Tonight I accompanied our Chairman of the Ullans Academy promoting Common Identity, Helen Brooker, to the Inaugural Dalaradia Burns Supper in the Whiteabbey Masonic Centre. Being a Dalaradia Burns Supper we also celebrated our own “Burns of Ulster”, James Orr (1770 – 24 April 1816), Orr was a poet or rhyming weaver from South East Antrim also known as the Bard of Ballycarry, who wrote in both English and Ullans (Ulster-Scots). He was the foremost of the Ulster Weaver poets, and was writing contemporaneously with Robert Burns. According to that other great Ulster poet, my friend John Hewitt, he produced some material that was better than Burns.
The Rhyming Weavers flourished mainly in Mid Antrim, East Antrim and North Down, anciently known as Dalaradia and Dal Fiatach. Educated in both Latin and Greek, they achieved a higher level of culture than any section of the peasantry in Western Europe, They were not merely writing in imitation of Burns but belonged to a tradition which went back to Allan Ramsay and beyond in Scotland. The greatest period of their activity was roughly the century between 1770 and 1870, but the tradition continues until this day. My grannies’ relative Edward Sloan, the Bard of Conlig ,was one of them.
Like another ancestor Archibel Wilson of Conlig, Orr joined the Society of United Irishmen in 1791 and took part in the Northern Presbyterian Rebellion of 1798. The United Army of Ulster, of which he was a part, was defeated at the Battle of Antrim and after a time hiding from the authorities, he fled to America. He remained there for a short time, earning a living by working for a newspaper, but returned to Ballycarry in 1802 under an amnesty. He died in Ballycarry in 1816 at the age of 46.
In 1992, I published under my imprint Pretani Press, now an integral part of Pretani Associates, the Country Rhymes of James Orr as Volume Two of the Folk Poets of Ulster series, thus initiating the modern revival of Ulster-Scots in Ulster. This series was edited by J.R.R Adams and P.S. Robinson of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the home of the Ulster Dialect Archive , and Philip wrote a fine introduction to Orr’s work.
An imposing monument to Orr, erected by local Freemasons in 1831, is sited in the Templecorran cemetery near Ballycarry, in memory of the great Mason and Ulster Weaver Poet. Orr had been a charter member of the Lodge, so it was very appropriate that our Supper was held in the Whiteabbey Masonic Centre. The esteem in which he was later regarded is proclaimed on one face of the monument:
“this monument to the Poet, the Patriot and the Philanthropist was erected by the contributions of various liberal individuals in Broadisland,Carrickfergus, Isle Magee, Larne, Belfast, Ballymena,and of the following Masonic Lodges,viz the Grand Lodge of Ireland and Nos 41,43,107,162,175,177,256,248,253,613,1012 and 1014, Orr’s own Lodge, encouraged by the General Muse of his Brethren M’Kenzie, Beggs and English:…The first stone was laid by Rev W Glendy on the 21st June 1831 in presence of assembled Brethren”.
Although the Dalaradia Burns Supper was a traditional Burns Supper in format , compered by Chairman Robert Williamson, commencing with Burns’ “Ode to the Haggis”, in my Toast to the Immortal Bard I recited “To the Potatoe” by James Orr, to recognise the “neeps and tatties”, turnips and potatoes, which accompany the haggis, but also to make it a truly Dalaradian affair.
I LEDGE we’d fen gif fairly quat o’
The weed we smoke, an’ chow the fat o’;
An’ wadna grudge to want the wat o’
But leeze me on the precious Pratoe,
My country’s stay!
Bright blooms the Bean that scents the valley,
An’ bright the Pea, that speels the salie,
An’ bright the Plumb tree, blossom’t brawly,
An’ blue-bow’t lint;
But what wi’ straught rais’t raws can tally,
That sun-beams tint.
Waeworth the proud prelatic pack,
Wha Point an’ Prataoes downa tak!
With them galore, an’ whyles a plack
To mak’ me frisky,
I’ll fen, an’ barley freely lack –
Except in whisky.
What wad poor deels on bogs an’ braes,
Whase dear cot-tacks nae meal can raise;
Wha ne’er tase butter, beef or cheese,
Nor pit new clais on;
While a’ they mak’ can har’ly please
Some rack-rent messon.
What wad they do without Do-blacks,*
Their weans wi’ sarkless wames to rax?
They boost to forage like the fox
That nightly plun’ers,
Or wi’ the ‘Squires turn out an’ box,
In hungry hun’ers.
Sweet in the mornin’, after dashlin’,
Thy daigh is, pouther’t owre wi’ mashlin;
Creesh’t scons stan’ pil’t on plates, or brislin’
A’ roun’ the ingle,
While a fand Wifie fast is fislin,
An tea-cups jingle.
Sweet to the boons that blythely enter
At dinner-time, the graise in centre,
Champ’t up wi’ kail, that pey the planter,
Beans, pa’snips, peas!
Gosh! cud a cautious Covenanter
Wait for the grace!
Sweet to the badger, aft a lander
At day-light-gaun, thou’rt on the brander,
Brown skin’t, an’ birslet. Nane are fander
To hear thee crips,
Ere in some neuk, wi’ goose and gander
He share the wisp.
The weel-pair’t peasants, kempin’, set ye;
The weak wee boys, sho’el, weed, an’ pat ye;
The auld guid men thy apples get ay
Seedlin’s to raise;
An’ on sow’n-sleeves the lasses grate ye,
To starch their claes.
Then, in hin-hairst, when wee an’ big ane,
Tak’ to the fiel’s, an’ fa’ a diggin’,
Spades risp – tubs rumble – cars are jiggin’ –
L—d! what a noise is?
While monie a pit’s prodigious riggin’
Thou feeds our beasts o’ ilka kin’,
The gen’rous steed, and grov’lin swine;
An’ poultry tribes; the doves ay fine,
An’ ducks besmear’d ay:
Dear was the man, an’ half divine,
Wha here first rear’d ye.
How comfortable, an’ how couthy
We’d lieve, gif they wha bake cud brew thee!
Losh! ‘twad be fine gif ilka youth ay,
O’ social tempers,
Might steep, an’ still, for comrades drouthy
A bing o’ hampers.
O Airlan! thou may weel be crouse,
Thy soger on his butter’d stews;
An’ tar-breeks on the fat lab-scouse
His ladle laves,
Can bear the gree frae hosts, an’ crews,
O’ fine-fed knaves.
Upsettin’ England sudna ding
Thee just sae sair – she’s no the thing:
Gif thou’d withdraw for ae camping,
Thy brow-beat callens,
Whaever pleas’d cud clip her wing,
An’ pare her talons.
What pity, folk thou sairst, sud tythe ay,
The poor man’s rig, that maks him blythe ay!
May proud oppression ne’er come nigh thee,
Nor sloth’s fause smiles,
‘Till time, wi’ warl-destroyin’ scythie
Pass owre the isles!