A Scottish Highland Cow: ‘On yonder hill there stood a coo’ | Helen Sullivan

A Scottish Highland Cow: ‘On yonder hill there stood a coo’ | Helen Sullivan

They are benevolent vegetarian gods. They watch over, through shielded eyes, the very few animals that have a fringe.

William Topaz McGonagall, the “worst poet in the history of the English language”, is responsible for some of my mother’s favourite words in the world to say. She delivers them in a decent-enough Scottish accent, and she does so whenever the opportunity presents itself: “On yonder hill there stood a coo / It’s no’ there noo / It must’a shif’ted”. When I hear this rhyme I picture a Scottish highland cow, its coat waving in the icy flaff.

McGonagall, who has a certain genius for coos, unfortunately also felt moved to capture in rhyme disasters, “calamities” and freak accidents. He chose to pay tribute to the people who died in the 1879 Tay Bridge disaster thus:

Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.”

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