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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

John Mackie, Castle Cary (Somerset) Dialect Poet; William Barnes Society



A member for 25 years

The William Barnes Society organised a very convivial evening last night (6 March), thanks to the initiative of  Christopher Heath: a poetry reading with a difference, inspired by the example of William Barnes- but nobody was allowed to read a poem by Barnes himself! It was an "Un-Barnes Evening".

There were some excellent renditions of poems by Clare, Hardy, Milton, Browning, Heaney, Campion, Edward Thomas and the Wiltshire poet Edward Slow (from Wilton), amongst others, as well as some songs and ballads, both sung and recited.

It so happened that it fell to me to kick off the readings, so I was delighted to be able to introduce the work of little-known Somerset dialect poet, John Mackie. Here is my introduction:

"The Somerset dialect poet John Mackie was of Scottish descent (the Mackie family came originally from Dumfries, Scotland). He was the son of James Mackie, one of the original directors of Boyd’s. John Boyd established his horse-hair business in South Cary in 1837. “He identified with Castle Cary and its well-being” (Castle Cary, Michael McGarvie, FSA, Avalon Industries, 1980). John Mackie joined the firm about 1887 and was associated with it for more than 50 years (McGarvie).

There were three infuential, enterprising and public-spirited Castle Cary Scottish families: the Boyds, the Mackies and the Macmillans. The Boyd and Macmillan families came from Ayrshire.

Many Scots had first come to Wincanton, centre of the linen trade (McGarvie). Douglas Macmillan was born in Wincanton in 1884.

As a poet, John Mackie shows the influence of Barnes (as well as of Kipling and perhaps Burns).

We should not forget the proximity to Castle Cary of Barnes’ school in Mere; Barnes also gave lectures in Wincanton.

The Somerset Folk Press was most active in the years 1922-1926. The Press published poems and drama in dialect, for recitation, plus local history and local interest titles, including folklore and folk guides. Douglas Macmillan, a “keen antiquary and an authority on natural history” was a regular author. He founded the Castle Cary Visitor in 1895. The last issue was in December 1915.

John Mackie’s “Dialect Poems and a Play” appeared as number 23 in the Somerset Folk Series. His foreword is dated Hampstead, 25 November, 1925:

“Some of the happiest hours of my life have been spent in the delightful company of sons of the soil in Somerset, under whose homespun coats beat some of the truest and noblest hearts in Christendom; nature’s real gentlemen.”

(Introduction followed by a reading of three short verses from the first poem in the book, called  “ZOMERZET”, which mentions Lodge Hill in Castle Cary, and my favourite poem, or rather a song, “THERE’S A CALL FROM CASTLE CARY”).

SEE ALSO my earlier posting on Mackie and Castle Cary


John Mackie, The Poet William Barnes, and Mackie's poem "Pa'son"
Southern Times, April 21, 1923



"Mr. Mackie is a native of Castle Cary...Mr. Mackie not infrequently delights a London audience with is dialect recitations" ("Selected Poems in Somerset Dialect", 1921)..

Molly Mackie, left; Bee Baker, right, Castle Cary


Moll Mackie (left), Castle Cary

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