Roamer: Hard-working poet Hattie had so many strings to her bow

Hattie Campbell
Hattie Campbell

A former nursing sister, midwife and prolific poet from Strabane known as ‘the Pam Ayres of the north west’ has died aged 89.

Hattie Campbell, a dedicated community and church worker, and stalwart of many organisations, including St John Ambulance, the Mothers’ Union, the Brownies and the Women’s Institute, passed away on March 4.

Hattie was well-known for her poems and plays which she wrote and performed in the Strabane area over the years. “They were full of humour and wit,” daughter Ruth told Roamer, “often written in local dialect, her wry observations of everyday life resonated with many.”

One of her poems, entitled The Farmer’s Boy, described by Ruth as “a family favourite”, was read at Hattie’s funeral in Christ Church, Strabane, on Monday, March 7.

The first of its six verses introduces a beleaguered young farmworker to his burgeoning tally of agricultural chores:

“Willie! Eat up your meat, lad

For the hens have still be fed

And then bring me in some turf, boy

Till I bake me soda bread

The yard will do until later

After the byre’s been cleaned

And you can take the cows to the meadow, boy

After they’ve been machined.”

In verses two and three the poor boy is ordered to grade the potatoes, inspect the sow, mend the wheelbarrow, collect and clean the eggs, spread the lime and…

“take a wee walk up the mountain, then

And look at that sick ewe

You can bring her down if she’s nae improved

And we’ll give her some iron brew.”

A later verse amusingly reveals that the ‘boy’ is in his 40s and wants to go to a dance!

“Och well! I suppose you can go for an hour or so

After your work is done

You could take this setting of eggs as you go

Over till Mrs McCrum!”

“She wrote about everything from washday blues to the cost of living, jumble sales, changing fashions and dieting,” daughter Ruth recounted “witty observations on everyday life.

Another poem was about a husband who dared to criticise his wife!”

Born at 2.10 am on Monday, November 1, 1926, Hattie was “a real surprise” said son John.

Her mother Eva had delivered baby Betty (who died last year) a few hours before midnight and didn’t know that twin sister Hattie was waiting to embark on her childhood in Ballycolman!

The twins were the eldest in the family of six, though sadly one child died in 1928 from meningitis.

John reckons that Hattie’s tireless, lifelong devotion to family, work, church and community was because her dad died in 1933 when she was only seven and she had to help her mother bring up the family.

She attended Miss Young’s School in Meetinghouse Street and later in Strabane Convent she achieved the highest mark in English in her Senior Certificate.

She embarked on nursing and midwifery, training at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

As a Sister in the early 1950s Hattie moved to the E.N.T hospital in Londonderry to be nearer to the man she’d fallen in love with - Strabane jeweller Billy Campbell.

She met Billy at a fireworks display at Ramore Head in Portrush.

They were married in 1952, which in those days meant that she had to give up nursing, causing her great sorrow and tears.

But she continued as a Serving Sister of St John and was awarded the ‘Service Medal of the Order of St John’ and ‘Officer of the Order of St John’.

She was also on the 
P.T.A of Strabane Primary School and worked with Meals On Wheels and Talking Newspapers For The Blind.

She was so busy with community work that she turned down an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party in the 1990s which clashed with her duties in Strabane!

Hattie Campbell is survived by six children, 14 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild…and her poems.

“And don’t forget your bicycle clips,” her overworked farmer’s ‘boy’ is told when he eventually gets time off to go dancing…

“And be careful how you go

For that back road is very rough

So ride now, nice and slow

And don’t be coming home too late

For the milking will not wait

And have NOTHING to do with those young women

For they’ll run you off your feet!”