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. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Saturday, November 25, 2006

GI Guide to Ulster

BROWSING in the Linenhall Library the other day, I came across A Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland published by the United States War and Navy Departments, Washington DC, for American soldiers based in the Province.

The little booklet was intended to give GIs stationed here some idea of what the people here were like: ‘You are going away from home on an important mission - to meet Hitler and beat him on his home ground. For the time being you will be the guest of Northern Ireland. The purpose of this guide is to get you acquainted with the Irish, their country and their ways.’
The opening chapter informs the GI that ‘There are two Irelands'. It offers sage advice for Americans abroad, ‘particularly important in Ireland: (1) Don‘t argue religion. (2) Don't argue politics.'

Some parts of the booklet still come across well. ‘Northern Ireland - usually called Ulster - is a small country, only slightly larger than the State of Connecticut‘ The climate is is ‘damp, chilly, rainy‘; ‘the sun is only an occasional visitor in Ireland; there are about 200 rainy days a year.’ ‘It is the always-present dampness which makes the cool summers and mild winters seen colder than they are.' Optimistically, the guide says that ‘Dampness chills the bones of visitors, but it makes Ireland green and beautiful.’

The underlying politics of the ongoing war against Hitler's Germany are not forgotten. One chapter warns the GI that Eamon DeValera protested against the landing of US troops in Ulster and that Axis legations operate in Eire: 'Axis spies sift back and forth across the border constantly, be on your guard! The Nazis are trying to find out all about the AEF. Watch what you say in public. Enemy ears are listening.’

On social matters, the GI reader is told; ‘the male social center in Ulster is the tavern or public house. While there are temperance advocates and a few prohibitionists in Ireland, you won’t see much of them…. Up in the hills you may be offered an illicit concoction known as “potheen.” This is a moonshine whiskey made out of potato mash. Watch it. It’s dynamite…’ However, the poor American soldier on leave minght find some disappointment; 'There is virtually no night life. Pubs closed early and the floor show and juke joint are nonexistent.'

Ulster's religious divisions are not overlooked. GIs are warned that; 'Religion is a matter of public as well as private concern in Ulster and you’ll be wise not to talk about it. In America we ask where do you come from? In Ulster they ask What church do you belong to? If the question is put to you tell the truth and then change the subject.'

GIs are informed of two historical links with Co Antrim. Beneath a photograph of Carrickfergus castle and harbour a caption reads; 'For centuries, Carrickfergus, near Belfast, was the chief port and town of Northern IRELAND. Ancestors of Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, kept a inn near the north gate of the city (sic). Offshore, in 1778, John Paul Jones fought a victorious naval action in his ship ‘Ranger’. Diplomatically, the booklet omits to mention that the founder of the US Navy captured a British vessel during one of the first naval engagements of the American war of independence.

In a section near the back, soldiers are advised on the use of Pounds, shillings and pence; 'Ulster uses British money' and weights and measures. The difference between tanners, bobs, half-crowns, farthings and guineas is patiently explained. Soldiers are advised not to show off their comparative wealth around poorer Ulsterfolk and allied servicemen and not to brag or put down local ways of life or to provoke resentment against them. These were the days when the US war department saw themselves as helping allies rather than reshaping the world in their own image, Then the US war department thought it necessary to give their soldiers some idea of what lay in wait for them before arriving in the strange surroundings of wartime Ulster. For twenty-first century readers it's an interesting snapshot of Ulster life as it was for our parents or grandparents.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Support Your Local Pipe Band

IN Conversation with the Star of Eden Pipe Band

ONE of my regrets about the annual Twelfth demonstration in Belfast is the lack of a good pipe band. You never see one any more, although they are still quite common in parades in parts of Counties Antrim and Down. The only time I ever see a pipe band in Belfast these days is as part of the annual ICTU May Day parade. This year there were two pipe bands. One came over from Scotland for the day. If I recall rightly, the Northern Irish band came from Co Fermanagh.

I was recently invited to see members of the Star of Eden Pipe Band at their weekly band practice in Kilroot Orange Hall. I mentioned this to an acquaintance who plays in the North Belfast Pipe Band. He didn't realise that the Star of Eden was still going. Few people outside the Carrickfergus area seem to have heard of it even though it has been established since 1923.
Certainly numbers have dropped off a fair bit since the band won the All-Ireland Piping competition in 1958. Some members have moved away, some have died and others have been 'poached' by more well-known bands. These setbacks, however, have not dented the enthusiasm of young and old members alike. William McDonnell has been involved with the band since 1944. At 85, John Turner is still blowing away with gusto, while 12 year-old Jade McNeill is regarded as the best learner in the band. I was very impressed by this dedication during my short visit.

Nevertheless, the band's members sense that the current revival of interest in Ulster-Scots heritage and culture is likely to benefit them, if people know they're out there. Their ambition is to get back out on the road as soon as possible. Currently they are down to six pipers, two side drummers, two tenor drummers, a bass drummer and a pipe major, so there's plenty of room for new recruits. Would-be junior learners – on pipes or drums - can turn up at Kilroot Orange Hall between 7:00 and 9:00pm each Wednesday evening. More experienced would-be recruits, perhaps even former members of defunct bands, can go along to the band practise each Monday evening between 8:00 and 10:00pm.

Members of the band participate in the annual Burns Night supper organised by Kilroot True Blues LOL1544. Tickets for the forthcoming Burns Supper on January 26th 2007 are likely to be snapped up very quickly as local people flock to hear the pipers and Willie Macpherson's celebrated Address to the Haggis. Band members are also available for various functions, including weddings and funerals.

The Star of Eden can have a great future ahead of it, given the goodwill of the people of Carrick and the wider East Antrim area. Support your local pipe band!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kerr's Collector's Corner

BRAND NEW ULSTER-SCOTS CULTURAL BADGE.

IN THE last Kerr’s Collectors Corner I described a new Rangers badge which was very unique because it featured two First Union Flags. This flag was introduced in 1606 and just consists of the English St. George’s flag and Scottish St. Andrew’s flag. (The cross of St. Patrick wasn’t added until 1801).

This month I’d like to highlight another very unique badge – this time a brand new Ulster-Scots cultural badge.

This seven-colour Ulster-Scots enamel badge really is fantastic! It features a highly stylised Scottish Thistle (and is reminsant of the work produced by Charles Rennie MacIntosh, the famous Glaswiegan architect and designer).

The head of the Thistle is purple whilst the leaves are bright green. However, what makes this badge stand out is its centre-piece, which takes the form of the Second Ulster National Flag – sometimes referred to as the Ulster-Scots flag. This is all set against a brilliant white backround.

What makes this badge really unique is the writing around an outer black band. At the top it says Put Ulster-Scots First and around the bottom are the words Pit Ulster-Scots Tae The Fore. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a badge written in Ullans! (more commonly known as Uster-Scots).

This Ulster-Scots cultural badge – which actually features Ulster-Scots text – is the first of its kind. This will very quickly make it a collector’s item – so be sure to order yours today! It costs only £2.50 (including p&p) each. To get your Ulster-Scots badge complete with Ullans text, simply send a cheque/Postal Order (made payable to Glenwood Publications) to: Glenwood Publications, First Floor, 316 Shankill Road, Belfast, BT13 3AB.

I’m still hearing rumours that about three new badges – another new Rangers badge, a cultural badge celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and a 5th Anniversary Drumcree badge. As soon as they’re available I’ll let you know. Happy badge collecting!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Gig Review - Dickie Rocks !

SOMETIMES it's a real pleasure to be completely, absolutely and totally wrong. Take the Dickie Rock concert in the Spectrum Centre last month, for example. I was going more out of a sense of duty than anything else. I had hoped that it wouldn't be too bad but I honestly didn't have very high expectations.

I'd heard of Dickie Rock of course. He had been big in the early sixties and represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1964. Apart from that, I knew nothing, so I was quite unprepared for the storming show that I saw in the packed Spectrum Centre. When I say 'packed' I mean packed. Every seat in the main hall was taken. According to a local newspaper, this was the largest audience ever for an event in the Spectrum Centre. Quite a few folk were in their seats a good hour or more before the gig began. Whatever else I might have thought of him I soon observed that Dickie Rock certainly has a very keen fan base.

When the show began, Dickie hit the stage running. 'Were you expecting somebody older?', he quipped before launching into Love is in the Air. The crowd loved it. They went wild. As Dickie warmed up the crowd began to get into the swing of things. The opening bars of familiar songs brought out more cheers of approval and rapturous applause from the body of the hall. A party from the Shankill Gateway Club - many with Downs Syndrome - began to dance in front of the stage. These young folk had a real ball.

I was impressed by the effortless way that Dickie switched from one style of singing to another. Every now and then he broke into a medley of songs. Elvis standards like Don't be Cruel, Teddy Bear and The Wonder of You preceded a complete change of rhythm to Try a Little Kindness melded into Gentle on my Mind and Things We Used to Do. I picked up on a medley of Neil Sedaka classics and some powerful renditions of Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday, It's Now or Never, and I Can't Get No Satisfaction, complete with Mick Jagger-style attitude!

He kept up this constant change of pace throughout the show – all on his own. No backing tracks and no backing singers. The man must have some stamina. I was blown away by it all. The audience was ecstatic; all the more when Dickie left the stage and passed through sections of the audience. The members of the Gateway Club could hardly contain themselves with delight. He shook hands with me too with a good firm grip. Some ladies of a certain age in the audience looked like they might pass out with excitement. Others looked as if they'd smother Dickie to death! He just kept on singing through it all. What a pro!

Before I knew it, the show was over. The crowd bellowed for more, but Dickie had left the building. Knots of happy, smiling people reluctantly began to make their way home. Dickie Rock had given many of them their best night out in years.

Friday, November 10, 2006

DVD Competition - Death of a President

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT – WINNER, INTERNATIONAL FILM CRITICS AWARD, TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

“...packs a punch... knocks the breath out of the spectator... eerily convincing, Death Of A President succeeds in posing important questions about the Bush administration - and equally about the media and its role in the reshaping of society in our time.”The Guardian

“skilful docudrama... shrewdly blending archival footage with staged material... Layering the sense of dread with measured expertise... key personnel... believably impersonated by actors... the demonstration scenes, evidently staged on the streets of Chicago especially for the film, are amazingly realistic... Perhaps the film’s most remarkable... sequence is one in which Cheney is seen to be presiding over his predecessor’s state funeral... ingeniously edited... Technically the film is exceptional...”Variety

Years after the assassination of President George W. Bush in Chicago, an investigative documentary examines that as-yet-unsolved crime...

Using real life archive footage of George W. Bush, Death Of A President is a controversial conspiracy thriller with a unique premise, told in the style of a retrospective documentary, which offers a critique of the contemporary US political landscape.

This DVD features incredible extras that reveal the technical tricks used to make this ground breaking film possible.

Death of a President was shown on both More4 (9th October) and Channel 4 (16th October).
Cert: 12 Feature Running Time: 93 mins Region 2Catalogue No: OPTD0778 RRP: £15.99/DP: £10.89

We have three of these exciting new DVDs to give away in our super free-to-enter competition. Just answer this simple question. George W Bush is the 43rd president of the United States of America. Who was the 41st president? Answers by December 1st 2006 to Death of a President competition, The Wizard, Enterprise House, 55 Adelaide Street, Belfast BT2 8FE. The first three entries picked out of our postbag will be the winner. No cash alternatives.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

DVD Review - The Omen Pentology

Run Time: 530 minutesCertificate 18

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

A FANTASTIC treat for horror fans was released on 23 October 2006 - an ‘Omen Pentology’ set. Along with the remastered original movie it includes the entertaining first sequel Damien: Omen II (Damien as a troubled teenager); the not so hot The Final Conflict: Omen III (Damien enters the 'Eternal Sea' of politics); the boring made-for-TV Omen IV: The Awakening (the devil reborn as a girl) and the interesting recent remake of the original. It is also jam-packed with documentaries, commentaries and other features.

I started by re-watching the original 1976 film. It was surprising at the time that a mainstream studio put out this film. Not because it is particularly horrific or gory but because of the controversial religious nature of the central theme - the Anti-Christ walking the Earth and (at least in the beginning) triumphing over those who oppose him. The other surprise is the quality of acting and actors in the original, Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn (Damien's 'Father'), Lee Remick as Katherine Thorn (his mother) and Harvey Stevens (as Damien himself) are the central players but it really is an ensemble Billie Whitelaw’s measured, sinister portrayal of the as the boy’s nanny; David Warner as the photographer who sees omens of death in his pictures and the ill-fated priest played by Patrick Troughton.

At heart The Omen is psychological, revolving around the breakdown of the controlled, superficially perfect lives of the central couple, unable to cope with what is happening. This is a point made by the Editor Stuart Baird: "Instead of relying on gore and blood and flashy effects it was psychological". (The Omen Revealed). It's also interesting that the Robert Thorn has lied to his wife about the birth of "their" Son. This lie (which we, the audience, are aware of) has many repercussions. That's not to say that there isn't gore. There are set pieces that really stick in your mind: death by impaling, death by beheading, death by falling, death by hanging - plenty of death! Perhaps best of all the little smile from Damien at the funeral at the end - chilling!

I then moved on to the remake of the original to compare and contrast. It has had its detractors (particularly on the Internet). Viewed as a film in its own right it is well done. John Moore's remake stars Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as the couple with the problem child. It links recent political events (electoral corruption, unjust foreign military adventures, oil crises, and Middle Eastern terrorism) with the prophecies involved and a more modern setting (and fashions!) makes it easier to absorb. It stuck closely to the book, without being a straightforward copy of the original film.

By Omen II Damien is now a teenager living with his aunt and uncle (Lee Grant & William Holden) however there are too many sudden deaths around him (bit of a give-away!) and they begin to suspect. Not as effective or shocking as the original, but still pushes your buttons.
In Omen III: The Final Conflict even Sam Neill (who I admire) can't compensate for a poor script and a disappointing ending. By Omen IV: The Awakening the series is really limping in. At least the third film had Sam Neill and attempted to continue the story of Damien - this 1991 made for TV one simply repeats ideas from the original.

There are some great extras included with the Pentology (see list below). Richard Donner gives an informative commentary. Wes Craven gives his take on the movie which focuses on the role played by Gregory Peck. He (over)uses the words "serious" and "dignity": "part of the success of it is that they had this man of such immense dignity, he seems to be almost magisterial." You feel like saying - 'we know, it Gregory Peck!' but you get the point. He also makes interesting comparisons with The Exorcist. The Still Gallery has a picture of a cinema showing The Omen and you can see it running alongside Taxi Driver and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which really puts it into context.

I really enjoyed Jerry Goldsmith on the Omen Score. The music is integral to the original film. As Jerry explains an: "important function of the music is to help the pace." The feature takes scenes and looks at the music associated with them. Included are the Love theme, Damien's ride to church (apparently influenced by the music from Jaws!), and the haunting theme base on Gregorian Chants. After being nominated ten or eleven times for Academy Awards and losing out Jerry scored with The Omen.

The Curse or Coincidence feature raises intriguing questions. There are some freaky accidents (car crashes, plane crashes, planes struck by lightning and one man eaten by a Lion) which do seem a little unusual! It's quite freaky when the shows religious advisor stares into camera and tells you that this is because the Devil didn't want the film made.

If you enjoyed The Omen you can lock the doors and immerse yourself in set.

ASIN: B000HN31TWSpecial DVD Features
The Omen (1976) 30th Anniversary Special Edition

The Omen Legacy Part 1Wes Craven on The Omen2 audio commentaries form Director Richard Donner and Writer/Director Brian HelgelandDeleted ScenesThe Devil Made Me Do It: The impact Omen had on contemporary horror filmmakersScreenwriter David Seltzer on writing the Omen100 Still GalleryCurse or Coincidence featurette

The Omen 666 [2006]
Making Of FeaturetteCommentary By John Moore, Glen Williamson, and Dan ZimmermanTwo Extended ScenesAlternate EndingTrailersAbbey Road FeaturetteRevelations 666 Featurette

Damien: Omen II
The Omen Legacy Part 2Commentary by Producer Harvey BernhardThe Omen 2006 - Life AfterFilm School Featurette

Omen III: The Final Conflict
The Omen Legacy Part 3Commentary by Director Graham BarkerThe Omen 2006 - Making a Scene Featurette

Omen IV: The Awakening
The Omen Legacy Part 4The Omen 2006 - World Premiere FeaturetteThe Omen 2006 - Casting Session Featurette