Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Poems and Songs on Different Subjects by Andrew M'Kenzie of Dunover (Ballywalter), 1810

This rare collection of poems by Andrew M'Kenzie (1780 - 1839) is now available on GoogleBooks (click here) and also on the University of Ulster's Ulster Poetry Project (click here). There's not that much of Scots / Ulster-Scots vocabulary or language in it, but it's a very interesting look at life in a post-1798 Rebellion Ulster-Scots community.

#alttext# Left: M'Kenzie looking a lot like Robert Burns. Published in 1810 by Alexander Mackay at the News Letter Office in Belfast, it is a collection of 28 poems and 18 songs. The Preface is a snapshot of M'Kenzie's life which he says had been 'too frequently hard wrung by the hard hand of poverty'. The huge subscribers list shows the geographical spread of readers M'Kenzie had, showing a huge following in his own backyard of the Ards and North Down but also reaching into Roughfort and Carnmoney in County Antrim (the home turf of the celebrated poet Samuel Thomson who had of course visited Robert Burns in Scotland), to Coalisland and Dundalk. There is a sizeable list of subscribers in Scotland... and Jamaica! There are still families of these surnames living in these same places today - I suspect that original editions of M'Kenzie's works may well have been passed down through the generations and might even still be on bookshelves or in roofspace treasure troves around the district.

In among the Ulster subscribers are the Allen family of Dunover (they owned a lot of land across the Ards Peninsula right up to the early 1900s, as well as the impressive estate at Mount Panther near Dundrum/Clough, which once attracted the attention of Donald Trump, but is still derelict and for sale). M'Kenzie seems to have been besotted with Eliza Allen...

'April in the Scottish Dialect' on page 83 paints a lovely rural scene and an appreciation of the changing seasons too often unnoticed nowadays. 'Lines written in a beautiful cottage built by Miss Montgomery of Greyabbey' on page 104 is of course a reference to the great Ulster-Scots Montgomery dynasty of the Ards. Other local 'big houses' mentioned are Springvale and Summerhill. But M'Kenzie also gets sharply political in his satire/attack on the gentry 'A Poor Man's Petition' on page 115, a piece he signs as 'Philip M'Clabber' and gives his address as 'Cabin Comfortless, near Ballywalter, December 18, 1807'.

His local 1798 Rebellion references are interesting too. On page 166 he gives the 'Epitaph engraven on the tombstone of two brothers who fell in the field of battle'; this is from the gravestone in Whitechurch to brothers Hugh and David Maxwell, who the inscription says 'fell in an attack made on the town of Newtown(ards) on the 10th June 1798'. The 'Epitaph' must have been written by M'Kenzie. Here's a photograph of the gravestone:


In the 'Notes' section he provides a moving account (either from local folk memory, or possibly M'Kenzie's own personal recollection) of the execution of Rev Archibald Warwick of Kircubbin in 1798.

• M'Kenzie was a friend of Robert Anderson, "the Cumberland Bard" who lived for many years at Carnmoney. Anderson wrote this poem for M'Kenzie, describing him as being 'gifted wi the saul o' Burns'. Here's an excerpt:

Hale be thy pipe, Dunover's Bard!
The day's at haun ye'll meet reward
For puir are ye, and times are hard
And claithin' dear;
But thousans mae will ye regard
Ere this neist year

• Here's a piece from the Belfast Monthly Magazine of 1810, written by a Maecenas of Broad-Island, giving some background on M'Kenzie's early attempts to recruit subscribers for his book.

• Finally, in 'The Poetical Works of William M'Comb' of Belfast, published in 1864, there appears a poem entitled 'To the Memory of Andrew M'Kenzie'. He had died in Belfast in 1839 and was buried in Shankill Graveyard. The inscription on the stone was also written by M'Comb, and reads:

‘Here lies beneath this little mound of earth
A child of genius and a man of worth;
The winds of heaven awoke his rustic lyre,
And tuneful nature breathed from every wire.
The world approved his song, but help denied,
He lived unaided and neglected died.’

I am not sure if M'Kenzie's gravestone is still in Shankill Graveyard.