The following lines do not apply so much to the Cullybackey of to-day (1913) as to the village of say, twenty years ago, as it appeared to the boy of that period.
Great men have sung of mighty deeds,
And divers lands of fair renown;
I’ll choose as meet a humbler theme,
I’ll sing of Cullybackey town.
My native village which is built
Upon the verdant banks of Maine,
Shall claim my wandering thoughts to-night
In boyhood’s rude poetic strain.
Our village is a famous place
For rich and philanthropic dames,
For poets, peats and Indian meal,
For public works and manly games;
Its name they say most surely means
A corner, hence the “Cully” part,
And “Backey” Bacchus, god of wine
Name grateful to the tippler’s heart.
But others hold the meaning is
“The corner of the Beeches fair,”
The “Lame dogs Leap,” the “Lame man’s Nook,”
So choose whiche’er you most prefer,
For as for me, one import clear
Prevails, though others fill a tome,
Old Cullybackey, ever dear
Means simply, plainly, “Home sweet home.”
Besides, we have the “Shillin’ Hill,”
Where Shillin’s flew as thick as dust,
In good old days of long ago,
That seem so funny now to us;
Some other hills are round about,
Far more indeed than one could count,
As we live near a hilly place
That’s known to fame as Hill(y)mount.
Our river is alive with fish;
The Maine in fact where’eryou turn
‘S a current grand, with many a branch
Like Jenny Wylie’s ancient burn;
Along the river’s winding banks
There grows the noble forest tree,
Where hazel nuts are large and sweet
And black crows join in melody.
Our mountains do not pierce the clouds,
Though pierced themselves by spade and plough;
The chief are the Boydshill highlands,
And Hunter’s famous “Sentry Knowe,”
These hills are clad with whins and grass,
Though they have sported other coats;
That day the Orange music sounds,
And the bright Orange standard floats.
Beyond the river, from the bridge
North-eastward goes a pleasant road,
A highway this for Hillmount folk
And snowy linen – load on load;
The shady wood hangs over it,
The water rushes far below;
With water, hill, and spreading tree,
It forms the nicest walk, I know.
And hero on certain summer days
A rare unusual sight is seen,
The Orange banners, one and all,
Bow low before the waving green.
Below the bridge is “Woods’ bank,”
A bank of woods and rabbit holes,
Round this bank sweeps the lovely Maine,
While nigh the sportsman bats and bowls.
‘Tis here you’ll view the river in its might,
And when in flood it is a wondrous sight;
The iron clay is coming down amain,
The big logs float far on the “Holmy” plain.
The mighty floods o’er “carry” backs do roar,
The river takes the hillsides for a shore,
Oh may the day arrive e’er time shall fail,
When merchant vessels up the Maine shall sail.
That happy day for us when there shall be
Docks at the Mill, at Ballclose a quay,
And when our trouts and “sticklebacks” shall yield
An income greater far than farm or field.
When our associations gaun a trip,
Shall patronise a Cullybackey shop,
And for three farthings or a penny, steam
From source to mouth of this most pleasant stream.
We boast some buildings of great fame,
Of great size, height, antiquity,
I’m sure you wouldn’t see the same
From Lagan river to the Lee;
We have a fine cathedral church,
It’s spire towering up so high,
And “Cuningham Memorial,”
High o’er the portal, meets the eye.
The weather cock, that’s perched above,
Although he never flaps nor crows,
Can set the wings to suit the wind,
No matter how it turns or blows;
Twelve years ago this church was built (1)
On ancient “abbey” ground it stands,
A Gothic building, though it is
The work of skilful Irish hands.
Our bridge at this place, massive, strong,
The handiwork of Dan McNeill,
Spans the Maine river straight and true
To where, within a narrow pale,
Stands the “United” meeting-house,
Where graves and headstones all around
Should emphasise with mighty power
The sermons and their doctrines sound.
The Covenanters, worthy still
Of that dear-bought and honoured name,
In a neat grey-walled building seek
God’s praises humbly to proclaim;
South of the village stands this church,
A country churchyard girds it round,
Where undisturbed, the ancients rest
In dust beneath each burial mound.
The chapel, near this, stands mid trees,
Ensconced in its own pleasant green,
Where week by week the faithful meet
To bow before the altar screen;
Behind it lies the olden road,
Disused, sequestered, ever fine,
While runs in front, with traffic thronged,
The modern Ballymena line.
The schoolhouse stands at five road ends,
To us it was the school of schools,
Where we cried, “Betty at the rods”
And had great fun with April fools;
It is indeed a worthy place,
And has been ruled by worthy men
By Craig and Logan Orr and Smyth,
And ladies, skilled with tongue and pen.
Throughout the country side our school
Has near the status of a college,
Where children come from near and far
For many different kinds of knowledge.
Reading, writing, arithmetic,
Spelling, parsing, Scripture, science,
Algebra, Euclid, Latin roots,
Painful hints on self-reliance.
Shooting marbles, spinning “peeries,”
Pitching buttons and playing ball,
Sometimes “mitching” when the hunters
Passed us on their charges tall;
Working hard to merit prizes,
Fighting each other on the road,
Kept our minds from getting rusty,
While our stock of knowledge “growed.”
Two fields away the station stands,
To which out railway travellers hie,
Where noisy trains of loaded wains,
Electric wires and “runs” run by;
No wonder it’s the prosperous place
Three Wisemans do their best to rise,
Whose master used to be a Purce,
And whose chief engineer is Wise.
Now for our habitations grand
Two stately palaces can tell
Above the river, full in view,
That we can lodge our clergy well;
Our magistrate, in Hillhead House,
Sits on a height as well as they,
While “Mr Moody’s o’ the Pun”
Gives good impressions out that way.
Our government offices,
One built for war and both for peace,
Comprise the P. O. savings bank
And a strong barrack for police;
Law courts and prisons are non est,
The hangman’s gallows we disown,
Our mountain dew is strong and good,
Wee stills and gaugers are unknown.
The barrack is our citadel,
Where loyal to the core,
There represents the British law
The garrison of four;
It’s “black hole” is the safest place
Within our village ground,
And many a wight has passed a night
Within its narrow bound.
Our public halls are numerous,
They number only three,
All works of art, all suitable,
As any you may see;
Our young men have a little hall,
But like them, it is young,
Where meets the Yl.M.C.L.and D. (2)
And Temperance versus Bung. (3)
Our real public meeting-place
Is up the “Shillin’ Hill,”
A Sabbath-school on Sabbath days,
On week days what you will,
For lectures, concerts, or “swarees,”
Held by no matter whom,
And big discussions ample space,
Find in the new Schoolroom.
When will the New Schoolroom be old?
Or will it ever be
An old school in a new room, is
A thing that puzzles me.
The Masons also have a Hall
By mason built of stone,
Whose “nummer auld” the poet took
And made it widely known.
A Hall of mysteries, secret rites
And jovial nights are there,
When Masons Free forgather, ‘neath
The Compass and the Square.
We have besides these public halls
Three cosy public houses,
In which by taking spirits down
A man his spirit rouses.
Our private houses are not new,
And if Cain built a city
I think with all my pen and ink
‘Twas the village of my ditty.
The Flood would do it little harm,
‘Tis founded on a rock;
The soot washed walls and roofs of straw
Are of an ancient stock.
As Main Street you meander down
These mansions you can view,
And see their well-kept, spacious lawns
From Royal Avenue.
Close upon Jenny Wylie’s burn
There lies the ancient Pound,
Where Billy drove the neighbour’s stirks
That in his grass he found.
It used to be a prison grim
For cattle, sheep and pigs
That had a fancy strong to graze
Upon their neighbour’s rigs.
Now its old walls are broken down,
Its area’s used for tilling,
And though it’s called the village pound
It’s hardly worth a shilling.
Our manufactures they are great,
Our tradesmen not a few,
For we can bleach your collar white
Or patch your “holey” shoe.
“Knights of the goose” we number two
None of them are Taylors.
Here Ballyclose can beat the world,
Her Taylors are “dalers!”
Our blacksmiths, when we reckon three,
Disown the name of Smyth,
Their sounding blows are never struck
To hurt each other with.
Though all use coal upon the forge,
Only one, an old man,
Strange as the face may well appear
Bears the name of Coleman.
We have no Gas Commissioners
To make us pay for light,
Nor any fear of darkness, we,
When Sol is shining bright,
But good petroleum cheers our homes
While soundly sleeps the lark,
For no one seems to be afraid
To trust us in the dark.
Our Town Commissioners never try
To make us feel their power,
Our Board of Guardians never meets
To waste the precious hour.
So while each one his business minds,
And farmers mind their tillage,
We’ll live long lives with many joys
In our dear Native Village.
6th June 1913
(1) That is, twelve years previous to the date of the poem.
(2) Y.M.C.A. and Literary and Debating Society.
(3) Temperance Society