Poems of Johnny Burns

These poems were submitted by Bill and form part of the Donegal Genealogy Resources website

You may link to this page but not copy it


These poems were composed by Johnny Burns back in the 1940's. Johnny lived near Lifford  and as a lad worked on various farms.

He would write poems about what he saw - he even put them into a little booklet and sold them for a few pence

Thanks to Bill, on whose father's farm Johnny worked at one time, six of his poems can be presented here

Please note that these poems have been copied a lot of times and some of the rhyming words may not be just right




Note: This poem is supposed to be a ghost in Bill's family home "Elmwood." His father said that in one room the ceiling had fallen and the door was locked, so no one ever went into that room - hence the ghost story

Elmwood is a quiet place thats free from noise and din

Beside old Clady Village not far from Castlefin
And tourists on the roadway can view the Elm trees
How their crooked branches dance and sway before the Western breeze

Close by is an orchard where the apples first get ripe
There are pear  trees, plum trees and trees of every type
The avenue is delightful with its flowers on every side
And the mighty castle rare to see stands looking down with pride
This castle was erected in the bygone days of yore 
By some old wealthy squire in 1784
And its haunted by a ghost as most all people know
By some murdered man long dreary years ago

It was a country residence for fifty years or more
Of a captain bold, as I am told, who drove in a coach and four
This warlike man with sword in hand one dismal winter's night
When after some hard fighting put ten highway men to flight

But one of them fell wounded, one of the robbers band
And he was hanged upon a tree at  the Captains stern command
And since that night this ghost appears as most all  people say
Beside the tunnel entrance to chase all earthly men away

One night he struck big Charlie Leitch and down big Charlie fell
Like Lucifer descending  to the burning pits of Hell
The next he struck was Donald Rogan who fell and broke his knee
He went down stern foremost like a sinking ship at sea

This ghost is no loving charmer for the ones he nightly roams

One night he met a farmer, a farmer surnamed Holmes 

As he was passing by him he spit upon his face                                                                                                                                                                  

When he met him on the laneway which is a lonesome place

With flying feet Holmes he did retreat, the truth I must declare

For the ghost did hunt him home that night as a greyhound hunts a Hare

As the ghost would not conduct himself the Peelers got on his tail

Where he got himself six months to rest in gloomy Derry Jail.

Now the ghost from prison is released and no more he'll try to kill                                                                                                                                  

Mc Cormick has given him a bed in the famous old Scutch Mill

To guard that well known orchard, to watch it night and day

To charge all apple stealers and chase them all away

So all you garden proggers a warning take from me

As I am not a lawyer my advice is given free

Never say what you can do and of course do not boast 

Until you see if you can fool this fearless fighting ghost.


Johnny Burns



The vale of Finn is golden, it is free from noise and strife

Where I first came into action on the battlefield of life

Along the woodland shores of Finn beside old Clady town

A chocolate factory has been built by a lawyer of the crown


The set of this great factory is hidden much from view

By Urney trees that fought the breeze since the reign of Brian Boru

A castle bright stands near the site where an engine is heard to din

And just below is seen to flow the silent waves of Finn

This castle was erected as most all people know

By some unknown clergyman two hundred years ago                                                                                                                                                      

And since that time some Holy men lived and passed away

And each was loyal to the act of Fitt and Castlereagh

The last to leave I do believe it was his own goodwill

He did prefer a smaller house near Herdmans, Sion Mill

He was known to all as a godly man that never did no crime

He had in store the books of yore and bibles of all time

The owner of the castle was a man of toilents trim                                                                                                                                                              

And work and punctuality are much admired by him

He has lately built this factory which is so high and grand

There's not another like it on the four shores of our land

The masons were skilled tradesmen that served o'er the foam

Mc Ginn built in Moscow and Campbell built in Rome

Canavan made a masons name for from the banks of Finn

He built a mighty castle for the Kaiser in Berlin

Noteworthy was young Donnell, he commands the masons trade

He can show how bricks and mortar should be laid

A brainy man the plasterer who did the walls adorn

And he was surnamed Kennedy, such a man was never born

The roof was somewhat difficult as powerful was the span

But it was thoroughly well conducted by a joiner from Strabane

He was well assisted in his work as far as I could see

By a sailor lad who in weather bad did scour the wildest sea

Now the Irish boring company are boring for a stream

Of some unknown river to supply the want of steam

To find a spring beneath a rock they lately have resolved

But awkward is the problem, it yet remains unsolved

Excellent are the chocolates and the sweets have won renown

Made by charming Colleens from the hillside and the town

There are maidens there from everywhere, from Clady and Drumbane

From Drumdriot and Skelpie,  Inchancy and Strabane

Every morning early I see them rushing in

A few of them the Pile bridge cross that spans the river Finn

Mr Mc Nulty is doing the best he can

To sell those famous chocolates in a giant motor van

He sells them all through Ulster and as far away as Louth

And the business is well managed by a lady from the South

The mainspring of them is a public known man

A famed D.L. for Donegal and a J.P. for Strabane

He walks around the factory ground and keeps in constant touch

With a few of the willing boys for fear they do too much

These chocolate sweets have a welcome found far from the Emerald Isle

Because they were made at Urney factory---where nature seems to smile

In future years to come Irelands boast and pride

Will be of this great factory along Finn water's side

Johnny Burns



It was on a winters night somewhere on Clady street

That two of Irelands champions in a great contest did meet

These Irishmen were drinking for some time at the bar

When after some hot argument they agreed to have a spar

Mc Kinney went out like a policeman on patrol

To decide the fate of him so great,  I mean Big Harry Sproule

Harry he went out with one great tiger spring

For Irishmen were always first and foremost in the ring

Before the fight began Sproule said, "remember John"

"I never was the man to run when fighting must be done"

"Well",  said John "Now Harry I may now tell you straight

There never came from Tullymoan  a man I couldn't beat"

At this the battle started and for awhile they fenced

When after some manoevuring a brutal fight commenced

Mc Kinney he went rushing in and tried a left hand clinch

But Harry stood determined not staggering half an inch

Harry somewhat lost his head and putting out his foot

He landed in poor Mc Kinney a brutal uppercut

Mc Kinney he fell senseless upon the frozen ground

And the look on Sproule did terrify the lads who stood around

Harry fought so quickly he did his hands control

I thought it was Jack Johnston and not big Harry Sproule

Though Mc Kinney was knocked out he fought with skill and pluck

He was active as Jim Corbett till the fatal blow was struck

So Irishmen be careful wherever that you be

Never say you can fight until you try and see

Always keep your temper and don't lose self control

 For in a simple contest you might meet a Harry Sproule


Johnny Burns




Strabane glen is a lovely place that has won high renoun

In a valley low near Knock A Voe that hill so high and brown

Close beside is Foyle's bright tide where many bridges span

It runs along the Kings highway from Derry to Strabane


Croughan hill so calm and still stands gazing over all

And far away on the horizon are the hills of Donegal

Thousands come from other lands this hallowed spot to see 

Hamilton's Leap, the London House and the Lordly Cottage Lea


But time brings many changes and the spoilers hand is seen

To cut down all the Oak trees  that were often dressed in green

The rabbits and the badgers  must find another den

Desolation stares the face of their old home, the glen


The Magpie in the Fir tree  will lose her ancient nest

And weary Rooks returning home won't have their glen to rest

But cruel men oft takes the life he never can restore

And gone the Pigeon and the Owl,  gone to return no more


But father time saw many a crime through all the ages past

And now his eyes gaze with surprise on Rankin from Belfast

Rankin sharped his cruel tools and sent his cruel men

And told them to cut all the trees in Strabane's romantic glen


This noble place for scenery unequalled throughout  the land

Where visitors are always seen upon its slopes so grand

I've seen the Lakes of Killarney and I've kissed the Blarney stone

But Irelands parlour I have seen in the County of Tyrone

Strange scenes are witnessed every day by touring girls and boys

When they see the mighty Oak trees fall and hear the crashing noise

They say it is wrong to cut the trees, they complain of it day and  daily

Some of them blame  Rankin  while others blame Colonel Bailey

They blame not the butchers that come here to toil

Mc Brearty from Cavan and Boyd from Glensmoyle

Nor Mc Granaghan from Rosagiernor Evans from Porthall

All's blamed on Rankin when they hear the trees fall


It would make a pig laugh to see how they run

How they all keep away from Hattrick and Quinn

Its the fate of myself to work with these men

and assist them in cutting this  historic old glen

Gaffer Joe is here to show to cut the trees with skill

And Jack O' Brien with a lorry fine soon hauls them to the mill

Next are the fearless horsemen that everyone enjoys

When the gypsy's tail blows in the gale you'll hear the Mc Elroys


They are the finest horsemen that ever I did see

They jumped Hamilton's leap so high and steep beside the Cottage Lea

And I can'tforget young Doherty that lives beside the glen

Also Hughie  Gallagher both skillful timber men


To cut the trees that fought the breeze in many a winter's blast

They entered in the service of Rankin from Belfast

The Strabane Urban Council, all educated men

Are very much to blame, I think, for the cutting of the glen


Had they increased the rates a halfpenny in the pound

They could have paid a man to guard this blossom of their town

The stronghold of their sires,  O' Hanlon and his men

In natures face there's no such place as Strabane's romantic glen.


Johnny Burns


Strabane's a town in a valley down that nature seems to hide

As Knock A Voe  and Croghan hills guarded on every side

You can hear the shiver of Mourne river that for long ages ran

Before the world was civilized or the birth of old Strabane

No tongue can tell, no pen can write, nor any voice of man

Describe the scenery that surrounds the valley of strabane

Some of its famous buildings are famous far and wide

And daily through it thoroughfare the motor buses glide


It  may not be much out of place though you may think it is a lie

The moon has trouble passing these buildings great and high

Some of these structures were built long long ago

The best and modern of them all is the famous G.P.O.

Once at the tower of Babel when still the world was young

Was first checked man's ambition by confusion of his tongue

But here we built a Temple where man's thoughts pass through to man

All by our honest labour at Castle Street Strabane

What are the ancient Pyramids, what but a hiding hole

Built by a nations labour for dead bones without a soul

What are Forts and Castles even of noblest plan 

Compared with what our toil has raised in Castle Street Strabane

The contractors are well known men and I'll mention them by name

They were the brothers Collins and from Portadown they came

The foreman was Tracey a man you seldom find

His great and active brain soon finds the wisest plan

In solving crooked problems in Castle Street Strabane

His voice was like a Lion's and his temper quick you see

And his presence ne'er was pleasant for big Johnny Goan and me

We were some of the willing boys and this he always new

The step of Goan was like my own, he was dodging Tracey too

Carlin was a soldier who fought the German foe

He little cared for Tracey when at the G.P.O.

Meehan Quinn and other lads laboured like a man

And showed that they were sons of toil in Castle Street Strabane

Milligan was the clerk of works a man of much renoun

Who spent a period of his life with the forces of the Crown

In the Donegal Artillery this man of talent rare

When the Union was flourishing he was a captain there

More worthy were the joiners for the splendid part they played

They showed they were masters of St. Joseph's noble trade


Don't think they were professionals brought from a foreign land

The both did hail from Main Street and Railway Street  Strabane

The masons were skilled tradesmen as everyone should know

No man unskilled could ever build at this famous G.P.O.

O' Connell was a Derry man with a  reputation great

And the only man as good as he was found in the Free State

His name is Frank Mc Corkell and he is known to one and all

He lives near ancient Castlefin in County Donegal

Johnny Burns




Note: Robert Barr can be found in the 1911 census for Coolyslin, with his sisters Annie & Matilda

Coolislin near Castlefin is known from near and far
And there now resides on that bleak hillside a man named Robert Barr
I have know this man for fifty years or at least about three score
And I think his age is Eighty or maybe a little more

When but a youth to tell the truth I hear the people say
He crossed the Foyle to slave and toil, in Scotland far away
It was his great ambition to scale the heights of fame
And soon his bright intelligence did make for him a name

He was not long in Glasgow, I mean for to explain 
When to assist in a Beer Shop was the job he did obtain
His first job was in a cellar, thats just what I did hear
Bottling Stout and Brandy and Whisky strong and clear

But working in a cellar was not the place for him
He was business like and active, a salesman smart and trim
And soon he got promoted, with Two pounds his weekly wage
As Great Britain's finest barman at twenty years of age

The rowdies fought when in they got but he opposed their war
If they did not drink they got clink from the shop of Robert Barr
He was not long a barman when he scored the final goal
The owner died and to his pride left him in full control

He was not long in chief command  when he was asked to change his life
The deceased employers widow she wished to be his wife
But Robert said he ne'er would wed, such was a cruel fate
So to the Great Republic he soon did emigrate

The widow sighed and the widow cried but he told her she could weep
As in the gale he did set sail across the ocean deep
The only one he bade farewell was his handsome sister Ann
Who wished him future happiness when in a foreign land

She said she hoped to change her name before he did come back
If she did not get a white man she would surely get a b****
He had a splendid voyage sailing over the ocean blue
And Robert seemed bewildered  how fast the vessel flew

When the ship arrived at New York, they anchored near the shore
And with pride he viewed the lady Yanks he had never seen before
The were all casting sheep eyes at him as it is their usual job
When they get interested in an Irish  lad like Bob

When he landed on the shore he soon made up his mind
To go straight to a Northern State a position for to find
But far off fields looks green as Robert oft told me
And Yankee land is not the land it was always thought to be

So to return to Ireland Robert felt inclined
For the Yankees  moved like paper men before a gale of wind
And as old age was creeping on he sailed back o'er the foam 
to Coolislin near Castlefin to end his life at home
He was fully satisfied life's problem was solved
So to die where his ancestors died he finally resolved.

Johnny Burns.



One sunny day I chanced to stray from well known Clady town

The Autumn was approaching and the harvest fields were brown

I took the path that I had trod a thousand times before

Down  by the silent waves of finn,  along the grassy shore


The walk it was delightful in the cool refreshing breeze

The valley seemed a paradise with Urney's green robed trees

The cows were in the meadows that glorious Autumn day

And the sheep were gently grazing on Ballybogan Brae

Some youthful boys did make a noise, they kept a constant din

Beside the mighty Pile bridge that spans the river Finn

I soon did join the juveniles and far I did not tramp

I sat down upon the hillock where  soldiers used to camp

As we sat there that evening fair close to the river side

A pretty boat came sailing up in all her stately pride

With anxious eyes we watched the boat as it appeared in view

And all of us soon recognized the Captain and the crew

That Captain was a man that's very well known to all

He lived near ancient Lifford town in the County Donegal

This little boat was manned with a seaman's power and skill

And some of the crew I know well came from Curley Hill

From the Curley Hill two maidens came to have a pleasant trip

And they were the only passengers on board that little ship

One of the maidens was a poetess as I could plainly see 

And in the boat there lay as she wrote of the valley's scenery


Nature seemed to smile on her as she wrote the recitation

And Urney trees  before the breeze swayed down in salutation

No stormy wave was heard to rave, no salmon dared to leap

To disturb that thoughtful poetess when sailing o'er the deep

The setting sun was sinking fast behind the western hill

Then homeward bound, the boat turned round and sailed for Curley Hill.

Johnny Burns.




BACK to Urney


Lindel Buckley

Donegal Genealogy Resources