Famous Newry Couplet

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter VII (3) - Start of Chapter

Newry is known as “Frontier Town” from its proximity to the English Pale in bygone times, and, “coming like the half of Newry” denotes precipitate haste. It has also been immortalised by Swift, who must have been familiar with the town during his long visit to Sir Arthur Acheson’s at Markethill, in the bitter couplet:—

“High Church, low steeple,

Dirty streets and proud people.”

This however, was not the only time that “the Dane” as he was known in his day par excellence in Ireland, used the same idea, as it is recorded in Prior’s “Life of Edmond Malone,” that “Swift having preached one Sunday at St. Anne’s Church, in Dublin, where there is only the basement of a tower without any spire, the building never having been finished, the present Archdeacon Mahon, who was then a boy, followed Swift when he went out of the church, and heard him grumble out:—

“A beggarly people!

A church and no steeple!”

An English couplet having a remarkably close resemblance to the famous Newry one is:—

“Proud Preston, poor people,

High Church, low steeple.”

Then we have “Banbridge beggars,” and “a long Banbridge man.” In the vicinity is Seapatrick, known locally as “Blazestown,” while on a long ridge of hill not far distant there are situated five farmhouses which when lit up on winter nights are known as “the five lights.”

Rathfriland is known as “the hilly town,” the ascent into, and descent out of, being so steep that it used to be a saying of the country that “your horse’s wind was likely to be broken going up into Rathfriland, and his knees broken going down again.”

There is a very lovely song by Moore in his “Irish Melodies,” beginning with “Sail on, sail on, thou fearless bark,”—set to the old air of “The Humming of the Ban,” a title which is most aptly descriptive of the heady foaming rush of the stream from its mountain birthplace towards the lowlands, and also of the murmuring and humming sound that it makes in its course. Shakespeare has the same idea when he makes Pericles say:—

“the belching whale

And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse. (Pericles A. 3. Sc 1. L 64).

Miss McKay in her charming book has sounded the praises of the country around Kilkeel as “Kin’ly Mourne.”

Holywood is known as “the town of the Maypole,” claiming as it does, to have the only one in Ireland of these interesting survivals of a charming bygone custom.