Poems and Rhymes

Vol. 6 No. 1 - 1989

Poems, Ballads and Rhymes

by S.C. Lutton

During the course of the years, I have come across poems, ballads and rhymes, mainly of local composition. They are not all good poetry, nor do I agree with some of the sentiments expressed. They are however of local appeal and consequently worthy of recording.

Sam Lutton has in his possession a brown-ware whiskey jug, with gold lustre-ware banding. On one side is a picture of The Square, Tandragee and on the other side, the under noted rhyme:

Come all ye good Fellows so frolic and frisky,
And cheer up your hearts with a Noggin of whiskey,
Tis the Potteen that makes up 'the joy of our Lives,
Makes us kind to our Friends and in love with our Wives,
Then 'Whiskey for ever' Boys take for your motto,
T'will warm you alike in the Palace or Grotto,
But go where you will by land or by sea,
You'll never find so good as at sweet TANDRAGEE.


Tandragee is a nice little town,
It's built on a rising hill,
At the top of the town, situated a church,
At the bottom a spinning mill.

Note: The mill in question is that of Thomas Sinton & Co. Ltd., Flax Spinners. Unfortunately, this firm 'closed down' at the end of 1996.

The Cloth-passer or Cloth Inspector might today be termed Quality Controller. His was a responsible job and he was much feared by the Weavers. He had the power to fine them for poor quality cloth or, in extreme cases, 'give them the sack'.

Nightmen were male. night-shift weavers. The looms of the Nightmen were operated by women weavers during the day.

The Cloth-Passer

You talk of the danger of attending the work,
Of the Miner, the Soldier, the Tar,
Or the Diver who works at the depths of the sea,
But mine is more dangerous by far.

My work is to pass the cloth all day,
The weavers I fine in their turn,
If all the prayers are answered
That on me are prayed
One day in Hell I will burn.

I once loved the ladies in days long gone by,
The gentler sex we are told,
But since I have fined them a lesson I've learned
That silence is better than gold.

So when these 'wee dears' have a rip or a shire,
A ravelling, thick end or float.
I fine the poor 'night men', for if I do not,
I should have to reach very quick for my coat.

As you all can see I am paid by S.B.
To see that all cloth is well made,
By weaving cloth the best, far cheaper than the rest
It's our only hope of stay in the trade.

Workers in Spence Bryson's Markethill Weaving Factory

We are the boys of Markethill,
We have always worked and always will.
We'll weave and wind for Spence Bryson's coin,
We will! We will!

Engine Trouble at the Weaving Factory of Spence Bryson & Co. LTD., Markethill

On Tuesday of the Race Week 1929,
At the early hour of nine a.m..
The winders cease to wind,
The weavers were left idle,
And the shuttles ceased their song.
And all the workers in the mill
Knew something had gone wrong.

From Topley in the engine room
The word went round to say
The engine she has ceased to function,
You may all go home to-day,
Mechanics soon were gathered round
All looked at her in vain,
One only thought was in their mind,
Would she ever go again?

They connected with the power-house
Belonging to the Town,
To get her air gauge up to date
For it was fairly down.
They tried to start her several times
But all the length she went
Was just a few rotations
Till all the air was spent.

The men who worked the night shift
Came at the usual hour,
To find the place in silence
And the engine without power.
These men were all sent home again
To seek a nights repose,
With thoughts of better times to come
When next the sun arose.

Things turned out as expected,
So now we joy along
There's music in the winding shop,
And the shuttles sing their song.
The dressers arc all busy
And the Drawers-in are working hard,
To keep the looms filled up again
So the future is not so bad.

Note: The engine referred to, was a 10 cylinder diesel engine, which was made for a British Submarine at the end of the First World War. It never was installed in a submarine. The engine was started with compressed air stored in two steel bottles. The air was fed direct into the cylinders to effect a 'Start'. The engine-man was Tom Topley, former Royal Navy engineer.

In and around Belfast, the undernoted poem was inserted in the local paper, with the Death Notice of a weaver or other linen worker.

Not 'til the loom is silent,
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas,
And explain the reason why,
The dark threads are as neatful,
In the Weaver's skilful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver,
In the pattern HE has planned.

My first school was Thomas Street., Public Elementary. Mr. J. T. Abraham was the Principal. Small mischievous boys always thought that their Master was a hard unfeeling man who delighted In administering corporal punishment.

To 'Slap' was to receive a blow on the upturned palm with a ruler, This was one of the rhymes we used to say to express our feelings:

Mr. Abraham is a good old man,
He goes to Church on Sunday,
And prays for God to give him strength,
To 'slap' the boys on Monday.

Another rhyme concerned the quality of the bread from the local bakery, Davison's:

When you eat John Davison's bread,
It sinks in your belly like lead,
It's not a bit of wonder that you belch like thunder,
When you eat John Davison's bread.

Note: The above is the polite version.

When I was at Campbell College, Belfast, my housekeeper was a Mr. Bevan. The rhyme about him, ran as follows:

Mr. Bevan will never go to Heaven,
'cause he'll arrive there too late,
But he'll ride in a chariot with Judas Escariot,
Sitting on a red hot plate.

Spindle and Shuttle

By Mary Morton

Last night I darned a damask table cloth.
Back and forth,
Warp and woof:
The cloth was old; a hundred years and more,
Had come and gone since, master of his loom,
Some skilful weaver set the hare and hounds
Careering through the woodland of its edge
In incandescent pattern, white on white.
It was my mother's cloth, her mother's too
(Some things wear better than their owners do)

And linen lasts: a stuff for shirts and shrouds
Since Egypt's kings first built their gorgeous tombs
And wrapped their dead in linen, it may be
They held it symbol of a latent hope
Of immortality.

Back and forth
Warp and woof:
Wing of angel,
Devil's hoof.

The glinting needle with its fitful spark,
My Jack o'Lantern on the marsh's dark,
Would pause and shine, would flash and flit along
Divining scene and symbol for a song.

A field of blossomed flax in North Tyrone
Its lean and sheen and shine, its small blue flower
As shy and secret as an Ulster maid
Who saves her smiles like shillings, unaware
Life pays no dividends on thrifty love

Darning, learning,
Yarning, yearning,
Spinning, weaving,
Joying, grieving:

A black flax dam, a field of linen snow,
Linked opposites: the scar upon the soul
Of every Ulsterman. (The spindle turns
And turning winds a thread where clumsy splice
Or stubborn know will lie upon the spool
To mar the damask's smoothness when the web
Is woven fast.)

While captive shuttles darting to and fro
Will weave, not hare and hounds, but shamrock sprays
To tempt nostalgic exiles. None may rest
Till day ends and the siren sets them free.
Even the children, sad as wilting flowers
Plucked in the bud, must give their days to toil,
Their nights to weariness and never know
How morning comes with laughter to a child.
But linen prospers and the linen lords
Build fine town mansions for their families
And plan a city hall whose splendid dome
Will soar above the long lean streets and look
Beyond them to the green encircling hills.

Back and forth
Warp and woof:
Wing of angle,
Devil's hoof:

Young men see visions and old men dream dreams:
Their beacons lit on summits far away,
Their faith entangled in the baffling rope,
Good twined with evil, evil twined with good,
Strand upon strand with whiter strands for some;
The spinner and the weaver in the mill
Now earn a living and have time to live,
Children whose mothers were half-timers once
Untouchables in factory and school
May learn to play and even play to learn
And think of spindle as a word to spell.

Mill-girls have shed their shawl-cocoons and shine
Brighter than butterflies. With gleaming hair
And ankles neat in nylon each can look
Into her mirror with a practised smile
And see herself the reigning linen queen.
The great domed hall four-square in stubborn stone
With polished marble floors magnificent
As any Rajah's palace has stood now
For nearly half a century. Strange how
The little laurel hedge that hems its lawns
Reveals we still are country-folk at heart
Deep-rooted in the fields our fathers tilled.

Back and forth
Warp and woof:
Wing of angel,
Devil's hoof:
Back and forth
Warp and woof:
Wing of angel,
Devil's hoof:

All times make time and all are good and ill;
Twin fibres twist to make the coiling rope
We label time.
And good was twined with ill
When spinning yarn and weaving linen were
Still country crafts. The old blind woman with
Her spinning-wheel beside the open door
Would spin and spin with finger-tips for eyes
Matching the spindle's hunger to her own
Till each was satisfied; but she could feel
The warm sun on her face, the kindly wind
Lay gentle hands upon her faded hair,
The cottage weaver cramped and stiff from toil
That made a convict's treadmill of his loom
Could run a mile around his one green field
To flex his muscles; and could pause awhile
To hear the blackbird's song, or sing his own.

Back and forth
Warp and woof:
Wing of angel,
Devil's hoof:

The hand-loom turns to lumber and the wheel
Becomes a thing lo win a tourist's glance
When far from field and bird the factories rise,
A myriad spindles and a maze of looms
Cradled within four wails. On every side
Thin streets of small brick houses spawn and sprawl
Though none could give its neighbour elbow-room.
Sleep flies each morning at the siren's shout
And women hurry, shapeless in their shawls,
In multitudes made nameless, to the mill,
Some young, some old, and many great with child:
All wage slaves of the new industrial age,
All temple vestals of the linen god.
Some will put off their shoes from off their feet
And barefoot serve the spindles all day long,
Some will keep constant vigil where the looms
Like giant nightmare spiders pounce and crawl
With spider skill across the tethered web.

Note: With reference to Linen cloth, the Warp represents the threads or ends that run lengthwise, through the web. The Weft runs across from selvedge to selvedge, carried by the Shuttle. In this poem, the term "Woof" is used for Weft. In my experience, I have only heard "Woof" used in the Yorkshire Woollen trade.

The white strands catch the moment's light, and show
A pattern in the fabric, damask smooth.
We spin and weave, with yarns and years and tears
Our webs of linen and of destiny:
A people's life is netted in the loom
Their story echoes in the spindle's song.
Through slump to boom, through war to peace - this peace
The frightened hare with hounds upon her track
Running to meet the terror that she flees

Darning, dreaming,
Thinking long,
Flax and flux, wheel and song;
Good and evil,
Right and wrong.

Spend and Send and buy and borrow,
Yesterday, to-day, tomorrow;
Weaving linen,
Spinning thread,
Weaving guns and spinning bread;
Sheets and shrouds
And shirts and collars
Earning dollars, dollars, dollars!

See how fast the wheels are turning:
Rome is burning, burning, burning!
Hear the crying of the fiddle:
Hands across and up the middle
Choose your partners for the dance
Weave your webs or take your chance!
Hear the clatter of the loom:
Atom bomb and day of doom!

Will the clatter never cease?
Work for war and hope for peace.
Hear the spindle's gentler hum:
Work for peace and peace may come.
In fields of North Tyrone the bright flax grows,
The blackbird sings
And past the farm a quiet river flows.

Back to Porridge

Holidays in Switzerland, mid splendid scenery
Steamer trips in sunshine on the calm blue lakes
Thrilling rides in cable-cars and mountain railways
Chocolates, cheeses and rich cream cakes.

Sporting a bikini on a beach in Italy
Sailing round the coast-line on a pleasure cruise
Motoring through olive-groves and vine-clad hillsides
Shopping for pottery, knitwear, shoes,

Chilly winds with squally showers and brief bright intervals
Tell you that you're home again to Ireland's shores
To the same old stewed steak, boiled spuds, rice pud,
Washing, ironing and endless chores!

Note: written by my wife, Kathleen, after a visit to Switzerland.

This [next] poem was written by, Arthur Hugh Clough, a Victorian writer remembered nowadays for only two pieces of verse. One, a satirical version of the Ten Commandments, the other is this poem which does not appear to have been given a title. This poem was quoted by Sir Winston Churchill on a Radio Broadcast in the darkest days of the Second World War.

"Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain."

"For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main."

"And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look! the land is-bright."

The Ballad of William Boat

By Raymond Calvert.

In a mean abode on the Shankill Road
Lived a man called William Boat.
He had a wife, the curse of his life,
Who continually got his goat.
So one day at dawn, with her nightdress on,
He cut her bloody throat.

With a razor gash he settled her hash,
Oh never was crime so quick,
But the steady drip on the pillow slip
Of her lifeblood made him sick,
And the pool of gore on the bedroom floor
Grew clotted cold and thick.

And yet he was glad that he'd done what he had,
When she lay there stiff and still,
But a sudden awe of the angry law
Struck his soul with an icy chill.
So to finish the fun so well begun,
He resolved himself to kill.

Then he took the sheet off his wife's cold feet,
And twisted it into a rope
And he hanged himself from the pantry shelf.
'Twas an easy end, let's hope.
In the face of death with his latest breath,
He solemnly cursed the Pope.

But the strangest turn to the whole concern
Is only just beginnin'.
He went to Hell but his wife got well,
And she's still alive and sinnin',
For the razor blade was German made,
But the sheet was Irish linen.