Archive for Culture

Call off the threats

The BBC has succeeded in gaining an impressive reputation: it’s respected around the world for its impartiality.  While other broadcasters like Rupert Murdoch’s Sky and Fox channels and Silvio Berlusconi are universally despised for their undoubted political biases, the BBC usually manages to get away with its claim o be a balanced and impartial broadcaster. This claim is not sustained by the facts as revealed by a former Director General of the BBC itself, Greg Dyke, in a speech to a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference, only reported by the Belfast Telegraph, the Glasgow Herald and the Guardian media correspondent Roy Greenslade.

In his speech, about MPs’ expenses, Dyke called for a commission to look into the “whole political system”, adding: “I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.”

Dyke claimed that he had wanted to make big changes to the BBC’s political coverage but that these had been blocked..

“The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming and yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system – the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one – are the groups most in denial about what is really happening to our democracy…

  “I tried and failed to get the problem properly discussed when I was at the BBC and I was stopped, interestingly, by a combination of the politicos on the board of governors, one of whom [Sara Hogg] was married to the man who claimed for cleaning his moat, the cabinet interestingly – the Labour cabinet – who decided to have a meeting, only about what we were trying to discuss, and the political journalists at the BBC.

  “Why? Because, collectively, they are all part of the problem. They are part of one Westminster conspiracy. They don’t want anything to change. It’s not in their interests.”

He went on to claim that at the BBC,  “In the end, political journalists live in the  same narrow world as politicians do and they don’t see a need to change because they think it’s the world. They just don’t understand that out there it’s very different.”

That’s the hub of the problem.  The bias at the BBC is so ingrained, that it has become as natural as breathing to most of the journalists who work there. This was borne out by an impartiality seminar of BBC journalists hosted by former Desert Island Discs presenter Sue Lawley in 2006.  Andrew Marr admitted to the London Evening Standard that the BBC did not represent majority British opinion, saying, “The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly-funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people.

  “It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.”  Business presenter Jeff Randall told the same paper that he had  complained to a senior executive at the BBC about the corporation’s pro-multiculturalism stance. He claimed he was told: “The BBC is not neutral in multiculturalism, it believes in it and it promotes it.”

There is evidence that the prevailing ethos at the BBC at best disdains Christianity and seems to want to drive it from the public arena to the private sphere. According to the Evening Standard, Lawley’s seminar discussed a proposed episode of Room 101 in which Ali G would dump a copy of the Bible and the Quran. BBC executives were willing to dump one of these books but not the other.  Can you guess which one?

Former BBC newsreader Peter Sissons, blows the whistle on this in his recent book When One Door Closes. Sissons says, “What the BBC wants you, the public, to believe is that it has ‘independence’ woven into its fabric, running through its veins and concreted into its foundations. The reality, I discovered, was that for the BBC, independence is not a banner it carries ­principally on behalf of the listener or viewer.
“Rather, it is the name it gives to its ability to act at all times in its own best interests.”

You might ask, so what?  After all, we have the option of turning our television sets and radios off if we don’t like what we hear.  What does it matter if the BBC reflects the concerns of a self-affirming political liberal-leftist elite? We can watch other TV channels, tune in to other radio stations or access other news sources online.

That’s true, but the big difference is that we are required to pay for this source of biased news on pain of criminal prosecution. When I pay for a copy of The Guardian, I know what to expect; thoughtful left-liberal political analysis. I expect the Irish News to promote an Irish nationalist agenda, the News Letter to promote unionism and the Daily Express to come up with something new or bizarre about Princess Diana every couple of months. I expect pugnacious conservative populism in the Daily Mail and The Sun and unrepentant Stalinism in the Morning Star.  I pay my money and I take my choice.

No-one is going to send me a series of threatening letters saying that they have no record of me taking The Times and threatening me with court action if I don’t immediately go out and pay for the privilege of reading it whether I actually do so or not. I can choose to subscribe to newspapers, internet and cable or satellite television channels that reflect or challenge my political or religious opinions, prejudices and biases.  I cannot choose not to pay for the BBC and use a television set without risking being taken to court and fined or sent to prison.

We have become so used to this extraordinary state of affairs because we have grown up with it, but in fact it’s a crazy system. A private company acts as if it was some kind of public authority to demand payment with menaces for another private corporation; one that holds the view that the masses who do not share its left-liberal metropolitan views are to be treated with disdain or contempt.  Try ignoring letters from the TVLA and see how it ratchets up the threats and menacing language. Even better, if you have no television set, write and tell them so.  It makes no difference. The threatening letters soon resume.

It’s time for the BBC to put its money where its mouth is. I suspect that the Corporation might have to change its ways were it forced to rejoin the real world and pay its way like any other business.  The smug ‘we know best, so clear off’ response to viewers’ and listeners’ complaints might change if people were not treated as criminals should they decide to withhold payment of their TV licence fee.

Abolish the compulsion element in the licence and replace it with a voluntary subscription and quarterly fund-raising appeals and see what happens. That’s what happens in theUSwith American Public Radio and National Public Radio. Those who agree with the BBC’s political line or who like to be challenged by it will pay to receive BBC radio and television as their counterparts do inAmerica.  Those alienated or offended by it or the indifferent will probably walk away.


David Kerr

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Images of Ireland – North Belfast

North Belfast images

Images of Ireland: North Belfast

By Peggy Weir.  Nonesuch Publishing,Dublin,Eire.  1999.  £11.75.

ISBN 978 1 84588 915 9


THERE’S a fair chance that many folks who currently live in South East Antrim originally hail fromNorth Belfast.  Indeed, some probably still have relatives in areas such asTigersBayor theYork Road/Shore Road area.

With this in mind, I’d recommend an excellent book called Images of Ireland – North Belfast by Peggy Weir.  This book consists of nearly 130 pages crammed full of good, clear black and white photographs.  Ten chapters – including Industy and Transport, Troubled Times, Churches and Houses – examine various aspects of life in North Belfast.

However instead of giving North Belfast a full written review, I thought I’d just decide to echo the thoughts of Fred Heatley.  In his brief but thought-provoking Introduction, Mr Heatley – President of the North Belfast Historical Society – notes:

“The adage ‘one photograph is worth a thousand words’ holds true.  Even the most eloquent speaker finds difficulty in explaining past social conditions without adequate illustrations.  This collection of photographs proves that.  School or wedding photographs may appear of interest only to those in the picture or their descendants, but for us they show the alterations in the dress, style and the modes of the times.  Buildings, streetscapes, transport and places of entertainment are unimaginable without the camera’s product.  Each illustration tells of an age now long gone but for memories”.


–         John Jenkins

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Tales from the Castle Gate

Tales from the Castle Gate

“THERE is perhaps no more fruitful form of education than to arouse the interest of a people in their own surroundings”

– Joe Baker, Glenravel Local History Project, North Belfast.

I THOUGHT I knew a bit about local history, but even I was stunned to hear that French forces had invaded Carrickfergus! Indeed, from 21st February to the night of 25th – 26th February 1760, Carrickfergus was an overseas territory of the French realm of King Louis XV!

This event – and much more besides – can be found in an excellent book written by Charles McConnell (and published by Carmac Books, Carrickfergus in 2002). Called Tales from the Castle Gate it attempts to provide as much information as possible about the castle. As McConnell notes: “There are few buildings in Ireland with such a well-chronicled and long history as the town’s most compelling landmark and it was the strategic importance of the Castle as a military fortress that led to the succession of memorable events associated with the town’s history”.

There is so much to read in this remarkable book – chapters include The Castle Builder, Lord Edward Bruce, Roundheads and Cavaliers, The castle and the Williamite War – but the day Carrickfergus became part of France really captured our imagination! This is dealt in reasonable depth with a chapter entitled Under a Foreign Flag. It really is a fascinating account of the French invasion – and subsequent capture – of Carrickfergus.

On 21st February 1760 around 600 French troops – under the command of Commodore Francois Thurot – landed at Kilroot and advanced towards Carrickfergus. The castle and town were put on alert as soon as the French were spotted. Around 300 French Prisoners of war, captured from previous land and sea battles, were being held in the castle. (They had originally been held in Cork for two years. However, because of rumours of a French invasion of the southern coast of Ireland, they had been moved. These prisoners were first moved to the Irish midlands and then on to Belfast. Three Hundred were held in Barrack Street in Belfast and the remaining 300 held in Carrickfergus). When Thurot’s fleet was spotted these prisoners were mustered and marched off to Belfast!

During this period Carrickfergus Castle wasn’t as militarily impressive as it had been. Tales from the Castle Gate states that in “the relatively peaceful times of the first half of the 18th century in Ireland, complacency had developed about the Castle’s military role”. Thus it had fallen into a state of disrepair – indeed; there was fifty foot breach in the outer curtain wall where a section had collapsed six years earlier in 1754.

The only military forces defending Carrick at the time was a detachment of General Strode’s regiment, the 62nd Regiment of Foot. This consisted of about 160 young recruits undergoing training. There was barely only enough ammunition for each soldier’s training and there were no guns mounted! They were under the command of Colonel John Jennings. (According to Tales from the Castle Gate, the commander of Carrickfergus Castle, Colonel Jennings, later described it as “an old fortress little better than a heap of ruins”.)

The majority of those soldiers defending Carrick – the 62nd Regiment of Foot – were deployed at Joymount where the main French attack was expected. Others were deployed at North Gate, West Gate and the castle itself. A lack of ammunition saw the British troops retreat to the castle. And a series of running battles saw some of the French invaders get into castle. The bulk of the French troops had marched into Market Place. Some were then deployed on to West Street then to Cheston Street where they could fire directly at the outer castle gate. Other French forces were concentrated in Castle Street. The web-site of Carrickfergus Borough Council also notes that whilst the French were on route to the castle “the silver in St Nicholas church was stolen”.

Those defending Carrickfergus castle found themselves in an impossible situation. The lack of ammunition (which had prompted their initial retreat) meant that there was more powder than ball. Therefore, half the powder from each cartridge was fired with the bullet – the other half was used to fire a metal button from their tunics!

It wasn’t too long before the French invaders charged. Led by Captain d’Esterees they attacked the castle door, which had not been closed properly. This led to hand to hand fighting in which d’Esterees was the first to fall. Senior British officers – including Colonel Jennings – and about fifty men with fixed bayonets repulsed this initial French attack. They were aided by their comrades who although they didn’t have any ammunition threw stones and bricks at the French!

Given the inadequate state of the British defence, it’s surprising that they were able to hold off the French for several hours. However, it was clear that Colonel Jennings would have to surrender. His men were outnumbered three to one and were completely out of ammunition. Despite fighting against overwhelming odds the British defenders had two killed and five wounded. At the same time, the “French lost a surprising number of, about fifty being killed, including three officers, and about the same number wounded”. (Interestingly, one of those wounded during the fighting was Brigadier General Flobert. He originally wanted the diversionary invasion abandoned but was overruled by Thurot. Flobert was so badly wounded that he had to stay ashore to recover). Additionally, it was only a matter of time before the French discovered the massive breach in the defensive wall. This would have led to the French completely overrunning the castle and possibly killing all of its defenders.

In Tales from the Castle Gate, McConnell notes that the terms of capitulation were generous. “The garrison were allowed to march out with drums beating and flags flying and be on parole till they were exchanged for an equal number of men. The Castle was to be delivered up with the stores in it. The town was neither to be plundered nor burnt, nor the inhabitants misused.”

Once the French had occupied Carrick Castle they demanded provisions and stores from Belfast. They stated that if nothing arrived they would burn Carrick to the ground and kill all of its the inhabitants. The provisions were slow in coming so Commodore Thurot threatened to march on Belfast. The local authorities relented and met his demands – enough food and fresh water was supplied to see them back home. The French invaders also took what they could from Carrick – including any clothing they could find to protect them from the bitter winter. To ensure their safety they took some local dignitaries as hostages.

The brief French occupation of Carrickfergus ended when – on the night of 25th – 26th February – Thurot’s forces left just as the advance guard of the British reinforcements approached. However, Because Carrickfergus lies within Belfast Lough, they had to wait two days for a favourable wind to take them out to the open sea.

However Commodore Thurot never reached home. Three ships of the British fleet having been alerted, intercepted the three French ships off the Isle of Man and in the ensuing battle the French were defeated and Thurot killed.

Reviewed by John Jenkins.

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Books: Old Portrush, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway

old Portrush.

Click on image to buy

Old Portrush, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway
Alex F. Young. Stenlake Publishing, 54-58 Mill Square, Catrine, Ayrshire, KA5 6RD. 2002. ISBN 1 84033 189 5 £7.50.

IT’S PROBABLY a safe bet that virtually every reader from Northern Ireland would have been in Portrush at some point – but how much do we really know about the place? Probably very little.

If you want to know more about Portrush – ‘Northern Ireland’s favourite holiday destination’ – then look out for an excellent book called Old Portrush, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. It is absolutely crammed full of fantastic black and white pictures and features some of the most extensive – and informative – photo captions that I’ve seen.

A succinct and dispassionate introduction sets the scene:

From early times Portrush was a harbour, or more correctly, a landing place, around which grew a scattering of fishermen’s cottages. By the late eighteenth century it had one merchant and an inn. Trade and development came with the decision in 1826 by the Portrush Harbour Company to build a true harbour. Thereafter, growing tourist interest in the Giant’s Causeway brought steamer services with Liverpool and Glasgow and assured the town’s future. The arrival of the railway in 1855 brought more tourists and the need to accommodate them resulted in more building. The benefits of the tramway to Bushmills in 1883, and to the Giant’s Causeway four years later, were not immediate, but in 1899 it carried 95,151 passengers. As the nineteenth century closed Portrush had at least seventeen hotels and many, many boarding houses. Tourism had now supplanted both harbour trade and fishing.

Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1900, described Portrush as a ‘seaport and fashionable watering place’. However, during the First World War the boat service to Scotland was stopped and income from tourism was halved. It would never really recover. Efforts were made in the 1920s and ‘30s – Barry’s Amusements (including the 1935 indoor entertainment area), the Arcadia Dance Hall and Phil’s Amusements were all successful ventures – but the high season was gone. The closure of the tramway in 1949 seemed the final nail in the coffin and the 1950s, ‘60s and the ‘troubles’ of the ‘70s merely confirmed this. Portrush was not unique during these times, as the history of any British resort during the rise of the Spanish resorts will show. Only since the late 1980s has tourism – on the back of golf weeks (the Senior British Open Championship in 1995, ‘96’ and ’97), motor cycle racing, soccer tournaments and sea angling – started its recovery and found its future”.

One picture shows the town in 1933. It’s absolutely fascinating. On the left hand side of the picture is Portrush railway station. The railway line from Belfast to Ballymena opened in 1848, but took another seven years to reach Portrush via Ballymoney and Coleraine. In 1860 the line was taken over by the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. The original station, which had only one platform, was rebuilt in 1893 in grand Tudor Style. It had three 600 foot long platforms, the first third of which were covered, a 6000 square foot booking hall, and an adjoining café/restaurant which could cater for 300. The station cost £10,000 to build. To encourage development in Portrush, anyone building a house with an annual value in excess of £25 was offered free first class travel to Belfast for ten years. These ‘Villa Tickets’ helped treble the town’s population to 1,800 in the fifty years up to 1895, and summer visitors quadrupled this figure. While the main building still stands, the station is now a shadow of its former self.

Immediately behind the station is the Hydropathic Hotel or Golf Hotel. It’s believed that it was originally called the Hydropathic Hotel but changed its name to the Golf Hotel. However, it’s not clear when the name change occurred. It is now the Castle Erin Christian Holiday and Conference Centre. To the right of the hotel is the developing housing estate of Dhu Varren (‘the dark rocks’) across the bay.

In front of the train station is Station Square. The vehicles parked there are taxis as private cars were not allowed. There are also a couple of horses and carts, although it’s not too clear what their purpose is.

Towards the right hand side of the station is the Station Café. During the winter it was used as a meeting place and badminton court. Requisitioned during the Second World War, it was both a lecture hall and a billet for American forces.

In the centre of the picture is Victory, Portrush’s war memorial. Commissioned by a special committee formed in 1920, it commemorates the seventy-eight Portrush men who fell in the First World War and was sculpted by Frank Ransom of Golders Green in North London. It was unveiled on Armistice Day 1922. Thirty more names were added after the end of the Second World War. It stands on a granite plinth.

On the right hand side of the picture is Barry’s Amusements. It arrived in Portrush in 1926 with the Trufelli family, opened for Easter – and stayed. Barry’s was built on the site of the former American Skating Rink, which opened in 1905. The skating rink could accommodate 2000 roller skaters! The Ferris wheel in the picture was replaced in the 1940s by a bigger and better one, which lasted until 1958.

Reviewed by John Field.

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BALLYCARRY – Voices from the Past

BALLYCARRY – Voices from the Past
Souvenir Booklet produced by Ballycarry Community Association. February 1992.

IN 1992 the Ballycarry Community Association arranged a historical exhibition of photographs, maps, documents and artefacts. BALLYCARRY – Voices from the Past seems to have been produced to accompany the exhibition. This booklet consists of 20 A5 pages, crammed with pictures, articles and poems. Most of the articles are a series of extracts from other publications about Ballycarry. It’s an absolute mine of local history information.

Unfortunately, it was produced on yellow – or buff – paper and printed in brown ink. Originally this may have looked ok, but time and age has made it virtually impossible to decently reproduce anything from it. (For instance, there’s a great picture of the post being delivered in Ballycarry – by a postman complete with pony and cart. There’s also a picture of Main Street that also features just a couple of horses and carts). However, don’t let this put you off – I’ve never seen so much information crammed into such a small booklet before. It completely deserves to be updated and printed on white pages with a card cover.

So what about Ballycarry itself? For those not familiar with the area, Ballycarry nestles in the hills of Co Antrim offering panoramic views of Islandmagee. Situated midway between Larne and Carrickfergus, its population (according to the 2001 Census) consisted of 981 people. In Ulster-Scots, Ballycarry is called Braid Islann and in Irish it’s known as Baile Caraidh.

However the ancient name of the area was Irewe – sometimes spelled Ireve. There are differing accounts of the origins of this name. Some say Irewe is Norse and means plaited or braided island. Others claim that in medieval times the letter ‘v’ and ‘w’ were interchangeable and that the name Ireve referred to arable land.

Whatever the origin of the name, one thing is for sure – 1,000 years ago the area was an important ecclesiastical centre. ‘The present old church ruins and St. John’s Parish Church and their cemeteries lie within the area of an ancient enclosure – an earthen bank, stone wall or thorn hedge – which marked the exterior of an important religious site. The name of this church site in the 12th century was Lislaynan or Lislanan, and its extent, identified from aerial photographs, makes it the fifth largest in Northern Ireland’.

Ballycarry has two other main claims to fame. In 1613 (a Scot from Drymen near Loch Lomond) the Rev. Edward Brice became the first Presbyterian minister in Ireland. He ministered here between 1613 and 1636. In the 1620s and 1630s Brice and other Scots ministers came under pressure to adhere to new canon laws of the Church of Ireland (in which they had technically been ordained, although they viewed themselves as ministers of the Kirk of Scotland).

Like the others, Brice refused to accept these Canon Laws and was deposed from the parish charge and forbidden to preach as a result. Although it is likely he continued to minister in private houses and possibly also in the open air, it was said that Brice died of a broken heart. He was interred inside the church where he had ministered, and in time a memorial stone was erected there too, by which point the Presbyterians had long moved to their own church on the Main Street, where the Old Presbyterian Church is sited.

Additionally, James Orr – the Bard of Ballycarry – became one of the most famous of the weaver poets in Ulster. Orr was born in 1770 and died in 1816. He ranks on an equal par with Robert Burns as a poet, and took part in the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion, after which he fled for a short time to the United States. He was also a prominent Freemason, and his imposing memorial was erected by members of the Masonic Order in 1831.

If you’re ever planning to visit Ballycarry make sure you don’t miss the annual Broadisland Gathering – the most prominent and successful Ulster-Scots Gathering on the east coast of Ulster. Held on the first Saturday of September, it highlights the unique Scottish heritage of the village and has attracted visitors from as far all over the world.

FOR FURTHER information about the Rev. Edward Brice, why not view this site:

FOR FURTHER information about James Orr – the Bard of Ballycarry – why not view this site:

FOR FURTHER information about the ruins of Templecorran Church, Ballycarry, why not view this site:

– Reviewed by John Field.

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By Doreen Corcoran.
Friar’s Bush Press, Belfast. 1990.
ISBN o 946872 38 4

A TOUR of East Antrim is a selection of historic photographs from the William Alfred Green (1870 – 1958) Collection in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. It illustrates life in the coastal towns of Larne, Whitehead, Carrickfergus, the town of Ballyclare and the then picturesque villages of Gleno, Glynn, Carnmoney, Ballynure and Ballycarry.

Green – from a middle class urban background – was destined for a career in the family tea business. Poor health forced him to find an occupation which would take him outdoors. He therefore became an apprentice assistant to RJ Welch, Ulster’s leading photographer of the day. In the early 1900s Green went into business himself and found himself drawn to observing country life and customs. However, only a few of the pictures featured in A Tour of East Antrim reflect this interest. This is because Green was a working photographer in a competitive business and he took many pictures that were to be later reproduced as postcards.

William Alfred Green took many black and white photographs of Whitehead, Carrick, Eden and Ballycarry. They all represent fascinating and evocative glimpses of a bygone era.

FOR FURTHER information about the famous photographer William Alfred Green, why not view this site:

– Reviewed by John Field.

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The Holy Bible Quatercentenary Edition King James Version

THE 400th anniversary of the first publication of the King James Version of the Bible – mentioned last month – has not gone unnoticed by a number of publishers, most notably the Oxford University Press which has published a facsimile edition of the first edition in Roman type. This wonderful edition comes with gold tooling on the spine, two silken bookmarks, a fine heavy duty slipcase to keep it in shape and a useful afterword by the author of the definitive history of this important part of our national heritage, Gordon Campbell.

This edition preserves all the original spellings and even the occasional typographical errors of the 1611 edition. Most notable are some of the usages of the time that now seem peculiar to modern readers; ‘v’ for ‘u’; ‘j’ for ‘i’ and vice-versa for example. It’s quite surprising the number of differences from the regular copies of the King James Bible we read today, since the spelling was standardised in 1769 and some other changes were made to the text and its punctuation.

Many initial chapter letters are ornamented. For example, the initial ‘I’ at the beginning of John’s Gospel shows the evangelist with an eagle; his traditional symbol looking up towards the sun above him displaying the Word; the Name of God. There are other surprises too; a dedication to King James, an almanack for 39 years ahead from 1611 to 1640, a table for finding the date of Easter Day, orders for psalms and lessons to be read in church services and on Holy Days and some illustrated genealogies of biblical characters. The quality of these engravings is superb.

Some folk may also be surprised to see that the books of the Apocrypha formed part of the original King James Bible and appear between the Old and New Testaments. This is a large, heavy book well worth reading. Copies can be had on-line post-free from

David Kerr

The Holy Bible Quatercentenary Edition. An exact reprint in Roman type page for page, line for line, and letter for letter of the King James Version otherwise known as the Authorized Version published in the year 1611 with an anniversary essay by Gordon Campbell. ISBN 978-019-955760-8. Prices range from £28 to £60 depending where you shop.

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Culture: Irish Republican Music

Irish Republican Folk

Click image to buy download of 'My Little Armalite'

It may seem strange that we should devote space to an analysis of Irish Republican Folk music. For this reason I shall explain our thinking. Folk music should be of interest to all Nationalists — after all it is by definition an art form which is both traditionally based and which springs from the experiences of the people. Republican music offers a perspective of struggle which we as political activists are drawn to respect – of course we come from a different tradition and have our own perspective. We should, however, be able to understand, and perhaps even identify with aspects of, the feelings and traditions of our opponents. One day this may become of vital importance. There are many Republican protest songs as well as many versions of these songs. I offer my own views on ones which are familiar to me and which are relatively easy to obtain. The three tapes upon which I have based this review are:

  •  The Best of Irish Rebel Songs Volume 1 
  •   The Best of Irish Rebel Songs Volume 2 
  •   25 Irish Republican Songs
    Others are available and we have provided some links.


Much of Irish Rebel music seems over-sentimental in a modern context. A theme which has been treated in different ways is the death of a hunger-striker. Shall my Soul Pass Through Old Ireland for instance deals with the death of a hunger-striker in Brixton Prison. Here we find a deathbed plea to a priest: “Will you see my little daughter… will you make her understand?” This is weeping into your beer stuff. Personally this sort of song irritates me as it doesn’t really communicate whysomeone would starve themselves to death for a political aim. The use of archaic language (for which I have a liking) does save it somewhat: “With his heart pure as a Lily, and his body sanctified”. It is also interesting to note the use of religious turns of phrases in such songs. The theme is to my mind better treated, however, in Take Me Home To Mayo which relates the deathbed thoughts of a Parkhurst hunger-striker. Of the more sentimental songs, however, my favourite is the Lough Sheelin Eviction by the Tara Folk. This song manages to conjure up images of the people involved for whom I find it a lot easier to have sympathy with than a member of the IRA. This song also cormmunicates a strong wistful element – something I find very appealing and which is also present in other Rebel Songs such as Sweet John Carey. Some of the songs communicate emotion most eloquently. Many have a bitter-sweet quality. In different ways, two songs are like this: Only our Rivers Run Free and Patriot Game.

Click on image to buy download of 'Only our Rivers Run Free'

Only Our Rivers Run Free contrasts the natural beauty of Ireland with the position of the people of the country:–

when there’s sorrow and sunshine and flowers,
and still only our rivers run free…

The Patriot Game, on the other hand is a more politically complex song. It is also interesting from the standpoint of its music, which came from an Appalachian Mountains folk tune called The Bold Grenadier which itself had Irish origins, Irish people having moved to this area for work on the railways and around the mines. It indicates why an individual was motivated to join the IRA: “I read of our heroes and wanted the same”, and speaks of “the traitors who bargained and sold” – the supporters of the Treaty with Britain. At the heart of this song is the feeling of betrayal, of looking back over a life whose purpose seems to have been falsified by others. Although the context is particular, the general theme, if not universal, may be seen to be widespread. The explanation of motivation is important.
Heroes and Heroines are role models, and Republicanism has them to offer, immortalised in song. There are perhaps fewer heroines than heroes, but they too are there. The song Ann Devlin concerns one. As the lyric reminds us:

In 1851 Ann Devlin met her maker.
But her story’s with us still, as a lesson for the wise…

Revolutionary immortality?
Treatments of Republican heroines are rare in song. A related subject, however, is the personification of Ireland as a woman (in different guises). This fascinating subject was considered in the documentary  Mother Ireland. Unfortunately, the documentary made no mention of Republican Songs and their treatment of the topic. Four Green Fields for instance depicts the four traditional Counties – Ulster, Connaught, Munster and Leinster – as fields belonging to an old woman. This powerful allegory treats the problem in a very easy to understand, if too simplistic, fashion — one of the fields has been ‘stolen’ by interlopers, and her sons must fight for its return.


Another link to the struggles of the past is provided through emphasis on generations. The continuity of struggle is of central importance to the Republican tradition. Two songs which I think illustrate this are Boys of the Old Brigade by Wolfhound, and Broad Black Brimmer by Bogside Volunteers.

 Boys of the Old Brigade is filled with links to the past. A Father relates to his son on the anniversary of the Easter Rising tinged with sadness for his fallen comrades. There is also mention of the awareness he ancd his-comrades had of history being made, which I believe still influences many Republican recruits. Just another way in which Republican ideology can reinforce individual self-worth.

Broad Black Brimmer deals with a small boy being allowed by his mother to try-on the IRA uniform of his father. This generational emphasis also fulfils the function of harmonising a human quality and the ideology. Some, of course, would find that this jarred rather than dovetailed — it all depends on your initial perspective. Undoubtedly, however, to Republicans such songs reinforce a tradition of resistance.


Some songs display the way in which the Republican tradition seeks to absorb other natural elements of life. We can see in Little Armalite by Wolfhound, and Ireland’s 32 the way in which local loyalties are – consciously or otherwise – exploited.

Little Armalite varies its chorus to include the names of geographical areas and link them with the activities of IRA Active Service Units.

Ireland’s 32 is basically a toasting song to the 32 counties, associating each with a Republican exploit (although some get mentioned because of their geographical features, or because the girls are reputedly good-looking, and nothing political is said of them!).


Little Armalite also shows how the use of humour is used to belittle the enemy as well as making a carefully calculated political aside on the relationship of RUC and Army:

Sure a brave RUC man came-up into our street,
Six hundred British soldiers were gathered round his feet,
“Come out you cowardly Fenians!” said he,
“Come out and fight!”
But he cried “I’m only joking!” when he heard my Armalite.

This is also a song celebrating a feeling of empowerment felt by the Provisional IRA after the arrival of the first substantial consignment of lightweight (seven pounds approx.) Armalite rifles in August 1970. It makes a propaganda point by contrasting large British forces and small IRA ones.
 Come Out Ye Black & Tans also has an element of humour in its portrayal of a drunken Republican bawling for a fight with his neighbours:

 Each and every night when me Da’ would come home tight,
He’d invite the neighbours out with this fine chorus,
“Come out you Black and Tans,
Come out and fight me like a man…
Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders!”

Perhaps the best-crafted use of humour is to be found in Lid of Me Granny’s Bin which opens to the sound of banging dustbin lids and the screech of whistles:

Scream, bang, shout, raise an awful din —
You’ve got to spread a warning when the army they come in.
A Soldier came right up the stairs his rifle in his hand
She kicked him with her button-boots and along the hall she ran
Then up and came another one, some medals for to win…
But all he got right up the gob was the lid of me granny’s bin.

Go home, good friends, and go to bed; sleep as best you can,
But if trouble comes along, get out and lend a hand,
To all you fair young ladies, if trouble should begin,
Get out into your back-yard and rattle away at your bin.

We can see in this song a contrast in humour between the Army and, ‘ordinary’ people in the shape of granny. We can appreciate how humour acts as a release for the tension which must be present — hasn’t it always been thus?


Perhaps one of the saddest things one feels when listening to this music is that here are obviously some very sensitive people – with an eye for beauty, not without humour and many other fine qualities, who none the less see violence as the solution to the problem they perceive. One song which brings this out is A Sniper’s Promise. This depicts the potential victim, a Soldier, as human — not just a uniform to be shot at. Perhaps it’s just a cynical attempt to, incorporate war-weariness into the tradition and thereby defuse it? If not, then somehow I find it worse, a sensitivity which none-the-less sanctions brutal actions. Certainly through these songs revolutionary Nationalists in mainland Britain can come to appreciate that here we have a problem which cannot be dealt with through normal political structures.

For some of the psychological reasons indicated in this article, the Republican tradition would be very difficult to eradicate – it can only be transcended by an  alternative vision. It is my conviction that only an ideologically motivated force can counter the physical force of the Republicans. A highly motivated force, with a deep sense of history and identity and a positive vision of an Alternative Ulster. Where are they today? Nowhere to be seen, but perhaps somewhere a Goddess is starting a new dream?

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Culture: Interview with Jack Shaheen

Reel Bad Arabs Book Cover

Click on the image to buy this book

Your book Reel Bad Arabs  deals with how Hollywood films portray Arabs. It’s certainly comprehensive. Just how many films did you watch?


 About 95 percent of the 900-plus films I discuss – the movies I could not see were the silent films of the early 1900s – they were destroyed–films such as “The Arab” and an early sound flick, “Tom Mix in Arabia,” and a 1926 cartoon: “Felix the Cat Shatters the Sheik.”

What motivated you to undertake such a daunting task?

I’d always been sensitive to hurtful images…I grew up in a small steel town, Clairton, pa, just outside of Pittsburgh. A terrific place to interact with various ethnic groups. One problem, though. Blacks were still considered to be “less smart.” I had several good black friends. Some of my white pals looked down on them because of their color; I would speak out and defend them but it was difficult, being a single voice and going against the tide.

Also, our home was free of prejudicial barbs. No one vilified another person because of color creed or culture. Not a single member of the family.

Later, in the late 1960s when I began teaching at southern Illinois I started seeing all these ugly Arab caricatures prowling TV screens. Then, my children saw them on Saturday morning cartoons, asking, “who are these ugly Arabs?” so I went to the library and tried to find some research. Zilch. No essays…no books… so, I began reading everything I could find on how others were demonzined in the media – Jews- Asians- Blacks- American Indians. The readings helped and I became the first scholar to seriously examine this issue – though all my research was not is any way related to the my broadcast journalism. Thus, I had two jobs – normal teaching during the day and at night, researching Arab images in us popular culture.

There are over seven million Arab-Americans living in the US. Have you been able to find any positive or even neutral portrayals of Arabs in US movies?

 Yes…notably recent films such as Three Kings and The 13th Warrior and Party Girl . To save time, see my recommended rba viewing list.

 What is the overall stereotype of Arabs depicted in US films?

Subhumans – Arab Muslims are fanatics who believe in a different god, who don’t value human life as much as we do, they are intent on destroying us – the west – with there oil or with their terrorism; the men seek to abduct and brutally seduce our women; they are without family and reside in a primitive place – the desert – and behave like primitive beings. The women are subservient – resembling black crows or we see them as mute, somewhat exotic harem maidens.

 If you had to name the three worst modern films in terms of a negative portrayal of Arabs what would they be and why?

  • Rules of Engagement – film justifies us marines killing Arab women and children
  • Wanted Dead or Alive- Arab thugs with the help of American Arab terrorists plan to ignite Los Angeles – killing millions
  • True Lies- Arnold S. INC shoots dead Palestinians like clay pigeons

How do they get away with such racism? If Jews or Black people were depicted in this way there would be an outcry. How come few say anything about this?

Fear of being perceived as pro-Arab, greed, pro-Israeli feelings, lack of an American Arab pressure group in la, reluctance of any major political or church leader to condemn this stereotype.

 How far do you think negative portrayals of Arabs in films and fiction influence the way Americans (in particular) interpret the news? How does it colour the way they view the Palestinian/Israeli conflict for example?

100 percent. Consider. What we do not see is also as important if not more important than what we do see. What, for example, would be the public and policy behavior if we stereotyped Israelis as sub humans in the same way we show Arabs as sub humans? Think about it.

You were a consultant on the 1999 post-Gulf war film ‘Three Kings’. How did that come about?

 Terrific. Because the two producers with whom I worked – Chuck Roven and Doug Segal – did not want to vilify anyone. We were a fantastic team – mutual respect prevailed. I was brought in from the beginning and met regularly with them -an on-going dialogue.

You had two Jewish producers on that film. What did the think of these issues? Were the sympathetic to your attempts to portray Arabs (in this case Iraqis) in a more complex and sympathetic way?

DVD cover of Three Kings

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I never think about a producer’s color or religion. I simply study the artist’s movie[s] and praise/criticize him/her based on what appears on the screen.

What was the reaction to your book when it was published in the US?

 Not bad. The problem was and remains: the popular trade entertainment/film.TV magazines – Variety – Premiere, Hollywood reported, Film Comment, People, Entertainment Weekly – failed to review, acknowledge the book’s existence. N.Y. times and Washington post were silent. No major TV critic who reviews movies addressed it. Not one.

Has the reaction in the UK been any different?

More receptive, more interest, more concern, more intelligence

 What are you working on at the moment?

 Documenting how American TV shows project American Arabs and American Muslims.

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