Not the slightest idea….

The old Irish Homestead, which has seen better days

The old Irish Homestead, which had seen better days, but still very much part of my childhood.

The Scottish ancestral home, near Inverness, Scotland

Foulis Castle, the Scottish ancestral home, near Inverness, Scotland, which we have visited many times

s I have become older, I have become more interested in my back-ground. Where have we fitted-into the world, what influence have our great-grandparents had on who we are. And what influence have we individually had on our succeeding generations. Besides our blood family, there are also many other circles within which we move, our neighbours, club memberships, school friends, and work colleagues, to name but a few. So do we have an influence on all these folk?

Then there are those far-off relatives-by-marriage whom we have never met, and are unlikely to meet. However we are duty-bound to at least use one ear when listening to the intricacies of the relationship when relayed by someone close. Social media has brought many of these people within communication range, but we will still not meet them in the flesh.

No, I am mainly concerned about my own recent, and not so recent, predecessors and their close families, …….my DNA, if you will.

I am fortunate in that those before me were able to utilise the clan system, and the known history (from about 1100 ad) to document the earliest ancesters right through to my grandparents on my father’s side. This info was available to me through family publications….so no real problems there.

Luckily I knew my maternal grandparents well and many aunts, uncles and cousins, but my paternal grandparents had both passed-on before I could know them, even as a child.

So I was able to get into the history of a well-to-do Scottish land-owning family, and the life of a small Irish farming family, but even then I have only scratched the surface. I know nothing of their daily lives and how that influenced their approach to life. Did it make them ‘harder’ if life was difficult, and would this percolate into the ethos of the family, and the behaviour of their descendents?

Images of more than two or three generations back are limited so we cannot see, or image whether our facial features, skills, attributes etc are discernible as part of a long line. Very strange, that we are part of this long lineage, and yet, we are only in connection with a maximum of two generations on either side of ours.

Presumably, future generations will be asking the same questions as we do, but I hope that the work I have been doing on digitising all the available photos, documents etc into some form of logical order for generations to come will prove hopeful……

Carol, Sweetly Carol,

Some years ago I used to write an occasional little article in our Church Magazine. It was called, not very originally, ‘From the Organ Stool’, as I was the Organist and Choirmaster. One year I did one entitled ‘ Some facts you might not have known about Christmas Carols’. I thought perhaps some of you might be interested:-

  • Originally a Carol was not a religious song, but a secular dance, often in triple time.

  • The carol ‘In Dulci Jubilo’, when the words are sung as a mixture of English (from the German), and Latin, is an example of what is known as a ‘macaronic carol’. The melody can be found in a 14th century manuscript in Leipzig University.

  • The wonderful combination of Charles Wesley and Felix Mendelssohn gave us ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’.

  • The tune of the French carol ‘Whence is that Goodly Fragrance’ later appeared as the rousing drinking song ‘Fill ev’ry glass, for wine inspires us’ in John Gay’s ‘The Beggars Opera’ in the 18th Century. I remember well singing it with the Kirkintilloch Players some 20 years ago!

  • ‘Good King Wenceslas’ originally appeared in Piae Cantiones in 1582, as a Spring carol. It was only about 170 years ago that the 10th Century story of Saint Wenceslas of Bohemia was told. After his father died, he encouraged Christianity in Bohemia, against the wishes of his mother, and was murdered by his brother Buleslav.

  • The Romans used Holly to decorate their houses at the feast of Saturnalia, which occurred in the winter season. Ivy was dedicated by them, to Bacchus from the idea that it warded-off drunken-ness!

  • The Coventry Carol (‘Lul-ly, lul-lay’) is one of the oldest English Carols. The original tune comes from 1591 and was sung in the Coventry Plays of that era.

  • There are several Wassailling Songs. The word Wassail means ‘Keep You Well’.

  • Czechoslovakia has provided a number of lovely quiet carols including the ‘Rocking Carol’, ‘The Birds’, and ‘The Zither Carol’. ‘Infant Holy’ is from Poland.

  • ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ was written in 1857 by Dr J.H.Hopkins of Pennsylvania, one of very few well-known carols from the USA.

So give a thought, when next singing over Christmas, that the words and music may have had a very strange history

Have a very pleasant Advent and Christmas period…..