1824 Poem, George Dugall, ‘The Race-Course; or, The Humours of Ballyarnet’

Author: George Dugall

Date: 1824

Source: Poem: ‘The Race-Course; or, The Humours of Ballyarnet’, 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/1800-1899/055


Written in 1815

“— if I should beg

Wi’ lyart pow,

I’ll laugh, an’ sing, an’ shake my leg

As lang’s I dow.”Burns

The steeds of old Phœbus, renown’d for his fun,

Some heats on the Curragh celestial had run;

Ladies’ Course in the Virgin[1] — the sport was divine;

For he ran ev’ry tail in her keeping quite blind.

“Arouse!” said the Muse, “and no longer by brooks,

Study nature in bed, or mankind from old books;

That stream is but stagnant — to drink at the spring,

Learn life at the Race-Course — the world is on wing.”

The dame was quite headstrong, so logic was mute;

I clapp’d on my brogues without farther dispute:

So lively the skies in bright beauty were dress’d,

’Twas one broad grin of joy from the east to the west.

With a heart full of feathers I mix’d with the gay;

Nor stopp’d but to look at some things by the way.

Here’s an inn on the road — ’tis with fashion o’erflown:

Ah! landlord, good morrow — you keep Innishowen.

Why, sir, I can’t tell — but step in to my wife,

And whisper, I beg you — the guagers [sic] are rife.

Behold that sweet pair, how like doves they agree;

She would stand on no ground, but she sits on his knee:

For another full pint the drunk niggard loud thunders;

These Potien agrah! are a few of thy wonders.

That bev’rage so rare had our M------y tasted,

Brave Hart[2] would from cut-throats at once have releas’d it.

It gives to those wanting both wisdom and age,

If not just the sense — yet the sound of a sage;

Lays the strong on his back; prompts the coward to dare —

Amid poniards or pot-sticks the d----l cares where:

Enlarges the soul, and the purse-string unties,

While faith, hope, and charity beam from the eyes:

Convicts the poor spendthrift of many a crime;

And often converts him until the next time.

Of approaching delight how some ladies are prating;

Their white heaving bosoms (O feel them!) all beating:

What sights, what amusements, what court’sying, bending,

What watching of mothers, what courting impending!

Thus ere we’re aware, our detachment unites

With Novelty’s troops, on the croud-cover’d heights.

There coaches, gigs, tandems — each mode of conveyance;

Lords, Ladies, and lackies in sportive abeyance;

Equestrians on saddles and soogans ascended,

And gentry and jockies promiscuously blended.

There barons and beggars — all kinds of high-fliers;

Grandees worse than nothing, and shabby esquires,

With pick-pockets, sharpers, and rakes fond and fain,

And nymphs of the wood from the B----------’s demesne.

There bare-headed boy-hood, old age in his wig;

With pipers, and pedlars, and parsons so trig;

Who run the “good race,” to the end still enduring,

And herd with the souls who have most need of curing.

Here tents are rigg’d out in each colour that glows,

With streamers and sign-boards, all planted in rows;

Where innkeepers watch like the spider for spoils,

To catch the poor drinkers like flies in their toils:

Where whisky and cherries, and sweet-cakes abound;

And politics, love, and religion resound:

Where fiddlers stone-blind, are fast scraping to dancing;

And Modesty’s self in her cups is now prancing.

Here show-men exhibit field-marshals and monkies;

And peat-cadgers range on their hacks and their donkies;

Here carriages drive, and there horses are flinging;

Here race-bills a-selling, and ballads a-singing;

There wares of all sorts by their venders a-calling;

And nonsense run mad, in all quarters is bawling:

While vagrants around wheels-of-fortune are ranting,

And deaf’ning the din of “three in — one a-wanting.”

There sat a grave ancient, so sober, so plain,

In a three-cocked hat of the preceding reign:

A contrast so odd soon excited surprise,

The man so grotesque, and his maxims so wise

Pride seem’d a nuisance, and mode an excresence,

And Impudence’ self felt abash’d in his presence.

The faults of the times, from the high to the low,

Were butts for his censure, and sure was the blow.

“Observe,” said old Sly, as he peep’d from the door,

“That rake who drives past in his carriage and four:

Unheeded the cries of the children of woe;

His loss upon numbers would comfort bestow;

Though his grand-father liv’d on five hundred a-year,

An annual ten thousand can scarce keep him clear.

A spend-thrift, a drunkard, and debauchee deep,

To shew you his breeding he swears like a sweep:

On his lands he resides, to encourage or back us,

Scarce one month in twelve, and he comes then to rack us.

Sometimes in the S----te sits dumb or talks nonsense,

And sells his opinion — his honor and conscience.”

He hinted to some that so splendidly drive,

The car and the quilt of the year Eighty-five;

That to live independent as man and as neighbour,

’Twas needful to have fewer airs and more labour.

That “pride was a heavier tax than the tithe;”[3]

That a house free from debt has a corner still blithe;

And then with asperity mark’d on each feature,

That man is a mortal accountable creature.

To the fair he said little because he still lov’d them;

Nay, scarce for pianoes or lap-dogs reprov’d them:

Yet crav’d their observance of two simple rules,

To guard their affection from knaves and from fools.

From him whose attachment is built upon dresses,

Or him who in secret broad acres caresses.

For seldom the eyes shoot the vanquishing rockets;

Love fled from the face oft encamps in the pockets.

Hark a hubbub is rais’d, yet by whom I can’t tell,

But creeds are discuss’d as they might be in h-----!

The noise still increases with symptoms uncivil;

Now L-------r, now C-------n, now p-----e, and now d-------

Mr. Piety swears “In s---- Calvin’s the boy:

To prove my religion I’d blacken your eye:

We’ll ride you to h--- since we’ve got on your cruppers;

You Papishes make d-----d good soles but bad uppers.”

Now Mr. Oldchurchman bawls out, “You curs’d ninny,

I’ll stop your foul mouth with the great Pastorini;[4]

The locusts that sprang from the bottomless pit,

Are the Protestant crew; for so says Holy Writ:

But their end is approaching, prophetic and fast,

For our church was the first, and she’ll yet be the last.”

Then Mr. Highchurch got the peace-maker’s blow;

One call’d him Drumclog,[5] and the other Glencoe.[6]

There sits a sweet girl with a youth — some acquaintance;

They whisper so low, you can hear no full sentence:

Some words such as — absence — your promise — my vows

Are dropp’d, that discover the whats and the hows;

But she talks to a flint; now in tears I perceive her:

The short and the long of it is — he won’t have her.

The reck’ning he calls, and attempting to rise,

She wishes to hold him, he laughs at her sighs,

And whistles adieu to her tears and attractions:

Were it not to expose her I’d kick him to fractions.

Now the stir is begun, and we’re all expectation;

The knowing-ones cluster in close combination:

The riders are weigh’d, and the mystics croud closer:

’Tis said such a groom has told winner and loser.

The sons of the turf now relinquish their lasses;

The fav’rite is hail’d from the tents as he passes:

And the shabbiest clown in the motley convention,

Is whipp’d by the peer with politest attention.

The trumpet is blown, and the course is quite clear,

Three racers are started — the crowd gives a cheer;

A black, white, and red — call them Rain, Wind and Lightning.

The betters now bawl while their aspects are fright’ning.

The horses as yet in the closest connection,

Have sped like a cloud as it were by attraction:

Speculation’s let loose — it is doubtful who’ll win it;

And twenty remarks are now heard in a minute.

The odds are on Rain, on his speed and his force;

To the ladies in white he’s well known on the course.

He pickles them often whenever he runs;

On racers against him not one of them wins.

The fav’rites of Wind now attention assail:

The race is a long one — his breath cannot fail;

At each rise on the road he some distance will gain:

And then, he is ridden much lighter than Rain.

Another roars out, “Why you’re all fools together,

They’re both heavy ridden, but Light’ning’s a feather.”

“Five to four,” cries a booby, “the black will yet win;

The others are losing” — “Done, d--n you Sir, done.”

Now half round the course Wind a-head is fast getting,

His prospects now brighten — he flies — even betting:

Again it seems dubious, the black white and red,

At crupper and bit you might tie with a thread:

On the chance even Fortune herself seems to ponder;

For some seconds deep silence prevails for a wonder.

Now again they divide — see the black and the white

Are anxiously striving to gain on the right,

Where the distance is shortest and turf in their favour,

While spurring and whipping speed ev’ry endeavour:

But Light’ning now sporting with Rain and with Wind,

Is sometimes before and as often behind.

Now bath’d in a sweat and sore gall’d by the switch,

See Rain throws his rider souse into the ditch:

His shoulder is bruis’d, and he’s wet to the skin;

For Phaeton, poor devil! now who likes may win.

Now for’t white and red — Fate her scale is suspending;

Beyond the gazebeau they both are descending:

Head and girth now they come. — Behold Wind how he flies:

Yet what speed can contend with the flash of the skies?

He darts o’er the score, to the spectators’ wonder,

Midst a burst of applause like a loud clap of thunder.

The race being over, the day wearing low,

Curiosity’s self now half-willing to go,

Oft turns on her heel while her neck is quite taper,

No remnant of novelty well can escape her.

Once more the roads cover — the crowds slow disperse,

The coaches and horsemen now gallop off fierce:

If we judge by their faces few minds are compos’d,

But joyous, or griev’d, as they gain’d or they lost;

Confirming the maxim long taught to be right,

That pleasures of sense yield no solid delight.


[1] The sun enters Virgo in the latter end of August, and continues in the same sign till the latter end of September.

[2] Lieutenant-General G.V. Hart, our patriotic Representative in the Commons House of Parliament.

[3] Franklin

[4] Pastorini’s History of the Church.

[5] Vide Londonderry Journal of Tuesday October 29, 1823.

[6] See Malcom Laing’s History of Scotland.

Other poems from ‘The Northern Cottage’


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