Tuesday 4 January 2011

Lisburn Writers from The Poets of Ireland, 1912.


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(Oxford University Press, 1912.)

This valuable and interesting work contains 504 pages and over 4,000 references to Irish writers of English verse. Generally speaking, those writers who were only partly or remotely of Irish blood are not included. English writers who have made their homes in Ireland, and identified  themselves with it, have been considered admissable. Mr. O'Donoghue is librarian, University College, Dublin, and has also written biographies of several distinguished Irishmen. A much smaller and less perfect edition of this work was published about 1892. Twenty-seven names, of writers of verse, of local interest are selected -- these will be extracted and given here with the relative notes from the volume on each writer. The notes will be given in full and verbatim. Where possible the notes from "The Poets of Ireland" will be supplemented and augmented by additional and new matter gathered from other sources.

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Burdy, Rev. Samuel. -- ARDGLASS; or, THE RUINED CASTLES; also THE TRANSFORMATION, with other poems, Dublin, 1802."

Author of a "Life of Rev. Philip Skelton, Derriaghy, Lisburn" (1792), "A Tour of a few Days to Londonderry and the Giant's Causeway " (Dublin, 1807), and a "History of Ireland" (1817). Born at Dromore, Co. Down, probably in 1754; of Huguenot descent. Sch. T.C.D., 1780; B.A., 1781. Died March 7, 1820, and is buried at Kilclief, Co. Down. Was never married.

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The Life of Skelton was published in 1792, and reprinted, 225 pages, in 1914 by the Oxford University Press. In the introduction to the 1914 edition there is a short sketch of Burdy's life, by Norman Moore. It is stated that Burdy was descended from a Huguenot soldier who was wounded at the battle of the Boyne. In a poem written by Burdy on the death of a friend, James Agnew, linen-draper, Moss-vale, Lisburn, who died in 1798, he : thus refers to their common ancestor:--

"Our common grandsire left fair Gallia's land,
Forc'd from her plains by Lewis' stern command,
Join'd great Prince William on Batavia's shore,
At Boyne's fam'd waters heard the cannon roar."

Bishop Reeves expressed the opinion that Burdy was probably an altered form of Dubourdieu. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar in 1777, won a scholarship in 1780, and took his B.A.  degree in 1781. In 1783 he was appointed Curate at Ardglass. Kilclief, a perpetual curacy in the County Down, was the only further ecclesiastical preferment he attained.

The Life of Skelton deals with daily life and not with political events. It gives an interesting view of the Ulster of that period. One gathers that Burdy was a disappointed man, and dissatisfied with the recognition that his abilities received.

He writes --

"My service treated, and my studious pain,
With cold neglect or insolent disdain,
No friend to assist me, and no patron smile,
No gift to sooth my literary toil."

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Skelton, Rev. Philip, D.D. -- An eminent theologian, born at Derriaghy, near Lisburn, Co. Antrim, in February, 1706 (or 1707). Sch. T.C.D., 1726; B.A., 1728, He wrote some excellent hymns, which will be found in his collected works. They are still included in representative collections, two of them being in "Lyra Hibernica Sacra." There are sixteen lengthy poems of a pious nature at the end of volume 6 of his collected works. His life was written by the Rev. Samuel Burdy. He wrote some valuable and learned works, and died in Dublin on May 4, 1787, and was buried in St. Peter's Churchyard in that city.

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Richard Skelton, Philip's father, and his family resided in a house in the townland of Aghalislone, Parish of Derriaghy. A short mile from Derriaghy Village, going in the direction of Pond Park, there is a road branches off to the right and connects, barely a mile distant, with the Ivy Hill and Castlerobin Road. About half-way, on this short connecting road, and on the right-hand side of the road, there is a low thatched cottage standing back a short distance from the road. This cottage, it is said, was the home of the Skeltons, and that it was here that Philip Skelton was born. Around this locality his youthful memories centred, and in the long years of his later life to this homely spot his heart ever turned with warm affection. The house has been in the occupation of the M'Comb and Crone families, who intermarried, for over 120 years; it is now known as Crone Cottage, the present occupier being Mr. Marcus M'Comb. The house, from its construction and appearance, is evidently of considerable antiquity, and it is quite possible that it was the original building occupied by the Skelton family. It is, however, beyond doubt that, whether Crone Cottage was the original building or not, it is quite close to the original site. Some authorities say that the old homestead was about twenty yards further on in the direction of Derriaghy, on the same side of the road, where the old foundations of a house are still to be seen.

From the "Compendium of Irish Biography," by Alfred Webb, 1878, it may be gathered that the Rev. Philip Skelton acted as Curate near Newtownbutler in 1729, where he also taught the children of the Rector, Dr. Samuel Madden; Curate in Monaghan, 1732, at a salary of £40 a year; Vicar of Pettigo, 1750. In 1759 he was removed to the Parish of Devenish, near Enniskillen, worth £300 a year, and in 1766 made his last change to Fintona, Co. Tyrone. He was the author of numerous sermons which had a large circulation, and of "Deism Revealed," an important work published in London, 1749. He had previously published "Some Proposals for the Revival of Christianity," which was attributed to Swift. His sermons were warmly commended by Wesley, and were as eagerly listened to by London audiences as by his own simple parishioners. He was bitterly opposed to all dissent, yet was the friend of Wesley. In character he was simple and chivalrously honest. In manners outspoken, if not uncouth and rude, and careless in his dress. He was of large, gigantic size, and an adept at cudgels and the use of his fists, and was not backward in the use of either when he considered the occasion required. His whole life was one of self-devotion. He lived on the sparest diet. Even when his stipend was but £40 a year he devoted a portion to the relief of the suffering poor. He was extremely fond of flowers, and would send twenty miles for a curious specimen. He was never married.

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The Life of Philip Skelton.


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Philip Skelton was born in the Parish of Derriaghy, near Lisburn, in February, 1706-7. His father, Richard Skelton, was a decent honest countryman, who held under Lord Conway a large farm at a cheap rent. The father of Richard was the first of the family that came over from England to reside in Ireland.

Richard had served an apprenticeship to a gunsmith, and was employed at that trade when he went to Kilwarlin, and married there Arabella Cathcart, by whom he got the farm in Derriaghy already mentioned. Having removed, on his marriage, to that parish, he wrought diligently at his trade, until the whole country was put in confusion by the war between William and James. He was then carried off by King James, and compelled to work for his army. His wife, who had two children, and was with child of the third, having obtained a pass from the King, retired with her family to lsland-Magee, a small peninsula near Carrickfergus; where she was delivered of her third child, and experienced, during her illness, tender usage from the poor inhabitants, who sat up with the stranger to-night." Nor was she ungrateful to them for their kindness. She entrusted her house and farm to a Roman Catholic family called Hamill, who, acting with singular honesty on the occasion, sent her, in abundance, butter, flour, and every other necessary of life, the produce of her farm, to her place of retirement. With a large share of what she received she rewarded the people of Island-Magee for their services. On her return she found everything belonging to her carefully preserved by the Catholics, who took as much care of her property as if it had been their own. Such instances of fidelity were but rare in those turbulent times, when bigotry too often destroyed the force of moral obligations. Her children, on that account, had always a regard for those of the Catholic persuasion. I heard Mr. Skelton often say, that the poor original Irish were naturally faithful, humane, and averse to blood.

In the latter part of his life he quitted the gunsmith trade, which could not be profitable in a country place, and kept a little tan-yard. So that Mr. Skelton used to call himself the son of a tanner. At his father's, he said, they always got beef on a Sunday, but not regularly during the rest of the week. The farm he had was indeed sufficient of itself to afford a competent support to himself and family; yet it was necessary he should be frugal and industrious, for he had six sons and four daughters. Three of his sons were educated for clergymen of the established church, of which he was a member; Philip, who was the youngest; John, who was schoolmaster at Dundalk; and Thomas, who had the small living of Newry.

Philip, when he was about, ten years old, was sent to Lisburn. Latin school, which was then kept by the Rev. Mr. Clarke, a man of eminence in his profession; who, having afterwards left that place on account of a dispute with Lord Conway, obtained the school of Drogheda, where he lived to an advanced age. His spirited resistance thus helped to get him promotion in the world, which too frequently is the effect of tame submission to superiors. However, he did not leave Lisburn until after Mr. Skelton had completed the course of his school studies. His father, though he lived within two miles of the town, placed him at lodgings there, that he might enjoy every opportunity of improvement. Sensible of its importance, he did not spare expense to give his children education. On Sunday evening he always went to his father's and returned to Lisburn on Monday morning.

At first he did not relish his grammar, which seemed dry and disagreeable, and therefore he would not confine himself to it. The master complained of this to his father, who used the following method to cure him of his idleness. He raised him one Monday morning early out of his. bed, and having put a pair of coarse brogues on his feet, ordered him to go out immediately to the fields to work with the common labourers. This command he willingly obeyed, supposing it would be less laborious to toil there, than to fatigue his head with hard study. His father made him carry stones on a hand-barrow, and submit to the severest drudgery; not allowing him to come home to his breakfast, but keeping him fasting long beyond the usual time, and then sending it to him of the coarsest food to take in the open fields. When he returned from his day's work, he treated him as he did the lowest servant. He would not suffer him to keep company with the rest of his children, but bade him go  to his companions the servants, and stay with them. Broken down at last by this hard usage he began to relent, and burst into tears. His father then said to him, "Sirrah, I'll make this proposal to you: Whether do you choose to toil and drudge all your life, as you have these few days past, living on coarse food, clad in frize clothes, and with brogues on your feet, or to apply to your books, and eat, and drink, and be dressed like your brothers here?" pointing to his brothers, who, at vacation, had just then come down from the university, decked out in Dublin finery. Poor Philip, whose bones ached with, the hand-barrow, said, "he would readily go to school, and be attentive to his studies." Accordingly he did so, and continued studious ever after.

The success of this project proved the sagacity of his father, who was remarkable for his good sense over the whole Parish of Derriaghy. The gentlemen of fortune in that place had such a high opinion of him, that they used to invite him frequently to their houses, for the sake of his conversation. A Bishop Smyth in particular, who lived there, showed him every mark of attention, and his Lordship's daughters were pleased to make a companion of his oldest daughter, a young woman of sense and accomplishments superior to her opportunities. His father had also some knowledge of architecture, being employed to superintend the building of the present church of Derriaghy. His circumstances, by his care and industry, were daily improving, when death carried him off from his disconsolate family in the fiftieth year of his age; while he was engaged in building a dwelling-house, and making a new tan-yard, neither of which were ever after completed. Such are the hopes of man! A few hours before he died, he called to him his ten children to give them a charge. Philip, who had been then but half a year at the Latin school, he desired to study physic, and learn to cure the disease that was killing his father. He obeyed, as I will shew, his dying command, but fixed on divinity for his profession, to which he believed himself called by a voice more than human. Thus did he lose in his tender years an excellent father, a man of admirable sense, a strict observer of religion, and a careful instructor of his children. He retained ever after a grateful remembrance of his worth. In his "Senilia" he calls him "his wise and good father." He used to say with Horace, that if he were appointed to choose a father out of all the men in the world, he would take the one he had.

His mother was left with ten children. She had indeed the benefit of the family farm, but land at that time wee comparatively of little value, and a great part of hers was rough and mountainous. Of consequence, her means of support for such a family were not over abundant; but she made amends for this by her care and prudence in managing her affairs. Her son Philip, who continued still to go to the Latin school, lived, as it seemed convenient, partly at her house and partly at lodgings in Lisburn. The sharp medicine which his father administered to him, having cured him effectually of his idleness, he was ever after, as I said before, extremely attentive to his studies. He that gains the prize of literature has passed through a previous course of discipline while a boy. His parts, at first, wore not remarkably quick or retentive, but his diligence enabled him to overcome every obstacle. When he was at a loss for candles to read at night, which frequently happened, he made use of furze, which he gathered for the purpose, and then throwing them piece by piece upon the fire, read by the glimmering light. Such was the expedient suggested by an ardent desire for learning. He used to tell us, that when he was at school, he and some of his school-fellows, who were also remarkably studious, often meet together in the fields and examined each other most strictly for halfpence. He that missed the answer of the question proposed was forced to give a halfpenny to the boy who examined him; which made them, as he remarked, prepare themselves with great care, for halfpence were then very scarce.

The following incident of his life, while he was at the Latin school, cannot, I think, be unworthy the attention of the curious. Straying one day through the fields near Lisburn, he happened to shout out on the top of a hill there, and found that the echo repeated the same words successively in a still lower tone. He used afterwards to amuse himself often with speaking loud at this place. One morning he was repeating there the first line of Virgil, when the usher of the school, a Scotchman, of a sour temper, very fat, and remarkable for chewing tobacco, walking near the place, and hearing the echo, imagined he was calling to him in a jeering tone of voice, "fat chops, tobacco box." The Scotchman was so enraged at this supposed insult, that he insisted on Skelton's being turned out of school; if not he would leave it himself. Skelton told the master the story of the echo, and appealed to his school-fellows for the truth of what he said. But the usher would not be pacified, and at last, as a great favour, was content with his being whipped.

This odd sort of echo near Lisburn is mentioned in his Latin treatise on sounds by Dr. Hales, late of Trinity College, one of the most worthy clergymen of Ireland, whose humility can be only equalled by his learning. For he had none of that stiff dignity and supercilious importance that too often distinguish academic authority. The whole account of the echo, conveyed in Mr. Skelton's own words, is inserted in a Latin note at the end of the volume; but, on examination, I find it is of too philosophic a nature to be introduced into a work of this kind. I cannot now recollect, any other incident of his life, white at school, worth relating. It appears indeed that he was not upon that, occasion treated with over indulgence by the master, who, without, any fault of his own, whipped him just to please a peevish Scotch usher. To the sons of poor or middling men it would, I think, be a disadvantage to meet with too gentle usage from their preceptors. It is fit they should, from the beginning, be trained to difficulties, with which they may be forced to struggle all their days.

While he was at college, he went once to Donnybrook fair, and heard it proclaimed there that a hat was set up as a prize for the best cudgel-player. The two cudgels with basket-hilts lying for public inspection, Skelton, like a second Dares, stepped forward, took up one of them, made a bow to the girls, and challenged an antagonist to oppose him. On this a confident young fellow came up and accepted the challenge. Immediately a ring was formed, and the two heroes began. They fought for a while on equal terms, warding off the blows by their skill in the science of defence. But at last his antagonist was off his guard, and Skelton taking the advantage, hit him some smart strokes about the head, and made him throw down the cudgel and own he was conquered. He thus gained the victory, and won the hat. He then took the hat in his hand, showed it to the gaping crowd, made a bow to the girls, and told them, "he fought just to please them, but would not keep the hat, that they might have more amusement"; and then bowed again and retired. A hero in romance could not have been more complaisant to the fair sex.

The following trick of his, which has been since practised by some others, is not unsuitable to the character of a young man in the college. He and twelve more dining at an inn near Dublin, when they reckoning was to be paid, they discovered there was no money in the company. Skelton then invented the scheme of blindfolding the waiter, that the first he might catch should pay the reckoning, and thus they all escaped. However, he took care to have the landlord paid for his dinner.

During the college long-vacations he amused himself with various exercises at Derriaghy, such as throwing the stone, the sledge and the like. But long-bullets was his favourite exercise, in which there was no match for him in the whole parish. Long-bullets is an exercise wherein a metal ball of two or three pound weight is thrown along a public road. He whose ball, in an equal number of throws, goes furthest past a fixed point is victorious

The summer, in which he commenced Bachelor of Arts, he spent, as usual, in the Parish of Derriaghy, where he met with a terrible accident, which he considered ever after as an instance of the divine judgment. He was then, as he informs us, twenty-one years of age, and since he was eight years old had never once omitted, morning and evening prayers to God, until one morning that two or three of his companions broke in on him while he was in bed, and carried him off with them to play long-bullets. While he was engaged in this sport, a three pound ball, thrown by one of his companions, hit a stone, and leaping back struck him above the left eye and flattened the projecting part of his skull. He fell down seemingly quite dead, and was carried to the house of a Mrs. Granger, a woman that knew a little of surgery, who stitched the wound in five different places and kept him for some time at her own house. A small splinter of a bone came out of his skull before he quite recovered. This hurt with extreme abstinence and large evacuations, necessary to prevent a fever, greatly shattered, he says, his excellent constitution.

He usually travelled, when living in Monaghan, all the way to Derriaghy on foot, to save money for his mother and the poor. His two brothers the clergymen, were also liberal to their master. He generally preached two Sundays at Lisburn church, when he paid those visits of filial duty., and always brought thither a crowded audience; for the people flocked from all quarters to hear him. His mother died in 1748.

When he was in London, there was a man from the parish of Derriaghy, he he assured us, that passed there for a wild Irishman, and was exhibited as a public show, dressed up with a false beard, artificial wings, and the like. Hundreds from all quarters flocked to see a strange spectacle, which they had often heard of before; and among others, a Derriaghy man, who happened to be in London, came in the crowd, and saw the wild Irishman, a hideous figure, with a chain about him, cutting his capers before a gaping multitude. Yet notwithstanding his disguise, he soon discovered that this wild Irishman was a neighbour's son, a sober, civilised young man, who had left Derriaghy a little time before him. When the show was finished he went behind the scene, and cried out so as to be heard by his country man, "Derriaghy, Derriaghy." Upon this the seeming wild Irishman, starting up  with surprise, spoke aloud, "I'll go any place for Derriaghy." They had then a private meeting, when he told him, that being scarce of money, he took that method of gulling the English, which succeeded far beyond his expectations.

Once a year he went to Lisburn to see his relations, when he generally took with him sixty guineas, which he divided among them. In Derriaghy there is a handsome rural place called the Big Glen, near Collin Mountain, which has been so often celebrated in poetry, where he used every summer to give his friends a treat on the grass, who spent one day with him in innocent relaxation.

Returning once from Lisburn with his hat tied over his face he met with his tithe-farmer near Enniskillen, and lifting up the brim of his hat, he saw him and said, "Is this you, George Irwin?" "Yes," replied "George. "Can you give me a guinea?" "I can." "Can you give me a shilling?" "I can." "O then," he said, " I'm as rich as a Jew, I'm as rich as a Jew."

Derriaghy, the place of his birth, belongs, it is well known, to the Earl of H. Before that nobleman obtained the government of this kingdom he used frequently to say, as Mr. Skelton told me, that it was a shame for the Lord Lieutenants of Ireland not to make Skelton a Bishop. It was reasonable then to suppose that these sentiments should operate with his Lordship, if an opportunity offered of putting them in practice. Consequently, when he came over to us Lord Lieutenant in the year 1765, Skelton probably expected to be raised by him to that high office, for which, from his virtue's and abilities, he was so eminently qualified. But he was disappointed, we know, in his hopes, if he had any.

Philip Skelton, it has been shown, was of a tall stature and majestic appearance; his countenance was agreeable and placid, displaying evident marks of a mind replete with humanity. His strong athletic frame enabled him in his youth to excel in the manly exercises, of his skill in which and of his bravery sufficient specimens have been produced. But it was the chief business of his life, he considered, to perform the sacred duties of the ministry with conscientious care, wherein he was hardly exceeded by any clergyman of any age. Sincere, strenuous, vehement in his admonitions, he was truly sensible of the importance of the glorious end he had in  view, the eternal happiness of his fellow creatures. He told them of a heaven and a hell where the virtuous shall be rewarded and the wicked punished, exciting them, by the most powerful arguments to seek the felicity of the one, and avoid the misery of the other. He declared open war against vice and impiety in every station, careless of the event, and only influenced by conscience. To instruct the ignorant, rouse the indolent, rebuke the obstinate, rectify the misguided, and turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, was the great object of his labours.

"The Poets of Ireland" to be continued.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 5 January 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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