the members of the DUP as the monsters they are. They have been widely reviled, described variously by all quarters as “dinosaurs”, “mediaeval” and “toxic”. Better still, they have been systematically and mercilessly ridiculed. On social media, for sure. But also on mainstream television.
Even the BBC got in on the act in this week’s Tracey Breaks the News, starring the genius who is Tracey Ullman, of course. (You can watch it here if you missed it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08w658t) The programme features a voicemail message left for Theresa May by the DUP Leader, Arlene Foster. In the message, Ms Foster sets out her latest demands, which include “a bowl of M&M’s with all the homosexual ones removed”.
With all the exposure that Ms Foster and her colleagues have been receiving, maybe – just maybe – people here on mainland Britain will appreciate at last the difficulties that Sinn Féin representatives have been facing in their dealings with the DUP in Stormont, their daily struggle to attempt to share power in Northern Ireland with bigoted, homophobic monsters.
So are you going to settle down in front of the telly late on Thursday night to watch the General Election results unfold into the wee small hours of Friday? And out of habit are you going to tune into the BBC and hence witness this man Dimbleby preside over the proceedings? Just as he has presided over many previous seismic Elections. Just as he presided over the fiasco that was the EU Referendum. “The people have spoken, and the answer is we’re out,” he declared the outcome of the latter as if he was God.
Well, he’s not God. He’s the bloated, self-important son of another member of the Establishment, whose claim to fame was to commentate in sombre, Received English tones on bigwig weddings and funerals, his voice being broadcast to the Great British Unwashed through the new-fangled medium of television.
If you are planning to let Dimbleby take you through the Election results, I hope I can dissuade you with the following wee story. Well into the morning after the General Election in 2010, with only a handful of seats still to be declared, it was clear that Gordon Brown’s Labour Party would only stay in power if it could form a Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats. Sitting at the big round table with his cronies, Dimbleby made some unguarded arrogant comments about the apparent unpopularity of Gordon Brown among voters. “What is he, anyway? The son of a clergyman. A minister, I think they call it in Scotland. Definitely not one of us, though. I mean not Eton and Oxford educated like us. And it’s clear from history that the British public want to be led, to be governed, by people like us. They have much more confidence in people like us.”
Now don’t be fooled by Dimbleby recently complaining that Jeremy Corbyn was being treated unfairly by the British media. Those were weasel words to boost his self-importance. He revealed his true colours back in 2010 and has done many times since. Darn tootin’ he’ll be rootin’ for the Tories, people like him, on his programme.
So my plea is this: Turn over, tune out, drop Dimbleby. If enough of us do that on Thursday night, his ratings will plummet. And if enough of us do the same for Question Time, with its rigged audiences and inane Dimbleby pontifications, his tenure at the BBC may not last much longer.
Remember the mantra: Turn over, tune out, drop Dimbleby. He’s not one of us.
We're a bunch of Scottish writers who have some things in common. We write for pleasure, not money. We eschew fame and success. And we don't aspire to be mainstream or traditional. We're literary renegades. We're the McRenegades.