Thursday 17 February 2011

Lisburn Writers from The Poets of Ireland, 1912. (part 7)



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(Oxford University Press, 1912.)


Twenty-seven names of writers of verse, of local interest, from "The Poets of Ireland," have been 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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Mercer, Col. Edward Smyth. -- "Mount Carmel," a poem, London, 1866; "The Mercer Chronicle," in verse, London, 1866.
The last-named work is a rhymed history of the Mercer family, with learned notes attached. He was the son of Col. E. S. Mercer (who died December 24, 1847, and is buried in Lisburn Cathedral), and was probably a native of County Down like his father.

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He was a descendent of the Mercers whose deaths are recorded on a tablet in Lisburn Cathedral. The first of the name, John Mercer, came from Scotland and died about 1636. John, of Castle Robin, Derriaghy, died 1726; John, of Hill Hall Court, died 1731; and a long list of other deceased Mercers and relatives follow.

Sir Moyses Hill, ancestor of the Downshire family, commenced the erection of a mansion and stronghold about the year 1600 that afterwards became known as Hill's Court, Hill Hall Court, and the Hall of the Hills. It is described as situated on a piece of rising ground at a picturesque spot not fox distant from the hamlet of Lisnagarvagh. Francis, the grandson of Sir Moyses, who ultimately completed the construction of Hill Hall Court, died in 1655, and was buried in the family vault of the Lisburn Church. The Hill family by 1705 had finally left Hill Hall and gone to reside in Hillsborough Castle. The old Castle at Hillsborough, which became the residence of Peter Hill, eldest son of Sir Moyses, was simply an ancient stronghold of the Magennisses enlarged and renovated.

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Richardson, James Nicholson. -- "O'Neill of Munster," a poem, Newry, 1880; "The Baron's Dream," a Xmas carol, Newry, 1887. Born in 1846. A well-known manufacturer, of Bessbrook, near Newry.

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He published in 1915 "Reminiscences of Friends in Ulster." The volume contains personal notices and sketches of numerous Ulster families, including Barcrofts, Bells, Greens, Lambs, Malcomsons, Pims, Richardsons, Wakefields, etc., etc. He also published "The Quakri at Lurgan," 1877; "The Quakri at Lurgan and Grange," 1899. The "Quakri" is a long poem, or rather two poems, modelled on Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome," and deals in a humorous manner with the views of a number of well-known "Friends" in Ulster on the propriety or impropriety of indulging in the singing of hymns at public worship. The volume contains in addition numerous exceedingly fine photographs.

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(Alfred Perceval Graves.)

'Twas pretty to be in Ballinderry,
     'Twas pretty to be in Aghalee,
'Twas prettier to be in little Ram's Island,
     Trysting under the ivy tree!
          Ochone, ochone!
          Ochone, ochone!
For often I roved in little Ram's Island,
Side by side with Phelimy Hyland,
And still he'd court me and I'd be coy,
Though at heart I loved him, my handsome boy!

"I'm going," he sighed, "from Ballinderry,
     Out and across the stormy sea,
"Then if in your heart you love me, Mary,
     Open at last your arms to me."
          Ochone, ochone!
          Ochone, ochone!
I opened my arms, how well he knew me,
I opened my arms and took him to me;
And there, in the gloom of the groaning mast.
We kissed our first and we kissed our last!

'Twas happy to be in little Ram's Island,
     But now 'tis as sad as sad can be:
For the ship that sailed with Phelimy Hyland
     Is sunk for ever beneath the sea.
          Ochone, ochone!
          Ochone, ochone!
And 'tis oh! but I wear the weeping willow
And wander alone by the lonesome billow,
And cry to him over the cruel sea,
Phelimy Hyland, come back to me!

This poem is taken from "Modern Anglo-Irish Verse" by Padric Gregory, 1913. A. P. Graves was the son of the Protestant Bishop of Limerick. He has written numerous songs and ballads. "Father O'Flynn" is from his pen. Was an Inspector of Schools, from, which position he retired in 1910.

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Owenson, Robert.
-- THEATRICAL TEARS, a poem occasioned by "Familiar Epistles to Frederick Jones" (over signature of "R. N. O."), Dublin, 1804.

Father of Lady Morgan and Lady Clarke, was a clever actor, vocalist and musician. I have seen the music of Lover's song, "Rory O'More," attributed to him. Born in the Barony of Tyrawley, County Mayo, in 1744. He was for many years on the Irish stage, and is said to have changed his name from MacOwen to Owenson. He died on May 27, 1812, at 44 North Great George's Street, Dublin, the residence of his son-in-law, Sir Arthur Clarke, M.D. and was buried at Irishtown, near Dublin. Skeffington Gibbon, in his "Recollections," pages 142-144, says he was born in Sligo. He probably wrote "The Land of Potatoes," in Croker's "Popular Songs of Ireland." For further references see O'Keeffe's "Recollections," and "Life of Thomas Dermody."

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Owenson's daughter, Sydney, married in 1812 Sir T. C. Morgan, M.D., Dublin She published during her long life a large number of works, both prose and verse. Born about 1778, died in 1859. She was in receipt of a Civil List pension of £300 at the time of her death. Her best known work of fiction was "The Wild Irish Girl." His other daughter, Olivia, married in 1808 Sir Arthur Clarke, a Dublin physician. She was Born in 178S and died in 1845. Wrote many poems for different magazines and annuals. Published a comedy in five acts, which was successfully produced on the stage, entitled "The Irishwoman."

"The Dictionary of National Biography" gives some information regarding Robert Owenson. It states that he was primarily educated at a hedge-school in Co. Mayo and acted for a short time as steward to a neighbouring landowner. Having removed to London and acquired a taste for theatricals, he applied to Oliver Goldsmith who introduced him to Garrick about 1771. He had a handsome and commanding figure and sang well. He appeared on the Dublin stage in 1776, and later became part proprietor of Crow Street Theatre. His subsequent theatrical ventures in various parts of Ireland did not meet with success.

Hugh M'Call in his "Ireland and Her Staple Industries," Third Edition, 1870 gives an interesting sketch of the life of Betty, "The young Roscius," born in Lisburn, 1791. In this sketch he refers to the Owenson family --  

From the time of the Insurrection the handsome town of Lisburn had been the station for a troop of horse and a numerous company of foot soldiers. A splendid band accompanied them, and what, with the daily parades, inspection of troops and periodical bugle calls, the inhabitants were bidding fair to imbibe much more of the military spirit than is usually found to exist in provincial towns. Besides these sources of excitement, a respectable company of theatricals, under the management of Mr. Robert Owenson, father of the future Lady Morgan and Lady Clarke, added largely to the intellectual amusement of the citizens. Mr. Owenson's theatre was situate in the rere of Mr. Stewart's house opposite the road since made to Hillsborough, and the lessee himself and his two daughters resided next door. The society of the young ladies was much sought after by the merchants and manufacturers; but the ancient dowagers of Castle Street -- the Piccadilly of Lisburn -- and the other exclusives of that aristocratic quarter, entertaining a pious horror of the stage and its performers, kept aloof from them as if to touch the hem of their garment would have been to depart from the faith. Miss O'Neill, afterwards Lady Beecher -- then a young and rapidly rising performer, took the leading parts in the cast of characters, and rejoiced in the moderate salary of thirty shillings a week.


By Thomas Stott, Dromore.

Nature had form'd the fair O'Neill to please --
     A voice of melody -- soul of feeling --
A mien combining dignity and ease --
     True excellence with modesty concealing.

And now to thee, Britannia, we confide
     The precious charge of this choice flower;
With kindness cherish it, for 'twas our pride.
     To watch it blooming in its native bower.    |

And soon, or much mistaken is the bard,
     Will thy discerning sons its value see:
And own, that in the marks of her regard,
     Erin ne'er sent a sweeter gift to thee.

Though rich in native rarities before,
New lustre this will add to the unrivalled store.

In a lengthy footnote to the life of Betty, Mr. M'Call again refers to the Owensons --

The unco guid and rigidly righteous of the "West End" of Lisburn were greatly opposed to "Owenson and his strolling players." At that time, it was quite customary for troops of these professionals to itinerate from town to town, and, for the nonce, transform a barn or hay-loft into a theatre, where the legitimate drama was produced, if not in the highest style of art, at all events so as to give intense gratification to the audience.

Robert Owenson was a man of abilities very superior to that of most of his contemporaries. As a relation of Goldsmith, he possessed much of that wonderful man's versatility, and although when he went to London to try his fortune on the stage, he changed his name from MacOwen to that by which he was ever after distinguished, he was still, in heart and soul, an Irishman. He had great musical taste, and wrote some popular melodies, Rory O'More being one of his best in that style of composition. After his marriage, in 1778, he seceded from Covent Garden Theatre, where he had gained considerable celebrity in a long line of Irish characters, and became one of the choristers in Westminster Abbey. The salary was ample and the work light, but his heart yearned for the footlights, and he returned to Dublin, where for many years he performed with great success at Crow Street. In an hour of wild speculation, he was induced to build the unique theatre at Kilkenny, where Tom Moore frequently figured as an amateur. The result proved most disastrous, and ultimately sent him to the Bankruptcy Court. His wife died some years before, leaving him two daughters to educate and support, and once again he faced the world with a light heart and empty pocket. For several years he marshalled a troop of strolling players, and visited most of the provincial towns, occasionally appearing in some of his favourite characters, but never permitting either of his daughters to set foot on the stage. In 1803-4 Mr. Owenson's party performed regularly in Lisburn, at a theatre improvised out of a large hay-loft, in Bow Street. I remember, when a very little boy, spelling my way through an old playbill in which it was announced that the company would perform Goldsmith's admired comedy, "She Stoops to Conquer" -- Tony Lumpkin, Mr. Owenson; Marlow, Mr. Williams. A gentleman who was a frequent play goer in those days told me that he was in the house one night when Mr. Owenson personated Major O'Flaherty, in the "West Indian." His two daughters, Sydney and Olivia, occupied a box near the stage, and, during an interesting scene, as they talked ratter loudly to some of the officers of the garrison, who had strolled in for a small flirtation, one of the gods cried out -- "Its a shame for you, Miss Owenson, to interrupt your father's performance." This rebuke at once silenced the gossiper, and, in a few minutes afterwards, the box was empty.

It seems most unaccountable that, in her autobiographical memoirs, Lady Morgan merely glances at her residence in Lisburn, and this is the more extraordinary when we consider that, in course of that sojourn, she passed through one of those phases of life which no woman ever forgets. During their residence in Lisburn, the society of the Misses Owenson was much courted. Sydney played the harp and sung her own songs in a style that never failed to enrapture her hearers, and Olivia accompanied her sister in most of the melodies. Francis Crossley, son of a spirit merchant in town, had fallen madly in love with Miss OWenson, who, by the way, was some years his senior. The "Wild Irish Girl," as this lady was familiarly called, had just then finished the rough copy of the celebrated tale, the Novice of St. Dominik, and, with a lover's enthusiasm, her adorer undertook to transcribe the work and make it ready for the printer. The sequel of the "good old story" followed all this. A proposal of marriage was made by Crossley, but, as he was entirely dependent on his father, and had no profession, and as his lady love was also without means, they put off the matrimonial contract, until the young gentleman had got into a position which would enable him to support himself and make provision for his wife. Lord Hertford had then considerable influence with the Indian Board, and, at Miss Owenson's suggestion, Crossley applied to that nobleman for a situation in the Eastern service. About this time, Robert Owenson and his troop of performers were about to leave Lisburn; the young people had entered into a solemn engagement to live for each other, and, as will be seen, Crossley faithfully kept his vow. The application to Lord Hertford proved successful, and, in the summer of 1806, he sailed for India, where he was appointed to an ensigncy in the Madras Infantry. For several years after his arrival in India, the young officer kept up a regular correspondence with Miss Owenson. He had been especially attentive to his duties, and was not forgotten by the authorities. In 1810 he got a lucrative appointment in the civil service, but having been sent far into the interior, and postal communication being exceedingly slow from that quarter, an interruption took place in the correspondence. Still the "Wild Irish Girl" held her supremacy in his affections. In the meantime, Miss Owenson had been devoting all her spare time to literature, and her popularity as a novelist had risen far beyond her most dreamy anticipations. Her sister married Sir Arthur Clarke, a Dublin physician, in good practice, and her own income from the copyright of her works was pretty handsome. But this was not all. Her writings abounded in a spirit of independence then little known. She had baldly laid bare the injustice with which Ireland had been governed; and, although a Protestant and a firm believer in the Episcopalian creed, she felt keenly for the wrongs of the Catholic, and, with a woman's love of battling for the weaker side, she fought hard for the Emancipation of her fellow countrymen of that Church. This courageous course raised many enemies against her. The "Quarterly Review" handled her novels with merciless severity, and, although there was much, to condemn in many of those works, still the severity with which she was assailed called forth immense sympathy, and she became the petted protege of a powerful section of the lending aristocracy. And now comes the romance of one remarkable portion of her life. Crossley's correspondence, as I have stated, had been interrupted from no fault of his, and Dr. Charles Morgan, a widower, with a daughter nearly grown up, and some pretensions to literary taste, had been paying court to the gifted authoress. The Lord Lieutenant knighted him for purpose in aiding the suit, and at  length he was accepted, and the marriage was arranged to come off at Baronscourt, the seat of Lord Abercorn, in the County Tyrone. In August, 1812, the ceremony took place, and when the wedding party came back from church  several letters, addressed to Miss Owenson, were handed to the bride. One of them was from Lieutenant Crossley. He accounted for his silence by stating that he had been sent to an isolated island, but, having gained a high position and an ample income, he claimed the hand of his affianced, and sent money to pay her passage to India.

Of course, it was then too late; the die had been cast; but Lady Morgan never forgot that chapter in her own romantic history. A short time before her death, and when fourscore years had passed over her head, she related the story to Sir J. K. Tennant with all the excitement of girlish recollection.

Crossley got a captaincy in 1824, and also the usual leave of absence. He visited Lisburn, and married Miss Stewart, of that town, in the autumn of the same year. On his return to India, and while passing through London, he called on Lady Morgan, introduced his handsome wife, and spent a most exciting evening with the object of his first attachment.

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Young, Robert. -- In his "Ulster Harmonist" there is a song on the celebration of the Twelfth of July at Lisburn in the year 1823. A few verses may be quoted --


Blithe joy bells announced the glad morning
    Which Lisburn still hails with delight,
When William, all idle fears scorning,
    Rush'd valiantly forth to the fight;
And soon in a splendid procession,
    Did hundreds in harmony join,
Lodge following Lodge in succession,
    As regiments march'd to the Boyne.

The town with sweet music resounded,
    Which heighten'd the joy of the day,
Full fifty-three Lodges went round it,
    All marshall'd in Orange array;
To Church we proceeded, delighted,
    Devotional homage to pay
To him who the foemen affrighted,
    And freed us by Nassau this day.

The sun seem'd to brighten in splendour --
    Our flags waving wide in the wind,
Inscrib'd with the words "No Surrender,"
    With orange and purple entwined;
An arch near the Church was erected,
    And through it we march'd in a line;
None pass'd there who e'er were suspected,
    For each gave the true Purple sign.

The sermon was short but impressive,
    Instructive in every part,
Propounding religion progressive,
    The homage that comes from the heart:
It taught us morality -- royal
    Allegiance to Sion's great King;
We join'd then in harmony loyal,
    Our hymns of thanksgiving to sing.

He was known as "The Fermanagh True Blue." Born in 1800 near Fintona, Co. Tyrone. He also published the "Orange Minstrel" and other works. In the "Ulster Harmonist" are several poems from the pen of the Rev. John Graham, born in Co. Longford 1774, died at Magilligan, Co. Derry, 1844, who wrote and published numerous volumes of historical poems. He is described by O'Donoghue in "The Poets of Ireland" as "the best of the Orange poets."

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Flecher, Henry M'Donald. (See notes, Article XIV.), -- Born in Ballinderry, Co. Antrim, about 1840.
"Northern Whig," 15th November, 1902. Article entitled "A Local Reminiscence: The Poet of 'Bonnie Portmore,'" by A. Brown. Henry M'Donald Flecher died at Blossom, Texas, on 21st October, 1902. He taught school successively at Ballymaglaff, Comber, and Moneyrea, all in Co. Down. In 1866 he removed to Belfast, and taught for a short time in Springfield National School. In 1867 he resigned the occupation of teaching, and for three years was cashier in Crumlin Road Mills. In 1870 he emigrated to Texas. In religion he was a Unitarian, and in politics an advanced Liberal.

Specimen of his work --


Oh, there's nothing on earth like a shed of one's own
     On a fiel' that's a body's for iver!
It's there ye have courage to "lay down yer bone"
     And give thanks to the bountiful Giver.
I would rather be lord of a scraw-covered bay
     Than be tenant at will of a castle;
And I'm happier here in this humble wee way
Than an emperor's wealthiest vasal.

     For iver, for iver! my houldin's for iver,
          As nate a wee spot as you'd see!
     I envy no throne with a cot of my own
          For Betty, the childher, and me:

Not a master to plaze, not a mortal to fear,
     Not a want if we steadily labour;
But from autumn to autumn the height of good cheer
     And a bite for a hungery neighbour.
I live in content like my daddies of yore,
     No baillie to spy or to plunder;
And I drain it, and dig it, and dung it galore,
     Till the craps are the counthery's wonder.

When driven in couple, like wethers or goats,
     Poor cotters crowd in at elections,
The landlords may scare from the crathers their votes,
     But conscience gives me my directions.
The clark's but a sarvant, the taicher's a slave
     Doctors dodge, and the clargy palaver;
But I needn't knuckle to tyrant or knave
     I'm lord of my acres for ever!

     For iver, for iver! I houl' them for iver,
          As purty wee fiel's as you'd see!
     I envy no throne with a cot of my own
          For Betty, the childher, and me:

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M'Cloy, Samuel. -- Born in Lisburn 1831 died at Balham 1904. Figure painter. Referred to in Strickland's "Dictionary of Irish Artists."

M'Cloy was apprenticed to James and Thomas Smyth, a firm of engravers in Belfast, and also studied in the School of Design. Later he studied in the Central School, Somerset House, London, and was appointed in 1853 Master of Waterford School of Art. In 1875 he returned to Belfast, and remained there until he went to London in 1881. He occasionally exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy between 1862 and 1882, contributing figure subjects and scenes of Irish domestic life. He also contributed a few works to London exhibitions 1859 to 1891. In the Victoria and Albert Museum is a drawing of "Black Grapes" by him, and in the Belfast Art Gallery a small oil picture of a girl standing by the sea, entitled, "Where the White Foam Kisses Her Feet." Mr. F. A. C. Mills, Cliftonville, Belfast, has an oil painting and a number of water colour drawings and sketches by him.

He was a cousin of the late James and Matthew M'Cloy, house painters, Lisburn. Lived in his early life in Johnson's Entry, off Castle Street. This locality, it is said, eighty years ago laid claim to a certain amount of respectability. Mr. W. J. M'Murray, J.P., Lisburn, owns several of the artist's pictures.

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Bayly's "History of Lisburn" next week.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 16 February 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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