Micí Mac Gabhann (1865-1948)

Notes


Life
[Michael MacGowan; err. Micí McGabhain]; b. Cloughaneely, nr. Falcarragh, Co. Donegal; worked as a spailpín from age of nine following the death of his father from fever; worked first on a Lagan farm before commencing seasonal work in Scotland at fifteen; emigrated to America at twenty (‘it couldn’t get any worse’); worked in silver mines at Butte, Montana; mines hit by falling value of silver, 1896;
 
heard of Klondyke gold rush, St. Patrick’s Day, 1896; made six month journey northwards through Rockies; returned to Cloughaneely in 1902 and bought a farmhouse at Gortahork with the value of his finds; his son-in-law the folklorist Seán Ó hEochaidh (1913-2002) persuaded him to dictate his autobiography in old age, and later edited it with Proinsias Ó Conluain as Rotha Mór an tSaoíl (1959); translated by Valentine Iremonger as The Hard Road to Klondyke (1962).
 

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Works
Micí Mac Gabhann, Rotha Mór an tSaoíl (Fiollseacháin Nais. Teo 1959); Do. [rep. edn.] (Clo Iar-Chonnachta 1996), 236pp.; Do., trans. as Michael MacGowan, The Hard Road to Klondike (Rotha Mór an tSaol), trans. Valentin Iremonger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1962), xiii, 150pp. 8º, .and Do. [another edn.] (Cork: Collins Press 2005), 164pp.

The Hard Road to Klondike (Rotha Mór an tSaoil), RTE docu-version read by Stephen Rea on RTÉ, 1 Feb. 1999 (Monday).

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Commentary
David M. Emmens [var. Emmons], The Butte Irish, Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town 1875-1925 (Illinois UP 1990); reviewed by Ruth Ann Harris, Irish Liteary Supplement (Fall 1994), Michael MacGowan was one Butte miner who has left an account of his life, although the author may not have known of him; MacGowan was not one of the persisters - a miner who rose in the ranks, married, owned his own house, and in general became what is generally accepted as the immigrant success story –but his life does illustrate aspects of the work lives of those who found their way to Butte. His autobiography as told to his son-in-law, Sean Ó hEochaidh, the folklore collector for Donegal, fills out the picture of what may very well have been a typical progression of skill, first within Ireland, then in Britain, and then in America; born in … Clonhaneely … found his way to the mines in Butte in a pattern familiar to many males from the west of Ireland … children of poor families … first hired out to neighbouring farmer and when old enough joined stream of migrant workers … who left each spring to work in Scotland … after five years noted the he and fellow workers little better off at the end of each hiring period … like Patrick MacGill, another Donegal migrant worker whose ill-disguised autobiography Children of the Dead End told of meandering to America in a similar fashion, MacGowan decided to take the emigrant ship; immigration officers at Castle Garden NY may have counted [him] as one more immigrant, but like many another single Irish male arriving in N America his goals were much more temporary - he sought to make more money than was possible in Ireland and if other factors intervened to retain him, he would turn into an immigrant; thus [he] joined the stream of Irish persons meandering across America, working on canals, railroads, in mines, and in his case, eventually finding work in the Butte mines … marriage did not occur to keep MacGowan in Butte because he eventually left to seek his fortune in the Canadian Klondike gold rush, marrying only on his return to Ireland. The Butte Irish community was unusually settled and stable … [&c].

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Notes
Seán Ó hEochaidh (b. 9 Feb. 1913; d. 18 Jan. 2002), played a major part in publication of The Hard Road To Klondike by his father-in-law Micí MacGowan, transcribing his memories as the basis of the book; winner of an Irish book award in 1958. See obituary in The Guardian (4 Feb. 2002): Ó hEochaidh was born in Teelin, Co. Donegal; worked as a fisherman; spent his life studying speech, customs and folk-tales of his native Donegal; made the largest collection of Irish folklore ever compiled by one individual in the form of records of the stories told by old people; appointed full-time folklore collector for the Donegal Gaeltacht by James H. Delargy, in 1935; supplied with a 56lb Ediphone wax recording machine; regularly recorded a dozen cylinders a day, transcribing them at night; estimated that he spoke to at least 1,500 people. “The language of Donegal is an unending variation on simple themes, like a great composer writing a symphony with lights and shades.” His publications included Fairy Legends Of Donegal (1977). He held television responsible for decline of storytelling; briefly served as guest lecturer in the Celtic department at Queen's University, Belfast during 1960s; assigned to the department of Irish folklore at University College, Dublin after dissolution of Commission in the 1970s; awarded an honorary doctorate in Celtic literature from University College, Galway, 1988; elected president of the Oireachtas Gaelic festival, 1989 (Glencolumkille, Donegal); named Donegal person of the year, 1995; suffered death of his wife Anna, 1996; survived by his brother Tomás and sister Cáit.

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