These cold wintry days of mid January, with endless grey skies, made me think of my memories of being cold. I reflected back on my father and his use of the word, founder.

Anyway, to set the scene.  In the second half of last year, I came across an old poem by James Orr (who lived between 1770 and 24th April 1816). 

The poet came from Ballycarry, which is in County Antrim. Ballycarry has less than one thousand inhabitants, and is midway between the large towns of Larne and Carrickfergus.  The village overlooks Islandmagee. It has strong Scottish connections.

The Bard of Ballycarry

Orr was known locally as the Bard of Ballycarry. He wrote in both English and Ulster-Scots.  His most famous poem, I would imagine, was The Irishman. 

He was one of a local group of poets who became known as the ‘rhyming weavers’.

I enjoy a few of their poems.  But many (at least for me) are very difficult to understand.  Add in old rural Ulster dialects, to the Scottish aspect, pour into the mix some very old words and sayings, not to mention the different spellings, and things become hard to understand.

But last year, I came across a wonderful poem called ‘The Foundered Farmer’ (you can find it at the bottom of the page).

James Orr tells the story of a young farmer, called Laurence, having too much wine at the pub one evening, and foolishly trying to make his way home whilst drunk.  He never made it home through the snow.  His girlfriend would never see him again.  The loss proved  too much for his mother.

Before I go any further, I best inform those not familiar with this local word. 

As a noun, of course, founder means the beginner or originator of something.  e.g the founder of a nation, the founder of club, etc.

Many will remember it used as a verb, to founder (it’s past tense is: foundered; past participle: foundered).   You would often hear it used with regard to losing a boat.

e.g.  “four drowned when the yacht foundered off the North Antrim coast”

That Day Would Founder You

But in Ulster, founder (past tense, foundered) takes on an additional meaning. It refers to feeling very cold.

I looked across old texts and newspapers, and judging by how often the word crops up, it appears that this version of the term had it’s heyday between the mid 1800s and the mid 1900s.  But it is still used to this day. 

The term also can be found in other areas of Britain.  Funnily a friend, in the south of Ireland, tells me this weekend, that she has never heard of this version of founder before.  Interesting. 

I can still hear my father say things like:

“That day would founder you”

“That day would have foundered you”

“I was foundered today at Kilrea market”

snow blizzard storm

Before I mention the poem.

This topic also gives me an opportunity to include an old story from January 1903, when a poor soul, Bernard McLaughlin, foundered in the mountain snow, not far from Garvagh, as he made his way home (with his dogs) from the market in Dungiven.

Man Lost in a Snowstorm

The piercing icy wind, which at times arose la a gale, brought with it on Friday last another storm of snow and sleet, which, driven furiously by the wind, continued to fall through the night with slight intermissions. It was followed by a decided rise in temperature and a thaw, which converted it into “slush” on all the roadways and lines of traffic. Bernard McLaughlin, of Crockanhim, has been lost on the mountains about seven miles west of Garvagh for the past eighteen days.

It seems that he had been at Dungiven with sheep on Tuesday, the 6th inst., and left that evening to return home, to which there is a short cut across the mountain. On Wednesday his dogs returned home without him. They were restless, whining and making lamentation as if to attract notice, but no attention was paid to them.

The first heavy snow came on that night. As he did not return next day and nothing could be heard of him search parties were organised but failed to find him. It is believed that be must be lying dead somewhere on the mountain, having foundered from excessive cold.

Northern Constitution, Saturday 24th January 1903

the foundered farmer

The Foundered Farmer or the Fate of Intemperance

O! had not Laurence lov’d too well
Enchanting pleasure, false as fair,
Long on the landscape where he fell,
He might have flourish’d, free from care.

The night in snow had wrapt the earth,
And lock’d the streams in Ice’s chain;
When, reeling from the house of mirth,
He stole from an inebriate train.

But never on another friend
His kind eye glanc’d a placid ray;
Nor did his long-look’d entrance end
His parent’s care, who mourn’d his stay.

Ne’er did he softly lift the latch,
As his fond fair the bar drew by:-
Expectant Maid! in vain you watch.
The youth you love’s laid down to die! 

Ah! when they heard the north wind lift
Its dreadful notes, how deep they groan’d;
And when they marked the stifling drift,
Despair, too justly, Hope dethron’d.

Yet, had wrong’d Reason been his guide,
He might have kept the dang’rous way;
But thro’ the moss he turned aside,
And perish’d in a pit of clay.

When rain th’ appalling place had bar’d,
The hinds bore home his corse so white,
Before they cautiously prepared
His kindred for the shocking sight.

His mother swoon’d upon his bier,
And sick’ning, soon resign’d her life;
In silent grief — the most severe —
The father mourn’d his son and wife.

The maid, whose thoughts his absence tir’d,
For she had nam’d their nuptial day,
By chance was there, and phrenzy fir’d
Her soul, that sense no more will sway.

And his companions, pain’d in heart,
Praise his lost worth, and fondly show
That social friendship, loth to part,
The folly caus’d that laid him low.

Ye slaves of wine! that Guardian bliss,
Who from mischance yet keeps you free;
See! how one hour of wild excess
May cause an age misery!

How many of my countrymen,
Like him whose fall these numbers tell,
In rude Intemp’rance’ haunted den,
Hear want, scorn, ruin, round ’em yell!

O my kind country! wise, as warm,
Prudence with pleasure, still connect;
And, firmly resolute, reform
Your only national defect.

By James Orr
The Bard of Ballycarry

Belfast Commercial Chronicle
Monday 13th February 1809