James Orr, Bard of Ballycarry

Charles A. Read
The Cabinet of Irish Literature (edited by Charles A. Read)
Volume 2

Born 1770—Died 1816.

James Orr was born in 1770 at the little village of Ballycarry, between Larne and Carrickfergus, and in early life followed the trade of a journeyman weaver.

When the Northern Star, the organ of the United Irishmen, was established in Belfast he became one of its poetical contributors, being already well known in his own neighbourhood as “the Poet of Ballycarry.”

Orr believed in the cause which he advocated; his poetry was not mere verse-making, but the genuine outburst of his heart; and he soon became an affiliated member of the political union.

In 1798 he took an active part in the battle of Antrim, and as a consequence was obliged to go into hiding.

For a time he skulked about from place to place, but at last, being conscious that he was not guilty of any really criminal action, he appeared before the authorities and surrendered himself.

He was sent to prison, where he lay for a long time; but as nothing like an overt act of treason could be proved against him, except by his own confession, he was in the end set free on condition of transporting himself to America. He fulfilled this condition, and on the outward passage wrote his pathetic “Song of an Exile.”

In America he did not remain many years; matters had rapidly improved at home, and he returned to his native village and his original loom.

But his misfortunes seem to have had a depressing influence on his spirit, for after his return his poetic efforts were much inferior to those of earlier times, and soon ceased altogether.

Orr died on the 24th of April, 1816, on the spot where he was born, leaving behind him at least one song, “The Irishman,” which will live so long as there are men to deserve its name.