Other County Derry Rhymes and Sayings

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter IV (2) - Start of Chapter

In Derry County, Newtownlimavady, now reverted back to its ancient name of Limavady, has a very complimentary rhyme:—

“Newtown is a pretty place,

And stands upon the Roe;

If you want a pretty girl

To Newtown you must go.”

Evidently W. M. Thackeray agreed with this from his brief visit to the town, as he devotes several pages of rhyme in “The Irish Sketch Book” (1842) to the charms of “Peg of Limavady.”

“Hebe’s self I thought,

Entered the apartment;

As she came she smiled,

And the smile bewitching,

On my word and honour,

Lighted all the kitchen.”

Fain would we quote many more verses, not for the sake of Thackeray’s poetry, but for its description for a charming Irish colleen. In the foregong rhymes beauty appears as a principal consideration, but in a neighbouring district it is said of the fair sex:—

“Like the girls of Munterloney,

You’re better than you’re bonnie.”

A rhyme dealing with localities is:—

“Ling, Dring and Ballyarton,

The three Kinculls and Bultybracken.”

These are hills in sight of each other and seen from Claudy. Other rhymes of the same district are:—

“Lettermuck, Lettermire,

Killaloo’s all afire.”

“Aughtaugh, Ervey and Listress—

These three townlands are round the Ness.”

“Up in Glengarragh,

Where I sprung on my toe

The first time I sa’ ye

Oul’ Peggy Roe.”

In the southern part of the county we have:—

“Gulladuff for lads and lasses—

Moyagull for goats and asses.”

Another rhyme is:—

“Upper Binn beagles, Lower Binn brocks,

Killycor capons, and Claudy game cocks.”

In this couplet two words are noticeable—brock (gaelic: broc, a badger), which is a common name for this animal throughout the north, and capon, an old English word for a table fowl, now practically obsolete.

“Banagher Sand,” is proverbial for its luck-bringing qualities. The Banagher referred to is in County Derry, near Dungiven, and has the ruins of an old church, and of a small square building locally termed “the abbey.” It is situated on the south side of the river Owenreagh, in a retired and beautiful valley. Both church and abbey are said to have been founded by St. O’Heney. In the cemetery there is a curious monument of St. O’Heney, and on the western side of the abbey is to be seen an effigy of the saint in a tolerable state of preservation. A view of the monument is given in “The Estate of the Diocese of Derry,” by Rev. W. A. Reynell, M.A.; printed in “The Ulster Journal of Archaeology,” Vol. II., p. 128, N.S. The land adjacent to the monument (as in the case of St. Patrick’s grave at Downpatrick), is regarded as sacred. In a horse race whoever can throw some of the Banagher sand on the rider as he passes ensures success to his horse. If a person in the locality has a lawsuit he only requires to put some of the Banagher sand in his pocket to win the case. This is so well understood that it is considered risky to go to law with a Banagher man. The sand carries virtue with it wherever it goes, but it should, to prove efficacious, be lifted and given to anyone asking for it by a genuine descendant of the Saint, and I am told that there is one person in the district (he lives at Dungiven) who can do so at present.

Archibald M‘Sparran shows the use made of “Banagher Sand” in “The Legend of M‘Donnell and the Norman De Burgos,” where it is used on a racehorse to prevent witchcraft or overlooking.

“He intended to go to Banagher for a little of the sacred sand to cast over the Brimmagh (a racehorse) to save him from witchcraft or the blink of an ill eye,” said he … …

The sum of the matter was that he arrived safe at the place, entered the hallowed ground, put up a short prayer to the saint, and what was remarkable met one Murrough O’Heaney, a lineal descendant of the guardian angel of that district, and called after his name and surname. His directions were to cast three handfuls of the sand which O’Heaney lifted to him in the name of the saint over the horse as he left the stable door in the morning, and as many over the rider, and that he might sleep on either ear in respect of witchcraft that day.”

In “Irish and Other Memories,” by the Duke of Stackpoole, London, 1922, the writer gives an account of “Banagher sand” in which the titled author has managed to get its virtues exactly reversed as follows:— “Peculiar powers are attributed to natural things. For instance it is believed that if the sand at Banagher be thrown at a horse when it is running a race, the horse must fail to win; if a person, he or she for the time being becomes a liar, totally unable to speak the truth. At a trial in Derry a witness excused himself with the following remark: “I cannot tell the truth; a man who is present threw Banagher sand over me.”

Just so—some graceless wag with no respect for the nobility, deliberately and with malice aforethought pulled the ducal leg.

Garvagh is known as “the town of the third tree.” This appellation probably arose from some forgotten faction fight embodied in a street ballad of which the writer has only heard two lines:—

“His heels went up and his head went down,

At the third tree in Garvagh town.”

These Derry rhymes and sayings may be concluded by a rhyme on the weather which is a variant of the current English one:—

“The farmer in May

Comes weeping away—

He goes back in June

And changes his tune.”

The meaning of which is that May is generally a cold month in which there is very little growth of vegetation, while in June refreshed by warmer showers, it begins to spring up.