by Dr Frank Ferguson, Ulster University
By eighteenth-century standards The Ulster Miscellany is a big book. At nearly 400 pages long it announces that the province of Ulster should be reckoned with as a place of literary interest. This follows in the tradition of several other miscellanies published in the first half of the century that sought to publicise the cultural worth, or lack, of various locales. Miscellanies spoke to a number of purposes. Many came with high prestige production values like Allan Ramsay’s The Tea-Table Miscellany which sought to demonstrate to “ilka lovely British lass”, that Scottish poetry could stand alongside English poetry in the polite drawing rooms of Great Britain. Others like The Irish Miscellany sought to peddle a mocking version of Irish people. In a marketplace of conflicting voices and opinions, collections, miscellanies and anthologies sought to win favour for their particular nation, region or town by showing the range, variety and depth of the literary productions peculiar to the place.
The publisher dedicates the book “To the Very Worthy, The Gentlemen of the North Of Ireland”, where it exhorts them with the reminder that
…this Book is the Product of your own Soil: A generous minded Man has a natural Propensity to savour every Thing that is peculiar to his native Country; being, in some Sort, of a Piece with himself; and therefore, justly prides himself in its Perfections, and endeavours to palliate its Failings.
The reader is informed that the book is a patriotic enterprise that was aiming to strengthen religion and virtue. Hints are given of the political background of the authors in the introduction where the book is said to preserve liberty and property. This might read as a form of shorthand for those in positions of power within the Anglican persuasion. Though there are hints within the many texts of the development of more than Ascendency voices coming through.
In many ways the text remains an enigma. In the past it was believed to have been produced by James Blow in Belfast. But this is where the mystery begins as there appears no reference to this volume in the Belfast Newsletter in the early to mid-1750s. Upon examination of the contents, there is little to link the book to Belfast. It is more probable that Dublin is the place of publication. From an Ulster-Scots literature and language point of view the significance of the Ulster Miscellany lies in the fact that it contains a group of nine poems entitled ‘Scotch Poems’ that articulate the lives of (mostly) Presbyterian communities of Donegal. The identity of the authors of most of these poems remains unknown. Some detective work by Michael Griffin and Breandan Mac Suibhne have suggested that the author of the poems signed as ‘M.’ was Mathew Draffen (c.1703-85). He was the Anglican rector of the parish of Gartan, Co. Donegal. His father was Scottish and had come to Ireland in 1679. He studied at Trinity College Dublin, gaining his BA in 1723. He had been the curate of Killygarvan, in north Donegal in 1729, prior to gaining the living at Gartan in 1736. It is believed that he was in the literary circle of the writer Henry Brooke. Barbara Freitag has that he was also the translator of the version of A Voyage to O’brazeel, a Sub-Marine Island that also appears in the miscellany, as well as the author of a number of other poems in the book.
Perhaps more difficult to prove is the suggestion that some of the poems were written by William Starrat. Starrat’s fame as a poet lies in his verse epistle to Allan Ramsay which Ramsay responded to in his poetry collections in the 1720s. Starrat definitely had connections to Trinity College Dublin and to Draffen’s locale in County Donegal. However, there seems to be no indication that any of the unmarked poems are his. Indeed, Starrat is connected to only one other poem—a marvellously scurrilous poem satirising Belfast Presbyterians, which is very different to the tone that other Scotch poems have regarding Presbyterians. While one might long to discover a manuscript book of Starrat’s verse, it may appear improbable that any of his literary work appears in The Ulster Miscellany.
We should feel profoundly excited about the Scotch Poems in the miscellany. These poems constitute the first sustained collection of serious verse in Scots to be written and published in Ireland. They speak, very much of the desire of the publisher to record the authentic vernacular literature of the province of Ulster. This collection within a collection, points to the usage of Scots as a spoken and a literary language in the northern-most province of Ireland. In addition, one might suggest that Donegal is the cradle of Ulster-Scots poetry and that it would take nearly a generation for counties Down, Antrim and Derry/Londonderry to catch up.
If the identity of the authors may remain hidden, what is very obvious is the calibre of the writers and their usage of Scots to express themselves in a number of moods and poetic genres. There are tender love poems like ‘The Gartan Courtship. A Pastoral Night Piece’ that capture the dreamy magic of a summer night. The poem balances excellent knowledge of the local terrain alongside an ability to point out all the craft terms involved in spinning thread. The speaker wheedles and cajoles, but for all their blether and keen observation of everyday life, leave the scene without Bonny Jenny.
The Gartan Courtship. A Pastoral Night Piece
SAE, bonny Jenny, are ye there?
The lass that’s winsome, plump, and fair.
Fye, woman, quat that purring wheel,
And gi’ the wench her pirn to reel; [spool]
Ye’ve deen, or else the sorrow’s in’t, [sufficient material collected]
Ye’ve cust ye’re hank, and that’s the stint; [cursed your skein/that’s the end of it]
Come furth, and streetch your limbs a while,
Come furth, and blefs me wi’ a smile,
I fain wad speak a word or twa,
Come furth and dinna say me na.
The night is pleasant, lown, and clear, [soft, calm, serene]
Ye’ll see the muntains far and near;
Ald Doowish wi’ his lowtin back, [stooping]
And Mukkish like a lang peet stack;
Proud Argill wi’ his tow’ring height,
Sets off the beauty of the night;
White-washed shoreline, yon glebe house wa
By meen-light shines like driven sna’
A’ things luick charming to the view,
But nought sae charming luicks as you.
The meen alang the welkin scuds, [sky]
And cuts her way thro’ jostling cluds;
Ye’d think that a’ the starns abeen,
Were gath’ring round their passing queen;
And pleas’d to see her shine sae braw,
Forming her train baith great and sma’.
A showman on a market day,
Thro’ gaping crouds thus clears his way,
And marches proudly up the street,
Wi’ a’ the weans at his feet.
Come out, my dear, and luick about ye,
There’s naithing pleasant here without ye.
I doubt ye darna for ye’r mither,
Wha ne’er wad let us meet the gither;
But yonder she’s tane up, you see,
In deep discourse wi’ Katrin Lee:
The twa ald wives ayont the fire,
Are settled to their hearts desire;
To light, to smoak, to shagh about, [shaughle/ shuffle]
And clatter till their pipe be out;
Twa paddling duicks in April rain,
Seem not of ither half sae fain:
And now’s your time, I’ll take my aith,
Steal out, my dear, and slip them baith,
Steal out, and let peer Robin kiss ye;
I’se warrant them, they wanna miss ye.
I think ye has nae mind to stir!
(Howt, will ye boast that filty curr)
Weel sit till cockcraw gin ye like,
(Shamefa’ the yelping o’ that tike)
Haith, ye’ll repent ye, when I’m gane,
And with ye had my counsel tane;
But now ye’ve gart me turn my heel,
I’ll no come back—sae—fare ye weel.
There are poetic fables that follow contemporary literary fashions. More daring satirical pieces like “Tit for Tat; or the Rater rated. A new Song, in Way of Dialogue, between a Laggen Farmer and his Wife” poke fun at Anglican control and challenge the political and theological hierarchy that was operating under the time of the Penal Laws. Even in the comedy of this piece one gets a hint of the undercurrent of frustration and anger that will boil up at the end of the century in the United Irish movement. The rector’s wife may only receive a verbal birking (birching) but it is an intriguing piece if this was written by those within an Anglican gentry circle.
Tit for Tat; or the Rater rated.A new Song, in Way of Dialogue, between a Laggen Farmer and his Wife.
HE. YE’RE welcome hame, my Marg’y.
Frae the grim craving clergy;
How deeply did they charge ye,
Wi’ fair oppressive tythe?
While some are chous’d, and cheated: [chosen/picked out]
Some rattled are, and rated;
Ye hae been better treated,
I trow, ye luick sae blithe.
SHE. I hae been wi’ the rector;
His wife did scould and hector;
Instead o’ a guid lecture—
Quo’ she, ‘Ye go too fine,
With scarlet cloaks and bedgowns,
With velvet puggs and plaid-gowns, [short velvet jacket/monkey jacket]
With ruffled sleeves and headrounds,
More rich and gay than mine.’
Forebear, proud madam Persian,
Take back ye’r ain aspersion,
Wi’ tea, ye’r chief diversion,
Ye waste ye’r time awa:
While dressing ye’r and pinning,
I’ll spin, and bleach my linen,
And wear my ain hands winning,
Ye recot’r lazy draw.
I rise e’er the cocks craw day;
My hands I spare not a’ day,
And wi’ my farmer laddie
At night I take my ease:
My husband plows and harrows,
He sows and reaps the farrows,
Shame fa’ them wad change marrows,
For rector’s gown and chaise.
Sure some kind deel has brought us
Yon yellow chiel, that taught us
To cleek the tythe potatoes
Frae ilk a greedy gown!
Nae bishop, dean or rector,
Nae vicar, curate, proctor,
Dare ettle now to doctor
Our skeedyines under ground.
Dear Madgie, e’en fairfaw ye!
I’m blest that e’er I saw ye!
A braid-claith coat I aw ye,
Fac’d wi’ a velvet cape:
May milk and meal ne’er fail ye,
May loss of yews ne’er ail ye,
But geer grow on ye daily,
For birking Madam Crape.
Perhaps most daring and experiment is “A Pastoral Elegy on the Death of Jonathan Swift, D.D. late D.S.P.D.” Swift was no admirer of the Ulster-Scots community that had given him little support when a curate at Kilroot, near Carrickfergus. Yet in this poem, Scots is used to articulate the grief of northern individuals at his passing. Its usage of rhyming couplets adds an element of the heroic epic, fitting for the commemoration of someone of Swift’s standing.
A Pastoral Elegy on the Death of Jonathan Swift, D.D. late D.S.P.D.
PATRICK, a shepherd, wond’rous wise, and good,
Ae morn, was musing in a pensive mood:
Tenting his flock as here and there they stray’d,
And nipt the tender grass, or striking play’d
Oh happy flock! he cries, nae grief ye feel,
For lambs wha fell beneath the murd’ring steel;
Gin ye get lizzar rowth, ye heed nae mair,
If void of reason, ye’re as void of care:
While my reflections gi’ me unco pain.
Here his heart fill’d—he—sigh’d—and mus’d again.
Near hand there lives a farmer rich and bein,
A fae to cares, a stranger to the spleen;
Browden o’ right, averse to a’ thats wrang,
Can chearfu’ tell his tale, or lilt a sang;
In landart matters is exceeding wise,
And gi’s our ablest farmers sound advice.
Laird Johnny heght, he, daund’ring came the gate
Whare by good chance, he fan lamenting Pate.
Bless me, quo’ he, what cause can I assign,
That gars the blythe sweet singing Patrick pine.
Be chearfu’, man, let nought afflict ye sae,
Dight off your tears, and be nae langer wae.
Ah, sir! I’m lost in grief, I’m left alane,
My better half, my SWIFT is dead and gane.
Whom hae I now to fill my heart wi’ glee
Or sing a pleasant roundelay to me!
SWIFT dead! _______
_________________E’en gi’ your sorrow vent,
Nae wonder you, and thousands may lament.
He was the blythest shepherd ere was seen;
The king o’ mirth, the wonder of the green.
Just heav’n, your friendly warnings ay are right;
I fear some ill, by what I dream’d last night.
Methought the hawthorn hedge that shades the plain,
And shields my hirsle frae the blattering rain,
Was a’ cut down by some ill-deedy hand;
And no ae single buss got leave to stand.
I kend some loss wad kythe, that I would rue:
But O dear SWIFT, I didna kne ’twas you.
My blessings on you—ye have eas’d my heart,
When sympathising thus ye bear a part!
Streams when contracted rin wi’ unco speed,
But tine their force, when far and near they spread;
And sure this grief will spread through all our dales,
As current as his bonny sangs and tales.
Let farmers grieve, and tears frae shepherds fa’,
For you, dear SWIFT, ye weel deserved them a’.
O Patrick, we have causes to rue the day,
That took our guardian Jonathan away.
Ye canna tent your flock wi’ greater skill,
Than he watch’d ow’r us, guarding us frae ill.
When Willy Wood, base loon, did a’ he dow’d,
To gi’ us trash, and carry off our gowd.
(As elves, they say, the thriving bairny nick,
And lee’ a crowl in lieu, or rotten stick)
When many great anes, stifly by him stood,
Consulting his, mair than their kintry’s good.
Their great authority our gabs did steek;
We saw the danger, but we durst na speek.
SWIFT was na sae, he, dauntless fac’d them a’,
And shaw’d their project was against the law.
We thought him wrang at first, and bad him leen;
But soon his reasons apen’d a’ our een:
We join’d him then, the dev’lish scheme we stapt,
They saw we wou’d na bear’t, and sae it stapt,
Our swains may now sink drumly in dispair,
For now their guardian shepherd is na mair.
Ae day my bairn and I lean’d ow’r this rock,
And saw a mickle mastiff scar the flock:
He drave my fav’rite toop wi’ a’ his speed;
I rax’d a stane, and shor’d to fell him dead.
O Father! Cry’d the wean, it is, you see,
The landlord’s dog, and ye maun let him be;
I did na heed the brat, the stane I flang,
And gi’d the barb’rous tyke a deadly bang:
Yelping he feel—sic sheep, sic bairns were we,
When SWIFT, frae danger, fairly set us free:
But now he’s gane, how dreary looks the glen,
Sin’ it has tin’d the very wale o’ men.
Then o’ our manners he took unco care,
And those that misbehav’d he did na spare.
Wi’ pleasant merriment he made us wise,
Play’d wi’ our fau’ts, and leugh us out o’vice.
And when our farmers sons gaid ou’r the seas,
And brought hame wonders, but thae wonders lies;
He made some bonny tales that gib’d them sair,
And tauk’d o’ wonders far ayont their sphere.
And then ye ken the bonny scheme he plann’d.
To gar religion spread thro’ a’ our land.
Berkelia got it, and our lady saw’t,
And yet it fail’d—he was na in the fau’t!
He minted weel—but oh, how can I tell,
The many favours which he shaw’d my sell:
When first I drave my flocks out ow’r the lee,
And was a shepherd o’ nae mean degree;
I made some sangs that chanc’d to please the best,
And brought in laids o’ envy frae the rest.
Some ither herds wi’ wandoughts at their beck,
Miscaw’d me sair, wi’ many a flout and geck:
I just was sinking when he took my part,
And soon his gen’rous friendship rais’d my heart,
I e’en sang on—while wi’ a ward or twa,
That cut like razors, he diperst them a’
O Jonathan, when thou wer’t by my side,
I leugh at envy, and its force defy’d:
Nor need I even now for envy care,
I’ll quat my whistle, and I’ll sing na mair.
Dear Patrick, drap that thought, for ye maun be
A Jonathan to us, his place supply.
Ye ha’e already an extensive gift,
And heav’n will double what it gi’ to SWIFT.
Be ye Elisha, in Elijah’s stead,34
And still we’ll say, our guardian is na dead.
I doubt, dear Johnny, that I want the skill:
Ae thing I dinna want, and that’s good will.
But how can I attempt the blythesome strain,
While thus I grieve!—O Jonathan ye’re gane!
Nane better than your sell can counsel gi’,
If grief, and kind affection let you be.
Let reason take its place, ye manna grieve;
He was a man, and couldna a’ways live.
And yet he lives! he lives in ilka tale,
And sang he made, his works will never fail.
And then religion solid comfort brings,
And sure ye’re brawly vers’d in haly things.
Let a’ your confidence on heav’n be lean’d;
For they who trust in heav’n ne’er want a friend.
May ye ne’er want a rowth o’ calm content,
Wha has sae kindly gi’en my sorrows vent,
And heal’d my mind, when it was sair opprest,
With the big sorrow, labouring in my breast.
Thus when our mickle blood hefts up our veins,
It gi’es us fev’rish heats and thrilling pains:
But when the kind physician comes, like you,
He tooms the veins, and does our health renew.
Wow but I’m eas’d.—This day I sheer my sheep,
And now the sun’s weel up the heav’nly steep:
I’ll drive them hame, and ye maun gang wi’ me;
I hae browst o’ ale for ye to prie.
We’ll get sic cheer as Jannet can afford,
And trowth ye’re e’en as welcome as a Lord.
The Scotch Poems in The Ulster Miscellany demonstrate the meeting point of Scottish and Irish literary and cultural traditions in mid-eighteenth-century Ulster. In ‘Chrochan Hill’, a song which shows the influence of Allan Ramsay in its verse, form and tune, we get very much an
Irish song, set in and about Ulster people. This song’s ability to blend and blur between Scotland and Ireland pinpoints a moment in a long and ongoing creative process that speaks to the congeniality of proximity between Donegal and Scotland. While the subject of this song may have vanished ‘ahint a cloudy shade’, the meeting of the traditions continues to connect, evolve and sparkle.
Crochan Hill. A Scotch Sang.
Air, Hetrick Banks.
THE blythest lass, that e’er was seen,
Came up frae Burt to Crochan hill
Wi’ suggared lips and glancing een,
Wi’ heav’nly smiles and wit at will:
Her aspect like the dawn was clear,
When morning gilds the list serene;
Cou’d any saul of sense forbear
To own her charms or hug the chain?
When on the banks of Finn we stray’d,
My flightring heart did pant and glow:
The mont pleasing things she said
Fann’d up the flame, and gart it low.
She smiling heard me speak my mind
Wi’ broken sighs, and ill redd phrase:
Delighted I mysell resign’d
To rapturous joys, and endless ease.
But soon the lass resolv’d to gae;
Then was my heart opprest wi’ fears!
Down on the grasse banks I lay,
And swell’d the river wi’ my tears!
Finn’s curling streams did beat the brim,
And whimple forth a mournfu’ sang!
It’s sleeky floods mair slaw did swim,
As if they griev’d to let her gang.
There never was in Crochan hill
A maiden blest wi’ brighter charms:
Never did Finn or Burndale
Infald a fairer ’tween their arms.
But as the rising sun shines forth,
Then slips ahint a cloudy shade,
Sae she appear’d, to shaw her worth,
Blink’d out a while, and aff’ she gae’d.
Barbara Freitag, Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island: From Cartographic Error to Celtic Elysium. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2013.
Michael Griffin and Breandán Mac Suibhne, ‘Da’s Boat; or, Can the Submarine Speak?: A Voyage to O’Brazeel (1752) and other Glimpses of the Irish Atlantis’, The Field Day Review 2 (2006): 111-127.