Multiplescerosis and Bernagh

On Saturday 15th May, I attended a Research Day organised by Patricia Gordon of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Northern Ireland at Queen's University Medical Biology Centre, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast under the guidance of Dame Ingrid Allen DBE, the sister of one of my friends in Medical School, Gwynneth. The wonderful keynote lecture “Solving the Riddle of MS” was given by Dr Stephen Hauser, Chair of the Department of Neurology, University of California, San Fransisco, USA – like Dame Ingrid, one of the greatest minds in the Medical world (a).

He [Dr Hauser] outlined the several susceptible genes in developing MS and also the environmental factors.Now MS is commonest in areas away from the Equator,being almost unknown in Central Africa.Yet it is relatively common in the British Isles, North America, Canada, Scandinavia, southern Australia and New Zealand. There is a growing amount of research to suggest that vitamin D is involved but I asked if they had looked for a Viking gene, which might trigger it off. Dr Hauser replied that there was not yet enough data on population genetics but that the question was a very good one.

Which brings me to Kathryn Lindskoog and “Pilgrim's Regress” (b). In August, 2002 , I liaised with my friend Peter Robinson MP,MLA, on behalf of one our constituents in East Belfast, Mr Raymond Atkinson, with regard to Bernagh, “Red Hall” (c).

I attended the Development Arts Sub-Committee on Wednesday 7th August, 2002, at Belfast City Hall, emphasising the importance of the building in terms of its literary connection with C.S.Lewis.They agreed to further a letter to the Environment Service requesting it to reconsider its opinion that the building should not be listed, and I followed this up with the Minister of the Environment, Dermot Nesbitt, MLA, my colleague in the Ulster Unionist Party. I also wrote to Mr Bob Ferguson, Chief Executive of the owners, the South and East Belfast Health amd Social Services Trust, outlining C.S. Lewis's connection with Scottish as well as English Literature, as I believed that “Red Hall” might be a suitable location for my Ulster Scots or Ullans Academy (d).

We were assured by Mr Nesbitt that the Department were aware of the links with C.S.Lewis at the time Red Hall was evaluated, but the building itself was architecturally unremarkable and these links in themselves did not meet listing criteria (e). Despite a media campaign I initiated with the help of Ben Lowry, Eddie McIlwaine and Dan Gordon of the Belfast Telegraph, the house was sold for development and subsequently demolished (f).

Dr Paisley and his family were appalled. Rhonda, you will remember, had obtained funding for Ross Wilson's statue of The Searcher, the CS Lewis Centenary Sculpture, unveiled by Douglas Gresham at the Holywood Arches Library, Holywood Road, Belfast on Friday 6th November1998 (g). As the house was being demolished Dr Paisley stood outside in silent protest (h).

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Editor's Notes and comments

(a) See Dr Hauser's entry in the UCSF Medical Center.

The name reminds me of Professor Richard Hauser, whom I met in the 1970s at a conference in Belfast with his wife, Hephzibah Menuhin. [A musician like her famous brother, Hephzibah was a concert pianist.] Prof Hauser invited me to call on him in London, which I did shortly afterwards. He claimed to have been the first to bring together representatives of the Armenians and the Kurds (traditional enemies) since the days of the Armenian Holocaust under the Ottoman Empire. Prof Hauser showed me a suitably sinister curved oriental dagger, which he told me had been a present after the meeting that he had organised.

(b) After suffering from MS for decades, Kathryn Lindskoog finally died of the disease in 2003. She was the author of FINDING THE LANDLORD: A GUIDEBOOK TO C. S. LEWIS'S PILGRIM'S REGRESS, Kathryn Lindskoog, Cornerstone Press, Chicago, USA, 1995. See C.S. Lewis's “The Pilgrim 's Regress” Part 1, Wednesday, June 18. 2008.

(c) 'Bernagh' (later renamed 'Red Hall') was the family home of C.S. Lewis's boyhood and lifelong friend Arthur Greeves.

THE PILGRIM'S REGRESS (dedicated to Arthur Greeves) 'spurted out' of Lewis in 1932, during a fortnight's stay at Bernagh. This was Lewis's first book as a Christian and the only book that he would write in Ireland. See Bernagh in the C S Lewis Centenary Group Trail Brochure.

(d) C.S. Lewis's boyhood nurse, Lizzie Endicott, was an Ulster-Scot. Lewis could certainly read Lowland Scots, 'Lallans', for he paid extensive tribute to the Scottish courtly writers, including Dunbar, Douglas, Lyndsay and Montgomerie, in the volume that he wrote in the series of the Oxford History of English Literature (which Lewis called OHEL). This was Volume IV, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century (1954). [Originally titled English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama]. A pupil, and later Professor of English, John Wain, regasrded OHEL as Lewis's greatest book. Given Lewis's talent for mimicry, I wouldn't be surprised if he could make a fair attempt at Ulster Scots.

(e) Mr Nesbitt was formally correct. The grounds for “Listing” a building depends on its architectural merit, or lack thereof, rather than its historic interest in connection with important events in the past.

(f) Bernagh/Red Hall, built in the late 19th century, possessed extensive grounds. The area was an attactive residential one. The demolition occurred a few years ago during the buildsing boom when developers were making large profits.

(g) Rhonda Paisley attended Art College and interested herself in the visual arts. She and Ross Wilson both became members of our Centenary Group (see here). Ross Wilson's “The Searcher” is a fine addition to the physical landscape of the city and a fitting memorial to its greatest literary figure.

(h) What a final tableau! Rev Ian Paisley standing in silent protest. I knew nothing of this so thank you, Ian, for telling us of it!

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