CONVERSATION BETWEEN A1 AND THE HILLSBOROUGH BY-PASS
AT THE TIME OF THE OPENING OF THE LATTER
[With acknowledgments to Robert Ferqusson (1750-1774), whose "Mutual Complaint of Plainstanes and Causey, in their Mother-tongue," motivated the writing of these lines].
Since Hillsborough has joined at last
The ranks of towns which are by-passed
It seems the moment to reflect
On this and that and each aspect
Of what by-passing does to places -
How it can change their public faces
And how affect the folk who live
Thus riddled through a by-pass sieve.
How better, then, to mark this moment
Than listen to the roads' own comment?
I am not joking when I say
I overheard them yesterday
And stood transfixed whilst wordy heat
Ran melted tar beneath my feet
Which then solidified in rhymes
So symptomatic of our times
I here record their conversation
In verse, verbatim, for the nation.
Al, the Belfast-Dublin road,
Speaks first, to grievances unload;
And then By-pass, his younger brother,
Joins one complaint unto another.
'Though labouring the measures go
All those whom Fergusson may know
Should read my lines as road repairs,
By one of his assigns and heirs,
To keep in memory bright and rosy.
In mother-tongue, Plainstanes and Causey.
I dinna think ye wad believe
The kind o' treatment we receive;
I've liv'd owre lang in by-gone days
Tae thole the gross, ill-mannered ways
In which the roadmen noo behave.
It's God's ain truth till say that they've
Insulted me wi' mony lines
An' sundry cabalistic signs
Thick painted on me asphalt cheek
(I'm smartin' frae a job last week
When cats'-eyes set within me skin
Fair pierced me like a javelin).
Hauld mon! Ye shouldna be sae tender
When teenage maidens, saft an' slender,
Admit nae pain when goin' through
The needlin' torture o' tattoo.
Jist think how I hae suffer'd lang
Through thim earth-movers, braid an' strang,
Wi' caterpillar legs that cut
Deep doon intil me inmost gut........
A creepy motion sae tentacular
I'd nae Stan' fen a Fox Spectacular,
'Twould drive me till the drink - a boozer -
Tae be thus raped by a bull-dozen.
Me agein' flesh is near worn out
By lorries aff the roundabout,
I'll hive thim aff till ye wi' pleasure
An' addin' till thim fer guid measure
Containers, juggernauts, an' a'
Sic things which send me up the wa'.
An' as I'm busy criticisin'
They use me noo fer advertisin',
An' sundry politicians' names
(I'll say they hae queer fun an' games)
Get writ at night a' owre me skin -
An insult I wad ca' a sin.
Up this, Down that, an' "No Pope here",
"To Hell with........" what it wasn't clear,
Sae who they wad consign tae Hell
I canna fer the moment tell,
But wish they'd wring their blasted withers
An' dree the fate prescribed fen ithers.
Forget the present, let's look back
An' hae a nice nostalgic crack;
Ye've liv'd through years o' history
There's meikle ye can tell till me.
Och aye. But should I tell it a'
I'd keep ye standin' till each wa'
O' Hillsborough Market House an' Fort
Had bin restored tae what they wert.
(That wad be mony years till tarry).
But howlt! There bees a book by Barry
Recounts the history we hae seen
Sin' guid King Billy an' his Queen.
I'll git the book an read o' ages
Lang past in Hillsborough in its pages.
But tell me, surely time has brought
Mair things till happen sin' he wrote?
Indeed' tis so. Tae do wi' roads
Some lorries wi' too heavy loads
Jack-knife, rin back adoon our hill
An' crash through railin's, wa', an' sill.
Tae see the houses wan wad say
The village had bin bombed. The day
Ye open an' remove sic traffic
House-owners will hae cause tae maffick;
The Antique Dealers on the hill
Won't need a tranquilisin' pill;
The cows, twice daily come fen milkin',
Between containers won't be jukein';
Till life an' limb the risk will lessen
Tae thim uns that me width be crossin'.
I'm tellin' ye we'll feel elated
Tae hand ye the articulated
Commercial vans an' tankers whose
Exhaust lung tissues sae abuse,
Which deafen us wi' noise an' may
Git stuck upon the hill each day
An' hold up traffic in the muck
Spewed oot by stock-transporter truck.
Shush! On sic subjects daen't be dwellin',
In troth yen very verse bees smellin'
An' dinna waste me time suggestin'
Yer joys when traffic's less congestin'.
I ken a' that; it's why they've built
Me here across the patchwork quilt
O' Downshire fields, fell'd meikle trees,
An' drain'd McKee's Dam till the lees,
Upsettin' a' the wild-life pattern
Tae mak ye jist a lazy slattern.
Stop! Major Road Ahead!, non, Halt!
Quit sic abusin' talk, the fault
Lies not in me, 'tis the internal
Combustion ingine bees the kernal
O' maist o' twentieth-century trouble
Far worse nor ony South-Sea Bubble.
But till return till recent days
There's little I'm disposed till praise.
I canna noo but rue the day
Me verges green were drinch'd wi' spray
An' their traditional ecology
Destroy'd by modern toxicology -
Cow parsley, stitchwort, grasses, a'
Turn'd broon an' scorch'd as in a war,
An' butterflies bees noo sae rare
Tae see yin is tae stan' and stare.
That Governments an' Councils drain
Much colour oot o' life is plain
Frae what I next desire tae tell.
Daen't interrupt me. Listen well.
It's bin me duty tae prostrate
Mesel' afore a' Heeds o' State,
Tae humbly sarve a' Royal wheels'
(An' sometimes Royal soles an' heels
As when, as Prince, puir Edward VIII.
Stole on me frae the "Quaker Gate"
An' had a blatter at the drum
Sae Orangemen could ca' him chum).
Sin' nineteen-twenty-four I've been
By Royal Appointment till the Queen
Supplier o' the onlie road
Which link'd the Governor's abode
Wi' ither parts o' County Down.
But noo the Governor bees flown,
His Office ended (what a caper!)
Dismissed by merely wan White Paper.
An' talkin' o indignities
(It's truth I tell, nae pack o' lies)
Jist think o' what they go an' place
Across the smoothness o' me face
Forninst the Barracks - ramps sae tall
They slow a' traffic till a crawl.
(The reason for't's anither story
I'll nae embark on noo, I'm sorry)*
An' then I can't help feelin' bitter
The way they plague me noo wi' litter,
Not merely paper, bottles, tins,
But maist o' what should be in bins,
Big fertilizer bags, beer-cans,
* (The ramps
ha'e gone, but how they went,
Who demolition order sent,
I "dinna ken. They left a scar
Scarce seen by June in 'seventy-four.
These lines were barely written when
A someone ordered, "Ramps agen,"
An' troops wi' cauterisin' gear
Me healin' scars began till sear
An' raise upon thim cancerous lumps
Owre which the slowed-down traffic bumps
As bump it will until the day
We cry "quits" wi' the I.R.A.
P.S. In August 'seventy-four
The ramps were took away once more
Though folks would say-I'll take a bet
The- I.R.A.'s not beaten yet).
I don't expect frae ye a treatise
On Law Reform. Here, hae some swetties
An' stop yer silly mou frae gabbin'.
Yer polls, sae took up wi' stabbin',
Wi' arson, bombin', shootin', lies,
An' ither sic atrocities
Hae nae time left fer litter-bugs
When a' their work's consarned wi' thugs.
Thin penalty by death restore,
Gie back the peace we had afore
An' rid the country o' sic varmin........
Oh shut yer trap! Anither sarmin!
I bid ye noo, on pain o' death,
Use vane o' yer remainin' breath
Tae preach reform. Let thim dogs lie
That lead till sic controversy.
Wan thing yell niver do is yield
A right-o'-way intil The Field,
Sin' Orange Lodges an' Parades
Through touns perform their braw charades.
That is a circumstance I'll treasure,
Nae brass, accordion, or flute measure
Shall iver splurge along me lanes
Or echo frae me causey stanes.
I'll say I envy ye the height
O' yon fly-over! What a sight
Till see the traffic roarin' over
Above the slopes o' grass an' clover.
Yer motorists, intent on speed
Tae naethin' else can pay much heed,
But Sunday by-passers may spy
The spire o' Hillsborough church on high;
Beyont the trees yon shapely steeple
May drap a hint till heathen people
That life's best road, I dare till say,
Is not a dual-carriageway.
Tush, mon! Daen't think that I've bin built
Tae inculcate a sense o' guilt.
Church-goers still will go by you
Till reach their own accustomed pew.
Sic traffic I wadna respect
As hypocrites o' ony sect
Frae thim Free Presbies back till Adam
I'd banish frae me tar-macadam.
I'm tellin' ye I've had enough
O' thim uns that bees like Tartuffe,
Paradin' in their Sunday claes
They ridicule the best o' days.
A shame on ye fer castin'
such Aspersions on church-goers! Much
O' what ye say might weel be true,
But still there bees the faithfu' few,
The leaven in the lump, which I
Hae sworn tae help until I die,
Till pass the strait an' narrow gate
An' reach their church in time, not late;
Whilst a' ye dae is makin' Sunday
Jist like a Saturday or Monday,
Encouragin' the non-devout
Till mitch frae kirk an' gad about
Neglectin' a' religious duties
Fer picnic sites an' scenic beauties.
Nae pin care they fer moral blots
But carry on at beauty spots;
It's written large on ivery page,
Ye favour this permissive age,
'Twill sarve ye right if ban an' ration
Turn folks' minds back till their salvation........
Anither sarmin! I'm not here
Tae list till a hot-gospeller.
Whist man! For God's sake quit yer preachin'
Me heed's fair moidered wi' yer teachin'.
Men canna spend six days a-slavin'
An' all o' Sunday souls a-savin'.
By helpin' thim till git away
Frae where they spend their work-a-day
I claim that I'm fulfillin' needs
Wi'out which they'd gae aff their heeds.
I'm keepin' half the country sane
Escapin' frae religions' bane,
Frae Baptist, Adventist, an' Mormon,
Worse nor the Sirens, worse nor Gorgon.
Jist think where a' these sects hae got us!
Gi'e me the Jaguar an' Lotus,
In place o' Paisley an' St. Paul
I'd plump fer Austin an' Vauxhall,
Fer Morris, Henry Ford, an' Stokes
Instead o' thim sectarian blokes.
I'll be downgraded when you're workin'
But still nae duties will be shirkin'.
A' thim that comes till Hillsborough shoppin',
Frae girls in their high block-heels cloppin'
Till auld, slow men frae oot Kilwarlin
Will tread upon me. Though appallin'
The mess wi' which Woods' cows may soil
Me surface, I prefer till oil
The hailsome piss an' dung o' cattle,
An' mooin' tae a lorry's rattle.
The noise an' fumes I've stood fer years
I'll hand tae ye an' shed nae tears;
Ye'll hae till thole continuous noise
An' larn how greatly it annoys,
An' a' things said, it will be fairer
Tae gi'e ye traffic bound for Eire.
Cross-border traffic - yon's a thing
That Irish unity will bring.
It's clear the planners o' M1
Nae thought o' Dublin had in min' -
Why, glory be, gae till Dungannon
An' not Athlone upon the Shannon?
I'm doin' mair tae cure the mess
Partition made than yer excess
U' piety which onlie leads
Till backward-lookin' words an' deeds,
Till Craig an' West an' U.D.I.,
An U.V.F. to do or die,
Who gi'e the label Loyalist
A sartin contradictory twist
Attackin' wi' declared intent
Decrees o' H.M. Government.
It's politics ye're talkin' noo,
I didna start thim, it was you!
I'd hoped this conversazione
(Like that 'twixt ane an' ither crony)
Wad niver mention politics
Or politicians by whose tricks
Yer fly-overs an', bridges are
Fine targets fer a bomb in car.
Noo dinna be sae aggravatin'
sic like talk exaggeratin'.
It's plain till see that roads like you
Assist the bomber an' his crew
Far mair nor me. A' thim restrictions,
Controlled zones, check-points, an' directions,
Thim barrels, drums, an' barricades
A' prove that ye the bomber aids.
Come noo, confess ye let thim go
Exactly where they choose; ye show
A traitor's record well attested.
How comes it that ye're nae arrested?
I ken the bomber uses me,
But like the rain o' heaven I be
Which falls wi' equal wetness on
The just an' unjust. Sae upon
Me neutral surface, guid an' bad
May come an' go. A' times I've had
Baith saints an' divils on me. You
When auld as me, will find it's true.
For ivery gineration carries
Upon its back. Nane can gainsay
We hae mair than our share the day.
Nae previous gineration got
Sae great a parasitic lot,
Nae, mair nor parasites, destroyers
Not merely tryin' till annoy us
But bent on the annihilation
O' much that civilized our nation.
It's late, we'd better end our crack,
The rush-hour's burdenin' me back;
I'm fash'd wi' a' thim new commuters,
'Though preferable till thugs an' looters
They yit, somehow, contrive tae pillage
The character frae oot our village.
They tell me County Planners ...... but
I quit thon subject, firmly shut
Me mou, an' bid By-Pass goodnight,
We'll niver put the worl' tae right.
The conversation stopped. But soon
From eastward, toward the rising moon
(Just were I couldn't say but thought
It came from near Old Hillsborough Fort).
An old man's voice began to tell
Of times that he remembered well,
How "lang afore the days o' tar
I carried soldiers till the war,
Guid folk aboot their peacefu' rounds,
Men on the run or oot-o'-bounds,
Young brides, their han's new-gi'en in marriage,
In mony a varnished, crested carriage,
Broughams, phaetons, curricles, an' gigs,
Braw liverymen in powdered wigs,
F'at bishops, gracious ladies, yeomen,
Mail coach-an'-fours, an' travellin' showmen,
Gleg highwaymen, an' vagrant critters
Who liv'd by pilferin' their betters,
Lord Downshire's coach, an' `Castlemen'
(Six pence a day their wage was then),
Home-weavers marketin' their linen,
Wood ploughs, then iron ploughs beginnin'........"
The catalogue becoming faint,
The voice revived with this complaint-
'Ye talk'd aboot some coos-fist think
O' centuries I've tholed wi' stink
Through mony thousand tons o' dung
Drapp'd on me face sin' I were young;
Sparks struck aff flints were strikin' proof
O' punishment frae boot an' hoof
What time I stood the ceaseless beat
O' countless horse-shoe-shodden feet
O' Clydesdales, Arabs, Trotters, Shires,
Compared wi' which, pneumatic tyres
Bees gintle massage, gintle rubbin'
On roads which canna stan' a drubbin'
Whose surfaces wad a' be crumblin'
Tae carry what I did through Cromlyn." 1Crusty old age, the Old Coach Road
On which our forbears trod and rode
It was who spoke. He said no more
But fell asleep. (I heard him snore).
By now the weltering sun had set,
A shower left the tarmac wet,
The roads, exhausted by their talking
Fell silent. I went homeward walking
Along Al, my faithful friend,
Who would, I knew, until the end
Remain to serve me whether I
Were by-passing or passing by.
1 Cromlyn is the old name for Hillsborough.
Inconsistencies in dialect in these verses are deliberate and intended to suggest a fundamental lack of feeling of national identity in some parts of the north of Ireland.
The Hillsborough By - Pass was first partially opened for traffic on 18th September, 1974. The "Conversation" was first published in "The Leader" (Dromore, Co. Down) dated 2 7th September, 19 74, and issued in pamphlet form in November of that year.
An' cartons thrown frae cars an' vans,
The sight o' it wad mak ye sickit
Yet niver polis prosecutit
It's clear there bees some fatal flaw
Within existin' litter law............