During the lock-down last year, I started to read a lot more about the three exceptionally talented Given brothers from Cullybackey – Patrick, Samuel and Thomas.  I’d been aware of the younger Thomas Given, due primarily to his regular humourous contributions to the local newspaper (and through his role as a local magistrate).  The other two brothers were somewhat new to me.

In the future, I will write a post on each of them, starting today with the fantastically talented Patrick Given.

By the way. Does anyone have a copy of the 1900 book ‘Poems from College and Country by Three Brothers’, pulled together by Thomas Given? I’d especially love to read more of Patrick Given’s poetry in this book, and see the book’s photos/sketches of Patrick and his brothers. If anyone has the book, it would be wonderful to get a few scans of some relevant pages.

Patrick Given was born on the 13th of April 1837 at Dunnygarron, near Cullybackey. Dunnygarron is a townland in the Barony of Toome. It is close to three hundred acres in size and in the 1800s would have had less than two hundred inhabitants.

His early education took place at the village school, before subsequently moving to Ballymena Model School.  Even from an early age, it was obvious Patrick would go far. This is illustrated by his achievements. 

Ballymena Winter Lectures of 1856 and 1857

In the winters of 1856 and 1857, a series of lectures on chemistry and physics were held in Ballymena. They were advertised far and wide, and the public was invited to attend.  These important lectures attracted a large amount of publicity at the time.

At the conclusion of the lectures, each winter, an examination was held for those who had attended. You were only allowed to take part, if you had not taken any notes during the delivery of the lectures.

On the marking of the 1856 and 1857 examinations, Patrick Given came top, and won the medal both years.

The young man’s talents weren’t going unnoticed and Patrick was installed as a pupil-teacher at Ballymena Model School.

It wasn’t long until Patrick was made principal of the local Bridge End National School.

In order to help him in the new job, Patrick was enrolled at the Training Institution, in Dublin. On completion of the course, he came back to resume his work as principal of Bridge End School. But the job wasn’t to Patrick’s liking.  He had a thirst for more learning and resigned after only a few months. He subsequently enrolled as a student at Queen’s College, in Belfast.

The next four years saw the young Cullybackey man win many prizes in various fields, such as chemistry, logic, Greek, Latin, history and English literature.

Shakespeare Tercentenary competition

The one award that probably got the most publicity, was linked to a celebration of Shakespeare’s birth. 

In January 1864, the Northern Whig newspaper (a weekly newspaper published in Belfast), in order to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare, decided to have a poetry competition. 

The best original poems, celebrating the birth of the Bard of Avon, would be awarded prizes.  The competition was widely advertised and there were many entries. 

The first prize was won by Patrick Given of Cullybackey. This young man had talent to burn.  He was going places.  He had the world at his feet.

In the Midst of Life 

Shockingly, after becoming suddenly unwell, at his digs on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, Patrick would be dead only seven months later, in August 1864. He was 25 years old.

The Ulster media, in their Deaths Column, simply said: “On the 17th August, at 63 Ormeau Road, Mr Patrick Given, student of Queen’s College, Belfast.

Poetical Genius

If he had lived, I suspect Patrick Given would have achieved not only national fame, but international fame.  He would, in my opinion, have been the Seamus Heaney of the 1800s. He was so talented.

The Editor of the local newspaper, the Ballymena Observer, wrote:

Mr. Given’s early death was noticed in the Observer of Saturday last.  His poetical genius and studious habits gave high promise of ultimate distinction in the world of literature. He was the author of the Prize Poem for the Shakespeare Tercentary at Belfast; and the first and last essays which he ever wrote, were originally published in this journal under our standard heading for the encouragement of “Local Literature”

During the research for this article, I spotted a request nine years after Patrick’s death, from his brother Thomas, in the local newspaper, for the return of a book of his unpublished work, that had been lent to a person unknown. 

A Missing Book

A volume of poetry, consisting of various essays written in competition for the prize offered for the best poem on the centenary of Robert Burns, was borrowed by some person from the late Patrick Given, of Cullybackey, and has not yet been returned to his family.

The borrower is particularly requested to have it delivered to the subscriber, without further delay.

Thomas Given, CullybackeyBallymena Observer, 20th December 1873

Reflections of an Old Student

OK, let’s wind the clock forward nearly forty years, and reflect on the memories of one of Patrick’s friends who was in his class at Belfast.

Mr James J. Shaw, K.C., County Court Judge for Kerry, on the 12th December 1902, gave a lecture in the Queen’s College, Belfast., for the inaugural meeting of the session of the Queen’s College Literature and Scientific Society. There was a large and distinguished audience present.

Judge Shaw was frequently applauded during the course of an excellent address on his memories of attending the college, some 39 years earlier, in the 1860s, in a talk entitled “Reflections of an Old Student.”  He gave a glowing reference to one of his fellow students of the time, the late Patrick Given.

It may be the glamour that recollection throws over the persons and events of the past, but I cannot help thinking there were some remarkable and original minds amongst those first year students.

It awakes in me, even at this distance of time, a pang of wistful regret to think that the three whom nature had most distinctly marked with the note of originality – all died before their college course was finished.  Patrick Given, Thomas Richardson, James McKee.  These are but names to you.  To me they stand for the sweet friendship, the close companionship of youth, for the free literary intercourse of mind with mind, when our minds were first opening to the wonder and delight of life.

Patrick Given was the only one amongst us. I think, who had the gift of verse, who sang his thoughts in musical lines.

He had a fine enthusiasm for literature; had read far more extensively in English poetry than any of us, and often have I heard him, in long walks over the Black Mountain and the Cave Hill, chant his favourite passages from his favourite poets with all a poet’s exaltation and fervour. 

It is, as I said, even yet a matter of painful regret that these friends should have left us before their powers were fully developed, or they had entered on the active duties of life. 

But may we not cherish the hope that in some other sphere, some far off island of the blessed, their minds have grown to their full insight under more genial skies.

Ballymena Observer, 9th January 1903

Somebody Thinking of You

OK. Time for some of Patrick’s poetry.

I came upon the following rare gem in a local Ballymena newspaper. To the best of my knowledge, the poem wasn’t published again. 

Here we are, looking back at a young man’s words of love to his girlfriend in the early 1860s, some 160 years ago. Love is clearly timeless. 

I love the simplicity and clarity of the words.  The very best writers can take a complex subject matter and make it accessible.  They tap into universal themes. Like John Lennon in the wonderful Grow Old With Me, inspired by the Robert Browning poem, the words are direct and honest. 

Patrick Given - Poem - Somebody Thinking of You

Somebody Thinking of You

There is somebody thinking of you, my own.
Somebody thinking of you.
This is what love bade me write just now.
Don’t you believe it true?
There are white little clouds and whispering winds,
That roam through the summer bowers,
Beautiful stars in Heaven so bright,
And carolling birds and flowers.
O flower, O clouds, O beautiful star,
O birds that warble and sing;
Yes, question them all and often, my dear.
This is the answer they’ll surely bring—
There is somebody thinking of you, sweet one,
Ah, speech may be fettered, but thought is free.
And so it will fly to you.

Written early 1860s, published subsequently
Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 18th Aug 1900