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Authors: Benedict Kiely

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For people who talk familiarly about the Loughshore there is only one lough in Ireland or anywhere else. Those who have the pleasure of living by Lough Erne will mention the name of the lough, but the hardy people who live by Lough
Neagh assume that there is One Supreme Lough and that everybody should know as much. The man who wrote about ‘Old Ardboe’ had no doubts on the matter:

Farewell my native green-clad hills,

Farewell my shamrock plains,

Ye verdant banks of sweet Lough Neagh,

Ye silvery winding streams.

Though far from home in green Tyrone

The flora oft I praise

That adorns you Killyclopy

Where I spent my boyhood days.

Shall I ever see those valleys

Where in boyhood days I roved,

Or wander in those June green woods

With friends I dearly loved?

Shall I no more by Lough Neagh’s shore

E’er pass the summer day,

Or hear again the lark’s sweet strain

Or the blackbird’s blithesome lay?

Shall I ever stray by the Washingbay

The wary trout to coy,

Or set my line on an evening fine

By the shores of green Mountjoy?

Will my oars ne’er rest on the wild wave crest,

Will I see the salmon play

While sailing o’er from Tyrone’s green shore

Bount for Antrim’s placid bay?

Shall I e’er behold Shane’s castle bold

Or look upon Massarene,

Will my cot ne’er land on the banks of the Bann,

Coney Island or Roskeen.

Will the autumn gale e’er fill my sail

Or the dim declining moon,

See me tempest-tossed on the shores of Doss

Or the raging bay of Toome.

Shall I ever rove by Belmont’s Grove

Or Carnan’s lofty hill,

Or hear again the fairy tale

Of the rath behind the hill?

Will the nightingale that charms the vale

By me be heard no more,

As I watch at eve the wild drake leave

For the bog of Sweet Dromore?

See where yon ancient structure lies,

Beneath the silent shore,

Where people tell saintly monks did dwell

In the penal days of yore,

And now upon the crumbling walls

The climbing ivies grow.

As alone I stray at the close of day

Through the sweet bogs of Ardboe.

My friends they have in America

All the heart of man desires,

Their pockets filled with dollar bills

And dressed in grand attire.

But they’d give it all for one country ball

Beside the old hearth stone,

Of a cottage near Lough Neagh, so dear,

Our own sweet Irish home.

But I hope to gaze on your flowery braes

Ere seven long years come round

And hands to clasp in friendship’s grasp

Of those I left behind.

For you Ardboe my tears do flow

When I think and call to mind

My parents dear, my friends sincere,

And my comrades true and kind.

But since, alas! long years may pass

Still I toast that beauteous isle,

That short or long, o’er that land of song

The star of peace may shine,

May plenty bloom from Bann to Toome

And the shamrock verdant grow

Green o’er those graves by Lough Neagh’s waves

Near the Cross of old Ardboe.

Ballinderry is in the Land of the Loughshore and is mentioned in more than one poem as a place with a name so musical well deserves to be. Samuel Ferguson’s great ‘Lament for Thomas Davis’ begins at Ballinderry but moves on to embrace all of Ireland and many, many years.

I walked through Ballinderry in the spring-time,

When the bud was on the tree;

And I said, in every fresh-ploughed field beholding

The sowers striding free,

Scattering broadside forth the corn in golden plenty

On the quick seed-clasping soil

‘Even such, this day, among the fresh-stirred hearts of Erin,

Thomas Davis, is thy toil!’

I sat by Ballyshannon in the summer,

And saw the salmon leap;

And I said, as I beheld the gallant creatures

Spring glittering from the deep,

Through the spray, and through the prone heaps striving onward

To the calm clear streams above,

‘So seekest thou thy native founts of freedom, Thomas Davis,

In thy brightness of strength and love!’

I stood on Derrybawn in the autumn,

And I heard the eagle call,

With a clangorous cry of wrath and lamentation

That filled the wide mountain hall,

O’er the bare deserted place of his plundered eyrie;

And I said as he screamed and soared,

‘So callest thou, thou wrathful soaring Thomas Davis,

For a nation’s rights restored!’

And alas! to think but now, and thou art lying,

Dear Davis, dead at thy mother’s knee;

And I, no mother near, on my own sick-bed,

That face on earth shall never see;

I may lie and try to feel that I am dreaming,

I may lie and try to say, ‘Thy will be done’ –

But a hundred such as I will never comfort Erin

For the loss of the noble son!

Young husbandman of Erin’s fruitful seed-time,

In the fresh track of danger’s plough!

Who will walk the heavy toilsome, perilous furrow

Girt with freedom’s seed-sheets now?

Who will banish with the wholesome crop of knowledge

The daunting weed and the bitter thorn,

Now that thou thyself art but a seed for hopeful planting

Against the Resurrection morn?

Young salmon of the flood-tide of freedom

That swells around Erin’s shore!

Thou wilt leap around their loud oppressive torrent

Of bigotry and hate no more;

Drawn downward by their prone material instinct,

Let them thunder on the rocks and foam –

Thou hast leapt, aspiring soul, to founts beyond their raging

Where troubled waters never come.

But I grieve not, Eagle of the empty eyrie,

That thy wrathful cry is still;

And that the songs alone of peaceful mourners

Are heard to-day on Erin’s hill;

Better far, if brothers’ war be destined for us

(God avert that horrid day, I pray),

That ere our hands be stained with slaughter fratricidal

Thy warm heart should be cold in clay.

But my trust is strong in God, Who made us brothers,

That He will not suffer their right hands

Which thou hast joined in holier rites than wedlock

To draw opposing brands.

Oh, many a tuneful tongue that thou mad’st vocal

Would lie cold and silent then;

And songless long once more, should often-widowed Erin

Mourn the loss of her brave young men.

Oh, brave young men, my love, my pride, my promise,

’Tis on you my hopes are set,

In manliness, in pride, in justice,

To make Erin a nation yet,

Self-respecting, self-relying, self-advancing,

In union or in severance, free and strong –

And if God grant this, then, under God, to Thomas Davis

Let the greater praise belong.

From Ballinderry to Baile-liosan is only a jump or a short flight over the water, or a run around the roads. When you get there you are in the world of that great poet Joseph Campbell, the Mountainy Singer:


TIS PRETTY TAE BE IN BAILE-LIOSAN

’Tis pretty tae be in Baile-liosan,

’Tis pretty tae be in green Magh-luan;

’Tis prettier tae be in Newtownbreda,

Beeking under the eaves in June.

The cummers are out wi’ their knitting and spinning,

The thrush sings frae his crib on the wa’,

And o’er the white road the clachan caddies

Play at their marlies and goaling-ba’.

O, fair are the fields o’ Baile-liosan,

And fair are the faes o’ green Magh-luan;

But fairer the flowers of Newtownbreda,

Wet wi’ dew in the eves o’ June.

’Tis pleasant tae saunter the clachan thoro’

When day sinks mellow o’er Dubhais Hill,

And feel their fragrance sae softly breathing

Frae croft and causey and window-sill.

O, brave are the haughs o’ Baile-liosan,

And brave are the halds o’ green Magh-luan;

But braver the hames o’ Newtownbreda,

Twined about wi’ the pinks o’ June.

And just as the face is sae kindly withouten,

The heart within is as guid as gold –

Wi’ new fair ballants and merry music,

And cracks cam’ down frae the days of old.

’Tis pretty tae be in Baile-liosan,

’Tis pretty tae be in green Magh-luan;

’Tis prettier tae be in Newtownbreda,

Beeking under the eaves in June.

The cummers are out wi’ their knitting and spinning,

The thrush sings frae his crib on the wa’,

And o’er the white road the clachan caddies

Play at their marlies and goaling-ba’.

We are travelling too fast; we must pay a decorous farewell to my native town and to another lough which lies close to it. Nobody quite knows who wrote this first poem or song.

SWEET OMAGH TOWN

Ah! from proud Dungannon to Ballyshannon

And from Cullyhanna to Old Ardboe

I’ve roused and rambled, caroused and gambled

Where songs did thunder and whiskey flow.

It’s light and airy I’ve tramped through Derry

And to Portaferry in the County Down

But with all my raking and undertaking

My heart was aching for sweet Omagh Town.

When life grew weary, aye, and I grew dreary

I set sail for England from Derry Quay

And when I landed, sure ’twas fate commanded

That I to London should make my way

Where many a gay night from dark to daylight

I spent with people of high renown

But with all their splendour and heaps to spend sure

My heart was empty for sweet Omagh Town.

Then further going my wild oats sowing

To New York City I crossed the sea

Where congregations of rich relations

Stood on the harbour to welcome me

In grand apparel like Duke or Earl

They tried to raise me with sword and crown

But with all their glamour and uproarious manner

My lips would stammer – sweet Omagh Town.

And when life is over and I shall hover

Above the gates where Saint Peter stands

And he shall call me for to install me

Among the saints in those golden lands

And I shall answer ‘I’m sure ’tis grand sir

For to play the harp and to wear the crown

But I, being humble, sure I’ll never grumble

If Heaven’s as charming as sweet Omagh Town.’

That other lough, small and unpretentious, a couple of miles from the town is called, modestly, Lough Muck. But the name is not, by any means, intended to lower it to the level of a mudbath. It was fine to swim in, and the best place in the world in which to catch perch. The original name was, needless to say, Loch na Muice, the Lake of the Pig, that mythological pig which, slumbering on the enchanted ocean, misled the Milesians.

Lough Muck lay slumbering there, like the monstrous pig, but doing no harm to anybody. A relative of mine, however, considered calmly that it brought enchantment to all who looked on it. He was a man called Frank McCrory, a Shavian, a Wellsian, and a man of music who could play everything from the ‘cello to the ocarina. In his youth (about 1919) he had even been a famous footballer. He wrote songs for the neighbourhood and he worked up this fantasy about two boys from the town who had been drinking a bit, wandered off and were bemused by the enchanted lake …

THE TREACHEROUS WAVES OF LOUGHMUCK

Me and Andy one ev’nin were strollin’

As the sun was beginning to set

And when just outside Drumragh new graveyard

A young Loughmuck sailor we met.

He brought us along to his liner

That was breasting the waves like a duck

And that’s how we started our ill-fated cruise

On the treacherous waves of Loughmuck.

(Repeat last two lines for chorus)

As our ship glided over the water

We all gazed at the landscape we knew

First we passed Clanabogan’s big lighthouse

Then the Pigeon Top came into view.

But alas as we sped o’er those waters

Soon we all were with horror dumbstruck

For without any warning a big storm arose

On the treacherous waves of Loughmuck.

The storm came on with thunder and lightning

And the big waves lashed mountains high

Our ship was tossed hither and thither

Then black darkness came over the sky.

The passengers shrieked out in terror

As our ship Aughadulla rock struck,

Me and Andy was all that was saved from the wreck

On the treacherous waves of Loughmuck.

People talk of the great Loch Ness monster

And to see it they come young and old

But the monsters we saw that wild evenin’

Leave the Loch Ness boy out in the cold.

Sharks, sea-lions, whales, alligators

With mouths that could swallow a truck

Oh the sights that we saw as we waited for death

On the treacherous waves of Loughmuck.

There we were like two Robinson Crusoes

Miles away from Fireagh Orange Hall

Though we starved on that rock for a fortnight

Not a ship ever came within call.

At last we decided to swim it

Though we don’t like to brag of our pluck

After swimmin’ for two days we reached Creevan Bay

On the treacherous waves of Loughmuck.

There we lay on that beach quite exhausted

Till a man with a big dog drew near

He shouted out, ‘Hi, clear away out of that.

’Faith I want no drunk Omey boys here!’

He said we’d been drinkin’ and sleepin’

Since the clock in his parlour four struck

And that was the end of our ill-fated cruise

On the treacherous waves of Loughmuck.

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