The Poetry of the Montiaghs

Vol. 4 No. 2 - 1980

The Poetry of the Montiaghs

by Francis X McCorry

Local history has divers aspects and with the present evolving trends towards authentic history reinforced by primary sources, the emphasis on the collection of local folklore and poetry has diminished. Yet while folklore and poetry will not provide a very complete picture of local economic and demographic trends the basic issues in community life are seldom ignored. Therefore when attempting to write down the full story of the Montiaghs on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, the poetry of the area can provide rich and interesting details of current thinking at the turn of the century.

One cannot imagine the young men and women of the present generation reciting in fifty or sixty years' time the songs and poetry of the present age. Yet there remain in the Montiaghs some men and women who can recite long verses and complete poems of Hugh McCorry, James Haughian and other less known native poets. The Poet Haughian - "Hachen" was a famous character of the area who wrote many fine verses and ballads, composed often along the wayside and often would delight passers-by on the roadside with new verses composed there and then for a small reward.

Hugh McCorry was one of a family of five who lived in a four bay stone and lime house in the Boilie. Only the failing of a Geography examination by the narrowest of margins prevented him from training as a teacher. He found employment in the local railway station where his organising ability and sense of purpose greatly helped in the day to day running of affairs. It was traditional in the country houses for the linen looms to be kept operating well into the late hours and when the menfolk and children had come from their day's toil in the fields and a neighbour or two had gathered in, the poems and songs of the locality were given a full airing. Hugh McCorry's poems were great favourites in the Montiaghs.

The poem "Kitty Mathers" was written in a jocular yet serious vein because he was genuinely disappointed at never having the pleasure of meeting the "Queen of the Montiaghs."

To Kitty Mathers in Castlewellan

Kitty Mathers was a young beautiful girl who had moved from the High Moss to Castlewellan in 1901, just before the poet was able to summon up the courage to ask her out for the traditional walk. Kitty was often referred to as the Queen of the Montiaghs.

My very best wishes, I send to you Kitty,
Although I ne'er saw you, I know you by name,
From what that I hear, you are graceful and pretty,
Your steps very modest and conduct the same.

But don't for a moment imagine young maiden,
That I'm going to flatter or swell up your head,
Or don't let yourself be vanity laden,
Although it be true every word that I've said.

Is it pleasant to live in old Castlewellan?
Are the people down there just as friendly and kind?
Are the loaf-tails as sweet that to you they be telling?
As round the High Moss, Kitty, which you left behind?

I would kiss you this moment could I only reach you,
Alas I'm unable you're too far away,
But maybe some day, I'll be able to teach you,
A lesson in love, Kitty, what do you say?

This poem was never published, needless to say, but Hugh McCorry's neighbours, young and old, were given the opportunity of reading the poem on the postcard which bore the message, a few days before it was posted. Charles McCarron of the Boilie recited the poem for the author.

Home Rule in Lurgan

The Poet "Hachen" (Haughian) had many encounters with the law both in the town and country. This poem deals with one such incident which would have been a common occurrence on a Thursday or Saturday afternoon, the two traditional days for going to town. The police barrack was then in Edward Street.

All you who have a glass or two,
Come pay attention to my rhyme,
When you get well on the spree,
Be sure and give it up in time.

For if you break the law of men,
The policeman will be there,
And bear in mind, men, all the time,
That they're the boys can swear.

As I was coming down the town,
I acted like a fool,
I cursed the brutal Government,
And shouted out Home Rule.

And cat-faced Sergeant Mooney,
He thought to run me in,
So I just touched him a Montiagh touch,
Right below the chin.

And when I found I had him down,
I used both hands and feet,
So that they did think to run me in,
To the lodge in Edward Street.

The barrack guard he rushed at me,
And hit me two or three,
The worst of all bad treatment,
Those cattle-drovers did dive me.

The more they battered and beat me,
My temper never cooled,
For every blow that I received,
I shouted out "Home Rule."

Now you see that old J.P.
Give me three hard months in jail,
To rest my tortured limbs,
On an old plank bed of deal.

But if the old J.P. had given me twice three.
It wouldn't keep me down,
I sung God Save Ireland,
Sitting in Lurgan jail.

There's many a man Ireland,
Tramped the old thread mill,
There's many a better man than me,
Loved the Home Rule Bill.

But as I was sitting in my cell,
On a wee creepie stool,
I thought of the day I went to town,
Loudly shouting for Home Rule.

In the "Lurgan Mail" of January 4th, 1908, the following poem was printed, the writerconcealing himself under the initials of T.M. of Baltinary. In 1907, labourers in Derrytrasna and Aghalee Formed associations to try and improve the lot of the labouring man. Mr McAlinden, a Rural Councillor, presided over the Derrytrasna association. It is worthy of mention that a man named Harry Martin organised the labourers and secured a standard wage of two shillings per day. (Two shillings equals twenty-four old pence.)

The decline of linen

In 1803 labourers were hired at 16 old pence per day but those in constant employment were paid 10 old pence [4p] per day in winter and 13 old pence [5½p] per day in summer. These figures apply to Lurgan and district. The poem reflects the decline of the linen industry in Lurgan and the building of still highly valued labourers' cottages, both being features of the twentieth century in the Montiaghs.

The Montiagh Labouring Man
One evening not very long ago,
I went out for a walk,
I met an old farm labourer,
With whom I had a talk,
'Twas on the labourer's situation,
And to form a plan or scheme,
Was my subject of discussion,
With this Montiagh labouring man.

Said I to my friend the times are bad,
And outside work is very slack,
The weaving trade looks very dull,
And that's a great drawback,
The labourers should all amalgamate,
And go out to strike at hand,
Would you approve of my suggestion
I asked this Montiagh labouring man.

He said no doubt your plan looks well
But yet it does seem clear,
To amalgamate or combinate,
T'would take a good long year,
We are working well at present,
So we want no other plan,
We'll just pursue our former steps,
Said this Montiagh labouring man.

The farmers too, are coming around,
They are not just what they were,
For at some of our long meetings,
Sure they'll come and take the chair,
I like to see them pulling together,
And working to each other's hand,
Instead of bantering or agitating,
Said this Montiagh labouring man.

We have nearly all got cottages,
That's not a bad look out,
And as long as we pay up the rent,
We'll never get the rout,
And not forgetting a brighter prospect
Which is looming near at hand,
It's the purchasing of our holding,
Said this Montiagh labouring man.

We'll never mind going out on strike,
For the times will surely mend,
Prosperity will rise again,
And poverty will end,
Brighter days are dawning,
For the labourers of our land,
So we'll never be downhearted,
Said this Montiagh labouring man.

The Irish Emigrant's Lament
I shall ne'er forget the morning,
That I left old Erin's Isle,
The birds were singing sweetly,
And all Nature seemed to smile,
But my heart was sad and weary,
As I bid my friends good-bye,
And set off for America,
My fortune for to try.

Though it's fine out here in Boston,
Where there's plenty all around,
Where the Irish dominate the scene,
And where lots of friends I've found,
Where the buildings are palacious,
And the streets are simply grand,
Yet I love my home in Derrytagh,
By the lovely River Bann.

I roam once more in fancy,
By Lough Gullion's lovely shore,
From Portadown to Lurgan,
And through famous Tannaghmore,
Through 'Trasna on to Derryvene,
And likewise to the Bay,
Where I seemed to stand and gaze,
On beautiful Lough Neagh.

I seemed to hear the Old Church bell,
Its tones so sweet and clear,
I seemed to hear the children play,
And my mother's voice so dear,
I see again the old boreen,
Its hedgerows neat and mute,
Where I sang and danced in days gone by,
To the tune of Charlie's flute.

Please God, some day I will return,
To those spots so dear to me,
Where a hearty welcome awaits me,
By my friends across the sea,
There I'll settle down forever,
Oh sure it will be grand,
In that little house in Derrytagh,
By the lovely River Bann.

The final poem was composed by Dan Lennon who was born in Derrytrasna and in young manhood emigrated to Scotland.

The Shores of Lough Neagh

Although I am old and feeble and exiled far away,
In my dreams I behold the Montiaghs and the shores of Lough Neagh,
And my latest dream suggested the way I would wish to go,
Through the Montiaghs grand and along the Bann,
To gaze on the shores of Ardboe.

By Derrymacash green where I have often been,
And around Lough Neagh of renown,
For I have been there,
At many a fair in lovely Lurgan Town.

I would love to pad through Derryadd,
And stray along the bay, as I did in days of yore,
I would have to go around by Crow,
And then on down the shore.

I would love to cross the Bannfoot Moss on a lovely summer's day,
And sample the stout without a doubt in McCorry's by the way,
I would have a joiste through Derryloiste,
On by green-loneing bray.

In fancy I hear the bong and wong of the Chapel bell,
As I go down the Recky road and around by Milquay,
I would have a tramp by the Baliff's Ramp around sweet Derryvene,
Wherein my youth I have been.

I would cut across by the old High Moss,
And row a boat on that lovely moat with Slieve Gullion far away,
At last when my dream was ended I found it could never be,
For I am too old and feeble now to ever cross the sea,
So to my dying day I will fervently pray
That God will bless the dear old Montiaghs, And the shores of Lough Neagh.