The Belfast Branch

Author: John McIntyre

Date: 1996

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 4 Spring 1996

The Belfast Branch meetings of the Ulster-Scotch Leid Societie are held on the first Wednesday of each month at 8.00 pm in the Belvoir Activity Centre. Meetings take the form of a language class, half of which is spent studying Ulster-Scots literature and the other half studying vocabulary and grammar. The ‘other’ half of the time is just good crack.

In our recent meetings we have studied some of the poetry of James Orr of Ballycarry and Samuel Thomson of Carngranny near Templepatrick. At our meeting of 3 April the class examined Thomson’s poem “Simkin”. If you browse through the notes we made at this class about this one poem, you will get a feel for how useful the meetings are to all of us with an interest in Ulster-Scots.


1.Auld Sim was fam’d for prolix prayers(tedious, complicated)
And tuneful holy graces;(droning)
Weel ken’d at markets, mills and fairs,(well known)
And ither public places.
2.A holy man — his conscience ne’er
Wad suffer him to curse;(would)
But saftly whisper’d in his ear,
That he might jockey horse.(deal, trade [his horse])
3.He held it as a crying sin(scandalous)
At hame, or onie place,(home/any)
To tak a morsel, thick or thin,(take)
Without a formal grace.
4.This favorite o’ Heaven ae day,(one)
To a neighbouring fair wad gang:—(go)
Favourite of Heaven, did I say?
Gude faith I’m aiblins wrang.(good/possibly, perhaps)
5.Howe’er his Bawsay to the fair,old horse (pet name)
Took crafty, sleekit Sim:(sly, cunning)
A noble naig he did declare,
But didna answer him.(didn’t suit)
6.Soon up there comes a jockey chiel,(horse-dealing man)
Sim like a Levite winked;(clergyman became corrupted)
He tried the horse and lik’d him weel,
And soon a bargain clinked.(clenched)
7.Quoth Sim — “although I say’t mysel,(said)
I’m reckon’d something clever ay;(always)
We’ll step in here an tak a gill,(measure of drink)
An’ then yese get delivery.”(you shall)
8.They call’d a gill, ’twas quickly there,
The chiel gets’t in his nieve,(lad/fist)
When Simkin, with a holy air,
Says, ‘stranger wi’ yer leave.’(by)
9.Thrice he gov’d up niest the roof,(gazed/towards)
As aften shook his head,
Then clos’d his ein, an’ rais’d his loof,(eyes/palm)
A holy man indeed!
10.The tricky callan, then, to keep(lad)
Frae laughin scarcely fit,(from/able)
Drank out the whiskey every seep,(dreg)
And down the bicker set.(drinking-cup)
11.The grace being done, the fellow leugh,(laughed)
The whiskey was away!
To pray, quoth he, is not eneugh,(said)
Hereafter watch and pray.
12.Delivery gien — they part aff han,(given/abruptly)
So hame our nibour wan’ers:
Niest morn the o’erseen fellow fan’(next/outwitted/found)
His gelding had the glan’ers!glanders - a horse disease
13.Neglecting to ask Simkin’s name,
He’s in an eirie study:(terrible fix)
At length in passion aff he came,
Damning the praying body!
14.At lang and length he found the place,
Our Simkin’s habitation;
Where entering in he kend his face,(recognised)
And baul’d aloud — damnation!
15.Ye old infernal hound of hell!
Ye hypocrite deceiver!
A gland’red horse to me to sell —
Swith the money up deliver.(quickly)
16.‘Hooly,’ quo Simkin, unco slee,(‘Just wait’/said/very slyly)
Gie o’er sic sinfu’ jargon;(stop such)
Nae money ye shall get frae me —(no/from)
A bargain’s ay a bargain.(always)

NOTES: This poem was written by Samuel Thomson, the ‘Bard of Carngranny’, near Templepatrick, County Antrim, in the 1790s. It is reminiscent of Burns’s ‘Holy Willie’, and is a humorous account of an incident where a hypocritical religious zealot tried to cheat an equally devious young twister over the sale of a horse (the 18th century equivalent of a second-hand car deal). Thomson’s humour is a nice twist on the religious hypocrisy of his day.

Verse 1:

Auld Sim — Sim, Simmie and Simkin are all Scots diminutives of the personal name Simon. However, ‘Auld Sim’ was also the Scots equivalent of ‘Old Nick’, ie the devil.

tuneful — In Scots this can mean either ‘speaking with pauses that don’t make sense with what is being said’, or ‘with strength and feeling’.

Verse 2:

jockey — In Scots a ‘jockey’ can mean a horse-dealer, or any sort of tramp-like trader. Thomson’s use of ‘jockey’ as a verb meaning to deal or sell his horse is otherwise unrecorded in Scots.

Verse 3:

crying — disgraceful, scandalous. In English, the only similar usage is with the phrase ‘crying shame’.

Verse 5:

Bawsey — An affectionate name for a horse, can be used to mean any horse, as ‘a Neddy’ might be for a donkey.

Verse 6:

Levite — a contemptuous term for a clergyman, similar in meaning and derivation to ‘Scribes and Pharisees’.

winked — In Scots ‘winkit’ milk is turned sour. Here the meaning is corrupted or turned ‘bad’.

clinked — clenched. The meaning of literally gripping or clenching something is the only usage to be found in the Scots Dictionaries.

Verse 7:

Quoth — said. Usually ‘quo’ or ‘qo’ in Ulster-Scots.

yese - you shall. Rare in Ulster-Scots to find any use of ‘shall’ rather than ‘will’.

Verse 8:

nieve — fist. Now ‘nievefu’ (fistful) is the most common usage of this word in Ulster-Scots.

wi’ — by. An interesting example of the common substitution of ‘wi’ for English ‘by’.

Verse 9:

gov’d — gazed, looked intensely at

neist — next, towards

ein — eyes. The more usual spelling is of course ‘een’.

Anyone interested in joining the branch and its classes is welcome. The Belvoir Activity Centre is opposite Belvoir Primary School. For further information contact either;

Isobel McCulloch Tel: xxxx or John McIntyre Tel: xxxx

John McIntyre



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