UPDATE – getting very slowly caught up with old emails.   Doing lots of photoshop and research work most evenings.  Works in progress on Warwick, Gilmore, Kearney, O’Reilly, Bamford, Thompson, Father Dolling, and Greenlough.

For Eden folk, the work of Sergeant O’Reilly in the 1920s should prove interesting.  The Innisrush based peeler, during his three years in the area, was the scourge of poteen makers in Eden and the surrounding areas. 

Anyways, back to the programme.

A Hazy Shade of Winter

Mid-winter was always depressing.   Endless grey skies, cold, miserable, with a couple of batches of snow, lying for a few days, was common in my childhood.  Getting up Dreenan hill was a challenge for those brave enough to venture onto our side road.

I recall one winter, my parents leaving me the three miles down to Clady, to Uncle Sammy’s house.  He then drove us (cousins and I) the remaining one mile down to Portglenone Primary School.  The roads were a nightmare. You daren’t have touched the brakes.

In the deep mid-winter, my father would lag external pipes that were above ground in the farmyard, lest they freeze.   Even so, I do recall one or two freezing.

I remember Shep, our collie dog,  racing down the frozen farmyard, and then looking perplexed when his brakes didn’t work.  The shed was at the bottom of the yard. One would hear a Scooby-Do-like groan, just before he crashed into the big corrugated zinc doors of our shed. This occurred a few times over the winters. We couldn’t help but laugh.  Poor Shep. He never learned. Brakes don’t work on ice.  

When the clock was put forward, in late October, it was suddenly dark so early.  The days were ruined.  It seemed like it was near 9am before the sun would rise properly.  And by three-thirty in the afternoon, it was setting again.  In the shortest days, it was only daylight for about 7 hours. 

The early morning bus rides to the Rainey Endowed Grammar school in Magherafelt were no fun in winter.  None of the young victims in the bus looked happy, in the early gloom of those frosty mornings. Any sane person would be under the quilt at home. However the local schooling regulations didn’t encompass sanity. 

I do recall the school bus ride on the morning that John Lennon was murdered, 8th December 1980.   We were all in a daze.  Wow, when I think about it, that’s over forty years ago.

Here Comes the Sun

Anyways, I digress.  The coming of  February always filled us all with hope.  The days were now getting noticeably longer.

I would wipe the cobwebs off the Honda lawnmower in the garage, and give her a service, in preparation for the first cut of the lawn in March.  

By this time of the year, I would be singing and humming to myself the uplifting Beatles classic, Here Comes the Sun.  It’s always been my favourite fab four song.

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here…..
Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

It was always great to see February. 

Thomas Given

Thomas Given of Cullybackey, poet, farmer, Justice of the Peace

Thomas Given, Cullybackey, poet, farmer, Justice of the Peace

A century earlier, and some ten miles away, another local was also reflecting on the joys of February.

Thomas Given was from Markstown, in Cullybackey. He was a justice of the peace in the village, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. 

His two brothers, Patrick Given, and Samuel Given, have already been referenced on this website.

About two years ago, I discovered a small image of Thomas Given in poor condition, in a very old book (long since out of circulation).  It must have been taken in  the 1890s or so.

After enlarging it, then cleaning it up in photoshop, I added some colour.  On managing to find a signature, on an old document, this was also cleaned up and added (see above photo). 

Thomas was a big fan of the Scotch poet, Robert Burns (or ‘Robbie Burns’ as he was known locally).  In the opening to his book, Thomas Given says:

Now that I usher myself into the gaze of the public, as an author, I do so in the language of Scotland’s greatest poet, with fear and tremblin’.

Many of the following trifles hae been stealthily committed to my notebook in the shelter of some unhearing hedge, or on the ridges of my fields while at the plough.

Thomas was a farmer and would often reflect about life and his circumstances, while out working in the fields. His vocabulary was coloured by the Ulster-Scots influence of  the local area.

One of those ‘trifles’, as he refers to above, was written on the topic of February.

Day in an’ day oot on his auld farrant loom,
Time lengthens the wab o’ the past;
Dame Nature steps in like a lamp tae the room,
Hir e’e tae the simmer o’ life geein’ bloom.
So winter slips by, wi’ its mirth an’ its gloom,
As spring is appearin’ at last.

The robin gets up an’ he lauchs in his glee,
In view o’ the prospect so braw;
Sets his heid tae the side, wi’ its feathers agee,
As he spies a bit snaw drop at fit o’ the tree,
An’ says tae himsel’ a’ll hae denties tae pree
By an’ by when the splash is awa.

The blackbird keeks oot frae the fog at the broo,
Gees his neb a bit dicht on a stane;
His eye caught the primrose appearin’ in view,
An’ the tiny wee violent o’ Nature’s ain blue;
He sung them a sang o’ the auld an’ the new –
A sang we may a’ let alane.

The thrush cuff’t the leaves ’neath the skep o’ the bee,
An’ he tirrl’t them aside wae a zest;
I maun hurry awa tae rehearsal, quo he,
This work fits the sparrow far better than me;
His sang pleased the ear frae the tap o’ the tree
As he fell intae tune wae the rest.

Thus Nature provides for hir hoose an’ hir wanes,
An’ we may rejoice in the plan;
The wren tae the bluebonnet sings his refrain
On causey o’ cottier or lordly domain;
The wagtail looks on withoot shade o’ disdain,
May we aye say the same o’ the man.

Some Translations

alane – alone
auld – old
aye – always
fit o’ – bottom of e.g. bottom of the tree
heid – head
hir – her
hoose – house
intae – into
keeks – looks
oot – out
spies – sees
tae – to
wae – with
wanes – children

Cullybackey poet Thomas Given