The Ulster Weaver poets of the 18th century were an important part of a Protestant literary renaissance which was led by men who were writing in vernacular Ulster Scots.

The Ulster Scots language was preserved by them, but also adapted to changing conditions; hence by the late 18th century most of the poets were writing in standard English and had effectively become bilingual.

This transition was epitomised by James Orr in his poem The Irish Cottier’s Death and Burial where he highlights that the ordinary people tried to ‘quat braid Scotch, a task that foils their art’ when the minister called to the house of the Cottier.

Those known as the Weaver Poets included schoolmasters, weavers and artisans, and they were supported within their own communities, being accorded titles such as the Bard of Ballycarry (Orr), the Bard of Dunclug (David Herbison) and the Bard of Carngranny (Samuel Thomson).

Their poems were published by subscription and James Orr, for example, attracted almost 400 subscribers for his 1804 publication of poems, accounting for 560 copies. Unlike local poets in England and Scotland, Orr and the others did not benefit from the patronage of the Upper Classes but were supported by locals across the social spectrum.

In return for the support and status given to them by their local communities, the folk poets were expected to write verse that could be easily understood about subjects they would be familiar with. Subjects were thus commonplace; Orr, for example, wrote about the events of the Ballycarry Fair, about beer, tea, the potato, local worthies and the local landscape.

James Orr and others were regarded as radical poets and there are many radical sentiments in Orr’s poems such as To a Potatoe. This radicalism resulted in Orr being involved in the United Irish Rising of 1798, which again features as a theme in some of his best works. The Bard of Ballycarry is regarded as the foremost of the Weaver Poets.