The Man From God Knows Where

Into our townlan, on a night of snow,
Rode a man from God-knows-where;
None of us bade him stay or go,
Nor deemed him friend, nor damned him foe.
But we stabled his big roan mare:
For in our townlan we’re decent folk,
An if he didn’t speak, why none of us spoke,
An we sat till the fire burned low.

We’re a civil sort in our wee place,
So we made the circle wide
Round Andy Lemon’s cheerful blaze,
An wished the man his length o days;
An a good end to his ride,
He smiled in under his slouchy hat
Says he: “There’s a bit of a joke in that,
For we ride different ways.”

The whiles we smoked we watched him
From his seat fornent the glow,
I nudged Joe Moore, “You wouldn’t dare
To ask him who he’s for meetin there,
An how far has he got to go?”
But Joe wouldn’t dare, nor Wullie Boy Scott,
An he took no drink – neither cold nor hot
This man from God-knows-where.

It was closin time, an late forbye,
When us ones braved the air
I ne’er saw worse, may I live or die,
Than the sleet that night, an I says, says I,
“Ye’ll find he’s for stoppin there.”
But at screich o day, through the gable pane
I watched him spur in the peltin rain,
An I juked from his rovin eye.

Two winters more, then the Trouble Year,
When the best that a man could feel
Was the pike he kept in hidlin’s near,
Till the blood o hate an the blood o fear
Would be redder nor rust on the steel.
Us ones quit from mindin the farms
Let them take what we gave wi the weight o our arms,
From Saintfield to Kilkeel.

In the time o the hurry, tho we had no lead
We all of us fought with the rest
An if e’er a one shook like a tremblin reed
None of us gave neither hint nor heed,
Nor even showed we’d guessed.
We men of the North had a word to say,
An we said it then, in our own dour way,
An we spoke as we thought was best.

All Ulster over, the weemen cried
For the standin crops on the lan
Mony’s the sweetheart an mony’s the bride
Would liefer hae gone till where he died.
An hae murned her lone by her man,
But us ones weathered the thick of it,
An we used to dander along an sit
In Andy’s side by side.

What with discourse goin to an fro,
The night would be wearin thin,
Yet never so late when we rose to go
But someone would say: “D’ye mind thon snow,
An the man came wanderin in?”
An we’d be fallin to talk again,
If by chance he was one o them
The man who went like the win

Well, ’twas gettin on past the heat o the year
When I rode to Newtown fair;
I sold as I could – the dealers were near
Only three pounds eight for the Innis steer,
An nothin at all for the mare –
But I met McKee in the throng o the street
Says he, “The grass has grown under our feet
Since they hanged young Warwick here”

An he told me that Boney had promised help
To a man in Dublin town
Says he, “If ye’ve laid the pike on the shelf,
Ye’d best go home hot-foot by yerself,
An once more take it down.”
So by Comber road I trotted the gray
An never cut corn until Killyleagh
Stood plain on the risin groun

For a wheen o days we sat waitin the word
To rise an go at it like men,
But no French ships sailed into Cloughey Bay,
An we heard the black news on a harvest day
That the cause was lost again;
An Joey an me, an Wullie Boy Scott,
We agreed to ourselves we’d as lief as not
Hae been found in the thick o the slain

By Downpatrick Gaol I was bound to fare
On a day I’ll remember, faith
For when I came to the prison square
The people were waitin in hundreds there,
An you wouldn’t hear stir nor breath
For the sodgers were standin, grim an tall,
Round a scaffold built fornent the wall,
An a man stepped out for death

I was brave an near to the edge o the throng,
Yet I knowed the face again,
An I knowed the set, an I knowed the walk
An the sound of his strange up-country talk,
For he spoke out right an plain
Then he bowed his head to the swingin rope
While I said, “Please God” to his dyin hope
An “Amen” to his dyin prayer.
That the wrong would cease an the right prevail –
For the man that they hanged at Downpatrick Gaol
Was the man from God-knows-where.

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One Response to The Man From God Knows Where

  1. Dermot McKee says:

    I just love this poem, and when I first heard it as a teenager many years ago it was in a crowded gathering and I only vaguely understood it. But when I read a little more history about the 1798 period it made more sense. Phil Coulter does a fine job in his CD and I like the variation in his voice as he emphasises certain phrases, such as –
    ‘he spoke out right an’ plain’. Not a bit wonder people write in and say things like – ‘it would make the hair stand on your head’. Florence Wilson deserves much greater prominence in Irish literature than she is given, and should be up there with the Yeats, the Heaneys, Shaws and Joyces – if only for this brilliant poem alone!

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