Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sam Henry's "Ulster Fireside Bus Run" in the Belfast Telegraph, Saturday 15 April 1944

It is reassuring to find myself in the same 'headspace' as the world-renowned folklorist and collector Sam Henry (1878–1952). I came across this article a few days ago. The wonder of the internet enables us to travel from our sofas to anywhere in the world, viewing YouTube videos and Instagram images of far-flung places. In 1944 life was simpler so Sam decided to fire his home-tied readers' imaginations, distract them from how "irksome travel" was during wartime, and gather them together for a Fireside Bus Run from their rocking chairs. 

He left his "clean hearthstane" behind and travelled through a poetic flow of Ulster placenames. I am beyond delighted that - exactly like me until very recently - he had been unable to find the words of Kate of Carrowdore despite repeated efforts (you'll find it in previous posts on this blog, written by Ernest Milligan). Daft Eddie and the Strangford Lough smugglers get a look in, as do "the neuks and knowes" of County Down, and "the drouthiest run" through the taverns of Newry and Rathfriland. He visits Glenwherry and "the banks o' the Misty Burn". The ancient times of the Picts and the Cruithne get a mention too.

Sam wrote that this was "the real Ulster that does not get on the radio". I'm not sure that's entirely true of today. If you find yourself telling the same stories, seeking the same songs, and travelling the same loanens that Sam Henry yearned for, then you're not going too far wrong. My thanks to those who help me to do so.

Below: one of the statuettes referred to in the article, of 'Will Watch' the bold smuggler.