NORTH Ayrshire writer John Hodgart has been announced as a joint winner of the prestigious James McCash Scots Poetry Competition.

John, 75, who is best known as the author of ‘Bessie Dunlop the Witch o' Dalry’, penned a poem called The Passing O' A Queen, about the media frenzy following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last year.

He shared the major award, sponsored by our sister titles Herald Scotland and Glasgow University, with five other poets after the judges ruled they were all worthy of a share of the £500 prize.

John, who is Dalry born and bred but now lives in Ardrossan, said: "I feel quite chuffed. It is not a huge award but it carries a lot of kudos in Scottish writing circles. Last year, I was a joint runner-up." 

Alan Riach, professor of Scottish literature at the University of Glasgow, described John's work as "an ironic, irreverent yet compassionate salutation on the death of the Queen".

John told the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: "Although some people might see the poem as an anti-royalist satire, it isn’t intended as such.

"It is simply an ironic comment mainly on the excessive media coverage of the late Queen’s death and her funeral, when you could have been forgiven for thinking that nothing else was happening in the world for over two weeks.

"Of course it was an important national event and the late Queen was deserving of respect, but what we saw emerging during that period was, in my opinion almost a kind of mass hysteria, whipped up by the media and exemplified by the speaker of the House of Commons who actually said it was the most important historical event ever, a comment that was quite simply deranged.

"My poem is about that kind of loss of perspective, especially when all sorts of horrific and evil things were happening elsewhere, especially in the Ukraine."

John's play about the legendary Dalry 'witch' Bessie was turned into an audio book earlier this year, with performances in Dalry and Beith.

It became one of Amazon's top 10 selling audio plays. 

The McCash Prize is an annual competition, endowed by a former engineering graduate of Gilmorehill, James McCash, who had himself won an earlier Herald poetry competition in the 1970s.

In the last 20 years it has become a major landmark in Scotland’s cultural calendar.  

Leslie Duncan, one of the judges, said: "What an energetic mixter-maxter of material reached us from the 99 poets who responded.

"They did so in all sorts of variants of the Scottish language, a fine stramash of tongues, from the classical and MacDiarmid’s Lallans to Doric and Burns’s Ayrshire cadences, and of course the smart patois of the city vernacular.

"It’s clear that the language remains vibrant and widely used in spite of all the push to conformity generated by the mass media, online and other."

The other winners of the award were David Bleiman for Ma Makaronic Manifest; Raymond Burke for How to Speak Glaswegian; Robert Hume for Simmer Storm, Winter Warm and Sheila Templeton for Winter’s Hansel.

John's poem reads: 

The Passin o a Queen

Wi her passin, an onding o pieties,  

Droonin maist o the land in grievin,

(Tho shunnin ony improprieties) 

Tae wing her on the wey tae Hieven,

As if we aw had lost oor mither,

(Queues roon streets for miles weavin)

As weel as oor sister an oor brither.

Jeez oh, it’s faur ayont believin

An I’ve neer kent o’t for anither,

While mony puir folk gied up breathin.


But mibbie for Lizzie it wis a blessin

She didnae see whit she’d become:

Gey near a saunt I’m kinna guessin,

Wi obsequies tae lea ye dumb 

An neer-endin encomiums, 

Some fu o guff, some fu o unction,

Some haudin the whiff o opiums,

As gabblin geegaws, lackin gumption,

Thocht it was, by God’s ain will,

The maist important thing eer seen.

As if the planets shid staun still

For the passin o a queen.


Yet ither things I daurnae mention,

In case ye think I’m on a rant,

Noo that we’ve witnesst her Ascension;

Her coffin, the Ark o the Covenant.

While Putin’s war aye grinds awa

An Ukraine’s battert, bluidy an raw.