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An Ulster Log: who was the mystery man celebrated in Bard's verses?


The Life & Works of William Morrison

The Life & Works of William Morrison

Stunning performance: Lily James stars in War And Peace

Stunning performance: Lily James stars in War And Peace

© Nick Holt


The Life & Works of William Morrison

Here's a New Year mystery that fans of William Morrison, the Bard of Mallusk (1881-1973), would like help in solving. Did William write a sad poem called The Hydepark Watchman's Story, about lifelong pals gathering to say farewell to one of their own who is departing for pastures new?

As I pass the Singer Corner

Three forms are standing there

And I wait in vain for laughter

Till I note their gloomy air.

They're standing close together,

Their eyes are to the ground

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And I wonder why they ponder

In a silence so profound.

The one who is saying goodbye and causing all the gloom as he turns away from Hydepark in East Antrim - I'm told by Helen Cross - is Billy Carruth who is leaving for a foreign shore and who will be missed at the Singer Corner by his inseparable companions with whom he gathered for a chat most summer evenings in the early Nineties.

They'll be waiting there to welcome him

When he comes home again

Till then they're keeping trust with him

At nightfall, rain or fair.

Did Billy Carruth ever come home again?

William Morrison, who could have penned the verses of The Watchman's Story, was married to Ellen Vint, a schoolteacher in Carnmoney, up the road from Hydepark. He is buried in Mallusk Cemetery and his grave is marked by a plaque.

The Watchman's Story, apparently, is very much in his style.

Morrison was born and reared in a former smithy complete with forge that was converted into a country cottage called Old Bush House.

The young William, I'm told, used to tell friends at Mallusk National School he could hear the ghostly clang of the hammer on the anvil as he lay in bed.

What he longed to hear as a grown-up was the sound of his teacher's voice as he read poetry to the class, inspiring the young Morrison to write the lyrics that made him a village legend.

But now, alas, I fail to hear,

The dear old master's voice

Nor listen to my schoolmates wit

That made our hearts rejoice.

Many of Bard William's readings were given to drinkers and fans in the Crown and Shamrock Pub a couple of miles from the Mallusk village.

Lily lights up Leo’s epic tale for television

I’ve never managed to read Leo Tolstoy’s War And Peace and I’ve met only one person who has actually achieved that mammoth task. Mind you, it has been described as one of the great works of literature

Now that War And Peace is a TV series, the second instalment of which goes out on BBC1 tomorrow night, a lot of viewers who ignored the book will be tuning in. 

Not just because the screen version of Tolstoy’s complicated original is by legendary writer Andrew Davies, but because in the cast is Lily James (26), opposite James Norton as Prince Andrei.

Lily lights up the screen and justifies the faith Kenneth Branagh had in her when he engaged her to play in his stage version of Romeo And Juliet.

Flying pigs had nothing on clever Erne porkers

Once upon a time, according to prolific writer Doreen McBride, there were educated Irish pigs in Co Fermanagh and they understood three languages.

 Probably a tall tale, but Doreen describes them so fluently in her Fermanagh Folk Tales (History Press) that you almost believe in them along with her talking horses and the pike who went fishing for squirrels.

Doreen claims that every mountain, tree, lake and stream in her county has a tale to tell and she spins a few of them in this absorbing paperback in which she retells the yarns locals used to spin when around the log fire on a winter evening.

There is a spooky story about a poltergeist who used to haunt a family called Murphy and another one featuring the ghost of Belleek Pottery. And what about the Shining Folk who are supposed to lurk deep in Lough Erne?

Doreen has also written another similar tome, Louth Folk Tales, to further whet your appetite for  the supernatural.

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