Friday, March 13, 2009

The Weaver Poets

One of the tragedies of our history, as is the tragedy of every nation's history, is the divide between new settlers and the native populations, as in Ireland between the native Irish and the settler Scots.
Some of these Scots provided the best of the Irish patriots in 1798, although events conspired to place a wedge between them and the natives who share this little island.

Celebrated in legend is Roddy Mc Corley and his comrades, and lesser known throughout the island are figures like Betsy Gray, who gave their lives for the land they loved...

As weavers, they formed part of the Romantic tradition of Burns, and the weaver poets of Northern England, and Scotland itself, writing in their native dialect, leaving us gems which will not be forgotton for years to come.

The Weaver Poets

Most famous in these isles of the Weaver Poets were the ones of Scotland and Ireland, though the North of England also had a very strong tradition.

However, being Irish, I'll focus on those of my isle first.

The weavers were traditionally Scottish by ethnicity, and from Down and Antrim in origion, and this small area created the "Bards" who published books in the 1750 - 1850 decade, often by subscribing to the books being published by others.

The nearest the mainstream reader would have come to most of these would be Robbie Burns, though not a weaver or of the tradition, his works inspired them in the latter stages, and the peasent poetry styles were of his type.

There was a broader group, often called the Classical, where standard English and traditional verse forms were the rule, written by the Anglo Irish element in the Romantic tradition, these are not of what I write.

The subjects of which these poets wrote were of Kirk and Kitchen - everyday life in other words. They wrote of their trade, their lives, the works of others, the politics of the day, addresses to the Freemason lodges of which they were part and suchlike. With one or two exceptions, there was not much tribute to the beauty of the land in which they lived.

Some of these poets were pro-Union, but many formed the basis of the United Irishman movement as founded by Theobald Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy Mc Cracken and James and William Orr, the latter two being names highly respected among all shades of opinion in the North of Ireland to this day.

They wrote in many forms of verse, but most often in the Standard Habbie format, where the first three lines rhymed, the fourth did not, the fifth rhymed with the first three, and the last rhymed with the fourth. While this may look complicated, it suited the verse they wrote, and the speech pattern employed due to their accents.

They wrote in the standard dialect of their day, which they identified as Doric, nowadays known in Ireland as Ulster Scots in its revived form.

The most famous poem from these that would be known in Ireland would be "An Irish Cottiers Death and Burial".

A book "The Rhyming Weavers" charts and analyzes the poems of these writers, and the culture from which they came.
Below are links to poems I wrote based on them and their story...
Poems on the Ulster Weavers:

On Reading Poems of the Ulster Weavers
Parson and PreacherSpeak of God
As A Bard I Write Like Those Before Me
Poem To A Cow and the Poets Who Wrote About Her
Wee Wain Walkingon the Road
The Stray Dogand the Tramp
Give Glory to theSabbath Day
A Land Worth Fighting For
To March They Had No Need
The Death of Betsy Gray
Curse of a Bride Jilted
His Ain Native Toun
A Tribute to Miners
To Eat Without Saying Grace
We Are No WeaversWho Write Today
It Foils Their Art
The rich history of poetry in and around Ulster is featured in Darran Anderson's article "The Poetry of Rural Ulster (1)" which is online at the Culture Northern Ireland site. In the article, Anderson mentions the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh, John Hewitt and Seamus Heaney. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of that article:
Rural Ulster is a place mapped in poetry. From the Bardic songs of Gaelic times to the weaver ballads of the Scottish planters, it is an area immortalised in words. Many poets have turned to the countryside for inspiration and yet there is no universal theme to this place. The vast wealth of rural poetry has only one thing in common and that is its diversity. For, like the poets who write of it, rural Ulster is a multitude of things.
Read the full article here. Enjoy!


Maire Ni Riocaird said...

Sorry, I couldn't activate any of the links.

It's a great wee article.

Thanks for the links

Andrew Christ said...

Maire - thanks for the heads-up. I'll see if Thomas knows what's going on.

Tomas O Carthaigh said...

Im sorting it as we speak!!!