Belfast Telegraph

What's the connection between an east Belfast church, a pioneer in women's health and the song 'A pub with no beer'?

By Nelson McCausland

Here's a question for readers. What is the connection between Mountpottinger Methodist Church in east Belfast, a pioneer in women's health in Australia, and the old humorous country song 'A pub with no beer'?

The answer is that the song was an international hit for an Australian singer called Slim Dusty, whose real name was David Kirkpatrick. Yes it has been recorded by many other people since then but the Slim Dusty version was probably the best known.

That brings me on to the pioneer in women's heath in Australia. The pioneer was Mary Kirkpatrick, who established hospitals and was a pioneer midwife in the Australian outback. She is included in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the connection is that she was the grandmother of David Kirkpatrick.

Finally that takes us back to Mountpottinger Methodist Church. Mary Kirkpatrick was born in Belfast in 1863 and was married on October 19, 1881, in Mountpottinger Methodist Church before setting out for Australia.

I came across those connections the other day and they set me thinking again about the Ulster diaspora - the people who left Ulster and made their mark in countries around the world.

We often hear about the influence of the Ulster-Scots emigrants, a quarter of a million of them, who crossed the Atlantic in the 17th century and helped to shape modern America.

As well as patriots, pioneers and presidents, there were also men such as James Gamble, who was born in Co Fermanagh and was a co-founder of the multinational company Proctor and Gamble. James, a soap-maker from the Graan, near Enniskillen, emigrated from Ulster to America and his soap-making skills were the start of that multinational business empire.

Ulster folk also made their mark in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and many other lands. However, Ulster has been poor in identifying and celebrating those notable emigrants.

Back in 1956 the Ulster-Scot Historical Society was established on the initiative of the unionist government of the day and some valuable work was done identifying and restoring the ancestral homes of American president who had family roots in Ulster. That is an important part of the story but it is only part.

More recently some very useful work has been done by the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Ulster-Scots Community Network in identifying significant figures within the Ulster diaspora but there is so much more that could be done.

First of all, the stories and the connections need to be recovered or rediscovered. There was a greater awareness of these things in the past, especially the Ulster-Scots element of the Ulster diaspora. Unfortunately some years ago there was a definite "greening" of the cultural establishment and such things were marginalised or put in someone's bottom drawer. Now is the time for that process to be reversed.

Then, secondly, the story of the Ulster diaspora should be in our schools as a part of the curriculum. Children and young people have a right to learn about their cultural heritage. Indeed, it is a right that is set down in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, for some reason, it is a right that is often overlooked.

Thirdly, the Ulster diaspora is something that should be in the media. The Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund has helped to support some excellent television programmes about that international story and such programmes are extremely popular. The viewing figures for them are very good and that shows that many people want to know more. I knew that when I negotiated the broadcast fund and the viewing figures have proved I was right.

However, having the message at home is only the start. There are international connections to be made with organisations, commercial companies and cultural institutions based on that diaspora story.

The Irish Republic has used its diaspora to good effect, not least in encouraging tourism, and so should Northern Ireland.

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