Saturday, 31 May 2014

Open Garden

Two consecutive days when the temperature has been above 68 degrees fahrenheit. That positively constitutes summer in Northern Ireland!
With training concluded and a few hours weeding in the vegetable garden clocked up I directed the trusty horseless carriage towards the vicinity of Magherafelt to inspect a garden which was opening to the public under the National Trust's Ulster Garden Scheme. The owners, were in attendance, responding to what were at times rather inane questions.
Their garden extends to just over an acre and is packed full of herbaceous plants. They must spend most of their days pruning, weeding, cutting grass and attending to their three hives of bees. Hopefully their health will enable them to enjoy their garden for many years hence, but they aren't young, not even middle aged. The male of the matrimonial duo reminded me of Fyfe Robertson in looks, although he lacked a bow tie (probably not a comparison which is understood by anyone who was born less than fifty five years ago). I don't imagine that the garden will be so expertly cultivated and maintained once they have passed on to the celestial garden. That must be somewhat sad for them.



Thursday, 29 May 2014

Londonderry City Cemetery and the Great War.

The Imperial War Graves Commission, (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), was established by Royal Charter in May 1917. Its first president was the Prince of Wales. The person who can be said to be responsible for its establishment was Sir Fabian Ware, the commander of a mobile unit of the Red Cross. He wished to ensure that the final resting places of the combatants of the Great War would not be lost forever. His initial work was recognised by the War Office and referred to as the Graves Registration Commission. By 1918 some 587,000 graves had been identified although 559,000 casualties were registered as having no grave. Sir Edwin Lutyens was one of the architects chosen to design the cemeteries and memorials. Rudyard Kipling was appointed to advise on inscriptions.


The Commission applied in the 1920's to the Londonderry Corporation as the Burial Authority for the County Borough of Londonderry for permission to erect a memorial in the City Cemetery, "in permanent commemoration of members of his Majesty's Forces fallen in the late War and buried in the Cemetery." The drawings of the intended memorial were approved and the appropriate grant in perpetuity was granted to the Commission in 1927. The memorial is situated on the grass banking to the right of the main entrance driveway. I suspect that most people who drive or walk past this imposing cross are unaware of its significance. On 28th November 1928 the Corporation granted the Commission a perpetual right of burial and for the maintenance of the graves of those servicemen who had died in during the War.



Monday, 26 May 2014

The Grocers Company and its Irish Manor

The Worshipful Company of Grocers is one of the twelve great Livery Companies of London. In order of civic precedence it ranks second after the Mercers Company. It received its first charter in 1428-29. The lands conveyed to the, "Grocers," by the Irish Society in consideration of its financial contribution to the plantation of the land between the Rivers Bann and Lough Foyle including what was known as O'Cahan's Country, surrounded what is now the village of Eglinton, (formerly Muff). Although the lands were allotted on 17th December 1613 the assurance from the Irish Society was not sealed until 8th January 1619. Following the Restoration the Irish Society executed a new and confirmatory conveyance in favour of ,"The Grocers."


Until the autumn of 1821 the estate was leased out. The last tenant was David Babington and he was paying a rent of £2750 pa. From 1821 the Grocers proceeded to develop and improve their estate. They repaired two of the three mills on the estate, a resident agent was appointed and drainage and reclamation work was implemented. A Sessions House and Market House were built at Muff and a dispensary was established. In1828 a School House for Girls was built in the village. A building for the Constabulary was built in 1825.


In 1872 the Grocers resolved to sell their Estate. Messrs Stewart & Kincaid of Dublin were appointed as selling agents. They recommended redeeming the tithe which was achieved for the sum of £7425. Messrs Stewart & Kincaid valued the estate at £150,000 after redemption of the tithe. The Manor was disposed of in eleven lots as follows:-


Lots 1 & 2. W. F. Bigger £ 20,800

Lot 3. G Stevenson. £20,000

Lot 4. G George (tenant). £9,157

Lot 5. Tenants. £13,700

Lots 6 & 7 Davidson. £41,500

Lot 8. Tenants. £12,000

Lots 9 & 10 W. F. Bigger. £30,000

Lot 11 Dr. McCutcheon. £8,000


The eleven lots totalled 11,745 acres and the total sale price was £157,257 10s. A piece of slob land was sold for an additional sum of £399. At the time of the sale 70 persons were receiving relief at the hand of the Grocers to the extent of £339 pa.


Sources: Visit of the Right Hon The Lord Mayor of London to Londonderry (1933) and Report of Irish Estates (Special) Committe to the Court of Assistants of The Worshipful Company of Grocers 1890


Saturday, 24 May 2014

One hundred years on yet we remember them.

A few weeks ago I espied a small black and white poster in a shop window. It was more of a photograph than a poster. The subject was of a young man posing proudly in his new uniform. Like countless thousands of his contempories he had attended a local photographic studio in the weeks before he marched off to what would become the blood soaked ground of the Somme, his ephemeral image left balanced on the family mantelpiece.
These black and white or sepia toned portrait photgraphs are instantly recognisable. Their style evinces so many emotions. Pride yes but also diffidence. With the benefit of the intervening century we can see the naievity that sheltered these youths and young men as they followed the fife and drum on the march that so many would not return from.
The poster was advertising an exhibition of Great War artefacts. I went along to the official opening last night. It was well put together and well lit. I found one exhibit particularly poignant. It was a letter from the War Office to a Mrs Wilson who resided at Wapping Lane, Londonderry. Her sergeant husband had been killed at Arras. She was being sent arrears of pay and allowances together with a gratuity. The pay and allowances amounted to £3-16-6. The gratuity was for the magnificent sum of £4 -0-0. Another photograph showed the survivors of C Company of the Royal Irish Rifles after the Battle of the Somme. Four men.






Thursday, 22 May 2014

Strawberry Afternoon Delight.

Still more than four weeks to Wimbleton and I have my first strawberries ready to be devoured. Not quite a punnet full but heading that way. I would hope that by the time all of the strawberries have ripened that I will end up with five or six pounds of fruit. The plants are being grown under the staging in the greenhouse. This seems to suit them very well. I grew on a few runners last year so as to add to the number of plants and I expect that I will do likewise this year. Perhaps two or three years hence I will have to consider making some jam to use up the fruit. For the moment however I suspect that I will be able to consume the produce assisted by a covering of cream. A sparkling white wine might also be called for.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Londonderry's Dads Army Stands Down

I recently came across a press cutting from the Londonderry Sentinel of Tuesday 5th December 1944 which was reporting on the stand down parade of the Londonderry Home Guard. This had occurred on 3rd December. A drumhead service was held at Ebrington Barracks conducted by Rev. Professor R. L. Marshall and Rev. W. B. Evans after which the two City Area Batallions received their final, "dismiss," in Harbour Square. They were thanked for their service by the Attorney General of Northern Ireland and local M.P. W. Lowry K.C. M.P. It is reported that upwards of twelve hundred men paraded. The parade was drawn up under Lieutenant- Colonel R. M. Boyle, M.C. Staff Officer along with the commanders of the first and second Battalions, Lieutenant Colonel R. B. M. Irwin M.C. and Lieutenant Colonel W. J. I. McLaughlin. I came to know Joe McLaughlin quite well during the 1960's and early 1970's. I might write about him in the future. He and his colleagues still seem so real to me.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

The serried rows of Tomatoes.


I probably should have planted the tomato plants in their rings before I headed off for my week of warm weather training. They experienced a bit of a growth spurt in my absence and upon my return they were a trifle more leggy than I would have wished. Still the tomato is one of these plants where you can sink it deeper at the time of transplanting without any ill affects. Having adopted that mode of planting they don't look too bad now that they are ensconced in their final growing stations. I have twenty four plants growing on, three rows of eight.

The weather forecast would indicate that today, (Sunday), is likely to be wet so I will probably spend the afternoon in the greenhouse and plant the cucumbers and aubergines. The pepper seedlings are not making haste in their growth cycle.


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Partying in the sky courtesy of Ryanair.

Last Thursday I had the dubious pleasure of flying to Portugal courtesy of Ryanair. If the destination had been different or if I had not been a member of a group travelling together I do not think that I would have put myself through the experience.


There were two stag parties on the plane and two hen parties. The participants in these drink fuelled celebrations of impending matrimony had clearly consumed more than a modicum of alcohol in advance of their flight and they were intent upon continuing their partying for the duration of the journey to Portugal. A flight attendant confided to one of my fellow travellers that this particular route was one of the noisiest and least well behaved routes run by Ryanair. Apparently it is not a particularly popular constituent flight on anyone's rota. I can understand that.


Tomorrow will see me embarking on the return journey. I am hoping that the flight home will be a quieter event than the outward leg.

Individuals brought together.

Mrs. Dalloway. - Virginia Woolfe. - Oxford World's Classics

This is the first of Woolf's novels that I have read. I don't suppose that I would have ever got round to pulling it from the bookshelves if it had not been the selection for June's book club.


It is not a long novel and by no means could you describe it as a yarn. It is novel of themes and of comparisons. The two principal characters are Septimus Warren Smith and Clarissa Dalloway. Although the clerk and the socialite wife of an MP are very different individuals yet there are aspects of their lives which are similarly coloured and clouded. Both of them are survivors. Septimus is severely shell shocked and is a survivor of war. His mental illness reflects Woolf's own struggles of the mind which like her fictional character would ultimately result in her taking her own life. Clarissa is a survivor of the influenza pandemic which swept across Europe at the end of the Great War and she too has been left scarred. Clarissa definitely and Septimus probably have experienced incidents of, " the love that dares not speak its name." Yet another example of Woolf's own life being introduced into her writing.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Foyle College - Those that perished in the Second World War.

As was the case with the Great War conscription only affected those old boys of Foyle College who were resident in Britain. Accordingly the vast majority of the three hundred and sixty seven who responded to the call to arms were volunteers. Thirty nine of their number were not to return. Their sacrifice was acknowledged, honoured and remembered on a memorial handed over to the school by the Old Boys' Association on Thursday 12th January 1950. The dedication service took place in the School Hall with the entire school in attendance together with many of those who had served and survived.


The service opened with the appreciative words of, "O God, our help in ages past ..." Colonel H. I Cunningham then read from Revelation VII, 11-17. and this was followed by words of commemoration by Rev W. I. Steele. The assemblage then all joined in the Lord's Prayer. This was followed by the Headmaster, W. A.C. McConnell M.A reading out the names of the fallen:-

James Logan Adair

Finlay Kerr Austin

Stanley Maurice Austin

Ernest Henry Mackenzie Barr

Tudor Beattie

Walter John Best

Robert Desmond Connell

James Gilbert Crawford

Peter Day

Andrew Woodrow Dunn

Ronald Desmond Fletcher

James Edgar Glendinning

William Harpur

William Cecil Harris

Hugh Desmond Kelly

Mark Kerr

George Newman Laslett

George Ian Wikson Lusk

William McDermott

James Nesbitt McGranahan

Thomas Stanley Clarke McKee

William Alexander McKinley

James McNeary

Robert AllisonMcPhillimy

James Lyle Douglas Mark

Kenneth Arthur Marriott

William Ernest Norman Maxwell

William Daniel Miles

Samuel Cecil Morrison

Alastair William Perry

John Alexander Ree

Maurice Cheyne Reid

William Gardner Shannon

John Alexander Smyth

James Dickson Stewart

James Watson

Hubert Weir

Robert Wilson

Robert Gilmour Young


Captain A. F. Pugsley, C.B., D.S.O., RN then proceeded to unveil the memorial. Group Captain P. D. Cracroft, A.F.C read an extract from the Funeral Oration of Pericles. These words may be of considerable antiquity and the values they honour may be old fashioned and some might say irrelevant in the twenty first century but whenever I hear them I always have that lump in my throat and have to surreptitiously, as the lyrics tell me, " wipe that tear baby dear from your eye."

" Let your thoughts dwell day by day on your country's true greatness and when you realise all her grandeur, remember it is a heritage won for you by dauntless men who knew their duty and did it. In the hour of trial the one thing they feared was dishonour - they failed not their Motherland but laid their gallant lives at her feet. In one great host did they give themselves to death: but each one, man by man, has won imperishable praise, each has gained a glorious grave - not the sepulchre of earth wherein they lie, but the living tomb of everlasting remembrance wherein their glory is enshrined, remembrance that will live on the lips, that will blossom in the deeds of their countrymen the world over. For the whole earth is the sepulchre of heroes, monuments may rise and tablets be set up to them in their own land, but on the far off shores there is an abiding memorial that no pen or chisel has traced, it is graven, not on stone or brass, but on the living heart of humanity. Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can only be for the free, that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it."


The dedication of the memorial was then performed by the Dean of Derry and Rector of the Parish of Templemore, The Very Rev. L. R. Lawrenson. This was followed by the sounding of the Last Post and Reveille. That concluded Captain Thomas A. Irvine, R.A. (T.A.) handed over the memorial on behalf of the Old Boys' Association to the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Governors, J. C. Eaton J.P. The School then joined in the singing of, " For all the saints who from their labours rest ..," The service concluded with the Benediction and the singing of the National Anthem.

Friday, 9 May 2014

All change at the Library.

I can't remember a time when I didn't borrow books from my local library. As a child I read voraciously often consuming a book in a day. Nowadays I can't pretend that I read quite as much but I still use and support the library service as well as purchasing books to read and keep. As a general rule the books which I purchase tend to be biographies and history books whilst the borrowed books are for the most part novels.


On Wednesday of this week I entered the portals of a nearby library. It was the same but there was also something slightly different about the layout. It threw me slightly, this change in the well known.


The counter where books have been stamped out and returned for some fifty years had disappeared. In its place there were several computer terminals where students were working on course work and or checking up on their social networks. I looked around me trying to locate an assistant to whom I could entrust my, "returns." It was then I espied a low desk with a female librarian seated at it. A sign informed me that this was, "customer service."


I enquired where I should leave the books which I wished to return and was informed that a new self service computerised system had been introduced. I was then taken across to a large scanning machine and tutored in its use. When returning books I merely had to put them on the scanning plate one at a time and I would be told on a screen into which return box I should place the book. As for books I wished to take out I had to first of all scan my library card and then submit the books for scanning, again one at a time. I had the option to print a receipt for each book I took out and this was recommended to me as the books would no longer be stamped out.


I do think that with books no longer being stamped out with their return date that there will be more, "over dues." This scanning malarkey will also I believe put some elderly borrowers off using the library and of course many people will miss the social interaction with the librarians that this brave new library world will inexorably do away with.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Lifford AC. - The new Mondo Track.

Yesterday saw the official opening of Lifford AC's new mondo track. It has been named after Ben O'Donnell who was the leading light behind the establishment of the club some forty years ago. I wasn't there for the inaugural races on the old cinder track, although my age would have allowed me to have run one of the senior races on that day back in 1974. I did however trot along to yesterday's, "meet," and put my toe to the line in the, "Masters Mile." I even managed to navigate my way around the necessary four laps and a little bit.


The weather conditions in the afternoon did not augur well for a track race but by the time of the recoil of the starting pistol the wind had eased and racing conditions were almost perfect. The numbers in this mile race were somewhat less than I had anticipated, but at least there was one individual who I was able to track in the early laps and then pass with two furlongs to go. The rest of the field were somewhat ahead of me as anticipated and as their lesser ages would have predicted.


There was to have been a separate senior men's mile race but only one senior athlete appeared and accordingly he was forced to race against the crumblies. It had been mooted that the, "Meet," might provide Co Donegal with its first sub four minute mile but that was never going to happen.


It is a pity that more masters/vets don't forego the plod of the road and instead savour the relative speed of the track. I expect that my time was not too dissimilar to what I would have run as a callow youth back in 1974. Well maybe a trifle slower. Age does weary one and the years do condemn and in the morning the aches are present.



Monday, 5 May 2014

As plain as French.


It was only when I was throwing out the bag which had contained some small breads that I noticed the description that had been ascribed to the contents. I don't expect that the girl behind the bakery counter can be a Francophile !

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Tulips in Glenarm

The walled garden at Glenarm Castle no longer fulfills its original task of providing all of the fruit and vegetables for the, "big house." There is now only a very modest kitchen garden as you enter the sheltering walls. The balance of the acreage has for the most part been laid out in lawns with large herbaceous borders. There is also a herb garden surrounded by yew hedging and an orchard area was planted out about four years ago.


For the last eight years the garden has hosted a tulip festival over the May Day bank holiday weekend. Last year I was absent in foreign climes at the time of the festival but as I was present in the old sod this year I decided to mosey along to Viscount Dunluce's pad and savour its horticultural delights anew.


Approximately eight thousand bulbs are planted each autumn. The bulbs are supplied by, "Bloms Bulbs," and a representative from that firm is always present to answer questions and of course take orders. It is I think the scale of the planting that creates the impact. With perhaps a hundred or more of each variety daring you not to be impressed with their vibrant colour. Maybe I will invest in a gross or a small gross of new bulbs this year.


I had thought the mild spring might have resulted in the show being past its best but there were only one or two varieties that had blown.



Friday, 2 May 2014

Apple Blossom and Bluebells


Last year's planting of apple trees are displaying their first flush of flowers. I might allow a few fruit to set but really I want them to put all of their energies into growing. With a year of settling in behind them I am hopeful that there will be a marked growth spurt this year but it might well be 2016 before I have anything approaching a supply of apples. Certainly the storage drawers which I bought some years ago will not be needed in the very near future.


Apple blossom is one of those events in the garden that presages summer. Another such event is when the bluebells lend their scent to the air and light up the dappled shade with their vibrant flowers. Unfortunately all of my bluebells are of the American variety but they still provide an impressive show in the spring garden. A reminder that summer is fast approaching.