Rhymes and Sayings of County Antrim

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

In the neighbouring County of Antrim we have;

Antrim for men and horses,

And County Down for bonnie lasses.”

Portrush takes to itself the name of “the Irish Brighton,” and of another little County Antrim coast town, a native when questioned as to his place of residence is reported to have said:—

“I come from Cushendall, where the praties they are small,

And they ate them skins and all.”

We have also “Ballymena of the Seven Towers,” which engraved on the Corporation seal does duty as the town arms—viz., the Castle of Ballymena within an orle of six towers, and the legend on the margin of the shield, “Ballymena of the Seven Towers.” The term was originated by the late Lord Waveney who used to address his tenants once a year, and in one of these addresses referring to the development of Ballymena said, “the town had now seven towers, viz., the Castle Tower, the Episcopal Church Tower, first Ballymena Church Tower, (since removed), West Church Tower, the Town Hall Tower, the Tower in the old churchyard, and the Roman Catholic Chapel Tower.” This saying was seized upon by the local Press who proceeded to boom “the City of the Seven Towers,” until finally the Urban Council adopted the seven towers as their official seal. There are however, not wanting irreverent scoffers who allege that these towers consist principally of the mill chimneys that can be counted from a certain vantage point.

In the neighbouring town “a Ballyclare crossing” is on the bias, not straight across; this may have some relation to the “Ballyclare dander,” and this again may have some connection with “the Carrickfergus shuffle.” Then again it was with reference to a district not far distant from either town that a leading K.C. on the North-East Circuit propounded the dictum:—

“You may take this from me,

There’s nothing for nothing in Islandmagee.”

It is also a saying that “there is nothing for nothing in Dublin,” so that the peninsula can either console or congratulate itself on being bracketed with the capital.

Near Templepatrick there is a townland described as “Killygreel for potatoes and meal,” and a prettily situated County Antrim village is “Doagh where the hens go barefooted.”

Not far from the town of Antrim is a district known as “Hurtletoot.” The name is said to have been originated by a destitute old woman, who, becoming exhausted on the way to the Union Workhouse, called at a farmhouse where they gave her a meal, and as the evening was wearing on, offered to make her up a bed of straw in the barn, but she refused to remain saying that she would just “hurtle it oot,” which so tickled her hearers that it gained currency and became applied to the district.

“Fire Broomhedge and Megabbery’s beat,” is a saying relative to two townlands near the town of Lisburn. The people of the district have no explanation of the origin of the expression which may have originated in the Volunteer period, when shooting matches were common and the competition between the different companies very keen.

Belfast, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, claimed the proud title of “the Northern Athens,” but with the enormous development of manufacturing industry art and literature, have more or less suffered eclipse, and the city is now more generally known as “Linenopolis,” from its staple industry. It was an American visitor who observed with regard to its climate that “you would require gills to live in Belfast.”

The dampness of our climate being a watery subject naturally leads up to Lough Neagh, as bordering on some of the counties already dealt with, and also of some of those to follow. Long ago at fairs the cry was common:—

“Lough Neagh Hones! Lough Neagh Hones!

Put in sticks and brought out stones.”

This alluded to the belief formerly prevalent as to the petrifying qualities of the water of Lough Neagh, which, as is now well known, is without foundation, and arose from considerable quantities of petrified wood being found from time to time in the vicinity of its shores

In bygone times if popular report were true, the fishermen on Lough Neagh while remaining “upward man,” actually became “downward stone.” Consequently they needed not, as has been facetiously said, to buy hones to sharpen their razors upon. All that they had to do was “to turn up their trousers and sharpen them upon their shins.” A great convenience certainly before the era of safety razors.