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.

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