Ulster Names

Ulster Names

John Hewitt 


I take my stand by the Ulster names, 
each clean hard name like a weathered stone; 
Tyrella, Rostrevor, are flickering flames: 
the names I mean are the Moy, Malone, 
Strabane, Slieve Gullion and Portglenone.

Even suppose that each name were freed 
from legend's ivy and history's moss, 
there'd be music still in, say, Carrick-a-rede, 
though men forget it's the rock across 
the track of the salmon from Islay and Ross.

The names of a land show the heart of the race; 
they move on the tongue like the lilt of a song. 
You say the name and I see the place 
Drumbo, Dungannon, or Annalong. 
Barony, townland, we cannot go wrong.

You say Armagh, and I see the hill 
with the two tall spires or the square low tower; 
the faith of Patrick is with us still; 
his blessing falls in a moonlight hour, 
when the apple orchards are all in flower.

You whisper Derry. Beyond the walls 
and the crashing boom and the coiling smoke. 
I follow that freedom which beckons and calls 
to Colmcille, tall in his grove of oak, 
raising his voice for the rhyming folk.

County by county you number them over; 
Tyrone, Fermanagh ...I stand by a lake, 
and the bubbling curlew, the whistling plover 
call over the whips in the chill daybreak 
as the hills and the waters the first light take.

Let Down be famous for care-tilled earth, 
for the little green hills and the harsh grey peaks, 
the rocky bed of the Lagan's birth, 
the white farm fat in the August weeks. 
There's one more county my pride still seeks.

You give it the name and my quick thoughts run 
through the narrow towns with their wheels of trade, 
to Glenballyemon, Glenaan, Glendun, 
from Trostan down to the braes of Layde, 
for there is the place where the pact was made.

But you have as good a right as I 
to praise the place where your face is known, 
for over us all is the selfsame sky
the limestone's locked in the strength of the bone, 
and who shall mock at the steadfast stone?

So it's Ballinamallard, it's Crossmaglen, 
it's Aughnacloy, it's Donaghadee, 
it's Magherafelt breeds the best of men, 
I'll not deny it. But look for me 
on the moss between Orra and Slievenanee. 

© 2010 OASES