Down of the Thistle

Vol. 8 No. 3 - 2005

Down of the Thistle

by Jack Gilpin

A Presentation in words and music reflecting the purpose and themes of the Master McGra' Festival.

Presentation by Jack and Violet Gilpin

at the Master McGra' Festival
Public Library Carnegie Street Lurgan
Thursday 12 August 2004

Chairman : Dr F X McCorry

William Hazlitt tells how he loved to walk on his own, perhaps talking to himself, and let whatever came into his head 'float like the down of the thistle before the breeze.'Tonight we share with you our DOWN OF THE THISTLE - whatever has come into our heads through this Festival - in its Themes of Travel, Burying Grounds and the Quakers; in its purpose of encouraging tolerance, sensitivity and communal dialogue.

Down of the Thistle - watercolour by Jim Flack

You'll meet a number of people and we need to tell you where. We begin right here.

Jane Warden married John Irwin
From ' The Hill 'at Ballinacorr
Side-saddling it from Newtownards to be his bride
With her came John Ferguson my great grandfather
To be Steward at 'The Hill '

[Scarborough Fair]

This Herding Place Carnegie Street and Kitchen Hill
Is full of memories
When we were small we never got to town except to Fairs
My father sold a beast half-yearly to pay the rent -
Seven pounds nine shillings and tuppence
We were kept from School
For the three miles herding of every hedge hole
Side street and entry from Home to Kitchen Hill
On selling days we had tea in Edward Street
When we didn't sell we herded hungry home

The Fair was a country child's first encounter
With an unscrupulous world
The 'Dalin Man 'and the 'Guinea Hunter'
Made the money as the Chain-Stores do
Here the quack Salesmen of unworthy wares
Travelling Preachers seriously sincere
Publicans doing what my father called ' a roaring trade'

{The Spinning Wheel]

Some journeyed even less than us -
A mile away at the Halfway House near Halfords
In nineteen and twenty two days apart
Johnny and Mary died brother and sister
The last of their line
Leaving £179 14 5 made from cambric weaving
And two acres twenty-eight perches
Every bob had been a prisoner
Like Montiaghs money never spent
Somehow related to us
The farm fell to my father

Their father Patrick a Trafalgar child
In almost a hundred years
Had never set a foot in either town
But lived in self-sufficient poverty
Many's the day I turned the hay on the rigged field
Which Patrick dug
Two hundred years old this year he would have been
Thus I learned of Time

When as a child, I laughed and wept,
Time crept.
When as a youth, I dreamt and talked,
Time walked.
When I became a full-grown man,
Time ran.
When older still I daily grew,
Time flew.
Soon I shall find, on travelling on -
Time gone.

Inscription from on old Clock in Chester Cathedral]

[Poor old Horse]

Some trawled more widely Jane Warden married John Irwin
From 'The Hill' at Ballinacorr
Side-saddling it from Newtownards to be his bride
A sore side for the horse
A sore backside for Jane
With her came John Ferguson my great-grandfather
To be Steward at 'The Hill'

[Now is the Hour]

They say that his wife Agnes my Great-grandmother
Was a heartless woman
She sent two daughters to New Zealand
Promising to follow knowing she never would
And left them far forsaken in South Otago never to return
And never to be forgotten by their sister Mary Ann
My Grandmother

My dear sister
I hope all are well with you
I have been thinking a great deal about you lately
Wishing I could see you Writing is little use
when one wishes to have a long chat and so many
things to talk over since you left home


Charles John another neighbour from a middling farm
Was banished to Australia for loving a poorer girl

' I'll ship him
No son 'o mine ill iver marry a woman wi' one cow '

When he came back old and broken
His brother didn't know him at the boat
And asked him who he was 'I'm what's left of Charles John'

There were no good old days
Each generation has its ups and downs
In our day in all the Babel of communication
We have no time no place to talk or hear
No quiet Pub no hearth no common well

[Try to remember]

Wells were like Bible wells
Where women met and talked and squabbled over children

Then they became domestic one to every house
My father dug ours - twenty-three feet deep
We bent over dropped the bucket down and pulled the rope
A precarious leaning - and us so small

Worse still for Willie Andy sixty surly pot-bellied
The laziest man God ever made
Inflexible of mind and frame
Unlike Charles John

When Willie Andy didn't come for dinner
His wife was much relieved and didn't seek him
Hours later watering the cow
She found him in the well belly-wedged and stuck

She thought to leave him there but Conscience pricked
She sought a neighbour with whom there had been words
After a while he dandered over didn't pull too hard
And dandered back leaving him there
An old score settled

The still small Voice returned
Away she went again and found a Gypsy laden with cans
Who helped her pull him out
Did Willie Andy say a word of thanks or buy a can?
Not on your Willie Andy only 'Phew Hell dam it'
Whatever that may mean

They would say where my wife comes from
That our Gypsies are not January not January ?
Not genuine Real Gypsies have horses and caravans
Tell tall stories and whistle romantic tunes

[The Whistling Gypsy]

The gypsy rover came over the hill
Down through the valley so shady
He whistled and sang till the greenwoods rang
And he won the heart of a lady

She left her father's castle gate
She left her fair young lover
She left her servants and her state
To follow the gypsy rover

Her father saddled up his fastest steed
He ranged the valleys over
He sought his daughter at great speed
And the whistling gypsy rover

He came at last to a mansion fine
Down by the River Clady
And there was music and there was wine
For the gypsy and his lady

'He is no gypsy father dear
But Lord of these lands all over
I'm going to stay 'til my dying day
With my whistling gypsy rover'

Ah de dou ah de doo da day
Ah de dou ah de day de
He whistled and sang till the greenwoods rang
And he won the heart of a lady

Music and Words and Shankill Visits
Tell many a hidden story otherwise unknown
As Cray found in his Country Churchyard -
A mute inglorious Milton a flower born to blush unseen
Its sweetness wasted in the desert air
Like George from Monie

Monie Hill
Monie Hill Quaker Burial Ground

This is the Quaker Year

Their Burying Ground at Monie Hill quaintly ringed with beech
Is known to some

George born beside it and ill unto death
Had a way with words
When asked how he was
He faintly said 'I can hear the birds singing in Monie '
Shortly after he took his journey
And heard their song

My Father-in-law rests there too
When he crossed the Bar at Strangford seventy years ago
He alone of all the crew knew where he was
So drunk they were they neither saw nor heard nor cared

Alfred Lord Tennyson
Had crossed at sunset eighty years before
As he came to Killyleagh
His poet's mind saw heard interpreted
And clothed the image with profound significance


Sunset and evening star
And one clear for me
And may there be no moaning at the Bar
When I put out to sea

For though from out our bourne of time and place
The flood may bear me far
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the Bar

A Herding Place Scarborough Fair
Carnegie Street Kitchen Hill
Characters at the Fair
Travelling On The Spinning Wheel
Patrick, Johnny and Mary [ Simplicity ]
Jane Warden & John Irwin [ Matrimony ] Poor old Horse
Great-Grandmother Agnes [ Heartlessness ] Now is the Hour
Grandmother Mary Ann [ Loneliness ]
Charles John [Love] Carrickfergus
A Talking Place Try to remember
The Art of Talking and Listening
The Well - common and domestic
Willie Andy [ Indolence ]
The Well & the Gypsy -'Phew. Hell dam it'
The January Traveller The Whistling Gypsy
The Romance of the Road
The Interpreter Meditation
Quaker Burying Ground at Monie Hill
Birds singing in Monie - George [ Imagery]
Crossing the Bar - Father-in law Freshwater
(Cabin - boy) 1930 [ Adventure]
Tennyson (Poet) c 1850 [Imagery]