Ulster Names

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 forgot it’s the rock across the track of 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, 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 moonlit 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 that 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 whins 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 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.

PoemsPhil Harrison