James Orr - The Bard of Ballycarry

Beano Niblock with a piece on James Orr. It featured in Long Kesh Inside Out. Beano Niblock is a former loyalist prisoner. He currently writes poetry, plays and commentary pieces.
James Orr

James Orr was born in the town land of Ballycarry in the year 1770.  He was the only child of elderly parents and was tutored and taught at home. He was a prolific writer as a young man and wrote both in English and Ulster-Scots.  He was a contemporary of Rabbie Burns, who he was compared to.  Indeed in more recent times John Hewitt claimed that indeed Orr was a better poet than Burns.  Quite a claim.  Orr was foremost of the group of Ulster Scots poets who became known as the Ulster Weaver Poets — or rhyming weavers.

Orr joined the nationalist Society of United Irishmen as a 21 year old.  Much of his poetry from that time first appeared in The Northern Star — the journal of the United Irishmen.  In 1798 Orr took part-with the United Army of Ulster-in the failed attempt to capture Antrim town from the Royal Forces.  A biographer of the time says ... "his conduct will long be remembered in having been actively employed in preventing his companions committing acts of cruelty”. He along with many others fled and went into hiding.  Their leader Henry Joy McCracken was captured and hanged in July of that year but Orr fled to America, where he remained, working for a newspaper before returning to Ballycarry under an amnesty in 1802.

He applied to join the Yeoman — a part time militia — who apparently were in existence to fight the UI threat.  He was turned down because of his still radical views. Orr took over the running of the family farm after his father’s death taking again to weaving as a trade and he self published the one book that appeared during his lifetime … Poems on Various Subjects.  In later years alcohol played a big part in Orr’s life although he remained close to many of his literary friends.  It was they who published The Posthumous Works of James Orr of Ballycarry in 1817.  Orr had died the previous year aged 46.  At Orr’s request all proceeds from the sale of the book would be used to hopefully relieve poverty in Ballycarry.

 In The Passengers Orr tells the story of the exiles after the ill fated 98 rebellion and particular the Battle of Antrim Town.

How calm an’ cozie is the wight,
Frae cares an’ conflicts clear ay,
Whase settled headpiece never made,
His heels or han’s be weary!
Perplex’d is he whase anxious schemes
Pursue applause, or siller,
Success nor sates, nor failure tames;
Bandied frae post to pillar
Is he, ilk day
As we were, Comrades, at the time
We mov’d frae Ballycarry,
To wan’er thro’ the woody clime
Burgoyne gied oure to harrie:
Wi’ frien’s consent we prie’t a gill,
An’ monie a house did call at,
Shook han’s, an’ smil’t; tho’ ilk fareweel
Strak, like a mighty mallet,
Our hearts, that day
This is my locker, yon’ers Jock’s,
In that aul creel, sea-store is
Thir births beside us are the Lockes
My uncle’s there before us;
Here hang my tins an’ vitriol jug,
Nae thief’s at han’ to meddle ‘em
L—d, man, I’m glad ye’re a’ sae snug;
But och! ‘tis owre like Bedlam
Wi’ a’ this day
Aince mair luck lea’s us (plain ‘tis now
A murd’rer in some mess is)
An English frigate heaves in view,
I’ll bail her board, an’ press us
Taupies beneath their wives wha stole,
Or ‘mang auld sails lay flat ay,
Like whitrats peepin’ frae their hole,
Cried ‘is she British, wat ye,
Or French this day?’
‘Twas but a brig frae Baltimore,
To Larne wi’ lintseed steerin’;
Twa days ago she left the shore,
Let’s watch for lan’ appearin’;
Spies frae the shrouds, like laigh dark clouds
Descried domes, mountains, bushes;
Tha exiles griev’t – the sharpers thiev’t –
While cronies bous’t like fishes
Conven’t, that day
Whan glidin’ up the Delaware,
We cam’ fornent Newcastle,
Gypes co’ert the whaft to gove, an’ stare
While out, in boats, we bustle:
Creatures wha ne’er had seen a black,
Fu’ scar’t took to their shankies;
Sae, wi’ our best rags on our back,
We mixt amang the Yankies,
An’ skail’t, that day

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