Irvine - a word-picture

A poem which describes, in detail and with pawky affection, the sounds and sights of Irvine in the first half of the 20th century - included on this site because it mentions a host of people and places which feature in the town's heritage, some relevant to the homes and industries of the harbourside.

"The Irvine I used to know"
by Jim Hart

Where is the Irvine that I used tae know –
Allysons, Coltarts, Colvins, the Co[-op],
The R.O.F., Bottlework, Broons and Lairds,
The Shipyard, Sawmill and auld Joiners’ yairds,
Electricians, Plumbers, Slaters and Brickies,
A’ time served, nae “Cowboy Mickeys”,
Hosiery factories a’ roon the Toon,
Where hundreds o’ women worked at the Looms,
The Gasworks, the Grain Store, the Slaughterhouse that stank,
The Ritz, the Saltstore next tae the auld Linen Bank,
The auld Fire Station doon the Low Green,
And that lovely red engine sae shiny and clean.
Where are the sounds that I used tae hear? –
The noises o’ industry a’ loud and clear,
Laird’s big steam hammer that went on a’ night –
When passing the gate, whit a hellava fright!
Broon’s foundry, the fumes made ye sick,
The bangs and the bumps shifted drinks in the “Vic”.
The clinkety-clink frae the auld Portland Glass –
Whisky Bottles, but empty, Alas!
The Sawmill’s noisy machines and saws
Could even be heard way up in the raws.
Hillhoose Quarry who blew up the rocks –
At the same bloody time, ye could aye set yer clocks.
The shuntin o’ wagons wi’ muckle steam trains
Angered the parents but never the weans.
The I.C.I. made ye scatter like rats
When the sulphur clouds came ower the flats –
The frequent explosions, sometimes a “Big Yin”
And Colvin’s shop windaes were often pit in.

Where is the Irvine that I used tae know?
The wee private shops – where did they go?
O’ a’ the bakers it’s sad tae report
There’s only wan left, it has tae be Shorts;
Their pies were made famous by Ivy and John,
The meat doon yer gullet, the creash doon yer haun.
Take the fishmongers, there isnae wan left,
But who can forget big Bertie the 'Ref'?
Three butchers shops – the rest have all gone,
And come tae think of it, so has the Pawn.
The Garnock, the Pop, the Winton, the Sun,
The Argyle, the Bute, the Bridge and Fullarton –
A’ guid pubs that were given the chop,
As had the Commercial and the Glue Pot,
Juno, Corrieri, Bramanti, Pieroni,
Biagi, Guazelli and of course Wee Johnny,
The Regal, the Palace, the Greens, the Kyle,
The first three were flea pits, the last wan had style.
If you were lucky or kent Jimmy Agnew
Ye booked the tickets and avoided yon queue.
Remember the guid times efter the war? –
Ye got intae the Greens for a big Jeely Jaur.
Willie Love’s puddle-jumper went at wan speed,
The noise frae the engine, the hard widden seats
Gave ye skelfs in yer erse, and a bloody sair heid.
And doon the Low Green, I remember it still,
Ye took tae the watter wi’ yer favourite girl,
Up the river in McLean’s leaky boats,
Hard at the oars before sowing yer oats;
Bocht her a lovely cooling ice-cream,
Then “winched” oot the “Mair” where ye widnae be seen.

Where is the Irvine that I used tae ken,
Wi horses and cairts and funny auld men,
Lovely big Clydesdales pullin their loads,
Lee’in their dung a’ ower the roads –
The best manure for rhubarb and roses –
We filled the pails while haudin wir noses.
The horse-drawn vans o’ the guid auld Co-op
Went roon the Toon wi’ their goods on show –
Everything for a family meal,
Then hame tae the stables on the Golffields.
Wee Wesley Watson wid shout “Hi A Cur”
But naebody kent whit the hell it wis for,
Filling yer cans wi’ paraffin ile
Wi’ only wan airm but always a smile.
Auld Dan Dick wi’ his vegetable load –
It’s a miracle how he stayed on the road –
Too many haufs and no enough grub,
For his horse always kent tae stop at the pubs.
Harry the Darky who was actually white,
But could never be seen aince it turned night.
Wee Tatty Bogle frae oot Shewalton way
Hunted us weans if ye went where he stayed;
He never caught us and it’s just as well
For folk used tae say it wis Auld Nick himsel’.
Tommy Hall and his wee milk float,
Always dressed in a clean white coat,
Telt us stories as auld as the hills
Before drappin us aff at Loudoun St Schill.
Auld Bob Cousar in the wee Saddler’s shop
Promised it next week but ye hadnae a hope
While asking, wid it be Friday or Monday?
His cat played wi’ a moose inside the shop windae.

Where is the Irvine that I now recall?
The dancin was great in the auld Templars Hall.
Aince the Calley was built, the glancers moved on,
Broon’s Merrymakers, Montgomery’s Baun.
Dancing in the circle doon the Low Green
Opposite the auld wartime Canteen;
Dancin wis dancin, nae disco crap,
Quicksteps, Slow Foxtrots, Ballin’ the Jack,
Tangos and Waltzes wi’ the girl of your dreams,
High heels, suspenders and stockins wi’ seams.
Dancing in the circle doon the Low Green
Opposite the auld wartime Canteen;
Although there wisnae ony street lamps,
Women walk tae the dances at Auchengate Camp -
Some painted their legs tae look like stockins
But whit a sicht if they got a soakin'.
Many a woman went wi' the lodger,
But the younger wans preferred a sodger.
The noise, the music, the laughter, the squeals,
When Codona's shows camped on the Golffields;
Maist o' the side shows ye played for a penny,
But lots o' the time we hadnae any,
So we just wandered aroon and gazed
Or climbed on the Pooder Hoose and watched amazed
The Waltzer, the Dodgems, the high swingin' chairs
And yer Faither and Mither didnae ken ye were there.
Quite often we got a cuff on the lugs
For climbing the fence and watchin' the dugs.
There were nae hooses then ahint the Toonheid
Or Annick Road, where the cattle would feed.
Tae try in the dark, ye were oot o' yer mind
Dodgin' the coopats in the Skittery Wynd.

Where is the Irvine that I used tae love,
The Auld Royal Burgh that was given the shove -
Ancient Charters and Rights that were listed -
Wiped oot as if they'd never existed;
Provost, Baillies and Dean o' Guild -
Not wan post survives, mair or less killed.
In suits, nicky-tams, or swallow-tailed coats
Ye could aye trust the men who were given yer vote.
Every man kent wan another by name
And the Cooncillors even came tae yer hame.
Where is the Auld Brig that joined up the Toon,
That led tae the Harbour or on tae Troon?
They tore the hert oot the Auld Royal Burgh
But left the Granny Stane doon in the river.
There's wan tradition that still survives -
The wan that effected a' oor lives -
Young or auld, didnae matter yer age;
Ye aye looked furrit tae the Marymass Parade.
They kent how tae decorate horses then
Wi' brasses and flooers and big diadems;
Colourful cairts, wheels and chassis,
Hundereds o' fancy-dressed boys and lasses
Ca'ed at the auld Four Ports o' the Toon,
Then back tae the Toonhoose jist before noon.
Noo the West Port, Montgomery St, Soor Milk Raw
Never get tae see the Parade at a' -
Ever since the Brig was pullt doon
They only cover wan end o' the Toon.
But we still enjoy the celebrations -
The Crowning, the Races, with a few libations.
With a hopeful heart I raise my glass:
The Toast is: Long live Marymass.

J M Hart


This and other poems were published posthumously in a small booklet, with all proceeds going to the Ayrshire Hospice, edited by Margaret McGregor and Janette Barr, with a Foreword by Mae McEwan, in which she described the author as "a loyal and true patriot of his home town".


To help you leave this page on a high note, here are two of Jim's other poems:

A Pensioner's Winter Tale

Winter is here; the cauld has come;
Snaw flakes are comin' doon my lum.
If you're wonderin' why they don't expire,
I canny afford a bloody fire.

A Pensioner's Frailty

Uncle Hugh was Ninety Two
And went to London often;
He spent the night with a young call girl
And came back in a coffin.


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