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DALE POETRY

In Memory of Davie Kerr

Freedom

Ah, freedeom is a noble thing!
Freedom makes man to have liking!
Freedom all solace to man gives:
He lives at ease that freely lives!
A noble heart may have none ease,
Nor ellys nought that may him please,
If freedom fail: for free liking
Is yearned owre all other thing.
Nor he, that has aye lived free,
May not know well the property,
The anger, nor the wretched doom,
That is coupled to foul thraldom.
But, if he had essayed it,
Then all perquer he should it wit;
And should think freedom more to prize
Than all the gold in world that is.

John Barbour 14thC

 
 

 

A Puckle Poems an Poets, Past an Present, o Armadale an roun aboot.

 

Introducing the Page.

Rosie recently, on this website, published a poem of mine entitled The Lady Baillie Trophy commemorating the 100th Anniversary of its being played for in 1908, by members of the newly formed Armadale Golf Club.  Since then, she has been kind enough (or rash enough) to suggest that I contribute a poetry feature page.  In a moment of weakness I succumbed, (web-sites are well outwith my era), so this is its tentative start.  I hope Armadalians, young and old, at home or overseas, and their descendants) will enjoy the experience.            Davie Kerr

 

Any page on Armadale poets must start with Jessie o the Dell, one that every Armadale bairn would sing lustily as they tramped roun the toun on Gala-days, behind the Brass Band, to the Public Park.  Even the Toll Brae didnae seem sae steep in thae halcyon days... when the sun always shone... and everyone knew the chorus, if not all of the verses.  Here they are now.

Jessie o the Dell

O bright the beaming queen o night
Shines in yon flowery vale,
and softly sheds her silver light
O'er mountain-path and dale:
Short is the way when light's the heart
That's bound in loves soft spell;
Sae I'll awa to Armadale,
To Jessie o the Dell.
To Jessie o the Dell,
Sweet Jessie o the Dell,
The bonnie lass o Armadale,
Sweet Jessie o the Dell.
We've pu'd the primrose on the braes
Beside my Jessie's cot;
We've gathered nuts, we've gathered slaes
In that sweet rural spot.
The wee short hours danced merrily,
Like lambkins on the fell,
As if they joined in joy wi me
And Jessie o the Dell
To Jessie o the Dell
Sweet Jessie o the Dell,
The bonnie lass o Armadale,
Sweet Jessie o the Dell.

There's nane to me wi her can vie,
I'll love her till I dee;
For she's sae sweet an bonnie aye,
And kind as kind can be.
This night in mutual kind embrace,
O wha our joys can tell!
Then I'll awa to Armadale
To Jessie o the Dell.
To Jessie o the Dell,
The bonnie lass o Armadale,
Sweet Jessie o the Dell.

William Cameron

William Cameron, who wrote the above song, was born in the town of Dunipace, Stirlingshire, in the year 1801, and moved to the then new village of Armadale, to become its first schoolmaster, at the age of 25.

Amid the beauties of Barbaughlaw Glen, he drew inspiration for his writing and Jessie o the Dell proved to be a winner with generations of Armadalians.

He wrote many other popular poems and songs too, such as Morags Faery Glen, Sweet Birkenshaw, Meet me on the Gowan Lea, etc, marking him high on the list of Scotland's song writers of the time.

 

Above: Birthplace of Jessie Harvie

 

Frost in the Mornin'

I'm sure ye'll hae heard o the year seventeen,
When frost o October set in very keen;
The maist o oor muirland craps then bein' green
Were ruined by three o thae mornin's.

An efter the frost an the snaw gaed awa',
The rain it cam on like to ruin us a',
It lasted sae lang that it shortened oor straw,
Which added mair dule to oor mornin'.

But besides a' this a scheme I had laid;
I had promised to wed wi a beautiful maid,
To share o the owercome when a'thing was paid,
But was baffled wi frost in the mornin'.

Noo, since my wee crap is a' snug in the yaird,
An still for the lassie I hae a regaird,
I think I will wed her an no pay the laird--
Let him ken it was frost in the mornin'.

William Brock

Frost in the mornin' was written about the same time as Jessie o' the Dell, but in a different style.  It was written by William Brock, 1793 - 1855, who farmed the land of Eastertoun, at the foot of what is now called the Mill Road.  Difference in the language used by each of the foregoing poets is revealing too, between the academic and the more down to earth farmer... although both are love poems... and both wee gems.

 

Mill Road

If the next poem coming up on your screen doesn't put you off this page altogether, after you have read it, then you are a true Armadalian and not easily put off.  It puts Armadale into its proper place in the greater scheme of things.

This story starts when a new roondaboot was built at Heatherfield, just east of Armadale.  It seems that some computer buff, (there's always one), fed into his lap-top all the roundabouts in Scotland's road system and came up with the very interesting fact that the one newly formed at Heatherfield was the centre of Scotland's routes.

Never slow to recognise a good photo-opportunity when it is presented, some Bathgate Cooncillors of that time set up a table and some chairs in the middle of Sibbald's field, on the Bathgate side of the roondaboot and promptly declared, to the camera, (and coos), present, Bathgate to be at the centre of Scotland's road system.

Well!! No self-respecting poet could let Bathgate Cooncillors get away with that one.  Hence the poem, - brought up to date when calming measures had to be introduced to control the tourists.  Read on.

Heatherfield Roondaboot

The hert o Scotland roondaboot?
Three guesses where an then yer oot.
It's no Embra, Perth or Stirlin.
Nae mair guessin, heids are burlin.
Experts say, (A don't dispute it),
Airmadale, it's been computit,
is 'CENTRE O OOR COUNTRY'S ROUTES',
tho' Bathgate folk micht hae thir doots.
They tried ti claim it for thir ain.
The cheek o thim, (they're aye the same)'
for Heatherfield, aa Dale folk ken,
wis pairt o us since 'way back when'.

So, haunds aff oor wan claim ti fame
an ye'll be welcome yince again.
Ti caa in-by jist burl aroun
oor roondaboot, then slow richt doun.
Alang the road an headin west,
lies Airmadale, ye'll be impressed,
for here's a toun'll play its pairt
an prood ti be at 'SCOTLAND'S HERT'.

Haud oan a wee, the future's 'noo', -
it's true that tourists flockin' throu',
led cooncillors ti tak a vote
oan 'calmin measures', but we got
big bumps, nine inches, fuit ti tap,
unwary motorists ti trap,
speedin', only oot for pleisure,
insteid took aff or taen a seizure.
At least, sky-high, hauf-wey ti heaven,
this view o Airmadale they're given,
conversely soonds, in rhymin' verse
like 'CENTRE O THE UNIVERSE'.

Davie Kerr

 

Kite aerial photo taken from Hardhill Millennium Wood, Armadale, looking towards Heatherfield Roundabout (A89 and A801 junction), February 2008

 

The Big Lums o Armadale were, at one time, quite an iconic sight on the skyline and could be likened to the first sight that emigrants got of the sky-scrapers of New York.  Some cynics, though, might aver that the emigrants were probably Armadalians trying to escape the black reek fae oor ain lums in the first place. 

The next poem takes a slightly nostalgic look at the last one left standing.

 

Looking north by kite from Etna Brickworks

(A Wider Image)

Legacy o the Last Lum

The thocht, auld freen, jist blears ma ee,
ti see ye sae forlorn,-
this age o high technology
lacks majesty o form.

Where yince, aroun, aa belchin reek,
wir mony, like yersel,
proclaimin hope, for thaem wha seek,
in betterment, ti dwell.

Frae high grund aa aroun, wha views
thon vibrant, busy scene
wuid, for thir faim'lys future, choose
the power o coal an steam.

Thus, Airmadale accepts her role,
the coal an fireclay found,
wi ironstane an parrot coal,
abundant underground.

Excitin times. Afore ow'r lang,
the trowels an hammers flew
in buildin hames, ti hap the thrang
as Airmadale jist... grew.

Wi aa the furnaces aroun,
lums played thir pairt anaa,
as kil's an pits aboot the toun,
depended on thir draw.

But time moves on, (it ayeways does),
wi modern skills the trend,
computers noo create the buzz
that you an I yince kenned.

Dale folk ken hoo (where'er they be,
thir genes are still the same)
ti mak thir dreams reality,
like, when thir forebears came.

An sae, auld freen, yir legacy,
as you puff your last 'smoke',
is, whit ye've left posterity
wir skilled, weel-daein folk.

Davie Kerr.  Feb. 2009

 

While we're on the subject of Armadale's Industrial Past, here are a few more contributions from A Puckle Poems and others too, on the same theme.

 

PIT REDD

Coal is black
             and hard to get.
Coal warms hands
             and feet and yet,
Coal is found
             cold, underground.

 

Guttering
           and sputtering
candles, light
           the miners moles
slashing picks
           that win the coals.
Nightmare dreams
           haunt low wet seams.
Grovelling
           and shovelling
miners, weans
           and miners wives
(grimy sweat
           cakes all their lives),
haul the coal
           up the black hole,

 

to sunlight,
            (where colours glow),
sea and sky
            and trees, but no,
bings abound
            round poison'd ground.
 

Davie Kerr

 

 

This one comments on the main industries upon which Armadale's prosperity was based and questions where our town's future role lies.

A Chapter's Close

Lang lums,
            black belchin reek,
mark shair the thrivin toun
            that lives
weel daein there.

The roarin furnace, glintin, glowers.
White-het the molten metal spews.
The slag raked aff, the ladle gently slews,
ti shape the cast o steel, wi sparkin showers.

Syne, startin in the stourie laft,
the fireclay moulders free-han skills
reveal, when dampers draw het-shimmer kil's,
the saut-glaze produce o thir ancient craft.

The bings oot-by, lik dour black cairns,
raised ti a special breed o men,-
o moles, wha howk thir stent o coal an then,
wund ti the licht, ti greet thir wives an bairns.

Change comes.
            Th'enlightened seek
clean air, while aa aroun
            life ebbs,
ti flow, - but where?

Davie Kerr, from A Puckle Poems

 

 

Ellen Cairnie, (or Mrs Mulvey as she later became), is the next poet I'd like to introduce.  She came with her parents to live in the wee mining village just north-west of Armadale, called 'The Briggest', (though I see nowadays it goes under the much grander name of Bridgehouse Village.  Pity!  The Briggest always sounded just right to me).

She was born in the year 1900 and her poems graphically describe her life's experiences.  With plenty of lovely countryside on her doorstep, Ellen's was a happy childhood and she became quite an expert on country lore and of the wild flowers that grew in abundance all around.  Together with her brothers and sisters, she attended the wee village school and also spent part of her schooldays at what are now Westfield and Armadale Primary Schools, when walking to and from them was the only option.

On leaving school at the age of 14 years, she was at one of the local pits, doing odd-jobs before progressing to the job of separating out the stones from the coal passing before them on the 'Tables'.  'Happy as Larry' was how her sister described their growing-up years, doing a job that may seem to us now-a-days as pure drudgery.  Having experienced the hardships of the 1921 General  Strike and having to make way for a younger generation of girls for work at the pithead, Ellen had to go into 'service'.  (This was the only alternative to helping out in the family home for women and girls in those days.)  Her poems tell their own (often humorous) story.

I am indebted to her sister, for all of the above information, which I got while doing some research on her work.  What a pity it hasn't, as far as I know, been published.  I'll bet the children of Westfield and The Briggest would be fascinated by her tales of growing-up and of life in their village of 100 years ago, as I was.

 

Here is one of her earlier poems... still on the past industrial scene.

To a workmate

Margaret, do you remember,
When our years but twelve would be,
The fun we had when we were sent
To the pit with father's tea?

Crawling underneath the wagons,
Down the shaft we used to peer,
Seemed as if the old pit loved us,
Nothing gave us any fear.

Peeping into engine-houses,
Watching winding-engines work,
List'ning to the pit-bell tolling
Warning men that danger lurk't.

We then wandered to the tables,
Where the girls at work, would be
Separating stones from good coal
Gliding past them on the scree.

Two years passed and then we joined them
At the tables next the scree,
Follow'd happy years of freedom,
Happy in our work were we.

Happy nights at Barn-dances
Ending with the Harvest-Ball,
Then our life of freedom ended,
Nature gave her 'grown-up' call.

We left home and went to service
Thinking happiness to find
But our thoughts were aye returning
To those friends we'd left behind.

Perhaps to some, our work seemed rough,
Though our clothes were worn and old,
We smoothed all with a friendliness
That cannot be bought or sold.

Mrs Mulvey (nee Helen Cairnie) 1900 - 1986

 

Let's leave this world of work and big lums and black reek and seek some simpler pleasures.

In common with most towns and villages of our area, Armadale has produced her fair share of poets, most of them just writing for their own pleasure or for that of family or friends.  What a pity that these local efforts are going largely undiscovered and unrecorded nowadays.  Who knows? Maybe this page will help towards reversing that trend.

Here is one written by Francis Barnard of Woodend.  Francis was a popular poet of his time, as recorded in A M Bisset's scholarly and well-researched book Poets and Poetry of Linlithgowshire (and which I acknowledge as my main source of information for some of our poets of past years.)  He was one of Scotland's famous Collier Poets and was born in Clackmannshire in the year 1834.  With the Armadale coalfields opening up, he moved with his wife and baby son to find work at the local colliery.  Here he is...

 

Voices i' the Glen

When the bud upon the hawthorn bush proclaims the newborn spring,
An the merry lark far into heaven ascends on spiral wing,
I wander awa doon the brae when mony dinnae ken,
A' ti listen ti the music o the voices i' the glen.
Wee robin noo has fled the doors, an wha will only gang.
An listen ti him i' the glen, he sings a cheerier sang,
An sweetly on the hawthorn spray the dunnock pipes his strain,
Oh! there's naething melancholy in the voices i' the glen.

The blackbird, his sweet lay o love, chants in mair solemn tune,
An the lichter-hearted thrush, you'd think the merle's sang wad droon,
An the merry little shilfa rattles ow'r an ow'r again
His thowless sang- a's love an joy that's heard doon i' the glen.
O come wi me a' ye wha's high an holy aim thro life
Is battling in your brithers weal an in the weary strife
Your guid's requited aye wi ill- O come awa, an then
Ye'll soon forget your sorrows 'mang the voices i' the glen.

Ungratefu' soond was never heard or kent ti live doon there
An oh! it's aye a blest retreat frae dull an carkin' care;
Should a' the warld look glum an sour, how sweet it is ti ken
That ye get a kingly greetin' frae the voices i' the glen.
But yesterday nae far'er gane, delightfu' t'was ti hear
A still wee sang, up frae the earth, stole sweetly on my ear;
I listened, t'was the primrose singing, "here I come again
Ti waken up the beauty that lies sleepin' i' the glen".

The buttercup an daisy soon in legion will be here,
An the gaudy little heartsease that ne'er fails the heart ti cheer,
An a thousand ither beauties, that ti sing I maun refrain,
A' coming yet ti bless you wi' their music i' the glen.
An after I am sleeping, when the merle forgets ti sing,
An' the mavis disnae dae ocht but salute you wi' his wing,
Ye'll get the bonnie harebell an the stately foxglove, when
They will sing a merry welcome as ye come inti the glen.

She ceased ti sing, but oh! she smiled, all blushing loveliness,
Like sweet young maiden, half attired, there in the crumpled dress
She had thrown in haste around her, in her eagerness just then
Ti hurry forth an rouse the beauty sleepin' in the glen.
Mair might I sing but now the trees an bushes are a' thrang
Rejoicing in their birth-time but I maun close my sang.
On the wimplin' little burnie I may sometime sing again
An its music tinkle, tinklin' on its way doon through the glen.

A' ye wha wad hae freedom frae the warld's deceitfu' snares,
In busy, bustlin' tainted life, yet strive ti droon your cares,
An think ti find your peace o mind in haunts o sinfu' men,
O seek the simple pleasures that are found doon i' the glen.

Francis Barnard, 1834

 

Barbaughlaw Glen wis a place that aa Airmadale folk o a certain age will mind o wi affection, o the mony happy oors they wad spend there.  Faimilies wad gan doun wi thir picnic baskets for a day oot, maist weekends, in the summertime.  Wi faithers fishin or guddlin for troot in the burn, the mithers in thir bare feet, playin rounders or attendin ti the tea an the laddies at the fuitba', a rare time wis had bi aa... we'll hear mair aboot thae times again, A've nae doot.

Here's yin though, that takes a look back at oor toun frae the present day, when the glen seems empty o folk, and oor last lum looks gey lonely bi itsel... we'll still keep positive though an look ti the future wi confidence.  The world has moved on... but are we missing something?

 

ARMADALE THE TOURIST TRAP

Armadale is wonderful,
marvellous and beautiful.
Noo we're trystin tourists
ti wir toun,- it's lookin braw.
Wir pit bings, manky mings,
thir's nae mair o sic-like things.
Wealthiest or puirest,
yiz are welcome, wan an aa.

Armadale is wonderful,
marvellous and beautiful.
Noo we hae wir gateweys,
designed ti slow yiz doun.
So, park'n'see, (an it's free,)
aa wir healthy scenery.
Tramp alang the byweys,
that gang aa aroun the toun.

Armadale is wonderful,
marvellous and beautiful.
We're a trap whaur for'ners
can spen mair nor they plan,
in chip shops, bettin shops,
even in wee sweetie shops.
Pubs oan aa the corners
mean, "ye'll hae anither dram".

Armadale is wonderful,
marvellous and beautiful.
Sit back an tak yer ease
an linger ow' yir meal
o steak, lean, French cuisine,
curry that can nip yer een,
Indian or Chinese,-
we hae cairry-oots as weel.

Armadale is wonderful,
marvellous and beautiful.
Fu' o cooncil hooses
built ti last bi local men.
Wir Goth tow'rs leanin ow'r,
its knock stuck at hauf past fow'r.
Listed tow'rs hae uses,-
you can list an whas' ti ken.

Armadale is wonderful,
marvellous and beautiful.
Click on Rosie's website
frae yer ain wee but-n-ben.
You can choose, postcaird views,
poetry pages ti amuse,
'Time Team' humplocks bring ti light
umpteen 'castles' doun the Glen.

Visit Armadale an then,
mind the patter yince again.
Then ye'll ken that you miss't,
wir free an easy crack,
in caird schools, tossin schools,
if ye dinnae brek the rules,
ye'll be on oor guest list.
"Here's ti us",- an haste ye back.

Davie Kerr.

 

Other website links that may interest you:

Dale Tales

Tom Hanlin, the Dale's very own novelist

Publications (fiction and non-fiction)

History of Armadale Association for a list of their publications

Scots Language and Literature

 
 
We are grateful to Davie Kerr for allowing us to publish his new poem, which commemorates the centenary of the award of the Lady Baillie Trophy by Lady Baillie of Polkemmet to Armadale Golf Club in 1908.

 

THE LADY BAILLIE TROPHY

by Davie Kerr, 2008

A hunder year ago this year,
oor gowf-club met ti clap and cheer
the winner in his finest gear,
at Tarraray,
where Lady Baillie wad appear,
to mak his day.

This braw new trophy she'd present,
ti mark the "champion" event
ti cheerin' crowds. 'Twas evident
the day went weel,
as she stood up an thereanent
made her wee speil.

Noo, tho' this tribute, fae the past,
has modern silverware oot-classed,
(its sturdy cast wis meant ti last
for gowfers gain),
God knows hoo mony ba's thae'll blast
in quest o fame.

At seasons start, guidwill's intendit,
frae gowfers, keen an weel connectit
wi drives, that should land where thae meant it,
but, in the huff,
thir's times thiv driven, hauf-dementit,
inti the rough.

As weel's thir spells o bunker pain,
thae'll try an try an try again
ti putt a ba', (that's no ti blame),
in ti the hole.
It's mair nor flesh an bluid an bane,
in truth, can thole.

Oor gemme's had mony ups an douns.
In Airmadale, its present gloom's
meant naewhere noo, within the toun's
gowf still in play,
an sae, till brighter prospect looms,
we'll mind the day.

 

Andy Anderson with the trophy, which was later known as the David Kerr Trophy

For the history of golf in Armadale, and the Lady Baillie Trophy in particular, see Gowff, written by Andy Anderson

The Baillie family and Polkemmet

 
 

Written for Davie

Shiny New Armadale 

Shiny new Armadale at its periphery and by the station

Gentle folk of Burgh long-standing of bumpy streets and declination.

 

Our iron and coal with bricks have built our nation’s heritage with sweat and filth

But generosity still abounds from those who walk above the ground.

Reeking lums, sun’s rays deflecting gave the crust and expectation

And now the last is due to fall, pleasing most but not quite all.

Blackened gritty lungs resist the scalpel blade of deft resection

Bodies born with such perfection stain the earth, Woodbank’s detention.

Dulce et decorum estHanlin knew still drew the best but

Down the pit on bended knee Arbeit did not macht him free

It was in the word that he found solace, dreams, redemption and life’s promise

Steinbeck’s praise and liberation followed by deterioration.

 

Children come and old friends go, taking with them what they know

Life turns the page to write anew, we walk the streets where once we grew.

So, shiny new Armadale at its periphery and by the station

Remember those who built the nation.

 

John Wells, 2012

 
 
Davie Kerr of the HAA test flying an aerial photography kite at an archaeological survey  8 September 2007