O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand
And the more I think on you the more I think long
If I had you now as I had once before
All the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore.
O bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see
Such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree
For it stood on your shore for many's the long day
Till the long boats from Antrim came to float it away.
All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep
Saying, "Where shall we shelter or where shall we sleep?"
For the Oak and the Ash, they are all cut downAnd the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground.
Bonny Portmore was a castle built in 1664 by a Lord Conway between Lough Beg and Lough Neagh. He hired some Dutch engineers to drain Lough Beg to create arable land. The project failed so Conway lost his fortune. He was therefore forced to sell Bonny Portmore and, typically, it was to an Englishman who, seemingly, just wanted to own an Irish castle as he had no intention of staying in Ireland.
The area was covered by vast, beautiful forests and in particular there was a great oak called The Ornament Tree. Evidently, one branch alone was some twenty five feet long. The trunk’s circumference was said to be fourteen yards. A storm in 1760 felled the tree and the wood was used for shipbuilding – hence the reference to “boats from Antrim.”
The song, which goes under either name, is an early environment song lamenting the loss of the ancient forests of Ireland. It’s quite famous in its home country but not as well-known over here. Richard Thompson’s daughter Kami recorded this beautiful version with her husband James Walbourne. Together they are called The Rails. They, in turn, learned the song from Bert Jansch who recorded it on his most Celtic album of which this is the title track. I've presented both versions for your delectation and delight. They are both great versions but you can choose your favourite.
The tree obviously isn't an oak but a fairly enchanted looking tree I often see on a local walk. I couldn't resist filtering it.