James Orr-The Bard of Ballycarry

James Orr-The Bard of Ballycarry


James Orr was born in the town land of Ballycarry in the year 1770.  He was th 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






One Response to James Orr-The Bard of Ballycarry

  1. To be honest Beano and with out intending any offence to the memory of James Orr, or the United Ulstermen of 1798, this load of ancient Ulster Scots is about as relevant, to present day Northern Irelanders, as the totally useless, meaningless and totally obsolete, curried yoghurt that is spewed out on a daily basis, by the bitter twisted terrorist, political representatives of the IRA up at the Stormont honeypot.

    I have absolutely no objection to train spotters, stamp collectors, butterfly collectors, kite flyers, knicker knockers, and mickey mouse language fanatics, pursuing their hobbies in their own time at their own expense, but the hard earned taxes paid by the vast majority of the population who have absolutely no interest in these time and money wasting, useless pastimes, should not be squandered on them, nor on the totally unwanted and totally unnecessary duplication of Government and education documents, that are wastefully reproduced, just to appease this small band of bitter twisted fanatics.

    The total taxes paid by the small band of fanatics, who pursue these totally useless, meaningless and obsolete hobbies, would not even amount to a small scratch on the two hundred and forty thousand pounds, that has been squandered, nor on the time wasted, on what is undoubtedly nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to appease the bitter twisted sectarian terrorists, employed by the British Government up at Stormont.

    Charlie Freel.