Steve Dornan

The Line Proposed, or Ulster Scots sonnets on L.L. MacAssey

Steve Dornan

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Luke Livingston MacAssey (1843-1908) was an engineer and barrister from Carrickfergus, County Antrim. His work led to the construction of the Silent Valley reservoir in the Mourne Mountains, which solved Belfast’s water supply problems. He also made proposals and reports on a suspended rail tunnel between Ulster and Scotland. The italicised text is taken from MacAssey’s report on the viability of this project co-authored with a Scottish contemporary.

The line proposed extends from a point about midway between Cushendun and Cushendall, on the North East coast of Antrim, Ireland, where the land approach tunnel is situated. It now proceeds under the sea, and following a North Easterly course it descends in a uniform gradient of one in 60 for about a mile and a quarter, when it intersects a projection of sandbank on which would be placed a ventilation shaft, as hereafter mentioned. The Tunnel proceeds due North East, keeping nearly parallel to the bed of the channel, and about 50 feet below it, having the gradients of one in 60 and one in 82, to the lowest point in its course, which is about five miles from the Irish land. It then begins to ascend with gradients varying from one in 100 to one in 700 being still parallel to the bottom when the land on the Scotch side is reached at Leak's point with a gradient of one in 60.

I. The Wean an Watter

We couldnae keep the wean fae watter ava:

Aye culfin the burns, or maggin in slabbery slaps.

On lacken days he'd hoke in a gumlie sheugh or clarry moss;

Hame at dailygaun clarted tae his oxsters in Antrim clabber;

The cratur clocked for oors fornent the birlin scutch mill wheel

In a dwam as the japs plootered doon tae the babblin burn;

Or doon at the shore he'd skite stanes at the far awa braes o Scotland

Til I jaloused that yin day he’d gar yin win richt owre

Later, he stauns on Wee Binnian, wi the Mournes birlin

Roon his heid an a skifter skitin owre thonder peaks:

Bernagh, Corragh, Commedagh, Donard, Binnian.

He sees it aa - heather an whins an gowans soomin

A mixtur-maxtur o birdsang is jappin fae the trees:

A watergaw pends the valley like some brig in a dwam.

Great enterprises possessing any advantages have always great difficulties to meet with in their execution, but when these are successfully overcome, the results amply repay the undertaking. In the present instance, this rule holds good; for the benefits arising from the construction of the proposed Tunnel would be national in their extent and influence: and the close union of the two countries would tend to the consolidation of the empire, so greatly desired by all lovers of order and prosperity.

II. Sceptics

Ach MacAssey, MacArsey!

Yer arse an parsley!

Catch yersel on,

An go cowp carlie

Swannin aroon

Aff tae London toon

Oh Dearie, sic queerie


Brigs in the air

Fae there tae naewhere

A gormless gansh

A glaikit glipe.

Ach MacAssey, MacArsey!

Yer arse an parsley!

It does not require much argument to show the immense advantage resulting to Ireland by actually tying it, so to speak, to its more opulent sister. In the case of Belfast, the extension of manufacturing, enterprise and commerce generally has been unsurpassed by any town in the United Kingdom, and that high state of prosperity that has been attained by the industry and thrift of its people must result directly from its close connection with Scotland.

III. Hae Mind o MacAssey

Fair play tae ye MacAssey, lad o pairts!

Should we no hae mind o ye, mate?

A quare fella, cute as a gully: wi heid an hairt

As fou o notions as a burn in spate.

Or buck eejit MacAssey, ye daft caleery

Wi a thraveless heid fou o whigmaleeries?

Ye'd big a brig tae bate McCool, an cleek

Thegither twa countries, whase folk bes

Sib an sindert, forenent an throuither.

Noo gie us oor brig an dinnae swither!

But heids wull shire, an dwams aye dee

Whiles skifters teem an bleezes beek:

Sae slack your drouth, ilk lad an lassie,

An aye hae mind o the boul MacAssey.

The Scotch element in Ulster has been the cause of its progress in wealth and importance, exceeding as it does the other three provinces of Ireland, and whatever tends to spread this through the country at large must prove a harbinger to a more prosperous and peaceful state of things. The distinction of races has ever been a curse in Ireland; and no surer method exists for the complete amalgamation of the Saxon and the Celt in the Briton, than easy and constant intercouse between the three countries, which would be put in reach of everyone by the accompanying proposal.


James Fenton, The Hamely Tongue, A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim

Dictionary of the Scots Language

Steve Dornan

Steve Dornan is from Comber, Northern Ireland and was educated at RBAI and the University of Aberdeen. He written a number of academic essays on Scottish, Irish and Ulster-Scots literature and has had several pieces published in the journal "Irish Pages". He lives and works as a secondary school teacher in the north east of Scotland.