Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Greenock Fair

A Greenock Tram all decked out for celebrating...
The Scottish calendar is littered with famous festivals  such as Hogmanay and Halloween, which are rooted in tradition and folklore. Yet while all Scots are happy to first foot or raise a toast to the bard, there are also some peculiarly parochial dates in  our  diary, dates which warrant further examination. Almost every town in Scotland has its own fair, traditional holiday periods celebrated in summer. The oldest of these ancient market days is of course, the Glasgow Fair,  originally established by a charter from William the Lion in 1190, but latterly the last two weeks in July when factories and offices closed for summer holidays  and everyone  went "Doon the Watter" to Largs Rothesay and Gourock.
Greenock for her part celebrates the fair on St Helens Day, at the end of June, close to the summer solstice and has done for over three hundred and fifty years. In 1635  John Schaw Laird of Greenock  received a charter from King Charles the First  which conferred upon Greenock the rights and privileges of a Burgh of Barony which  amoung other things  gave the people living there  the right to hold two annual fairs  and to trade in home made commodities. 
The day was looked forward to for months, not merely for the holiday, but for the celebrations that came with it, and often as summer approached, the townsfolk would be heard to say, “hoo much hae yae saved up for the fair?”.
The fair itself was held either at Westburn Street, or St Andrew's Square, and it was truly a sight to behold. A whole host of caravans, all decked out with flags and bells. The blast of trumpets, the cracking of riffles – an invitation to joins the celebrations. Waxwork models, photographers, magicians, merry go-rounds, plays and musicians; all just some of the attractions one might see in bygone days.
Yet as time marched on, the fair diminished in size, until one day, the caravans came no more. Today the fair is still celebrated, although in a very different way. No longer does the town come together to toast its own, but rather we travel far and wide on Fair Saturday. Actually, mostly just to Blackpool and Largs…but all the same have a right good Fair Saturday!

If yer stuck for something to can read a wee story of some Old Greenock Characters enjoying a Fair Saturday in times past, or ironically enjoy the 80s feelgood hit "Walking on Sunshine", because as we all know, it ay rains on fair saturday...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

"Folklore Jukebox"

It's like the folklore equivalent of a some undiscovered Beatles recordings being put up online for free...and not like really rubbish late period in-fighting nonsense...more like stuff that was accidently left off Rubber Soul and Revolver. I've overstretched this metaphor...

BBC today reports on the online publication of the notebooks of Scottish folklore pioneer, Alexander Carmichael, 50 years of stories, songs, culture and curses from across the Scottish Highlands. Carmichael was born on Lismore, and attended schools on the island and also apparently in Greenock. Certainly he worked here as an exciseman before transferring to Dublin and eventually Islay, where he began collecting folklore.  History Scotland ran a great piece on him earlier this year.

Senior project researcher Dr Donald William Stewart said: "Alexander Carmichael tirelessly, even obsessively, recorded the culture, lore and beliefs of his native Scottish highlands. By the end of his life in 1912, he was both Celtic guru and folklore jukebox, the internationally-recognised authority on Scottish Gaelic songs, stories, traditions and beliefs. Carmichael's voluminous papers, now preserved in Edinburgh University library, form one of the foremost folklore collections in the world." (BBC)

And as of this evening, these notebooks and more, are available to view online at The Carmichael Watson Project.

You can also read their project blog, and listen to a 1907 cylinder recording of the man himself.

Friday, 17 June 2011

"History is nothing but a series of stories..."

The Village Storytelling Centre are looking for your stories about Port Glasgow and Newark Castle for a new project. A team from the award winning project will be in the gallery space at 7 ½ John Wood Street, Port Glasgow on Monday 20th June from 10 -3, ready to listen to your tales and tell a few of theirs. For more info contact 806760.

Also, Inverclyde Community Development Trust launches its new heritage project Identity this month. Check out the blog here.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cross of Lorraine

A less obvious Templar connection to the Clyde was the wartime presence of the Free French. This heroic order were set up by Charles De Gaulle, who was himself believed to be a member of one of the Knights Templar's controversial modern successors The Priory of Sion. The Priory was of course popularised by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln's  "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" and more recently, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", however, there are many who completely refute its existence and insist it is nothing more than a hoax. There is an excellent database of Priory material you can spend hours looking through here.

The Free French Order of the Liberation deliberately borrowed organisational elements from medieval knights, a new chivalry serving a cause and a religious ideal; the freedom of France from the invading infidel. It is for this reason that De Gaulle adopted the Cross of Lorraine as the symbol of these new crusaders.

The cross, commemorated locally upon Lyle Hill, is also the cross of the Knights Templar. In fact Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine founded the Order of Sion, a precursor to the Knights Templar, set up during the French occupation of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tall Ships Tales

Captain Kidd's Treasure Map by Highlanders Academy
Today, I was lucky enough to get a chance to be at the World Premiere of a new musical...Tall Ships Tales. Over 1000 Primary 5 pupils across Inverclyde have been involved in producing and performing the musical...and it stars Captain Kidd!

Greenock Town Hall was transformed into a ship for the performance, decorated with pirate artwork and paintings, again all provided by Inverclyde schools.

Musician and performer Alan Beck wrote the musical and also played a refreshingly Greenockian Kidd, something we rarely get to see. Musically there was something for everyone from caribbean rhythms through to russian folk tunes. All the schools performed brilliantly.

Next month, as part of the Tall Ships races event, Tall Ships Tales will be performed again in the historic Sugar Sheds. It's a must see. So great to see local heritage being celebrated by local schools in such an involving and upbeat way.

Tall Ships Tales was supported by Inverclyde Council and Youth Music Initiative Scotland. The project has a facebook page and you can head over there for some audio clips and more info and images.

Amazingly however, this is not the first time Kidd's life has inspired a musical. However, it is the only time that musical has been any good. At Tales of the Oak, we believe in promoting all sorts of cultural appreciation, so once you've listened to excerpts from Tall Ships Tales, have a listen to this aria from the great unfinished Captain Kidd opera. No really.

Monday, 13 June 2011


The Knights Templar were supposedly formed in 1118 as the “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon” by a group of French Crusaders. Under the guidance of one Hugh De Payens, these Knights took vows of chastity and poverty, swearing to do everything within their power to protect the Holy Land. By the mid 1120’s the order was spreading quickly throughout Europe, even as far as the Clyde valley. 

Records tell us that the Knights owned a lot of the land around the Clyde, most usually towns and sites associated with the ancient Celtic church. The Templars received their first grants of lands within Renfrewshire in 1128 from Baldwin of Biggar, Sheriff of Lanarkshire and servant of King Malcolm IV. One theory suggest that this part of Scotland, home to the Stewards of Scotland, was home to a large number of Templar Knights who resided high up in the echelons of power for many generations.

There are a number of "Celtic Saints" associated with Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, Fillan, Blaine, Brychan, Columba, and there is certainly suggestion that the Cistercian monastic order often made pilgrimage to sites linked to them.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Blood on the Clyde

Following many requests for further information regarding our post "Nazis Attack Greenock In Search of Holy Grail", we here present a pulp adventure based on the supposed local exploartions of Nazi archaeologist Otto Rahn. But how much basis is there in fact for The Clyde's Templar and Grail connections...find out over the next month....meantime enjoy an exciting adventure with Tom Crow...

Tom Crow Book 29  The Secret of the Templars
Chapter 4 – Blood on the Clyde

Tom travelled up from Hull, the nightmarish howling of those mysterious black dogs still echoing around his mind. What was Eros playing at this time? What had been the meaning of that bloody sigil scrawled onto the turret wall? Tom’s mind raced and clattered almost as if in time with the train. By the time the carriages pulled into Greenock he was no nearer the truth.
Tom was met on the platform by one of the agencies local operatives, Marianne, a member of the Free French. She in turn had directed him to the parish priest in Saint John’s Port Glasgow. After a friendly dram, the priest told him where to meet his next contact, the Bogle Stone; a huge rock perched at the top of the town, believed by locals to be haunted by an evil spirit.
The rain lashed down on Port Glasgow, as Tom approached the stone. A shadow moved from behind the rock.
“Tom Crow?” asked the shadow.
“Sometimes.” answered Tom, “Depends who’s asking.”
A young man stepped from behind the stone, hand extended.
“Shaun O’Donnell, I was told to meet you here.”
Tom eyed him suspiciously.
“Et in arcadia ego..”
“The shepherd must stay with the flock.”
Tom smiled and shook Shaun’s hand.
“Sorry about that. I know codes are all very tedious and embarrassing. But loose lips and all that.”
“Nae problem.” said Shaun  Cannae be too careful. C’mon. This way.”
Shaun gestured to a battered looking jeep at the side of the road.
“Ahm afraid it’s a bumpy ride pal.”
“I wouldn’t have expected anything else” said Tom.
The jeep sputtered into life and the two headed off towards the gloomy moorland.
“Where are we headed?”
“There’s a ruined monastery up at Houston. Cistercian.”
“The religious wing of the Knights Templar?”
“Aye.” said Shaun “The whole area is surrounded wi’ Templar sites. A lot of the smaller villages back here were actually founded by the Templars.”
The lightning flashed again, briefly illuminating the treacherous road as it stretched far off into the dark of the trees.
“So why this particular site?” asked Tom.
“Jist a hunch really. See, wan o the monks kept a really detailed chronicle o’ the daily events of the monastery.”
“I bet that’s a real page-turner.”
“Yer naw kiddin’. In fact, the most interestin’ thing aboot it, isnae whit’s in it. It’s whit isnae.”
Tom frowned.
“I’m sorry you’re going to have to repeat that.”
“Most scholars who look at the Houston Chronicle agree that there’s aboot half a dozen pages missing.”
“Someone stole these pages?”
“Mebbe.” Said Shaun “But the other thing the scholars are fairly sure aboot, is that the pages were removed not long after it was bound.”
“So if somebody did steal the pages, they did it in the 13th Century.”
The van lurched as Shaun swerved to avoid a fox.
“What’s so important about these pages?” asked Tom “Isn’t it possible that it’s just six more pages of ploughing parables and fancy handwriting?”
“Oh aye.” Said Shaun “It’s possible. It’s jist no very likely. See the mistake that whoever removed the pages made wis not tae read the entire manuscript.”
“Let’s not be too hasty to judge them.” said Tom, “Have you ever read an entire medieval manuscript?”
“Oh it wid rip yer knittin’.”
“Yes. Quite.”
“Anyhow, further on in the chronicle, the monk makes a few references to the pages that were later removed. They concerned the visit of an excommunicated Templar Knight and a great secret.”
“What secret?”
“Dunno.” said Shaun “Big enough for the pages to get taken oot the book.”
“It’s intriguing I agree.” said Tom “But it’s not much for us to go on.”
“Ah but ah huvnae finished.” said Shaun “A professor up at Glasgow University told me aboot a few other Cistercian manuscripts wi’ similar gaps in them. It wis quite common practice apparently.”
“Medieval censorship?”
“Naw. Pages were often removed for safety. See, the secret wisnae so much whit wis written on the page, as the pages themselves.”
“Coded messages.” said Tom.
“Exactly. Ye’ve come across this before?”
Tom nodded grimly.
“In the 30’s I pursued a Nazi treasure hunter named Otto Rahn through the south of France,” explained Tom “The whole area is a tangled web of Templar sites. And every secret, every clue was encoded into old tombs, paintings, sometimes the very landscape itself.”
“Aye. Sacred geometry. Did ye catch this Nazi?”
“No.” said Tom “I didn’t even manage to figure out what he was looking for. It was a disasterous mission, for a lot of reasons.”
Tom’s eyes darkened, remembering Sylvia’s pleading face as she slipped from his grip and down onto the rocks below. (SEE TOM CROW BOOK 14 – THE EYES OF ASMODEUS) One day, Rahn would pay for her loss.
The dim light of a nearby village glowed over the hilltops.
“So where do you think our missing pages are now?”
“Ahm pretty sure they never left the monastery. Here, look.”
Shaun pulled a pamphlet from his pocket and threw it to Tom.
“ ‘Statistical Account of the Villages of Houston and Killallan.’
“Skip tae the bit aboot the church. Ah’ve marked the page.”
‘Upon the fourth wall of the aisle there is a large frame of timber, on which 2 pictures seemingly done with oil colours, but much worn out. On the right side, a man in complete armour, resembling that of a Knight Templar, with an inscription in Saxon characters over his head, some words of which are effaced – Hic jacet Dominus Joannes Houston de codem miles, qui obit anno dom MCCC.’
“Templar’s were aye buried beneath the church slabs.” said Shaun. “The painting probably marks his tomb.”
“You think the pages were buried with the Knight?”
“To protect his secret. Aye.”
“Good work Shaun. By my reckoning, Pentecost and his men arrived in Scotland only a day or two ago. We just have to hope we’re one step ahead of him.”

Tom and Shaun crept quietly through the doors, but the creaking of the hinges echoed eerily around the empty black of the old church.
“It should be up this end.” whispered Shaun.
Tom shone his torch towards the furthest away wall of the building.
“There’s the fourth aisle.” Said Tom “But where’s the painting?”
Shaun scrambled past the heavy oaken pews.
“It’s naw here!”
“Is there any indication of where it was hanging, we could just start digging.”
“I think we’d be wasting our time.” said Shaun “Look.”
He picked up a broken picture frame. Torn shreds of canvas still hung to the edges where it had been ripped.
“Looks like I got it wrong. The pages weren’t buried with the Knight, they were hidden in the painting.”
“Damn it!”
“There’s one more lead we could try.”
“Anything.” said Tom
“Saint Peters Well is just beyond the churchyard here. It’s another Templar site, some folk reckon there’s a tunnel underneath it.”
“Let’s go.”
The two stepped out into the night and into a hail of gunfire.
“Down!” yelled Tom diving behind a nearby tombstone.
“Aye cheers!”
“Did you get a look at them?”
“Five guys ah think. By the trees on the left.” said Shaun “And they’re naw too shy either. They’re aw dressed in Nazi uniforms.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
More shots rang out, chipping the gravestones.
“Ye know, ah mebbe didnae huv time to count them all. But there was definetly more of them than there is of us. So we should probly start shootin’ eh?”
“Good point well made Shaun.” said Tom suddenly leaping out from behind the stone and firing wildly into the night. Shaun rolled across the grass to another gravestone.
There was silence. After a time, Shaun peered sheepishly out from behind the monument.
“Huv they gone?”
“I think so. But I don’t know why.”
“Mebbe they’re in a hurry.”
“Well then Shaun. We better hurry too.”

Tom and Shaun marched through the muddy field behind the church walls, glancing furtively around all the while. Something about their encounter in the graveyard was still bothering Tom.
“I recognised some of those men. They work for Eros Pentecost.”
“They wur Nazi’s. They only work for wan man. Hitler.”
“That’s what I don’t understand Shaun, Eros is a lot of things, but he’s certainly not a Nazi.”
“Well mebbe he’s jist tryin’ it oot tae see how he likes it.” said Shaun “Disnae matter. Whoever they wur workin’ for, they wanted us deid.”
“Fair point.”
“Here.This looks like the entrance to the tunnel. They’ve awready been diggin’ here.”
“Those men must have been guards.”
“Aye.” said Shaun “So we’ve probably no much time tae get in and back oot.”
“And that’s assuming there’s not more of them down there.”
Both men nodded grimly before carefully making their way down into the tunnel. After a short scrabble through the mud on their hands and knees, the tunnel opened out into a narrow stone chamber. By flickering torchlight they could see that it stretched some way into the distance.
 “It wis true then. A corridor beneath the well.”
“Apparently so. What more do you know about St Peter’s Well?”
“Usual stuff, healin’ properties associated with various local missionaries. Just south of another Templar site – The Barochan Cross. The tunnel might lead to the hill it stands on.”
“Seems likely.” said Tom.
Suddenly, the two men stopped. There had been the unmistakeable sound of laughter.
“There’s someone behind us.” hissed Shaun. “You go on, I’ll wait here for oor wee friends.”
Tom nodded
“Got enough ammo?”
”Aye plenty. And when that runs oot, ah’ll jist start punching.”
“Good man Shaun. Be careful.”
Tom ran deeper down into the dark.
He didn’t like this. Those men were definetly some of Pentecost’s gang. But they had been in Nazi uniform. If Eros was now working with the third reich things were much more serious than he had imagined.
Abruptly, the tunnel stopped. Tom glanced around. There were two hollows in the muddy wall in front of him. He reached his arm into the first; nothing. In the second however, there was a bundle of rags. Eagerly, Tom hauled them out and hastily unwrapped them. Inside, there was a burned rose stem.
“Eros’s usual calling card.”
Before he had time to curse Pentecost, gunfire echoed down the tunnel, followed by a tortured scream. Tom drew his weapon and charged back up through the passageway. Eros’s men were already making good their escape. And on the ground, lay Shaun’s body, beside him, the bloody sword which had been used to sever his head.
“Those damn nazi swine!”
Tom picked up the sword and ran, revenge in mind. He scrambled out of the tunnel in time to see two motorbikes disappear into the night. Tom raced through the churchyard back towards Shaun’s jeep, but as he drew nearer, he saw there was little point; it was a smouldering wreck.
“Damn it!”
There was a crackle of static as Tom’s walkie talkie burst into life.
“Tom! Tom come in!”
“I’m here. What’s going on?”
“We’ve just received word that the Priest you contacted in Port Glasgow has been found murdered. Poor man’s had his head cut off. And we’re unable to make contact with Marianne. Eros is onto us.”
“I can confirm that sir. He’s raided both the Templar sites before we even had a chance to arrive. And he’s just killed my other contact.”
“Good lord.”
“They’ve torched my transport, so I’m stuck here until I can commandeer something else.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Tom.
“We’ve just picked up a communication from a u-boat entering the Clyde. We could use your torpedo skills.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to get by without me sir. I’m going to start heading cross country but it could be awhile before I find a way back to Greenock.”
“No. Stay where you are Tom, we may need you to pursue. From what we’ve managed to decode so far seems there’s a team on this U-Boat who are going to rendezvous with the squad you’ve been after.”
“So Pentecost has joined the third reich.” Tom muttered to himself.
“We’re trying to intercept them before they make it to shore. Hopefully they won’t make it past the boom at the lighthouse.”
“And if they do?”
“There’s warships on hand. After rendezvous, they’re planning to move onto Inchinnan. They’ve got some language specialist with them to decode the manuscript pages.”
“A friend of your man Pentecost. His name’s Otto Rahn.”

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Comet : Requiem and Resurrection

On Sunday 5 June, the replica of Port Glasgow's historic steamship The Comet will be returned to the town centre, following a year long restoration ahead of the 2012 bicentennial celebrations. The restoration was undertaken by Inverclyde Community Development Trust, Inverclyde Council and Ferguson Shipbuilders, creating 17 local jobs over the year.

The original Comet was not so fortunate, the vessel was wrecked, inspiring a ballad "Requiem For The Comet" which was recorded as part of our downriver cd project. The song was recorded by Paul McLaughlin. Lyrics below.

Thankfully, the future looks much brighter for the Comet replica. A blog which followed the early stages of the Comet Rebuilt project can be found here, and you can view lots of footage of the refurbishment on The Trust's You Tube Channel.

A team at The Trust have followed the refurbishment of The Comet replica for the last year, and a documentary charting the history of the original Comet and the replica will be premiered this year as part of Doors Open Day 2011.

Requiem For The Comet

So the ocean wrapped in sable night
The moon withdraws that spectral light
The weary lulled themselves to sleep
Leaves silent shade to slumbering deep

So they left the land for tranquil sea
Join our land its cheerful glee
Gigantic forms that lord the bay
Chase those tardy hours away, all away

Friends unite as all goes well
The carefree bound while others
Lights and hearts go where they roam
Thoughts that go to joyful homes

But hark the crash and shock of death
The last known struggle with your parting breath
Groans of agony that rend the sky a restless surge before it dies
The wild despair that brings your helpless will
Farewells still rising up upon the gale

All from souls from where there was joy before 

This worlds no more.... no more.

All is past the fight is over
The nights sack cloth is on the shore
The savage oceans sad repose
Where all the cries of death arose

Now its o'er they hover there
Mermaid weep they sit and share
Rising up their dirge of woe
All those tears that all will flow
Those tears will flow.