James Orr

Life
1770-1816 (‘Bard of Ballycarry’), a ‘weaver poet’ and author of “The Irishman”; b. Broad Island, Co. Antrim, approached by bridge at lower end of Islandmagee, and site of first Presbyterian ministry in Ireland, 1613; became United Irishman, and fought in Battle of Antrim; contrib. The Northern Star, his poems being collected in 1804; after the battle of Antrim surrendered and imprisoned some time; freeded on condition of exile to America; ‘Song of an Exile’; returned after some years, depressed; d. 24 April 1816. Poems, with sketch of life (1817). CAB ODNB PI DIB DIW DIL RAF DBIV FDA OCIL

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Criticism
  • A. McDowell, The Life of J.O. (Belfast 1817);
  • [q. auth.], Life [Northern Leaders ser.] (Dublin: Maunsel 1916);
  • W. J. Fitzpatrick, ‘James Orr, the Patriot Poet of Ballycarry’, in Irish Weekly (4 April 1970 [recte ?1870]), p.6;
  • Linde Connolly, ‘Attitudes to Life and Death in the Poetry of James Orr: An Eighteenth Century Ulster Weaver’, in Ulster Folklore, 31 (1985), pp.1-12;
  • Donal Harman Akenson & W. H. Crawford , Local Poets and Social History: James Orr, Bard of Ballycarry (Belfast: Public Rec. Off. NI 1977) [vii, 130pp; bibl, p.115-19, index; pbk];
  • P. S. Robinson, ‘Frae Ilka Neuk the Spunkies Staucher: The Country Rhymes of James Orr, the Bard of Ballycarry’ (Bangor: Pretani Press 1992).
  • Carol Baraniuk, ‘The Leid, the Pratoe and the Buik: Northern Cultural Markers in the Works of James Orr’, in Affecting Irishness: Negotiating Cultural Identity Within and Beyond the Nation, ed. James P. Byrne, Padraig Kirwan & Michael O’Sullivan [Reimagining Ireland., Vol. 2] (Oxford, et al. loc. Peter Lang 2009), q.pp.
See also R. R. Madden, Literary Remains of the United Irishmen [premium source] and Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher and O'Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), as infra.

 

Commentary
John Hewitt: ‘There is in the lines the plain statement so phrased to contain not the glitter and fizzle of rhetoric, but the low-charged and steady glow which is the strength of much of the best English verse since Cooper’ ( Ulster Poets”, paper read to the Belfast Literary Society, Jan. 1950, p.18; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, p.11-13.)

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Quotations
Donegore Hill”: ‘The dew-draps wat the fields o’ braird / That soon the warhorse thortur’d; / And falds were op’d by monie a herd / Wha land ere night lay torture’d / Whan chiefls wha frudg’d to be sae tax’d / An tyth’d by rak-rent blauth’r, / Turn’d out en masse, as soon as axed- / An unco throughter squath’ry / Were we, that day. // While close-leagud crappies rais / d the hoards / O’ pikes, pike-shafts, forks, firelocks ..’. In the ensuing stanzas the volunteers show themselves relunctant to fight, ‘Repentant Painites at their prayers, / An’ dastards crousely craikin’ / Move on, heroic, to the wars / They meant na to partake in / . By stanza ten the battle the rebel army is in flight, ‘An half, alas! was fear’d to face / Auld Fogies, faps, or women’. ‘Come back, ye dastards! Can ye ought / Expect at your returnin’ / But wives an’ wenas stript, cattle hought, / An’ cot, an’ claughin’s burnin? / Na, haste ye hame; ye ken ye’ll’s scape, / Cause martial worth ye’re clear o; / the nine-tail’d cat, or choakin’ rape / Is maistly for some hero / On sic a day.’ The latter take the council of St. Paul, examine themselves, and make for home, where ‘What joy at hame our entrance gave!’, and in conclusion, ‘In trying times, maist folk, you’ll fin, / Will act like Donegore men / On onie day.’ ([Begins with Scots version of Psalm 78 v.9]; in Poems on Various Subjects, 1804; rep. 1935; quoted in Ivan Herbison, ‘Talking Scots: “Oor Ain Native Tung”’, Fortnight Supplement [q.d.], pp. 13-15.

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’98: ‘While close leagu’d crappies rais’d the hoards / O’ pikes, pike-shafts, forms, firelocks, / Some melted lead –some saw’d deal-boards – / Some hade, like hens in byre-neuks: / Wives baket bonnocks for their men, / Wi’ tears instead o’ water; / An’ lasses made cockades of green / For chaps who us’d to flater / Their pride ilk day.’ (From Poems, 1835 edn.). Further: ‘So Moscow fell. Now o’er her ruins weep, / Ye friends of man, with awe-struck anguish riv’n, / See Russia’s boast a huge chaotic heap, / Her people cinders, or as outcasts driv’n!’ (‘The ruin of Moscow’; ibid; also ‘The Poor House’ [‘What ghastly groups, diseas’d around me stand!’; ‘the Penitent’ [‘His name, I min’ right, was Christy Blair / Fu’ aft I’ne pass’d the wa’stead wheree he leev’d ...’]; ‘The Irish Cottier’s Death and Burial’ [An’ now a striplin’ wi’ becomin’ grace, / Han’s the wauk-supper, in a riddle, roun’ / Hard bread, an’ cheese, might nicest palates please ...’] (Quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975.)

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Weaver: ‘He weaved himsel’ an’ keepet twa three gaun, / What prais’d him ay for hale weel-handled yarn; / His thrifty wife an’ wise wee lasses span, / While warps and queels employ’d anither barn; / Some stript ilk morn an’ thresh’d, the time to earn / To scamper wi’ the houn’s frae hill to hill’. (Quoted in A. D. Akenside & WH Crawford, eds., Local Poets and Social History, Belf., Public Record Office, 1977, p.17).

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Newfoundland: “Song Composed on the Banks of Newfoundland” [written towards the end of his voyage]: ‘The floor of my friends may be tortur’d by tillage / And the upstart be serv’d by the fallen grandee: / The axe may have humbled the grove that I haunted, / And shades be my shield that as yet are unplanted; / Nor one comrade live, who repin’d when he wanted / The sociable suff’rer, that’s far, far at sea.’ (Poems on Various Subjects, 1804; quoted in Bryan Coleborne ‘“They Sate in Counterview”: Anglo-Irish Verse in the Eighteenth Century’, in Paul Hyland & Neil Sammells, eds., Irish Writing, Exile and Subversion, London: Macmillan 1991, pp.45-63; here pp.50-51; also cites also ‘The Irishman’, in Posthumous Works, 1817.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue
, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); Poems on Various Subjects (Belfast 1804); rep. ed., James Orr, Poems on Various Subjects (Belfast, Wm. Mullan & Son 1935) [noted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975].

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Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); selects ‘The Irishman’ [‘The savage loves his native shore / Though rude the soil and chill the air; / then well may Erin’s sons adore / Their isle, which nature formed so fair. / What flood reflects a shore so sweet / As shannon great or pastoral Bann?Or who a friend or foe can meet / So generous as an Irishman? // His hand is rash, his heart is warm, / But honesty is still his guide; / no more repent a deed of harm, / And none forgives with nobler pride; / He may be duped, but won’t be dared- / More fit to practice than to plan; / He darly earns his poor reward, / And spends it like an Irishman // .. // Erin, loved land from age to age / Be though more great, mre famed, more free ... And cheerful smiles serenely gild / The home of every Irishman’]; ‘Song of an Exile’ [.. ‘A huge floating lazar-house, far, far at sea!’ .... Yes Syvlia, we’ll meet, and your sigh cease to heave for / The swain your fine image haunts, far, far at sea!’

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John Crone, A Concise Dictionary of Irish Biography (Dublin: Talbot 1928); ‘The Irishman’, very popular song; Orr long in hiding after involvement in 1798; bibl., Life by McDowell. [viz, A. McDowell, 1817]

Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979); b. Ballycarry, where he returned and died; songs incl. ‘Song of An Exile,’ ‘The Irishman,’; much admired by DJ O’Donoghue and John Hewitt; bibl., Poems on Various Subjects (1804; rep. 1935, in a new ed. of two previous volumes); The Posthumous Works of James Orr, of Ballycarry with a Sketch of his Life (1817).

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. I; b. Broad Island, Co. Antrim; fled to US after 1798; returned to his trade as a weaver, in Ballycarry; final years spent in drinking (betrayed by success into love of bottle, RAF / ODNB); his song ‘The Irishman’ erroneously attrib. to CurranPoems on Various Subjects (Belf 1804); Poems (Belfast: FD Finlay 1817), with biog. by A. McDowell, also publ. separately in this year; also poems in R. R. Madden, Literary Remains of the United Irishmen (1846).

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, p. 496, only son of Antrim weaver, b. Broad Island, little education, joined United Irish, contrib. The Northern Star, fought in battle of Antrim, America exile, and returned in early 1800s. Bibl. incls. Linde Connolly, ‘Attitudes to Life and Death in the Poetry of James Orr, an Eighteenth Century Ulster Weaver’, in Ulster Folklore 31 (1985), pp.1-12; Donal Harman Akenson and WH Crawford , Local Poets and Social History, James Orr, Bard of Ballycarry (Belfast: Public Rec. Off. NI 1977) [vii, 130pp; bibl, p.115-19, index; pbk]. See also Vol. 3, p.377.

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Brian McKenna, Irish Literature (1978), Poems on Various Subjects (1804); The Posthumous Works of James Orr of Ballycarry with a sketch of his life (Belfast 1817); also a collected poems, titled Poems on Various Subjects, foreword William Calwell (Belfast 1935). Commentaries by A. McDowell (in Posthumous Works); D. J. O’Donoghue (Shamrock, 1890); W. J. Fitzpatrick (Irish Weekly 1[?]970); John Hewitt (Rhyming Weavers, 1974) [his better poems ‘undoubtedly the major successes’ of ‘our vernacular literature’].

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John Cooke, ed., Dublin Book of Irish Verse 1728-1909 (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis 1909); 1770-1816; ‘The Irishman’ (”The savage loves his native shore / Though rude the soil and chill the air / Then well may Erin’s sons adore / Their isle, which Nature formed so fair, / What flood reflects a shore so sweet / As Shannon great, or pastoral Bann? / Or who a friend or foe can meet / As generous as an Irishman?”). Justin McCarthy, Irish Lit., gives ‘The Irishman’ and ‘Song of Exile’.

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University of Ulster Library, Morris Collection, holds Poems on Various Subjects (Belfast 1935) 116p.

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Notes
P. J. Kavanagh quotes verses referring to earliest Presbyterian ministry in Ireland: ‘There thy revered forefathers heard / The first dissenters dared to tarry, / On Erin’s plain, where men felt pain / for conscience’ sake, in Ballcarry.’ (Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.7.)

Claire Connolly, ‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, in The Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Margaret Kelleher & Philip O'Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), notes that ‘James Orr, James Stuart and Amelia Bristow all wrote poems that imagine fugitive (usually female) figures driven mad by the experience of political turmoil’ (Vol. 1, p.441); and further that ‘James Orr, James Stuart and Amelia Bristow all wrote poems that imagine fugitive (usually female) figures driven mad by the experience of political turmoil.’ (Idem.)

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