1909 – A Trip to Portglenone

Here’s a very old local poem from near the beginning of the 20th century. 

The author, who lives in Belfast, and his friend, R.C. Mackbee, go on an early summer walk in the Portglenone area. 

Killyless, Lisrodden & Lisnahuncheon

The two men, during their day long walk, cover the Cullybackey, Portglenone area, taking in the Maine river, the hills of Lisnahuncheon, Ballyconnolly Diamond, the Loan Hill, Clough, Killyless, Lisrodden, the River Bann, and Glenone, before returning to Cullybackey.

The poet makes mention of local people, the McMasters, and Johnny Holmes’ gate. 

There is also references to a ‘land of stones’ and ‘The Bullocks’ Track.’   I am unclear of what those two references are about.  Any guidance welcomed.

Portglenone drive


‘Twas an evening mild and mellow.
Near the latter end of May—
The year I don’t remember,
But I can’t forget the day—

When two young men set out to walk
Along a dusty road,
Stepping like men on pleasure bent
To some far off abode.

Their hearts were light, their manner bright,
Their whole demeanour gay.
And as they blithely paced along
They talked the time away.

The first was but of medium height.
Well set and sparely built.
He twirled his infantile moustache,
His stick grasped by the “hilt;”

His upper limps were clothed in black.
His lower clad in grey,
While o’er his breast a silver chain.
Bright, curbed aud sterling lay.

From head to foot, his whole attire,
Bespoke the man of taste;
His hat betrayed the gifted mind,
By art and science graced.

His dimpled chin and pleasant eye
Seemed born for Love’s commands,
’Mid patriots, poets, teachers.
And scholars, now he stands.

The other youth was not so tall.
But quite as ardent, he
Strode onward o’er the dusty path
In youthful hope and glee.

But he had no moustache to curl.
And had no stick to grip,
Although he munched the staff of life.
And stroked his upper lip.

He for the nonce that day had laid
His ledger on the shelf;
The first youth was R. C. Mackbee,
The second was — myself.

We’d made a tryst that on this eve
We’d walk to Portglenone,
Survey the landscape, cross the Bann,
And see the magic stone.

We passed Ballyconnolly Diamond, sharp.
At twenty after six;
Leaving behind a land of stones
To seek for one of bricks.

The Loan Hill rising on our right
O’erlooks the fertile plain.
And stands from Clough to fair Lough Neagh.
The guardian of the Maine.

Next, stretching westward on our left.
The barren moorlands lay.
Where heather grows in purple bloom.
And wild birds love to play.

Still on we sauntered, happy boys!
For Nature’s vernal dress—
Quito charmed us — when, a rustic scene
We reached high Killyless.

(This place, although it has no school
Of learning, dons, nor pastors,
Rears its own preachers, boasts its Hall,
And is a stronghold of McMasters!)

Yet on we walked, and soon appeared
A bog on either side.
With turf in every stage outspread,
The drying and the dried.

We met the moss folk as they came.
Toil wearied for the day;
Some said “good evening,” some again
Unheeding, went their way.

These folk are a worthy folk.
Though swart as any man,
With market baskets on their arms.
And kettles on their backs.

Solemn and silent, on they come.
Though when they meet a “bloke”
They’re ever ready salute.
Or pass their little joke.

To Lisnahuncheon’s barren hills
And heathy wastes we prest;
Then coming to another road,
We turned right to the West.

Ah! Lisnahuncheon, in your cots.
True Irishmen we find;
Loyal to creed, in race, in brogue
What novels call to mind.

And here still live the good old names
Your lathers loved so dear;
The Barneys, Mickeys, Pats,
The Biddys, all are here.

And the old Celtic O’s and Mac’s
Within these cots are found:
And the old faith, and the old tongue
Here still maintains its ground.

And still they tell the good old tales
Of ’Huncheon men that were.
And how they, many a bloody fight.
With Orangemen they did share.

And still they show the storied haunts
Of fairy, witch and ghost;
“The Bullocks’ Track,” that sacred stone
Or ancient finger post.

This stone bore on its mossy crest
A hollow, small and round,
Where every day throughout the year
Some water might found.

And of Siloam’s healing pool
In Judah’s land of old,
Twas aye believed this rick girt urn
A virtue fine did hold.

Till once upon a summer every
Some reckless youths did try
If they could overturn the stone,
And leave the basin dry.

So in the ghostly gloom of night
The stone was overcast,
When lo! the de’il, a huge black bull,
Appeared, and galloped past.

A terror-stricken crowd that night
Fled homewards mighty fast,
And death had claimed them every one
Ere half a year had passed.

Yes, they all sickened one by one.
Without apparent cause;
Yet still the water lingers there,
Defying Nature’s laws.

A devious course we now pursued.
Mid hedgerows gay with flowers,
The songsters warbling in the groves
Beguiled the pleasant hours.

The mighty hills on either side
Were clad in greenest hue;
While rose o’er the wide expanse
The cloudless vault of blue.

We traced the river’s silver thread
Amid the distant trees;
Then through Lisrodden’e narrow street,
Passed onwards at our ease.

But yet our goal seemed far away.
Nor guide, nor map, had we;
Till entering on a broader road
A silent friend we see.

He spoke not, made not any sound,
Yet told us straight and true
How far off lay our journey’s end.
What yet we had to do.

So in a trice we gained the bridge
That spans the stately Bann,
We trod the soil of fair Glenone.
And rested for a span.

Yet, feeling as on foreign soil.
On land as not our own,
We turned our steps; traversed the street,
And hied from Portglenone.

Returning by a different route
(We meant, you know to roam),
To find that Johnny Holmes’ gate
Was very far from home.

“The shades of night were falling fast,”
In fact, the moon was up.
As down the highway, through the Dreen,
We hastened for a cup

Of something to recruit our strength.
And crown a pleasant tramp—
We had it right beside the Maine.
‘Neath the domestic lamp.

By J. L.
Belfast, December, 1909
Ballymena Observer




"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

6 thoughts on “1909 – A Trip to Portglenone

  1. Hi, I’m Craig Holmes, my family are the Holmes’ family mentioned at Ballyconnelly Diamond. My father is Alan Holmes, and his father (James) inherited the farm at Ballyconnelly from his (what I suspect was) his uncle or another family member I haven’t successfully traced and confirmed the genealogy line.

    Strangely enough, my sister married Stefan McMaster of the Lisnahuncheon Hill a few years ago – so I have two direct connections to aspects of this piece.

    I came across this today whilst tracing material for any clues for developing my family history. I would be very keen to be able to contact a living relative of either of the poet’s of this beautiful poem.

    Could you or someone in the talented circles of people who are experts with tracing family history aide me in contacting anyone who knows more about the authors of this poem and how I can talk to anyone who has some connection with them or any of the people mentioned in it.

  2. Thanks for the message, Craig.

    Wow, the “Johnny Holmes’ gate” mentioned by the author of the poem, is linked to your family.

    Sadly, I do not have any additional information on the poem, or it’s writer.

    Local newspapers of the era invited local folk to write in with their poetic efforts. The writer of “A Trip to Portglenone” called himself “J.L.” and gave his address as “Belfast.” Unfortunately, we will never know who he was. The poem was published on the last day of 1909 in the Ballymena Observer.

    I will email you the relevant newspaper page for your records.

    Maybe some McMasters in the area, will see this web page at some point, and add something.

  3. Just came on this thread by chance – I havent seen this poem in years, we used to have a copy of it.

    The bullocks track refers to a former standing stone on Lisnahuncheon hill on our familys farm, it may have been a way marker for the ancient road from Belfast to Coleraine which passed nearby and traces of which are still visible in the landscape.

    It was supposedly overturned by treasure seekers and the early 1800’s and local legend has it that those that did all died within a year, local legend also mentions the bull chasing those responsible. The stone now lies horizontal in a hollow and this is the magic stone that is mentioned in the poem.

    The healing pool that is mentioned relates to a cavity in the stone which resembled a bullocks hoof (hence the name), superstition had it that the water which collected in it cured a range of ailments such as warts by dipping finers/limbs in the rainwater that had gathered. The cavity is now concealed on the underside of the slab

    Hope this helps.

  4. Hi Brian,

    Thanks so much for your insight. What a nice piece of history to know – quite surreal to know how much local history/anecdotes like this one are lost through the generations.

    Would you be happy if I was able to contact you further privately to see if we can look further into things?

    I’m happy if you want to communicate over email or phone, either work for me.

    I told my father, Alan, about your family info and he suggested we attempt to visit the Bullocks Track stone – do you think it would be possible/ok to do this, in a respectful way of course.

    Thanks Brian, pleasure to chat with you and hopefully we can chat a bit further privately to ascertain if we know any further info.


    1. Hi Craig, no problem, but just to let you know cattle are now grazing on the hill. You can search a map and read more about On Dept for communities historic environment map viewer as it is a recorded site/monument.

  5. Hi Brian,

    Thanks again for sharing the Dept for Communities map – I didn’t know this existed, so that’s a great help.

    Explained your info to my father and he was happy to hear someone know a bit about the history of this area. We’ll wait to the cattle are out of that field and keep it at the back of our minds for a nice summer evening or something like that.



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