Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Naval Battle in Belfast Lough

Naval Battle in Belfast Lough



JIM McFALL from Islandmagee has provided me with a copy of a fascinating history of the peninsula and the surrounding area. Thanks Jim. Local historian Dixon Donaldson originally published this wonderful labour of love in 1927. It appears to be a compilation of separate articles which may have been written for a magazine or newspaper. In 2002 the Islandmagee Community Development Association republished it in facsimile. Anyone with the slightest interest in local history should get hold of a copy. By all means read it right through from the beginning if you like, but you will also be rewarded if you skim through it and pick out the odd highlights here and there. I was particularly interested in the account of one of the first naval battles between the navy of the newly independent United States and the British Royal Navy.

The piece was hard to read, though. The original paste-up meant that some of the sentences and paragraphs are out of sequence and it takes an effort to make sense of everything.

This historic encounter took place in Belfast Lough – then known as Carrickfergus Bay – in 1778.

When the American Continenal Congress formed a ‘Continental Navy’ in 1775, Scots born John Paul Jones was one of the first volunteers to join. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant and advised Congress on navy regulations before taking command of his own vessel - the Ranger - in 1777. In November 1777 he sailed in the Ranger for France where he struck up a rapport with the American Commissioner in Paris, Benjamin Franklin. At Quiberon he forced the French to salute the Stars and Stripes. This was the first time it had been hoisted in a foreign harbour and recognised abroad by a foreign state as the symbol of the new United States of America.

Operating out of Brest in Normandy, Jones took the American war of independence to the enemy as he harried British targets in their own waters. A hero who was awarded a specially struck Congressional medal by his own grateful country, in Britain he was regarded as little more than a pirate.

After reputedly laying-to overnight in the shadow of the Gobbins on April 20th1778, Jones spotted HMS Drake, a 20 gun sloop, near Carrickfergus, which he attempted to board in a night attack after signalling for a pilot. The crew of a fishing boat from the Scotch Quarter which went alongside the Ranger were taken prisoner. The boarding attempt failed owing to a severe gale and a blinding snowstorm. Thwarted for the moment Jones set sail for Whitehaven. On April 22nd a party of fifty men from the Ranger spiked the towns gun batteries and burned all the boats in the harbour without losing a single man.

Coming back over to Belfast Lough on April 24th, the Ranger captured a scout boat from the Drake in Blackhead Bay. The Drake under Captain Burden came out to meet the American privateer in mid-channel. This encounter suited Jones perfectly. As the Drake drew up she hailed the Ranger. Jones gave the reply through his sailing-master: “The American continental ship Ranger. We are waiting for you. Come on. The sun is little more than an hour high, and it is time to begin!” A broadside engagement commenced, and continued at close quarters for some seventy-five minutes, until the Drake struck her colours in surrender. Captain Burden was killed and his second in command Lieutenant Dobbs was mortally wounded. The Drake surrendered. Her sails and rigging were cut to ribbons and the hull was shattered. The Ranger’s “butcher’s bill” was two killed and six wounded to the Drake’s 42. The Drake had twenty four-pounder guns to the Ranger’s eighteen six-pounders.

This was the first time that an American vessel defeated and took as a prize a British warship in a sea battle. On May 8th, Jones managed to carry his prize back safely into Brest after avoiding any further engagements with British vessels.

Naturally his exploits were greatly celebrated in the rebel colonies but they also captured the imagination of many local people and were immortalised in quite a few ballads. The author quotes one as follows…

The good ship Drake at Carrick lay,To guard our shores from pirates, O!For Yankee bold and French foemanWere cruising in the Channel. O!
One evening after sundownA ship she hailed the pilot, O!She hove-to till the darkness fell,And the she proved the Ranger, O!The dauntless Jones did her command.He quickly called for boarders, O!And steering straight down on the Drake,He whistled Yankee-doodle, O!
A snow storm blotted out the Drake,And darkness fell between them, O!The Privateer then sailed awayAnd disappeared to leeward, O!
At break of day again she cameFrom shelter of the Gobbins, O!He look-out boat in Blackhead BayWas caught without a warning, O!
The British tars slipped anchor chains,And decks were cleared for action, O!The gunners grim stood by their gunsAnd gave three cheers for Geordie, O!
Like two game cocks the vessels fought,The fight was fast and furious, O!And broadsides thundered o’er the bay‘Rose smoke and flames like fury, O!
The Drake soon crippled helpless lay,At mercy of the Ranger, O!But Jones was kind as he was brave,And he forbade to sink her, O!
Brave Burden at his post did fall,He fought in vain for glory, O!Likewise his second in command:They both did die for England, O!
The Yankee ran ‘longside the Drake,And asked her to surrender, O!Out-matched, out-manned, that good ship struckHer colours to the Ranger, O!
Now while we cheer our own brave tarsWe’ll give one for the Yankee, O!In honour bright both ships did fightThat day of Carrickfergus, O!

Jones later went on to serve as a Rear Admiral in the Russian navy. He died in Paris in 1792 at the young age of 45. He lay in a Protestant cemetery until 1905 when his remains were located and returned to America. In 1913 he was re-interred with great ceremony in the crypt of the United States Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. He lies in a tomb modeled on that of the Emperor Napoleon in Paris.

The crypt is open to the public. There is also a museum dedicated to his memory.

David Kerr

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mystery Headstone In Ballycarry Churchyard

ANOTHER fascinating item in Donaldson’s History of Islandmagee refers to a mysterious headstone in the churchyard in Ballycarry. This bears the inscription:

James Burns, born 1775Christ 61s th2 64rd th1t spak2 3tH2 t44k th2 Bre1d 1nd Br1k2 3tAnd 6h1t th1t 64rd d3d m1k2 3tTh1t 62 b2l32v2 t1k2 3t

James Burns was an old croppy who turned out in the Battle of Antrim in June 1798. He died at the age of 92 in the Larne workhouse. The figure writing has puzzled many passers-by who thought that there was something Masonic or esoteric about it. The key to the message is to subsitute the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 for the vowels a, e, i, o, and u. The letter w is represented by 6. See if you can work out the message. Th2 1nsw2r w3ll b2 3n th2 n2xt 3ss52.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Encouragement For Seamen

The following article printed in The Freeman’s Journal Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 26, 1777.

WHEREAS the seamen of these States have for some time past been discouraged from entering into the navy, by thinking they have hitherto been unfairly dealt with in respect of prize money, and the regular payment of wages: Therefore, to remove all cause of future complaint, I will be answerable to every person who may enter to serve under my command, for the punctual and regular payment of wages. And I will also, with the consent and approbation of officers and men, appoint an agent for the prizes, whose duty it shall be to see the captors part sold to the best advantage, and to make punctual, just and regular payments to every person concern’d.

Every seaman in the navy is entitled to eight dollars per month wages, with an advance of forty dollars at entry on board. Every marine or landsman is entitled to six dollars & two thirds per month wages, with an advance of twenty dollars at entry on board. Every private person, who may loose a limb or be disabled in engagement, will receive two hundred dollars smart money; if kill’d, his wife or family will receive it. Every person, who may be disabled in engagement, will receive half pay during life or an allowance proportioned to the injury sustained. The pay is extended to persons in captivity, provided they return to the service as soon as possible. The captors share one half of all merchant ships, and of all effects taken by sea or land, without resistance; they share the whole of all ships of war, & of all privateers authorized by his Britannic Majesty to war against these States. They will also receive a bounty of twenty dollars for every carriage gun then mounted, and of eight dollars per head for every man then on board and belonging to such prizes. There are ten shares set apart for the most deserving, with various Advantages, grounded upon resolves of Congress. Persons of abilities will be promoted in proportion to their diligence and merit;-and no equal encouragement can be given in privateers.

The Continental Ship of war Ranger at Portsmouth under my command is in readiness for sea. Such persons as think proper to enter, are requested to apply on board, or at the Ship’s rendezvous where they will receive further information.

Portsmouth, July 26, 1777. John Paul Jones

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's Chico Time at Ballyclare May Fair

MAY FAIR MAYHEM at Ballyclare! A superb line up at this years forthcoming Ballyclare May Fair will be kick-started by the charismatic Chico of X Factor fame. Chico will be opening the fair on 20th May. Also appearing will be local X Factor singing sensation, Philip Magee.
Closing the proceedings on Saturday 27th May will be Celebrity Love Island hearthrob, Calum Best.

All credit to Newtownabbey Borough Council for their drive and ambition with events such as this. More big name line ups are also in the pipeline for the forthcoming August Shoreline Festival. Watch this space for details!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Film Review – V for Vendetta

Directed by James McTeigue
Certificate 15
Reviewed by Carly Green

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot…”

THIS RHYME inspires the new film ‘V for Vendetta’ which chronicles one man’s crusade against an oppressive government.

The film takes place roughly two decades from the present day. In this abysmal future, England has become a totalitarian state led by Adam Sutler (John Hurt) – a ruthless dictator who forces his people (by any means necessary) into submission. Our first glimpse of the film’s hero, known only a V, comes when he saves Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) from being sexually assaulted by a pair of fascist officers. Outwardly, V (Hugo Weaving) is a combination of Zorro and the Phantom (from ‘Phantom of the Opera’) with matrix-like fighting ability, but beneath the black robes and Guy Fawkes mask, he is a mystery which reveals itself throughout the course of the story. It is November fourth in a world that has forgotten November fifth, but V has planned a potent reminder. At midnight, he and Evey watch as the Old Bailey courtrooms go up in flames. The government does their best to censor this attack, calling it a planned demolition the next day, but there is only so much they can do when V takes control of a television studio and goes on the air live, challenging the public to rise up against their oppressive leadership exactly one year from this day outside the houses of Parliament. “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people,” he states.

Fearing for Evey’s safety, V takes her back to his lair where they await the coming of November fifth. Through resistant at first, Evey quickly develops compassion for V. She even offers her assistance after a while because she too carries a vendetta: While a child, the government murdered both of her parents who were prominent, political activists. Evey is strong, but openly admits to being afraid all of the time. Over the next several months she must overcome her fears and V must continue his preparations for the rapidly approaching November fifth when he plans on finishing what Guy Fawkes started in 1605.“Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ‘twas his intent to blow up the king and Parliament.”

This movie is taking a lot of heat from critics who claim that it advocates terrorism. In many ways the story does revolve around two opposing terrorists. There’s Sutler who exploit’s the bleak condition of his country to install fear within his people and there’s V who uses violence and destruction to get his message across to the world. Seeing historical landmarks fall has become a sensitive issue these days and it occurs more than once throughout this film. However, these instances never result in the needless death of innocent civilians, but rather serve as a powerful cinematic tool. For example, the explosion of the Old Bailey courtrooms serve as a visual reference to the disintegration of that which the courtrooms once stood for, justice. It is important for people to remember that they are watching a movie. This is not a documentary; its purpose is not to promote anything, but rather to entertain. Terrorism has always and probably will always be a real problem in the world. I see no reason why the topic should be avoided in cinema. Common sense should tell the viewer that you should bot go and blow something up. It is no different than watching ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and knowing not to go on a killing spree with a chainsaw.

Weaving and Portman excel under the direction of James McTeigue, who has been assistant director in films like ‘Star Wars Episode II’ and ‘The Matrix’ trilogy. Hugo Weaving does more as a voice behind a mask than most actors can do free of such restrictions and Natalie Portman, in what is likely her most challenging performance to date, is fascinating. Her facial expressions alone are so powerful, she could tell the entire story without ever uttering a single word. With a screenplay based on an 80’s graphic novel, the Wachowski brothers (writers of ‘the Matrix’) have once again created a unique piece of work on an epic scale. This film has all the elements of a blockbuster without insulting the viewer’s intelligence. It raises questions about government and freedom while offering insights into human nature. ‘V for Vendetta’ is beautiful, gripping, thought provoking and easily the best film Hollywood has delivered to the public so far this year.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Film Review – Syriana

Directed by Stephen Gaghan.Certificate 15.
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington.

STEPHEN GAGHAN wrote ‘Traffic’ which was the winner of the Best Screenplay Academy Award. Gaghan has an unusual writing style and ‘Syriana’ reflects this. It is a densely plotted and fast-moving political thriller. It conveys a lot of information and interlocking stories cut back and forth. It requires your attention but it also holds it.

‘Syriana’ deals with big political issues but also moral ones. It illustrates the corruption of the oil industry and of State institutions. The central story of the film involves a questionable merger of two major American oil firms (Connex and Kileen). From there, everything else fans out. The story of Jeffrey Wright, the government official investigating the merger, George Clooney, the CIA operative with missions with no obvious goal, the Arab Emir from an unnamed oil producing country, and his two sons each wanting to take over his reign, the industry analyst (Matt Damon) who will use any situation to advance his company, and the young, poor, angry Arab youth who looks for meaning and purpose in his life.

‘Syriana’ leaves you wondering about political reform in Iran, what motivates a suicide bomber, America's seemingly unquenchable thirst for fuel and exploitation of foreign workers in refinery compounds.

Though this film has a heavy message it also manages to be more than mere agitprop. It has a number of strong performances. No single actor steals the show. Clooney stood out for me, though, as the disenchanted, somewhat seedy CIA man. It was brave of him to get a gut and an unkempt beard and leave behind his sex star status. He conveys a grim realism well and shows that he is an accomplished actor. It was also good to see Chris Cooper, playing a shrewd oilman, and Christopher Plummer, as the head of a corrupt law firm.

The story while complex is not convoluted. That's not to say that it's easy (I would certainly enjoy and profit from watching it again). Another strength of this film is that it does not attempt to answer many of the questions it raises. It leaves 'unfinished business' just as in the real world. We have to make judgements and try to move forward. Syriana's politics will undoubtedly alienate some. That doesn't matter. It is a riveting movie told in bold and imaginative style. No happy ending is supplied but aren't we still waiting for one here too?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Elvis Spectacular takes Carrickfergus by storm!

FOR MONTHS the Elvis fans of County Antrim eagerly awaited the arrival of Jim Brown’s Elvis Spectacular in Carrickfergus. I enjoyed his superb albums, ‘Gravelands’ and ‘Return to Splendour’ and hoped that the live show would be up to the same high standard. Happily, I was not disappointed, nor were any of the other 300+ fans who packed the venue at the plush Clarion Hotel.

Fair play to the organisers who turned up to find that the hotel management had placed the stage in the wrong place entirely. They had to work like Trojans to put everything in the right place before the show began. This caused a slight delay in opening the doors to the general public. None of this seemed to phase the patient Elvis fans from Carrick, though.

An enthusiastic disc jockey got the room into the mood with a lively mix of oldies and more recent hits, before Nick Freeman, the Rathcoole troubadour, took the stage for an excellent solo set. He treated us to energetic covers of Chuck Berry’s hit, ‘Johnny B Goode’, the Don McClean standard ‘American Pie’ and one of my all time favourites, ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Cheekily, he also gave a fine rendition of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. He wasn’t supposed to do any Elvis songs, but I suppose he could always argue that this is a Carl Perkins song! No matter. He did his job. He got the audience clamouring for more as he set the stage for the main attraction.

A massive cheer went up as The King and his band took the stage. Dressed as ‘Young Elvis’ in a gold lame jacket he set a fast pace with magnificent covers of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Don’t be Cruel’. This brought half a dozen women to their feet to dance in front of the stage. A move up-tempo to ‘Jailhouse Rock’ brought even more women to their feet, helped along by The King’s pelvic vibrations and a funky guitar riff from the promoter and lead guitarist, Mervyn Boyd. Still in character, the singer shared the news to the audience. “On January 8th I turned 71 years old. Not bad, huh?” Not bad at all, the audience agreed.

After ‘Teddy Bear’ and another magnificent guitar piece from Mervyn Boyd, The King came down among the audience to belt out a real tearjerker, before introducing “my biggest record” with 22 million discs sold, ‘It’s now or never’. I swear that if I’d heard this on the radio I’d have taken it for the real Elvis. Still in character, he announced that “I was born with a guitar in my hand” before launching into a rousing version of ‘Devil in Disguise’ and leading a chorus of birthday greetings to Sandra Brown, the winner of The Wizard competition for two tickets to the Elvis Spectacular.

The pace to the interval quickened with a faster and faster version of ‘Hound Dog’ and a request from the audience for ‘Wooden Heart’ and a track from the ‘Gravelands’ CD. Wow!

Fifteen minutes later an older Elvis came on stage in the Las Vegas style white sequinned jump suit. He had the audience eating out of his hand. It was truly incredible. Women in the audience queued up on the dance floor for one of his sweat-soaked silk scarves. A woman fled the dance floor in tears of emotion at his powerful rendition of ‘My Way’. I particularly loved his versions of ‘American Trilogy’, ‘All Shook Up’ and the first record I ever bought in my life, the 1972 Number One hit, ‘The Wonder of You’.

This show could have gone on all night. Some of the audience showed no inclination to go home, but they surely got good value for their twelve quid. I’ve been to gigs where the main attraction stayed on stage for less than an hour. In the Elvis Spectacular, Jim Brown was on stage for more than two exciting hours. I can’t recommend his stage act highly enough. Jim Brown is unsurpassable, and Diane, Kelly and Sam – the Sweet Sensations – compliment the act well.

Full marks are also due to the exciting lead guitarist Mervyn Boyd, bassist Trevor Dyke, drummer Graham Kincaid and Simon Templeton on the keyboard. I was so impressed I wanted to know when and where the next gig is going to be held. I had a quick word with Mervyn Boyd the promoter who let slip the news that the Elvis Spectacular is coming to the Courtyard Theatre in Ballyearl, Newtownabbey on June 25th 2006. This is quite a small venue, so you’ll need to get in quick if you don’t want to miss out on a ticket. Buy one. You won’t regret it.

- David Kerr.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Charlie Hodge, longtime friend of Elvis, dies aged 71.

CHARLIE HODGE, longtime friend of Elvis Presley died on Friday March 3rd, 2006, after a bout with cancer. He was 71.

Charlie first met Elvis briefly when a member of The Foggy River Boys band in the 50s and became a firm friend of Elvis when they met again in 1958 after both being drafted into the U.S. Army.

Charlie joined Elvis’ personal staff along with fellow serviceman Joe Esposito upon their returm from Germany in 1960. Charlie appeared in several of Elvis’ movies in the 60s and was part of the set-up for Elvis’ triumphant return to live performance in the 1968 TV Special.

Charlie will probably be remembered apperaing on stage with Elvis throughout the 70s concert era. Charlie sang back up, played guitar and handed Elvis his water and scarfs. After Elvis’ death Charlie continued to perform in shows dedicated to Elvis’ memory. For the past 15 years Charlie performed at Memories Theatre, Tennessee.

Elvis’ bodyguard Sonny West who had a bitter split from the Presley entourage, said in a recent interview that after Elvis’ death he and Mr Hodge went 27 years without seeing each other. Then they met in December at West’s one-man show, ‘Memories of Elvis’. “He walked up, shook my hand, and said ‘It’s been too long, Sonny. I’ll tell you right now, if he (Elvis) was watching us, he’d want us to get together, because where he’s at now, he’s nothing but love” West recalled.

News of Charlie’s death filtered through after the Elvis tribute night on March 3 rd at the Clarion Hotel, leaving local dedicated Elvis fans shocked and stunned. Charlie was buried in the New Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery, Decatur, Alabama.

Perhaps he’s once again passing Elvis his water and scarfs.

Mr. Hodge is survived by his wife Jennifer.

- Alan Thompson

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Alan Francisco's Entertainment Buzz


CLUBSOUND were part of the Ulster heartbeat, they played all through the troubles helping people forget their worries until their final split in 1995 when they all agreed to go their separate ways.

Well they are back, with all their old favourite routines, ‘Shankill Airways’, ‘The Ballymour Grousebeaters’, ‘Andy McFadden’ and so many, many more.

George Jones, one of the best loved voices on the iarwaves, Barry Woods, a seasoned producer of television and radio commercials, David McNight, a professional kitchen designer and Alan McCartney, who sings with his wife Janet as the duo De Luxe plus the only new Clubmate, guitar player Jimmy Black of Chapter 5, are looking forward to entertaining you the way they used to.

Clubsound are appearing in the Ramada Hotel at Shaws Bridge on Friday 26th May and at the Clarion Hotel in Carrickfergus on Sunday 28th May. Admission to both venues is a bargain £12.50 and tickets are available from each of the hotel receptions.


NEWTOWNABBEY Borough Council have again pulled out all the stops to give local country music fans a mouth-watering country feast on Friday 7th April and Saturday 8th April at the Ballyearl Courtyard Theatre.

Radio Ulster’s Hugo Duncan will be appearing on both nights along with Showband Legend Frankie McBride. They will be joined on the Friday night by Ireland’s Country Queen Philomena Begly and on the Saturday night by Susan McCann. Tickets are only £12 and are available from Ballyearl Courtyard Theatre, 585 Doagh Road, Newtownabbey. Ticketline (028) 9084 8287.