Philip Orr’s New Perspectives – Politics, Religion and Conflict in Mid-Antrim, 1911-1914: Book Review and Website Launch

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WP_20121008A valuable resource on local history went digital last week with the launch of a new website called ‘New Perspectives’ on Home Rule,hosted by the Braid Mid-Antrim Museum in Ballymena.

The content of the website is based on a book by Philip Orr, New Perspectives: Politics, Religion and Conflict in Mid-Antrim, 1911-1914, published last year by the Mid-Antrim Museum.

The website is geared towards classroom teaching in years 10 and 14, but includes images and access to materials that would be of interest to history buffs of all ages. The site – as well as Orr’s book – draws on the Braid’s Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) archive, which was discovered at the Braidwater Spinning Mill. The owners of the mill, the Young Family, were prominent anti-Home Rulers and helped to set up the local UVF.

Visitors to the site will get more out of it if they also read Orr’s book, an attractively produced volume that skilfully weaves together the events of that tumultuous period with the stories of the key movers and shakers in the local area. It is illustrated with 54 handsome images, ranging from a Church of Ireland bishop blessing the colours of the UVF (p. 121) to Craig and Carson’s visit to Galgorm Castle (p. 93).

The Ulster Covenant, commemorated across Northern Ireland last month, of course features prominently, with an entire chapter – 1912: The Year of the Covenant – devoted to it. But the strength of Orr’s work is that it is set in the broader context of social and political changes within Ireland and Great Britain and across Europe. This includes analysis of class divisions, labour unrest and the suffragettes’ movement.

Orr also devotes chapters to the formation of the UVF and discusses the Larne gun-running, demonstrating just how far unionists were willing to go towards the brink of a civil war and the setting up of a provisional government.

Two of the key themes running throughout the book are:

  1. the religious rhetoric and fervour that undergirded the anti-Home Rule movement, and
  2. the Protestant voices that dissented from the dominant unionist perspective that ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule.’

Orr quotes liberally from newspaper accounts of the day, in which the stirring sermons of anti-Home Rule clerics were given wide press. For example, Orr gleans this from the Ballymena Observer of 1913 (p. 88):

‘During this time, rousing anti-nationalist speeches were being delivered at full volume by local clergy. During a meeting of the Mid-Antrim Unionist Women at Galgorm Parks, the Reverend Gilmour saw fit to re-iterate the judgement of his colleague the Reverend Simpson that Catholic nationalists were ‘incapable of running this or any country.’ He revisited the theme of papal perfidy, telling the ladies that ‘Romanism’ had ‘blighted every country in which it had a ruling power.’ And he re-worked the religious and political concept of Ireland, England and Scotland as a sacred trio, referring to these countries as a ‘three-leafed shamrock’ – while Wales, sadly, was once more overlooked in this trinitarian evocation of the Union. Gilmour warned that without this God-given union ‘the grand old British Empire of theirs would totter into dust.’

While David Trimble may have recently dismissed Protestants who dissented from the prevailing view about the Ulster Covenant, Orr pays attention to their perspectives, telling the stories of people like Rose Young (the daughter of a staunch unionist family, who nonetheless embraced the Gaelic revival), Jack White (a pro-Home Rule Protestant who had served in the British Army in the Boer War), John Dinsmore (a liberal Unionist industrialist who argued for better conditions for workers and eventually advocated Home Rule), and Church of Ireland clergyman F.J. MacNeice in Carrickfergus (father of poet Louis MacNeice). Of MacNeice he writes (p. 100):

‘Whilst MacNeice was not an Irish nationalist, he did regard the tactics of the unionist leadership as socially divisive, ill-judged and likely to end in communal violence. He proceeded to share his views with his congregation in a number of sermons that seem to have been received with polite scepticism.’

But New Perspectives is not a stridently ‘revisionist’ text or a pointed theological critique of the Ulster Covenant/Home Rule crisis along the lines of Johnston McMaster’s Overcoming Violence or McMaster and Cathy Higgins’ Signing the Covenant.

Rather, Orr mostly succeeds in achieving a good balance between presenting the differing perspectives of those who held opposing viewpoints during the period. New Perspectives provides the historical context that helps us to understand how people of good faith could come to such radically different conclusions. This is achieved in a writing style that is popular and accessible.

New Perspectives, and its accompanying website, have a relevance far beyond the Mid-Antrim area and deserve a wide reading.

(Click here for the new website)

  • Dewi

    Sounds like a great book….off to Amazon…thanks.

  • Dewi

    Website good also – what does “Braid” mean?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Here’s an additional resource: Ballymena ‘hangouts’ in 1910. John Dinsmore, at that time, was apparently a vice-president of the local reform association, a group that favoured a watered down version of Home Rule – so he wasn’t a member of the Ulster Unionist fraternity, not even a liberal one like Thomas Sinclair.

  • leftofcentre

    @Dewi
    To quote from the site:

    “Named after the river that runs through Ballymena, the Braid weaves together history, arts and culture alongside contemporary conference, tourism and civic facilities on a site that has been for centuries the centre of local civic life.”

  • Dewi

    thanks loc – but a bit geekish – etymology of the word?

  • PaddyReilly

    Broad?

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Paddy’s suggestion is a good one – Ulster Scots is interweaved with English in that area. But, of course, a lot of townlands etc are anglicised versions of Irish placenames so probably impossible to tease out in many cases.

  • Rory Carr

    Here, Dewi, from the Merriam Webster dictionary:

    Origin of BRAID
    Middle English breyden to move suddenly, snatch, plait, from Old English bregdan; akin to Old High German brettan to draw (a sword)
    First Known Use: before 12th century
    Related to BRAID
    Synonyms: plait, plat, pleat.

    =============================================

    Braiding or ” plaiting ” is an essential process in rope-making which was a mainstay of industry in NorthEast Ulster. It is effected by intertwining three, or more, strands of material together to make a stronger strand. Also common in hair-styling.

    Didn’t you ever pull the girls’ pigtails at school, Dewi ?

    Thank you for drawing this intriguing resource to our attention, Grace.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Perhaps the Braid Water, a tributary of the Maine Water, takes its name from the location. Braghad is Irish for a small narrow glen or gorge – the pronunciation might be similar to ‘broad’. In An Braghaid, I understand braghaid is pronounced similar to ‘braid’ and ‘an’ is the definite article. ‘Water’ seems to be a Scots influence.

  • http://redfellow.blogspot.com Malcolm Redfellow

    I don’t know Braid Water, but Nevin @ 7:39 am is helpful.

    Let us not forget the secondary connotations of OE brægd-. The easiest way to comprehend the Germanic root is “swift movement”. Out of that comes “attack” and so “an outburst of anger”, even “a whim”. It might be that the hair-do and design of fabrics come as a metaphor from that last notion.

    A final twist (no pun intended there) is from Alexander Montgomerie (c.1550-1598) who originates from Ayrshire (i.e. from at the heartland of the Socts-Irish settlers). Montgomerie worked with — effectively tutored in poetry — young James VI when the the king was creating his Castalian Band at the the court in Edinburgh. A constant theme with Montgomerie is fickle Fortuna, and he uses braidie as an adjective to imply “deceitful”. In All’s Well that Ends Well [IV.ii.74] we have Shakespeare using a similar sense:
    Since Frenchmen are so braid(e),
    Marry that will, I live and die a Maid.

    How reliable is Braid Water?

    [No dictionaries and books of reference were harmed in the construction of this post.]

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “I don’t know Braid Water … A final twist”

    Malcolm, a google search will give you the, er, Braidwater Spinning Company ;)

    I’m surprised that a search doesn’t bring up earlier forms for the name of the river.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    What do folks think of the ‘divided society’ webpage? I think it’s very poorly composed; I’d have gone for ‘society’ and examined those aspects that were shared and those that set people apart.

    Most farmers were tenant farmers then whether they were Unionist or Nationalist. Emigration, American wakes and traditional music were common and probably often shared experiences. Many agricultural labourers will have signed the Covenant and many will not.

  • http://redfellow.blogspot.com Malcolm Redfellow

    Nevin @ 10:28 am and, I hope, le tout ensemble [Crosby in High Society — aw, shucks]:

    I recall from years gone reading an attempt at an analysis of settlement names (“toponyms”?). The context was, again through a hazy recollection, place-names in the Shetlands.

    Essentially the notion ran that the first generation of settlement brought their place-names with them from “the old country”. The next generation or two were more prepared to adopt names from the indigenous culture. Only in subsequent generations, as the descendants of the original settlers moved further and further away from their first landings, did the naming become more imaginative and original.

    I’d need to rifle through stacks of old notes to locate the source of that. So I’m hoping that some genius loci (an abstruse pun: don’t worry about it) in these parts has something similar in their memory banks.

    As a corollary, I’m wondering if that would quite work, anyway in Ulster. After all, from most of the northern littoral, it’s Scotland on the horizon. Indeed, for many of the Presbyterian Scots it was (and remains) less a removal than an extension of “home-territory” — and the ties that bind are far tighter than, for comparison, the Norse migrants into Shetland or the Europeans into North America.

  • Framer

    Another Protestant nationalist who stayed and was mentored by his relations, the Youngs, in Galgorm Castle was Roger Casement.
    He pursued some other minority interests in the Braid river according to his diary:

    Wednesday 10 May 1911 Glorious day. May day. Season surpassing! …To Ballymena and back 4/-…to B’mena demesne 3d. Beggar 3d. To Ballymena to Comptons. [his tailors] Very hot indeed.

    To old Turnpool by Braid and Devenagh Burn of Nov. 1877 !!! Rippling in brown and swift, and there too when I plunged across in Mch 1879! Glorious boys of Erin, big and fair.

    [This note is very revealing as Casement is reminded of events and boys, out swimming in 1877, when he was thirteen, and later in 1879, when fourteen. It seems he was observing other males sexually as a young teenager and that his desires and sexual orientation were already fixed. It also appears he was not, even at that early stage, riven by guilt. This (deep) turnpool in the Braid river is on the Galgorm Castle estate, the home of the Young family where the boy Casement often stayed.]
    Back at 5 train very tired. [but still able to cruise around the woods at Fortwilliam Park off the Antrim Road, and tip a boy twice for services rendered:]
    “Harry” at Fort William. 10/-. 2/-. 12.0
    Trams 3d. Sundries 1/-. The most surpassing day and night glorious sunshine. Night of heaven. Venus like an orb of gold over Cave Hill. All heavenly.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Orr quotes liberally from newspaper accounts of the day”

    Gladys, you’ve not provided any Catholic examples, Nationalist or Unionist. Did Orr ignore these? Surely a spectrum of comment is required to provide perspective?

  • qwerty12345

    Framer could you tell us exactly what was the point of your post on Casement?

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Excellent article Gladys,
    Thanks.
    For those who may be interested I’ve linked to a (Unionist) Dubliners diary below.
    http://bangordub.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/downton-abbey-dublin-style/

  • Framer

    Qwerty – point being discussion of Braid river and mid-Antrim Protestants around 1912, in particular those of a nationalist or separatist outlook.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    The River Braid in Irish is Abhainn na Brád. Brád apparently derives from braighde, which means neck.

    Framer, I don’t see the sexual nature of the Casement snippet that you are inferring.

  • babyface finlayson

    My dictionary of Ulster place names suggests ‘throat or gorge’ as in ‘river of the gorge’.
    The river is named after the ‘beautiful valley of the Braid’ according to the OS Parishes of Co. Antrim.
    The area had abundant turbary and the people were a superstitious lot, believing firmly in the elf-shooting of cows.