‘A Couple of Ballads’ Excerpt

One of our Scottish members, T S Law of Newarthill has not only sent the Ulster-Scots Language Society his best wishes, but also the following extract from his work called “A Couple of Ballads” for publication with his permission. The complete work is a personal account of some of his early life after his move from Ulster to Scotland many years ago. The idea of the complete story is loosely based around the two ballads of “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Phil the Fluter’s Ball”.

“… What once was there in that Ulster of our young manhood, however, was absorbed as quietly in the mind as casually unnoticed, but surely melled in with what has always been my awareness of Ireland and interest in its people, history, myths and customs. Something of the atmosphere of the place was to come together with those in my mind one day when I remembered a story told by an old lady in Newarthill. She was a Mrs Henderson, an Ulsterwoman and the wife of an Ulsterman, one Robert Henderson who was better known to all of us in our youth and maturity as Rab, usually Big Rab, for he was a tall man.

… In our young years, our families had gone about each other’s houses. Mrs Henderson still had the Ulster twang of her childhood on her tongue, and it was from her that I heard the following story of something she had known in her childhood: we are going back now to well over a hundred years ago. In later years, when I was a young man myself in Ulster, sometimes I would look around me, wondering where she had lived there and where her story had centred. In the way of such matters, I never did think to enquire where she had come from and when. This is another instance of the casualness of youth that spoke a song to a friend but did not think to remember his name. But I do know the name of Mrs Henderson, who told the story that I was to put into the language of those among whom she had come to live. And if I were an artist, I know I could draw her face as I knew it when I was bairn sitting beside her fireplace in High Street, Newarthill. When those who knew her read the following story (though there cannot be many such alive now) they will recognise a few of the Ulster-Scots variations of language such as might have been used in such a situation …”


I mynd a yince-upon-a-tyme

that seemed ilk “Listen for the lave”,

I heard, asyde the ingle o a fyre

ableeze lik puit a lowe

athin the winter baens,

an auld bit wyfie was an Ulster bodie

tell o a tyme that was

lik yince-upon-anither-tyme-o-listen,

whuin she was a bairnie lyke masel

the middis o the nyneteenth centurie.

Thon was a tyme like mind it was

the neebor o the nicht that I

masel hae mynd o, lyke for aye,

yae Ulster nicht that was

athin the kintrisyde

lik yonner yont the middis o oor kennin,

a place an tyme o snaw

cauld blawin snell as puit a baen o airn

athin ilk finger, wi haurd yce

craik-craikelin athin the ilka jynt.

Thon wyfie said, wi een faur yont the tellin,

that in yon Ulster nicht

she sat upon the fender

bi ingle lowe, her faimlie roondaboot

lik crack in comfort,

whuin thare it was, lik yince

becam anither yin,

then three lik “Listen, hear me”,

a chap, chap, chap upon the doore,

abuin the kynlie clash o faimlie din.

“Wheesht!” said the mither til her wheen o childer,

and haed her man attend

the doore; an whuin it aipent,

a blast o smaa snaw poothered ben the hoose.

Taen tent the faither,

for thare fornent him, stuid

a paerlik kinna chiel

whoe speired a bittock waarmin

afore the fyre, fair baet was he,

an maerra-cauld as lyke tae brekk in twoe.

In cam the craitur, daudin snaw

aroond him lyke the blast ootbye,

syne pecht an splootert oot

his thanks fornent the bleeze,

the-tyme the wyfie o the hoose

gaed back an furrit maskin tea

wuid gie the fuhlla some bit heat

athin the baens wuid thowe a tingle.

Syne thare were buttert scones as licht

as seemed tae float abuin the flet,

no yin as daichie as

play dunt athin the wame;

thick farrels tae, wi muckle whangs

o kebbock suin wuid puit a creesh

o waarmth athin the ilka ynst,

ben kist, an thru the haill baen-maerra.

Aa duin that cood be duin

lik naething mair for daein

but speir awo tho no ower speirie,

and aathing ettent wi the naething mair

tae chowe but rift it quaetlik,

the mither wunnert

juist whit the paer sowl was adae

abraid in sic a nicht

no fit for cheeties yont the doore-jamb?

An shair enyeuch, an that’s

lik listen for the aunswer,

they heard for startlement the fuhlla

say that it happent-juist the cauld was sair

as bye the hoose he traikt

alang wi his ould mither

whoe still was ootbye in the cauld,

bi this timm happit ower

as whyte as dacentlyke wi snawflakes.

“Man,” said the faither o the hoose,

“Man, dear, ye cannae leave

yer mither oot in siccan waather!

Bring the paer bodie ben

an let her hae a waarm

afore the fyre, for Heeven’s sake!

She’ll be as bravelie as yersel

nae tyme avaa. Man, bring her til the ingle!”

“She’s faur ower cauld tae feel the heat,”

said thon chiel, gannin furth.

“She’s ooten here athin a barra.

I’m hurlin her awo

for yirdin.” And amang

the snaw gaed he, as maerra-het

as face the blast an byde his wheesht

for better days micht see him dee in suimmer.

T S Law



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