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Robert Huddleston: The Bard of Moneyreagh

Robert Huddleston
Robert Huddleston

Robert Huddleston (1814-1887) was a prolific Ulsterscots writer and poet from Moneyreagh in the Parish of Comber- often given the epithet- "The Bard of Moneyrea".

Huddleston published two poetic works Poems and Songs on Rural Subjects (1844) and Collection of Poems on Different Subjects (1846); both met with mixed reviews.

In the preface to the former, Huddleston describes himself thusly;

"A roadside ditty singer, rhyming in the broad dialect of his country... a poor man- and a poor man's son"- Poems and Songs on Rural Subjects (Belfast, 1884), p. iv.

Indeed, Huddleston was educated locally, coming from a poor tenant farmer background and mainly writing about the work, people and places of his locality.

His modest background, was reflected in his political opinions, a staunch Home-Ruler and very critical of the Irish landed gentry. Yet, he must have been quite the charmer as funds for the publication of his works were by public subscription, with Huddleston unable to afford it otherwise. Many of his subscribers would belong to the mercantile and landowning class of which Robert was such a vocal critic. Those of you well versed in Comber's History may recognise the names John Miller or John Andrews of Comber or Guy Stone of Barnhill- all of whom appear within the subscriber lists of his 1844 work.

Just a few names are recognisable amongst the many more unknown names included, yet their townlands are more identifiable. Subscribers came from all across Comber Parish- Ringcreevy, Cattogs, Cherryvalley and on and beyond Comber, with one subscriber listed as of Kingstown, Jamacia. These people supported Huddleston and his work, no doubt proud to pick up a copy of his book once in print and read their own names alongside the Ulsterscots poems and songs.

In the first poem in his 1846 work entitled 'Tam Teraway- Holy Tam; or a modern hypocrite defined', Robert begins by taking us on a horseback journey around the local area;

Right on by Belfast, Bangor, Donaghadee,

Kircubbin, Greba, Newtown, and the sea;

We scour along o'er moorland, mount, and drain, Till to the foot of Scrabo Hill we're came,

Reviewing nature as we on surnade,

And many a grave-like man, and laughing vague-

E'en harum-scarum creatrues like oursel's.

Wha's outward conduct naethin' saintly smells.

But now by Dougan's up the Quarry-brae,

And round by Comber, spare bones tears away;

Up Ringneill Howes, and round by Skatric Ha',

Killilleagh, Killinchy, Down, and Florida,

Till through Craigmannon now we're winding forth,

Down on the furies of the black-mouthed north;

And next the kirk, we bend our devious way,

That twenty suns beam o'ver on every day.

Now in the land of love at Takel Raw,

Where none could curse, laugh or tell lies ava,

We're got, and slowly by a cabin gaun,

From which proceeded prayers baith loud and lang.

We stop, we listen, and we rein our steed-

Robert was a member of the long standing Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church in Moneyreagh village, where he was buried upon his death in February 1887. He left behind a treasure trove of unpublished poems, stories and a novel entitled The Adventures of Hughey Funny; or The Many Tales of Love. The value and importance of Huddleston's work was only recognised after his death, with the great Belfast-born poet John Hewitt, describing him as "One of the last folk-bards of Ulster". Much more could be said or written on Huddleston's many poems and songs, which capture so much of his time and locality, but I will leave the last word to Huddleston himself.

"Though all men cannot wed earl's daughters, nor marry themselves to immortal verse- though I may not be a Robert Burns to the lowland Scottish peasantry, let me hope, at least, that I shall one day be a Robert Huddleston to the Ulster Irish"- Collection of Poems on Different Subjects (Belfast, 1846), p. xi.

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