MacGill, Patrick

Patrick MacGill
Photo from The War Illustrated, 31 July 1915. Caption reads:
Pte. PATRICK MACGILL, London Irish, famous as the Navvy Poet who wrote Songs of the Dead End. Wikimedia Commons

Patrick MacGill was born into a farming family near Glenties in the parish of Inishkeel, Co Donegal in 1889. When he was twelve years of age he went to the Hiring Fair in Strabane Co.Tyrone and hired with a farmer. When he had worked two years as a farm labourer he absconded to Scotland with a ‘Tattie Howking’ gang. It was customary during the first half of the 20th century for groups of teenagers from West Donegal to emigrate to Ayrshire and the lowlands of Scotland to work as gangs of potato harvesters. They were called in the local Lowland Scots dialect ‘The Tattie Howkers’.

His poetry is published as Gleanings from a Navvy’s Scrapbook (Derry. Printed by the Derry Journal and published by P. MacGill, 1911), which included some translations of La Fontaine’s Fables and poems by Goethe; Songs of a Navvy (Windsor, Patrick MacGill, 1912); Songs of the Dead End (London, The Yearbook Press [H.F.W. Deane & Sons], 1913); and Songs of Donegal (London, Herbert Jenkins, 1921).

His novels, several of them autobiographical, are Children of the Dead End (Herbert Jenkins, 1914); The Rat Pit (Herbert Jenkins, 1915/New York, George H. Doran Company 1915); The Amateur Army (Herbert Jenkins, 1915); The Red Horizon (Herbert Jenkins, 1915); The Great Push (Herbert Jenkins, 1915); The Brown Brethren (Herbert Jenkins, 1917); Glenmornan (Herbert Jenkins, 1918); The Dough-Boys (George H. Doran, 1918/Herbert Jenkins, 1919); The Diggers: The Australians in France(Herbert Jenkins, 1919); Maureen (Herbert Jenkins, 1920); Fear! (Herbert Jenkins, 1921); Lanty Hanlon (Herbert Jenkins, 1922); Moleskin Joe (Herbert Jenkins, 1922); The Carpenter of Orra (Herbert Jenkins, 1924); Sid Puddiefoot (Herbert Jenkins, 1926); Black Bonar (Herbert Jenkins, 1928); Tullivar’s Mill (Herbert Jenkins, 1934);The Glen of Carra (Herbert Jenkins, 1934); The House at the World’s End (Herbert Jenkins, 1935); Helen Spenser (Herbert Jenkins, 1937).

In 1914, the year he published Children of the Dead End, he enlisted with the London Irish Rifles and was sent to France. In 1913 he had met the novelist Margaret Gibbons, and they married in 1915 while he was on sick leave from the front. She continued to write under the name Mrs Patrick McGill. In 1915 he was threatened with court-martial for his account of army training in The Amateur Army (Herbert Jenkins. London. 1915).

In September 1915 he was lightly injured at the Battle of Loos and was transferred to the Intelligence unit MI 7(b) – some say to forestall further accounts of the war in his writing – where he remained until 1917 when the department was disbanded. He was transferred first to the Middlesex Regiment and subsequently to the Labour Corps,The Gloucestershire Regiment and various other Corps.

McGill and his family emigrated to the United States in 1930. Having suffered for many years from multiple sclerosis, he died in Florida in 1963 and is buried in Fall River, Massachusetts.

*This is an edited version of a generous longer contribution by Pádraig Ó Gallachóir, gratefully acknowledged.

Patrick McGill at Wikipedia
MacGill Summer School
Patrick MacGill at The National Library of Ireland