The Glaur

Author: John A. Oliver

Date: 1994

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 2 Spring 1994

The following short story, set in the late 1770s, is taken from John A Oliver’s book Girl, Name Forgotten … stories from seven centuries of family history (published by Littlewood Press, 1991), and is reproduced here by permission of the author. It contains dialogue written in the north Londonderry dialect of Ulster-Scots found along the Magilligan foreshore of Lough Foyle. We hope to bring further abstracts from Dr Oliver’s intriguing and well-researched book in future issues of Ullans.

“What’s that ye’re dae’n, Meta? Ye’ll be destroyin yersel entirely, so ye will. If ye hauch ony mair on that bit o glass ye’ll be stairtin tae skelly.”

“I’ve got a shilcorn an I’m trying tae dig it oot.”

“Ye’ll mak a quare midden o yer face, for ye’ll end up wi a beelin couter, I’m tellin ye.”

“I’m ga’in tae tak a race up tae the Big Drain Brig the nicht an I cannae face the ither cutties wi a big black shilcorn on me neb.”

“An what are you fossickin for Minnie?”

“I’m lukin for the reddin comb, Ma. I’m ga’in wi her tae the Brig. Where’s the comb, Ma?”

“It’s thonder, by the chimbley, daughter. It’s fell aff the salt box an is lyin undher the oul thraw-heuk. But what dae ye be needin a comb for?”

“My hair’s a fanked, so it is. I maun redd it oot.”

“An who’ll be lukin at a lass like you, wud ye tell me?”

“There’ll be a lot o the lads at the Brig. A the lasses dae their hair up. I’m quare an hungry, Ma, I want somethin tae ate.”

Looking at her two big girls Tillie Shearer could not help noticing, as she always did, how alike they were in appearance even if they got on badly together: plump and well-covered, fair, blue-eyed, pink-cheeked with broad open countenance. Like all the Shearers they’ll be good breeders, Tillie assured herself. Meta claimed to be worried by the hint of red in her hair but Tillie knew it was only to be expected; it came from her side; most of the Conns were red. It gave a girl something extra, Tillie thought.

Tillie went on: “I’m still waitin for yer Da and Jamie tae come back. I’m startin tae wonder what’s kapin them.”

“What hae ye got for us tae ate, Ma?

“Naethin, Meta, naethin but poundies. That’s a. Nae kitchen.”

“That’ll be a wersh bite.”

“Yous can throw in a gropin o scallions.”

“I hate scallions. They make me quae-wake. Is there nae rabbit?”

Isn’t it aboot time yous gig [big?] girls were makin the meals yersels? Luk oot the door. I seen wee Andy deukin past. He’s yer rabbit-ketcher. His afeerd tae come in. Andy!” and she let a big gulder out of her “Andy, did ye ketch mony rabbits, son?”

“Naw, nane, Ma. I cannae dae it. An this pup Prince is nae help. It taks Jamie an the collie bitch. Jamie’s great at the ketchin. I nearly ketched wan, but.”

At that their neighbour from over the march fence, Edward Clyde, came in the door with a heavy bucket in his hand.

“Guid day tae yous a. Here’s a wheen o flukes for yer dinner.” There was never a more welcome caller than Edward at any time. Everyone crowded round. Edward could be counted on to be generous with whatever he had. “Can ye spare them? There’s a lot in that bucket. Don’t ye need them for sellin?” And so on flowed the simple questions.

“I hae eneuch” he answered in his slow friendly speech. “I hae eneuch, bairns. We brought in a gran ketch this mornin. The Moville men werenae oot. I allow it’s some class o a holy day in their kirk — so we had baith the nearder bank an the furder bank tae owersels. We had Lough Foyle tae owersels last nicht, ye might say. We had lashins and lavins — mair nor Martha Forebis wud tak frae us for his place. Ony way, these are naethin but the drachlins, so yous are welcome to tae the lot,” he added in his self-deprecatory style. But everyone, even the children, could see through his harmless bla-flum, for these were perfect specimens of fully-grown flounders.

“Where’s yer man, Tillie?”

“He’s awa up on the turf mountain wi Jamie. This’ll be their first draw o the turf this saison. It’ll be guid on dry after these wheen o days o fine weather, but I doubt they’ve left it a bit late. I’m afeerd this weather’ll no last. I cud hear the souch o the waves an the Back Strand the day, an that’s aye a bad sign. When we get the turf I’ll see that ye get a wheen o the best. Edward, forenenst the flukes.”

“There’s nae need tae be calculatin that way Tillie. But I admit I cud be dae’n wi an armful o guid hard black peats. I hae naethin left frae last year but a clatter o oul fozie clods. Maybe Jamie cud bring some ower wan avenin.”

“Tam hasnae brought me ony sweeties the day. Where’s Tam? What’s kapin him?” This was the Granny from the fireside.

“What are ye skraikin aboot noo, oul woman? Dinnae be sae daft. Tam’s been awa for years an years in Americay. Ye’re dotin again, Granny. Oor men ought tae be here noo, I dinnae ken what’s holdin them. They borrowed Canice O’Cahan’s new scotch cairt — it’s handier an quicker nor oors. Minnie, Minnie! What are ye dae’in? Put a hippin on that wean, wud ye, like a guid lass, she’s ga’in tae kak again. She’s got the scour, quick, daughter. Ye can see for yersel that’s she’s dwammie. She’s sickenin for somethin.”

“There’s a lot of wrack on the foreshore”, said Edward, disregarding that little domestic interruption. “It luks the best o stuff. Yous cud be rakin it up for Jamie and yer Da tae cairt back tae the midden. Meta, Minnie yous are a pair o sonsie big weemen noo. That’s somethin useful yous cud be dae’in for yer Da. I cud show yous the handiest way tae stairt, wi a rake an a graip.”

“She’s nae guid at ony class o work. She’s a useless big gamphrel, so she is. I wudnae work alangside her.”

“But ye’d traipse up tae the big Drain Brig behind me, fast eneuch, wudn’t ye?”

“That’s different, but. I like workin wi Jamie but I hae wrought in the

harvestfield wi her an she’s a fouter. An she’s clootie, forby.”

“She’s aye gettin in my road, so she is.” giving her sister a dunt.

“Is it naw time yet for my breakfast?” came from Granny in her corner.

“Granny, dear, ye’re wrang in the heed. It’s far past middle-day. Meta, warm up some o them brochan an gae them tae yer Granny in a sup o milk. Shoosh, it’s that ould mangy cat again. She has her heid in the milk. Shoosh, awa wi ye! Luk, weans, the pissmouls is in again. Meta, Minnie, Mary, whatever yer name is, get the whisk an sweep them oot. I cannae stand them in the hoose. They give ye hives, so they dae.”

“Far waur nor the pissmouls” said Minnie as she advanced on the ants. “The clocks is back. They’re climmin up the wa’s.”

“Aye that’s a terrible bad sign” responded Tillie. “Get them oot! Get them oot!”

“Did I see yous the ither avenin, childer trying tae lep ower the sheugh?” asked Edward in his friendly, teasing way. “I happened tae be dandherin ower tae a ceilidh in the Colquhouns an the Buchanans — we’re a freends throughither, ye ken — an I was keekin at ye through the benweeds and the big bracken. Yous werenae makin a guid job o it, were yous? Did wan o yous fa in?”

“That was me”, confessed Andy. “I nearly lept it, but the broo o that Drumahorgan sheugh is higher on the wan side nor the ither. Jamie can lep it. Jamie’s great at leppin, an he’s larnin the collie bitch tae lep, forby, baith ways, so he is.”

“I maun be gettin hame tae my ain fireside and mak mysel a bite an a sup,” Edward announced modestly.

Tillie rose, folding her arms and convoyed him as far as the sally bushes by the stack-garden.

“That’s a lovely avenin”, said Edward self-consciously as they walked slowly along. “Jist luk at that September sun ga’in doon ower Donegal, shinin aff the sandy hills and the ripenin barley. “Count yer mony blessings, name them wan by wan’ I say to mysel on an avenin like this, Tillie.”

Tillie paid no attention to the scenic beauties. “Jamie’s growin up to be a grand lad, Edward. He’s gettin more an more like you every day.”

“I’m glad, Tillie, I’m glad. I know ye’re mighty proud o’ him.”

“An Master Morrison tells us that Jamie’s a gran scholar, forby — the smairtest scholar he ivver taught in the Margymonaghan school.”

“I’m glad, Tillie, I’m glad. I’m terrible glad. I’d like Jamie tae come on the boat wi us. Jacob an me, we cud be dae’in wi anither pair o hans. I cud larn him the fishing. It’s a hard life on a lonely wan but it’s a gran way o livin wi nature, wi the sky an the stars on the tides and the currents, livin close tae God himsel. A gran life.”

“Joe’s no larnin him muckle at the fairmin. Joe’s nae fairmer. It was wrang o him tae bide on the fairm. He’d a been far better at the schoolteachin or the claerkin. This fairm’s ga’in tae rack an ruin. Luk at thon field o’barley ower the sheugh an the big field o’ oats beyont the sannyhole. The barley’s mair than ripe and Joe hasnae aven stairted tae cut it. An when he daes stairt, he’ll be hackin at it wi a wee bill-heuk nae bigger nor yer han. He hasnae got a scythe. An there’s Alec McCracken wi wan o them new reapers. I allow that’s what they ca them. But I nivver mistake mysel. I jist say tae mysel that Tam Shearer wud hae been better tae bide on the fairm here instead o emigratin. But he thought it was up to him tae laive the place for his brother an mak a new life for hissel in the new world.”

“I ken, I ken”, said Edward soothingly. “Tam wanted tae be upsides wi the ither lads that were emigratin at that time. The Meenister was tellin me a while back that half the lads in oor kirk went in them ten years or so — he has been reckonin it oot tae tell the Presbytery.”

Changing her tone and stance abruptly Tillie suddenly said: “I can hear the cairt comin noo. It makes a big brattle comin ower the bit o stoney causey at Joshua McCracken’s place. Guidbye Edward.”

“Guidbye, Tillie.”

Across the flat treeless plain of Magilligan a horse and cart could be seen from a far distance.

“I can see my Da but I cannae see Jamie,” Meta called from where she stood on a small dung-hill.

“He maistly runs alangside.”

“The cairt’s empty. There’s nae peats in it.”

“Somethin’s wrang. Good God in Heaven, somethin’s wrang.”

“Where’s Jamie? Where’s my wee Jamie? Joe, what’s wrang? Where’s Jamie?”

Joe walked over and hugged Tillie close to him, close and long. He could hardly get the words out and yet he stumbled on, blurting out one bit of his story after another.

“You’ve been drinkin, Joe. I can smell it aff ye, so I can. What hae ye been dae’in?”

“He’s gone, Tillie. Jamie’s gone. He was drownded in a bog hole. I didnae richt see what happened. I was awa frae oor bink — just for a wee minute — talkin tae Willie Doherty’s wans up on the higher ground where their new bink is an I was pointin oot the hills o Scotland tae them — they ken naethin, them Doherty boys, — Kintyre, Islay, the Paps o Jura. Ye see, there was a bit o north in the wind, Tillie, an the air was terrible clear an…”

“What happened, man, what happened. Tell me quick.”

“I cudnae help it, Tillie, I swear tae ye I cud nae help it. Jamie was larnin the collie bitch tae lep over the bog water on tae the next bink. It seems it was boste and caved in. Jamie stummled. The dogue got awa.”

Meta and Minnie fell silent as they saw their brother’s lifeless body on the floor of the empty cart, with a couple of bags thrown over it.

“Jamie sank intae the bog hole, the deepest hole in oor moss, frae wan en tae the ither. He was sprauchlin somethin terrible when we got there. He got stuck in the black glaur. I did my best, Tillie, but I cudnae pull him oot. The black water closed ower his heid, Tillie I’m tellin ye, it tuk ten men, at the hinneren, the Quigleys and the McLoughlins an the Doherty boys, wi spades an ropes an planks, tae dig Jamie’s wee body oot o the glaur.”

John A Oliver



The Ulster-Scots Academy has been an integral part of the Ulster-Scots Language Society since 1993. The name "Ulster-Scots Academy" is registered to the USLS with the Intellectual Property Office.

Ulster Scots Academy


A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


The Ulster-Scots Academy is currently working on the digitisation of Dr Philip Robinson's seminal Ulster-Scots Grammar and the English/Ulster-Scots part (with circa 10,000 entries) of a two-way historical dictionary of Ulster-Scots. These projects are planned to be completed and available on the site in 2016.



This site is being developed on a purely voluntary basis by the Ulster-Scots Language Society at no cost to the taxpayer. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

This site is being developed by the Ulster-Scots Language Society (Charity No. XN89678) without external financial assistance. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

(Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy group)