Sunday, 30 October 2011

Bate it wae a big stick

This aul sayin cum tae ma the ither nicht after a feed o guid protas.

'Sure ye cudnae bate it wae a big stick.'

Which of course means, something or somewhere which is particularly good or superior in some way. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Last Man on the Mountain by Brian Rankin

Below is a recording of my favourite poem by Brian Rankin, 'The Last Man on the Mountain'.

This poem appears in Brian's second book, 'Big Mary'. His first is entitled 'Walking Through The Heather'. The proceeds from both of these books go to help orphans in Uganda.
If you'd like to buy Brian's books you can contact him at the numbers below.

Tel; 02877763082
Mob; 07961486401
or email him at

Recorded at Faughanvale Church March 2011 bt Raymond Usher

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A duck lukkin fir thunner

Recently I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Auld Meetin-Hoose Green by Arcibald McIlroy. A most enjoyable read, filled with insightful social commentary and dry Ulster-Scots wit. Towards the end of the book one of the characters descrbes his colleague as behaving 'like a duck in a thunderstorm.' A sayin' I heard often in my childhood. Along with the local variation: 'Luk at him stannin thur, like a duck lukkin fir thunner.'
A brief gleek on the Internet revealed that the poor oul duck has been getting a hard time since 1785 when the idiom appears in a lyrical ode by Peter Pindar (pseudonym of John Wolcot): "Gaping upon Tom's thumb, with me in wonder, The rabble rais'd its eyes -- like ducks in thunder." It's unclear whether Wolcot actually had close knowledge of ducks or merely needed something to rhyme with "wonder." In any case, Sir Walter Scott later used the phrase in his 1822 novel "Peveril of the Peak": "Closed her eyes like a dying fowl -- turned them up like a duck in a thunder-storm." From these and other uses since we can deduce how ducks are reputed to act in thunderstorms: they roll their eyes back in fear and then keel over dead. It's a wonder there are any ducks to be found today, given how common thunderstorms are. However I believe that Arcibald McIlroy employed the simile in the slighty less dramatic sense, we used at hame, to mean looking startled or 'dumbfoonthered' (not knowing where to turn or what to do).

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Poems by a Railway Lad

Those with a keen eye for detail will have observed that the title of this posting bares a passing resemblance to the title of my blog (this is not coincidental). It is in fact the title of a volume of poetry published by my grandfathers uncle 100 years ago. A book which, sadly now can only be found in rare and antique book shops, when it can be found at all.

It's author, Robert Brown, was born in 1868 in County Down. He was married to Mary Jane McKee on the 20th Nov 1886 at Gilnahirk Presbyteriann Church. They had four children Lizzie, John, Joseph and Violet.

He was Stationmaster at Dundonald Railway Station from 1900 to 1901 and prior to this he was Stationmaster at Neill's Hill on the Sandown Road in Belfast (pictured here).

‘Poems by a Railway Lad’ was published in 1911. And the poems contained within reflect Robert's passion for the Belfast and County Down Railway; his interest in the countryside and its people; the passing of notables such as E Harland and the love he bore for his wife and children.

One poem in particular seems at home on an Ulster-Scots blog. It's in Standard Habbie and follows the conversation between two old farmers.

A Conversation Between Twa Auld Farmers at Ballynahinch Junction
by Robert Brown (Belfast circa 1910)

"Weel my auld frien how are ye fairin?
How's the health and times noo pairin?
I trust that want's no grimly starin'
But in his den
But that blithe look that ye are wearin'
Might make me ken?"

"Ay, Dannie, mon, ye see the beam
That dances thro' my twa auld e'en;
The news I've heard, and things I've seen,
Would make ye whussle;
Oor negleckit cause is noo between
Brave Wood and Russell.

Each has an Ulster heather besom,
And a' that dirt ca'd landlordism
'Ill be conveyed doon that dark chasm
From whence it sprung;
Oor champions, weel, I'll say 'God bless 'm'
Wi ferevent tongue.

The landlords, they're such ible buddies,
And struts about in finest duddies,
While we, like some dumb-driven cuddies,
Ill-fed and shod,
Wi' worn wife and wee bit laddies
Hirple oor the clod.

But worse than a', my auld mere Fenny
That earned me mony a bonnie penny,
Sure just last spring she slipped doon cannie
At the land's en';
But we'll a' stop there, mind ye Dannie
Baith beasts and men.

I never pass the green-clad heap
But thro' the hedge I take a peep;
The unbidden tear will gie a leap
And downward birl.
I stammer oot, I trust ye sleep
Contented girl.

"None better served for sweetest rest,
O' a horse kind she was the best
And up life's hill, oft sairly press'd
In straiten gap,
Yet ne'er a brae wi' highest crest
She could na' tap.

Misfortune oft has me tight-laced.
Worse than this year I never faced;
For a' the hills spring had embraced
Tae coax the seeds,
Ere the auld plough a rig had creased
Tae kill the weeds.

But, still, I clear my bleared eye,
Though cauld, wet spring does sairly try
The backward corn, ill-thriven rye
In hill and bog;
But a' this soon we can defy
An' merrier jog.

"Ay, ay," speaks Dan, "your story's true,
In a' you've said I'm just wi' you.
Such things mysel' I oft came thro'
But still I'm canty
To think that a' that hellish crew
Must shift their shanty.

'Wha' tills the land but each son's fether;
Landlords were shipp'd in some ill-weather
And nestl'd here, and still they neither
Toil or yet spin,
But greedy takes a' we can gather
And thinks nae sin.

"If yin ye meet this very hour,
He'd take a long, disdainful glower
Just wi' a face as deadly sour
As the infernal;
You'd want some sure surpassin' power
To keep your internal.

O oor heritage we've been shorn,
As if we were a' bastard-born
And had for a father that auld horn
With cloot acloven.
His features in those that do us scorn
Are better proven.

But it's no; the men, 'tis that spirit
by some ill-luck they do inherit;
My concience, Will, we will tear it
Topsy turvy,
And show that we are men o' merit
And aye right worthy,

"I've heard o' Wood, I've heard o' Russell,
At the east Down election tussle;
The landlords need nae make sic bustle
They're fairly doomed;
We'll neither spare oor tongue or muscle
Till glory croon'd."

Wi' that the train did skelp the rail
Which somewhat shortened Dannies's tale;
I trust their hearts'll never fail
Tae earn their breid;
Hae rousing crops o'grain and kail
For a' in need.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


A guid freen rid oot this wee poem tae ma last weekend. Its fae:



Betty MacBlaine is a sonsie wee lass,
An' her een ir as blue as the Bay uv Ardglass,
An' her cheeks ir as rosy as epples in rain —
A sonsie bit lassie is Betty MacBlaine.  

She's dimplit an' smooth, an' she's lithe as a roe.
Her buzzom 's as white as the bloom o' the sloe,
Her erms ir like merble wi' nivver a stain —
A temptin' wee hizzie is Betty MacBlaine.

Her waist is sae sma' an' sae roon' that yer han'
Is iwermair langin' its girdle tae span;
Sae nate is her fut an' her ankle sae clane
Ye're nivver but glintin' at Betty MacBlaine.

Her hair is as dark as the shaddas o' trees;
Whun she loosens its ribbons it fa's tae her knees;
She niwer cud axe fur a favour in vain —
A wheedlin' wee clippie is Betty MacBlaine.

A kin'ly wee buddy is Betty MacBlaine;
If ye met her at e'en in a loanin' alane,
An' gied her a kiss, she wud niwer complain —
Och, a kin'Iy wee buddy is Betty MacBlaine.

If ye gied her yin kiss on her rosy smooth cheek,
She'd wait fur anither yin, modest an' meek,
An' niwer say na if ye 'd kiss her again —
A leesome wee hizzie is Betty MacBlaine.

She's pleesant tae talk wi', she's lively o' wit;
It's sweeter than roses aside her tae sit —
Guid troth, she's a treasure! But sma'd be the gain
O' the mon that wud merry ye, Betty MacBlaine!

Ay, Gude help the falla that tak's her tae wife!
She'd jist be a worrit the 'hale uv his life;
She maun hae her pleesure, whas'ivver the pain
An' a fickle wee hizzie is Betty MacBlaine.

She'd still hae her luvers that cudnae withstan'
The glance uv her een an' the touch uv her han',
An' the ring on her finger wud nivver restrain
The flitterin' fancies o' Betty MacBlaine;

Till someyin wud Aether her mair than the rest, —
Mair craft in his tongue an' mair guile in his breast, —
An' awa' she wud canter tae Laplan' or Spain,
An' her guid-mon might whustle fur Betty Mac-
Blaine !

Note the rest of this collection can be read at