Thursday, 14 March 2013

An Independent People - episode 1 review

I watched An Independent People episode 1 on BBC iPlayer last night, which was shown on BBC Northern Ireland last Sunday (2 more still to go). The first episode was entitled "Taking Root". I have to say that I felt more connected to my Scottish Presbyterian heritage in Ireland from one hour of TV then I ever did with 10 years of attending church services in Carrickfergus when I lived there. It was an absolutely brilliant programme - I suspect a lot of today's Presbyterians in Ulster have no idea about the persecution their ancestors once experienced in pre-1798 in Ireland, from the Anglican regime, Irish rebellions and all sorts, or indeed the violent means by which the religion was itself previously introduced formally into the country in 1642 - it's all too easily packaged and misrepresented these days as 300 years of Protestants vs Catholics. There's a very definite set of reasons why a lot of our ancestors' families in Ulster, having arrived from Scotland, said "sod this for a came of conformity" after a generation or two, and went further west to America. There used to be a time when Ulster's Presbyterians, as with Scotland's, bowed to nothing but their own sense of conviction - before nonconformism conformed. When the cause never being surrendered to was the very monarchy today many of my countrymen are now so loyal to.

It was particularly great to see the filming done in my home town of Carrickfergus, but also to see all the locations filmed in Geneva to tell Calvin's story. I weirdly filmed at every single one of those same locations for a similar series I made on the history of the Scottish Kirk for BBC Scotland almost a decade ago ("The Sword and the Cross"), with most sequences saying virtually the same thing.

It's a very highly recommended watch on the iPlayer, but unfortunately accessible only if you live in the UK (I genuinely don't know if the iPlayer is accessible in the Republic of Ireland, or if this series will be shown there). The episode can be watched online for the next 17 days at

A seriously big well done to BBC Northern Ireland. For years I have struggled with the identity question about whether I am Irish or Scottish, and have happily now settled with the conclusion that I am a mixture of both, with neither half of my origins laying superiority to the other. It's good to see programming that equally now has the confidence to explore the same background.

Looking forward now to the United Irishmen next week (something I was never taught about at school, I should add). How things might have been different today if we'd pulled THAT one off...!


My new book, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet, is now available from Pen and Sword. For my other genealogy books, please visit; whilst for my online Scottish based genealogy courses please visit the Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd site.


  1. Chris,
    Perhaps someone will capture this program on youtube.
    Shame we in USA cannot have access to these wonderful UK programs. We are always so behind the times here.

    So many of us here are of the same roots as yourself.
    Also, I was interested in your saying about the BBC program you did The Sword and the Cross,is it is available on DVD?
    I have this book.


    1. You can subscribe to a service that lets you connect to a server in the UK, and watch British TV at will - for $9 to $15 a month. And unless you watch BBC soap operas you won't want it for multiple months. The Indepedent People series is no longer there, but I did download them. I don't know if it has to download the right to play it every time.

  2. Hi Cathie,

    If it does go on YouTube the Beeb would be tad upset (copyright) - unless they put it up of course! On The Sword and the Cross - sorry, it's not on DVD, and I'm not aware of plans for it to be made so.

    The book was actually based on our scripts, virtually word for word (Richard only wrote the introduction). I directed programmes 2 (John Knox) and 4 (The Godly Commonwealth) - 2 was underway when I signed on, but programme 4 was written by me, and as it turns out, has been one of the most useful things I ever did in terms of future work as a genealogist! I actually give a talk regularly called The Godly Commonwealth on the splits and mergers of the Kirk, one of my fave subjects.


  3. I just watched it on YouTube:

    1. It sure is! Hallujiah!

      As for copyright, respect Americans enough to make it available here on the same terms as everyone else, and you'll not find it on You tube, or shared by other means. And don't even bother making excuses about it, because it's up to you. You didn't even have to put it on BBC - you could have made it more democratically available. Honest, of all the NERVE to make TV programming available online exactly to people in the UK. Don't even talk about people respecting you until you respect the rest of the world. And I don't care who's bent out of shape.

      Now, what's that tune they play about five minutes into the first episode, where they talk about lawlessness and muskets and show the walls of a fort or castle?