1824 Poem, George Dugall, ‘The Northern Cottage’

Author: George Dugall

Date: 1824

Source: Poem: ‘The Northern Cottage’, from The Northern Cottage and other poems; written partly in the Dialect of the North of Ireland by George Dugall (Londonderry: William McCorkell, 1824)

Comments: George Dugall (c.1790-1855) was the son of Rev. George Dugall, Presbyterian minister of Magherafelt from 1786-1810, and lived most of his life near Newtowncunningham in Donegal. He was a schoolteacher in north Donegal, and his only book of poems The Northern Cottage contains an extensive glossary of Ulster-Scots words. The vocabulary and cultural context of his poems are rich in Ulster-Scots reference.

Doc. ref. no.: USLS/TB/Poetry/1800-1899/045



“No borrow’d joys, they’re all our own,

While to the world we live unknown,

Or by the world forgot:

Monarchs! we envy not your state;

We look with pity on the great,

And bless our humble lot.” — Cotton.


Ye rural fair, to you these lays belong,

For guileless beauties love an artless strain,

A northern muse, for you attempts the song —

Hersel’, her strains, her ev’ry wish your ain.

She sings the lanely cottage o’ the plain;

Sole seat of love, for bliss another name,

Whar rosy health, an’ blythe contentment reign,

And rectitude, that knows no sordid aim —

The cottage! nurse of genius, and the virtues’ hame.


But chief to thee, my Sylvia, sings the bard;

Heart-stealing maid! sweet saint of ev’ry vow:

Thy love, than laurels, a mair dear reward,

Or holly wreaths that wildly skirt our knowe.

Be thou but true — to heav’n I grateful bow;

Around, unheeded, rival lustres shine:

Tenacious love, one smile will scarce allow,

Nor truth allot to other charms a line,

Where no lov’d name is sung, dear maid, but only thine.


Now ere the dawn, I snuff the sunless gale;

As yet the snow-drop knows no neighb’ring flow’r;

While roosted nigh yon cottage in the vale,

The waukrife cock instinctive crows the hour.

Blythe morning blinks the dusky braes out owre,

By music hail’d, sweet daughter o’ the spring;

Forwauked stars retire, save three or four

That usher day — while joyous lav’rocks sing,

To cheer the lone expanse unseen on early wing.


Hark! o’er the moor, the cattle’s early cheer

The flails prepare, wi’ quick alternate blow;

The village dog wi’ ever-list’ning ear,

Assails th’ untimely tread of friend or foe.

The busy hammers many a stroke bestow,

On the red ploughshare for the toils of day;

While round the sparking hearth a jolly row

Of rustic swains, are set in frolic gay —

Where many a piece o’ news is brought and ta’en away.


Hail gentle spring! amid thy op’ning scenes,

Be mine the earliest footsteps on the dew,

Whar streamlets wimple o’er reviving greens,

Whose varying tints arise for ever new.

While haply there, I meet the wish’d-for view

Of artless nature, in her morning guise;

Some charm, perhaps, that never pencil drew

Of the coy nymph, imparts a sweet surprise —

Then ripen’d into song the heart-felt numbers rise.


Screen’d frae the north by many a mossy thorn,

That greenly buds alang the sloping brae;

The lowly neighbour o’ yon nameless burn,

An humble mansion, claims the muse’s lay:

Pil’d in the yard, the wisely hoarded strae,

Whence morning meals gang daily to the byre;

The peat-stack large, built in the summer day,

Twa-part exhausted by the winter fire —

And scarcely half sae high its raggit wa’s aspire.


With jetty breast pert frae the gable ends,

Half-hid from view, the chirping sparrow rails;

His busier mate alternately descends,

And to the nest the cumbrous feather trails.

The red-breast, hameliest songster o’ the vales,

Perch’d nigh the window, underneath the eaves,

Wi’ gratefu’ sang repays the kindly meals,

In wintry storms he frae the ha’ receives —

While a’ the shyer train in pinching hunger grieves.


The curling smoke now from the cottage springs;

The hospitable door is open’d wide;

Poor Tray, of friendship some rude token brings,

And fawning, barks, with gladness over-joy’d.

Step ben and crack, for form and empty pride,

And slander here, are all alike unknown;

Content and meek simplicity preside,

And claim the peaceful dwelling for their own —

While in the good man’s smile is ready welcome shewn.


Hast thou in youth’s wild giddy morn of life,

Been by false reason blindly led astray?

Hast thou whilst wrestling ‘mid the doubtful strife,

Mistaken folly’s path for wisdom’s way?

Art thou of those who lost to candour say,

Religion is alone for knaves and fools;

Who charge themselves with madness when they pray,

Nor e’er abide by their own boasted rules?

Mark well this humble sage, then think, and doubt your schools.


What though unskill’d in philosophic lore,

Those hidden truths affected not his peace;

Tho’ screen’d from view those heights where numbers soar

And lost the substance in the shadow-chace.

In God’s own book his soul had learn’d to trace

Its being, hope, and end — all else is vain

To mortal man; except by heav’nly grace,

The mind be guided through art’s bright domain,

And taught at ev’ry step, “humility is gain.”


Ev’n fondly partial, oft his bosom burns,

When village teachers tell in phrase profound,

How the braid world on daily axis turns,

And circumscribes the sun with yearly round.

By scripture first the doctrine’s prov’d unsound;

For Israel’s chief[1] directly gives the lie:

And next is shewn a tree, that keeps its ground;

Which round and round, was never known to fly —

Nor e’er wi’ roots inverted waving in the sky.


All hail rusticity! thy artless ways,

In varied charms, as flow’rets clothe the year,

With new delight, attract the feeling gaze —

And e’en thy failings to the breast are dear.

The all is thine — the garb and humble cheer,

That frugal nature’s simple wants require;

The lore, too, thine — the “one thing needful” here,

Sweet words of peace, from heaven’s eternal sire,

That teach the soul at bliss immortal to aspire.


He void of guile that courts but to ensnare,

A peerless maiden lov’d in early life;

Long since sweet partner of his joy and care,

A tender mother, and a faithful wife.

At first, alas! their portion was na rife;

We’re told it scarcely paid the sacred fees;

Yet love, from day to day, kept hope alive,

Till competence from toil rose by degrees:

Thus small beginnings thrive, whar heav’n a blessing gies.


To thrift inur’d, at home her comfort springs,

A clothing warm, and cheap, her wheel supplies;

She washes, makes, and mends, and blithely sings —

In marriage duties Lucy’s pleasure lies:

Ev’n when to town, where bus’ness oft decoys,

Her Henry hies on fair or market day,

With bread, which miles from home excites surprise,

Unseen she stores his pockets for the way,

Lest hunger’s lurking elves[2] some mischief on him play.


Let those pourtray — those who perchance have found

A love like her’s — let such alone conceive,

How oft she lifts the latch, and looks around,

Through the long length of absence’ shortest eve.

Nor can the cradle’s smiling charge relieve

Her wishful heart, nor prank of riper years:

By fits she’s fretful, and as often grave,

And ev’ry sound awakens hopes and fears,

Till on the threshold she his welcome footstep hears.


The sun, yon hill o’er edging by degrees,

Does through the leaden lattice make its way;

Blinks in the reek that rises frae the bleeze,

And wraps the mansion in the smiles of day:

Then o’er the floor does imperceptive stray,

Whence ev’n the youngsters can fu’ wisely trace

The time exact, from yonder creeping ray;

Nor other clocks, save this, the dwelling grace —

At such or such an hour, it visits such a place.


Wi’ dew-bright glances, mild as blushing morn

On eastern clouds, now rise the cottage fair;

Gem-studded silks may city belles adorn,

Their studied arts, how poor, when we compare

The artless smile, the soft engaging air

Of rural maids, in stuff or russet seen;

The nicest cleanliness their early care;

The cottage swept — the hearth, the dresser clean,

And ev’ry thing around as neat’s a new-made preen.


Now round the fire arrang’d in order fair,

With mirthful songs the busy wheels they ply;

Of love they talk — some laughing, some sincere:

Each morning thus the happy moments fly.

On the wheel-stock, or in the window night,

The Gentle Shepherd, chief o’ past’ral strains,

And Douglas, fam’d in tragic annals, lie;

(Their fretted covers, stitch’d wi’ nicest pains,)

Besides good Adam Bell, and knight of Sherwood plains.


Lov’d Erin! dear to heav’n! my native land!

For fairest maids and purest linens fam’d;

Long may thy arts the minstrel’s lay demand,

And still from age to age for such be nam’d:

And you,[3] who gratitude might much have claim’d;

Ye patriotic guardians of our trade,

Be blessings pure as light, and ever beam’d

In countless rays, to you and your convey’d —

And may no selfish aims the sacred lustre shade.


In those sweet hours the nymphs are often seen,

Bare-fitted, kilted, heartsome, light, and gay,

To spread their simple washing on the green,

Whar slopes the burn beneath yon sunny brae,

Or else adjust it on the blossom’d slae:

The hind conceal’d, a dear-lov’d object spies;

Yet daurs na deign so much as nod that way,

Lest the loud laugh and scoffing taunt arise;

Yet oft he sighing turns his wishing longing eyes.


Ah! hapless youth, in vain thy prying gaze,

Though hunners round her stood, descries her form;

In vain thine ear the well-known accents please,

If thou neglected thus maun bide the storm:

The warl’s laugh the bashful may alarm,

Ev’n when the lassie proves as kind as fair;

And want of prudence, too, may do thee harm,

And prove a never-ending source of care —

But hopeless love is sure the warst o’ a’ despair.


There on the noisy loom, since dawn of day,

The sprightly artist makes the dwelling ring,

And chats his care, or slighted love away:

There children restless as the bird on wing,

For baby-mills the rude materials bring,

And seem to mimic man in thought profound:

The thrush and blackbird lead the band of spring,

Through the wild soothing witchery of sound —

While all is life, and joy, and innocence around.


O Thou! to whom all being owes its birth!

Eternal source of truth, love, light, and peace!

Vouchsafe to guard those haunts of humble worth,

And grant that force and fraud o’er all may cease:

That genuine love of thee may still encrease,

Then love of man we shall not seek in vain;

But hated pride, and baleful faction chace,

With war, and bloodshed’s horror-breathing train,

To dark oblivion’s wide and ever shoreless main.


Nor heedless do they heaven’s protection share,

All rude and simple as their lives appear;

But piety sincere’s their dearest care,

When morning’s ruddy smiles the vallies cheer,

Or vesper deigns her silver robe to wear;

They labour close with pray’r as it began:

Then calmly trust the encrease of the year

To Providence, and own ’tis His alone,

To bless their needful toil, and mark them for His own.


Ye friends of man’s best interests here below,

Illustrious few,[4] blest guardians of the soul!

No more a stranger to the haunts of woe,

Wing’d by your hands truth visits either pole;

Beyond where Ganges’ lucid eddies roll,

To blue Atlantic’s farthest western wave:

’Tis yours where’er the human footsteps stroll,

The soul-benighted wretch to seek and save;

And raise his wond’ring eyes to bliss beyond the grave.


When round the cheerful fire at even-tide,

The youngsters mute a due attention pay,

While by the sire instruction well is ply’d,

Ere they to all-restoring sleep give way:

And oft they’re charg’d to mind the Sabbath day,

Nor e’er in quest of nestlings young to roam,

Nor join the graceless vagrant train in play;

But meekly read God’s holy word at home,

If they to Heaven at last, do ever hope to come.


With lengthen’d sigh a warning sad recall’d

The mother gies, that happen’d in the town

Some years ago: when to themsels be’t tauld,

A neighbour’s only child, belov’d around,

Till dawning manhood seem’d their hopes to crown;

His parents’ chief support, their joy and stay:

Ill-fated youth! he hidlings forth had stown,

To seek for pastime on that sacred day —

But oh, such black mishap may Heav’n keep far away!


Where many a crowded beech enshrouds the vale,

Near Castleforward’s ancient lordly dome,

Whose branchy tops that grumble in the gale,

Afford the noisy rook a lofty home;

From kindred thieves some guard, while others roam

On distant wing; some feed their hungry brood;

With throats distended others floating come,

And to their patient mates impart the food —

Whilst deafening clamour stuns, like some wild roaring flood.


His course th’ unwary truant thither bent,

To scale the giddy boughs, and from them bear

The callow young, in unfledg’d durance pent —

Pendent, and dangling high in midway air:

The fatal prize he scans with eager stare,

And thrice essays the distant branch to gain;

But ah! the needful hold ere fully there,

Th’ exhausted nerves no longer can sustain —

But headlong, mangl’d, down he tumbles to the plain.


Such piercing strains the callous rock would rend,

The hardest heart with pity would infuse,

When father, mother, relative, and friend,

And Julia, lovely as the weeping muse,

In mingl’d woe receive th’ alarming news:

With step distracted thither fast they hie;

The sad procession strikes their prying views;

Those clay-cold lips that on the litter lie,

Are kiss’d with many a groan, and tear, and bitter sigh.


Full oft the muse, in meditative mood,

(While many a lay her early walk rewards,)

Explores the dark recesses of the wood,

Till the sad spot her solemn step retards:

One rotten bough the pensive eye regards,

That marks the tap’ring stem, whose fatal rind

Indented rude, the tragic tale records;

Erewhile engraven by the shepherd hind:

Whilst boding glooms arise, and sadden o’er the mind.


The hallow’d morn arrives — the distant bell

Proclaims the hour of pray’r, with frequent toll;

Meet emblem of the oft-repeated knell

Of watchful conscience, to the slumb’ring soul:

The pious cottagers obey the call,

And duteously the sacred rites attend;

Then as enjoin’d by philanthropic Paul,[5]

Their frugal mite they to the needy lend,

To gain much more in Heav’n, when time shall have an end.


No deeds are theirs perform’d for sound or show;

Their artless ways with such but ill accord:

Yet to the homeless son of weary woe,

A night’s repose some corner can afford:

Who often press’d to share the humble board,

Repays with pray’rs, and grateful tears, their cares;

Refresh’d, perhaps, he wields the ideal sword —

Recounts past loves — nor ev’n laughter spares:

A while forgetting want, and rags, and hoary hairs.


Fair virtue’s humblest handmaid ever gay,

Dear hospitality! thy friendly smile,

To cheer the lonely trav’ller on his way,

Like Erin’s sun-beam gilds our favour’d isle.

In the lone cot, sequester’d many a mile

From stated forms, thy true politeness reigns:

Ev’n strangers, won by thy attractive wile,

In tears depart: with thee the heart remains,

Beneath the lowly roof, that rises on our plains.


Blest have I been, when yet in childhood’s days,

I por’d, self-taught, o’er science’ mystic page;

When the skill’d guest would haply deign to praise,

Or my rude essay would his eye engage.

Then first, (experience could no more presage,)

A new sensation through my bosom stole;

When the soft stranger of an equal age,

Would claim with eyes that sparkl’d on my soul,

To share my gifts and toys — yet often took the whole.


When Spring’s last sun has sunk the hills beneath,

The rural damsels seek the dewy mead,

To cull the golden flow’r[6] — a glossy wreath

Sacred to May; in yearly garland spread

Around the threshold: or with silent tread,

The dream-inspiring yarrow-braes[7] they seek:

Forbear ye swains! whom pastime forth has led,

Nor tease the tim’rous bashfu’ dame to speak —

Love-dreams will fly, when you the dear enchantment break.


On that mysterious morning, long before

Emerg’d from dew, the op’ning flow’rets smile,

The wither’d beldam, vers’d in hell’s black lore,

Sweeps from the misty lawn the yellow spoil;[8]

Or in the kail-yard dress’d wi’ meikle toil,

The well-dissembl’d maukin feasts hersel’;

Nor dog nor gun the frequent thief can foil,

That e’er sae swift, or this prim’d e’er so well,

Till massy silver[9] shot dissolve the infernal spell.


Sweet month! ’tis thine, to soothe the simple heart

With tales o’ love, conceal’d in woodbine shade;

The well-urg’d suit is plied by ev’ry art,

While, half suspecting, sighs the doubtful maid;

Recounting o’er the crowds by love betray’d,

Who rashly yielded, ere the truth was shown

By length of time, where frequent charms invade

Of rival beauties: rakes are ever known

To court — to ruin all — but ne’er abide by one.


Now cautiously she hides the anxious throe,

And bids the swain go seek a nymph more kind;

Then starting, feigns th’ impatient call to know;

Attempts to fly — yet steals a look behind.

The love-sick horrors of his honest mind

Disarm her soul, and flush her lovely face:

Her heart at length by half a grant resign’d,

Dispels his care, and fills his breast with peace —

And oft they meet to plight their vows in chaste embrace.


Such was thy prudence, such thy matchless worth,

And such thy love, my Sylvia, ever dear;

Nor wouldst thou on love-errands venture forth,

Save when thy tried Fidelia dally’d near.

Virtue like thine, must lovely still appear

To each fond soul, where sacred honour dwells:

Be wise, ye fair! and learn a precept here,

Nor ever quite alane entrust yoursels

Wi’ man, by banks or braes, in woods or flow’ry dells.


O love! heav’n’s dearest balm for earthly woes!

The brightest star in truth’s unclouded skies;

How blest the pair on whom thy influence flows,

Whom lengthen’d years cement in closer ties;

Their dearest hopes that fresh and ruddy rise:

Their king, their laws, that ev’ry hope defend;

Their home, that many a nameless bliss implies,

Where sire, and son, successive ages spend;

Their country, and their race, attachments without end.


Alas! that foul desire should ever hide

His fiend-like form beneath thy semblance fair;

Thy angel-smiles, alas! that hell-born pride

To lowly innocence should ever wear.

How many human brutes still spread the snare,

(As lurks the fowler for the fated dove,)

And sigh cold-blooded, and perfidious swear

Till virtue falls — and then plain villains prove,

That oaths nor tears can bind, nor heav’n nor hell can move.


And sometimes too where true endearments spring,

Impatient love, though pure, may step astray;

Ill-balanced means anon objections bring,

To check the union or at least delay:

Ye relatives, let never lucre sway

Your upright minds — the just are more than great;

To brush the sacred blossom from the spray

With hands profane, may bring repentance late:

Want, poverty, and shame may throng the proudest gate.


I’ve seen a beldam hated of her kind,

For lack of pelf exult in mis’ry’s tear;

Fraternal honour rob of peace of mind,

And fright the helpless with a frown severe:

Exulting thus I’ve mark’d her year by year;

Sure vengeance came — nor was the progress slow:

I’ve seen her poor, without one friend to cheer;

Plunder’d and beggar’d — lowest of the low,

I’ve seen, and bless’d the hand that dealt th’ avenging blow.


The lengthen’d evenings now cool, clear, and mild,

Owre lang for toil, afford an hour for play:

Perhaps some neighb’ring wab-break[10] o’er the wild,

Decoys the sprightly cottagers that way:

Beware, rash youth! nor tease the maidens gay,

Or for a kiss th’ unwilling bride assail;

Lest row’d in wool, your tickl’d sides they lay,

Depriv’d o’ strength to join the jocund vale,

Where many a giddy whim, resounds o’er hill and dale.


There haply lad and lass for frolic fain,

In pairs are seated on the ev’ning lea;

One takes the batt,[11] demanding of each swain,

If with his partner he contented be:

His answ’ring No, begins th’ expected glee;

He names the fav’rite, whom the batt maun chase

Into his arms, from former lover free:

(Her rival flies to shun the mock disgrace,)

While many a gowf compels the bashful fond embrace.


Deep skill’d in destiny’s occult designs,

The wand’ring dummy[12] draws in wonder nigh,

Foretelling fate by gestures and by signs,

And as ’tis good or ill, will laugh or cry:

With jeering grin by fingers number’d sly,

Counts o’er her offspring to the blushing maid;

Now spreads the sail — or now the shuttles fly;

The future husband’s calling or his trade —

While some are wondrous glad, and others sore dismay’d.


Yet cease, ye fair, nor in those secrets pry —

Nor, idly curious, climb the sacred hill:

Ill, ay comes soon — and good will no gang by;

Heav’n’s sure decree ’twill in due time fulfil:

Ne’er trust for certain truth created skill:

Our lot is God’s to fashion or dispose:

’Tis ours to wait submissive on His will;

So shall he guard from soul and body foes,

And lead us smoothly on till life’s late evening’s close.


Low in the vale near many a rocky dell,

Twa aged thorns abeen the saugh aspire,

Fam’d for untimely blasts[13] as twilight fell,

And after sun-set oft were seen a-fire:

The hoary hind has spy’d in green attire,

On moonlight nights, the sprightly wee-folk here,

Dance round to strains of elfin pipe or lyre,

And bay the trembling steed that sweats wi’ fear —

Then rise in whirring clouds, and giggling disappear.


Midsummer eve now comes, when late at night

The tiny train renew their sports around;

Where num’rous bonfires gleam with wav’ring light,

On ev’ry hill, and knowe, and rising ground.

In golden furze the feather’d tribes abound;

Ye thoughtless youths, the dear recesses spare

Sacred to love — nor let the flame surround

The callow nest; but straw or sticks prepare —

So shall your guiltless lives deserve the muse’s care.


Now blooms the wild, enrich’d by ev’ry flow’r

That basks in day, or drinks the chrystal dews;

Each herb by aul’ wives fam’d for medic pow’r,

Which to the sickly frame can health infuse;

Valerian wind-dispelling, thick bestrews

The lowly glen. Ground-ivy in the mead

By hedges grows — for elf-shot kye[14] of use:

On plains the mystic shamrock rears its head,

And many nameless sweets their varying lustre shed.


These are thy guards, O health! an humble band;

But self-denying temperance thy stay;

With hardy exercise of aspect bland —

List to their prudent counsel and obey:

And ne’er to brutal luxury give way,

Or foreign dish, that may thy taste entice:

Small yearly sums the Doctor’s bill would pay,

Didst thou from cottage swains but take advice:

Whilst Buchan’s honest page[15] confirms the maxim wise.


The golden mean so wish’d-for, yet so rare,

Perhaps ’tis here alone kind Heav’n bestows;

Extensive harvests ne’er demand their care,

Nor theirs the cattle of the weel-stock’d knowes.

Twa sleekit queys their lowly lot allows,

That twice a-day still claim th’ accustom’d hire;[16]

Sufficient care for porridge, bread, and brose,

Besides potatoes — nor to tea aspire,

Save when some welcome stranger glads their ev’ning fire.


Nigh Derry’s ancient walls of high renown

For brave and pious sons, and virtuous fair;

The cottage dame returning frae the town,

Where she had sold her yarn or simple ware,

Reviews again those haunts of pleasing care —

Her faithful partner, and her ruddy bairns:

The youngest stands with an expectant stare,

Till he o’ plum, sweet-cake, or biscuit learns:

But first a well-paid kiss the tempting wages earns.


The with’ring blasts at length begin to blow,

And o’er the woods a brownish mantle fling;

The swelling brooks with chill redundance flow,

Their margins crowded with the wreck of Spring.

No more so cheerful now the warblers sing;

May’s joyous thrills the heartless lay disown,

Save where the early nestling (artless thing!)

Tries o’er its song, in rudely caroll’d tone,

Fell winter’s thousand woes, undreaded and unknown.


In happy inexperience secure,

Thus sings the youthful bard — and oft the wile

Of artful fraud, mistakes for honor pure:

His early days with hopes and pleasures smile;

The playful muse dove-like ascends a while,

And wings life’s sky, nor dreads the hosts before;

False friends, real foes, like kites and falcons vile

With talons keen soon persecute her sore,

And teach in blood-red wrongs the serpent’s stinging lore.


Yet shafts of satire vainly were employ’d,

The rights of injur’d rectitude to guard,

From insult rude of unreflecting pride,

Or wrongs with ten-fold int’rest to reward;

Did not religion’s heav’n-forg’d shield retard

The blow, that aims the poor man’s deadly wound;

Upheld for aye, the faith-instructed bard

Midst storms and dangers feels a peace profound,

And from “the Rock of ages” calmly looks around.


The threat’ning season whiles wi’ boding fills

The simple folk; yet still does Heav’n defend:

A sudden flood resistless frae the hills,

Comes boiling down through ev’ry shallow bend;

The banks uptorn, with all their shrubs descend

In floating isles — while grumbling hoarse below,

There rolling rocks, their pond’rous horrors blend

Wi’ sods an’ roots: the muddy surges flow

Till dams and brigs give way, in one vast overthrow.


Expell’d by want frae ev’ry upland hame,

O’er all the vale the stare and plover pour;

Forbear base man! withdraw thy murd’rous aim,

Poor things, they ne’er your harvest hopes devour.

Now clad in fleecy white, at early hour

The hills are seen, and keener felt the blast;

With crackling ice the dubs are cover’d o’er,

Chill heralds that proclaim the summer past,

And winter’s dreary reign of storms approaching fast.


Let mad oppression wield her hundred wands;

The sharpest storms the shortest time endure;

Let disappointed pride seek other lands,

From ev’ry evil but herself secure;

The honest man can ne’er be worse than poor:

Kind Heav’n who giv’st to Erin’s vales thy smile,

Keep false refinement from the cottage door;

Then peace and plenty shall reward her toil —

Whilst ev’ry heart-string clings still closer to her soil.


[1] Joshua, x. 12.13 — In the opinion of our unlettered peasantry, the portion of Sacred Writ just quoted, presents an insuperable objection to the Newtownian system of the universe. Till means are devised for diffusing knowledge of this description, more generally, through the lower classes, its harmony will chiefly appear to the eye of the philosopher, and its evidence to the scrutiny of demonstration.

[2] Certain mischievous sprites, supposed to lurk in what the good country people term “hungry grass,” growing chiefly in wild and unfrequented paths. A piece of oat-cake is an infallible recipe for the faintness, which instanteously seizes the unwary intruder on the forbidden spot.

[3] The Linen Board

[4] The British and Foreign Bible Society. The intelligent reader needs scarcely to be told, that by the humane exertions of this enlightened Association of heaven-born philanthropists, the scriptures have already been translated into upwards of 50 different languages.

[5] 1st Cor. xvi. 2

[6] May-flowers are strewed at the entrance of each dwelling on May-eve, as preservatives against charms, spells, &c.

[7] A few stalks of yarrow laid under a maiden’s pillow, are said to inspire prophetic dreams of her future husband. Throughout the whole of this social experiment, a profound silence is necessary.

[8] It is a prevalent opinion, that witches deprive the house-wife of her butter, by collecting the dews of the pasture, where the cattle graze. This spell is chiefly practised on the mansion, where the infernal sisterhood discover the first smoke on May morning. The audible incantation is, a repetition of “come a” to me.”

[9] When witches transform themselves into hares, cats, &c. they are said to be proof against every mode of attack, except fire-arms loaded with this powerful metal.

[10] A dressing of wool, for home manufacture, at which the damsels of the neighbourhood assist. She who is so fortunate as to be earliest in attendance, is styled by way of pre-eminence “the Bride.” Attempts are frequently made by the youth of the village during the progress of the work to kiss the fair dignitary. The successful hero is rewarded with the title of “Groom,” and regaled with bread and butter. The others, from the united resistance of the Bride and her maids, have often cause to repent their feeble temerity. The sports of the evening are called “the Play;” and consist of a variety of mirthful devices.

[11] A handkerchief twisted, so as to inflict a smart blow. This is borne by the chief actor, who, capriciously vigilant, pursues and punishes, according to the prescribed rules of the play.

[12] A dumb person of either sex, and supposed to be endowed with the knowledge of future events.

[13] It is reckoned dangerous to sleep late, near such old shrubs as are known by the traditional appellation of “Gentle Bushes,” so called from their being the supposed haunts of Fairies; who, it is thought, have often punished this imprudence by “blasts,” which occasion distortion of the features, loss of the use of limbs, &c. &c.

[14] Black Cattle are sometimes taken with a certain lassitude, attended with aggravated symptoms, such as loss of appetite, milk, cud, &c. This in the phrase of most of our rustic cattle-doctors is termed “shooting,” and is supposed to be inflicted by fairies, with a peculiar kind of barbed missile, called an “elf-stone.” Ground-ivy and fresh butter, mixed together, and made into balls, when given to the distempered animal, are said to produce an effectual cure.

[15] Buchan’s Domestic Medicine.

[16] Food given to cows at milking.

Other poems from ‘The Northern Cottage’


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.



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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!

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