POET Harry Gallagher was born in Middlesbrough and grew up in Ormesby.

He lived in Teesside until his early 40s and now lives 40 miles north in Cullercoats, Tyneside.

He is widely published - books include Northern Lights, Running Parallel and This Cullercoats - and performs at festivals across the UK and beyond.

For National Poetry Day this year, BBC Local Radio commissioned thirteen #HomeTruths poems as part of the #BBCLocalPoets project with the aim of challenging clichés about regional distinctiveness and Harry was chosen to write a poem about his home turf to be broadcast on BBC Tees.

Listeners were invited to offer insights into the region to inspire the poem, which was broadcast earlier this month as part of the celebrations for the 25th National Poetry Day.

Harry talks about what inspires him.

What insights and hidden truths from listeners inspired you?

What I got was a really strong sense of pride from people who still live on Teesside. Although we Teessiders know all about our industrial heritage, there were plenty of prompts to remind the rest of the world just who built it!

There were some specific points of interest that people loved - Roseberry Topping will always figure prominently in such lists, for example. But more than that there was a strong sense of the iron we mined, the steel we made and the bridges we built.

What I was keen to emphasise though, is that it isn't all in the past. I've travelled pretty widely and wherever I've worked - the Middle East, Kazakhstan and much of Europe spring immediately to mind – I've heard my own accent spoken back at me really quickly.

With the decline of our own industries, we have a massive workforce with an array of skills and these people now straddle the globe.

I love the fact that we sons and daughters of Teesside are everywhere, I think that's something to be proud of.

So that's what the poem encompasses – part celebration of place, part celebration of people.

Oh, and I also had requests to include two particular prime pieces of Teesside vernacular. See the verse which mentions 'Tan' and 'Croggy'.

They both mean the same thing – slang for a ride on the back of someone's bike. But 'Croggy' is only used North of the Tees (Stockton) and 'Tan', South of it (Middlesbrough).

There are theories as to the origin of these terms, but perhaps your readers would like to do some research of their own and write in with answers?

The Northern Echo:

What clichés about Middlesbrough were you keen to dispel?

That it's ugly. We are all sick to death of seeing those cliché-ridden lists of our hometown being in the ten worst places to live or whatever title some jaded producer has thought up for their latest cheap TV show.

I do poetry readings all over the UK and our area is as lovely as anywhere you'll see. Even the so-called negatives - the old industries etc - I find inspiring.

I don't look at them and think "Isn't that horrible?" I look and think, "Wow, look at that, isn't it amazing!"

If that hulking great skyline of towers and chimneys was enough inspiration for Ridley Scott, then that'll do for me.

Did you find the writing process valuable?

Yeah, it's always good to re-connect with where I came from, what made me who I am.

For better or worse I have the Tees running through my veins. I wouldn't be without it.


We are very particular
about a certain funicular,
it glistens like a diamond
on the North East coast.

And if you lend me a minute
I’ll bet I can fill it
with a sackful of jewels.
Here’s a few we love the most…

And then walk the black path,
let your tired feet roam
to where a twinkle-toed Brazilian boy
learned to call his home.

See, this is what we do,
we welcome outsiders.
With open hearts and open arms,
nothing can divide us.

Then up to Billingham’s
Bladerunner Land,
a vista so vast
for young Ridley Scott,
the film came ready-planned.

It’s where yer father went to work
in his dirty purple shirt.
You can get there by croggy -
or a tan if yer a smoggy.

And yes, we built the world
but yesterday’s not our limit.
Pick any country, pay a visit,
you’ll find that we’re still out there doing it.

Cos it’s never over till it’s over,
our lasses and lads have wings.
Our own league of nations
still building foundations
with the magic that only Teesside brings,
the magic that only Teesside brings.

  • Poem commissioned by BBC Local Radio in partnership with the Forward Arts Foundation for National Poetry Day, an annual celebration of poems and poetry that takes place on the first Thursday of each October and encourages people to enjoy, discover and share lines they love.

The Northern Echo:

The following poem by Harry was first published by Black Light Engine Room Press and was written specifically about Middlesbrough and the River Tees and the fact it had a huge Irish population who built the town.


This town was moulded from ferrous,
on the backs of the Irish
and the miners shipped in
from the South land to these badlands.

From the stench of the chimneys
to the quench of the bars
lining the streets
of a town made of iron.

On the bodies of every
Patrick and Michael
and Rose and Colleen
and the skinned knees and elbows
of thousands of children,
playing and dancing on cobbles and grime,
they're building a future
in three quarter time.

And down in the King Billy
they're drowning their cares,
draining the dregs
from the last of the kegs.

But while daddies are drinkin'
mammies are cleanin',
while all in the one bed
four babies are dreamin'
of one day maybes livin'
on the posh side of the rails,
but their horizons were made up
from choking smoke trails.

This town was moulded from ferrous
and the blood of the Irish
and the pride of its people
and the sinews and sweat
of the men underground
and the ashes of all
who expired in her furnace.

All those Patricks and Michaels,
Roses and Colleens?
They all burned their boats
on the river of dreams.