Charles McGlinchey (1861-1954)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life

b. 21 Dec., in Meentiagh Glen, Clonmany, Co. Donegal; son of Niall McGlinchey from Cluainte and his wife, Síle [dg. of Searlas Harkin] from Urris; 4 brothers and 2 sisters, in an Irish-speaking family; taught himself to read English and afterwards to read Irish; became a weaver and a tailor on Inishowen;

 
lived alone after the death of his parents and migration of siblings in the 1900s; his memoiries were written down by one Patrick Kavanagh, a local schoolmaster at Gaddyduff National School in Clonmany, Inisowen, in English and afterwards in Irish, during the 1940s and 1950s;
 
edited and published by Brian Friel as The Last of the Name (1986), who was given the MSS by the schoolmaster’s son Desmond; afterwards published in an Irish version, uncompleted at his death, as An Fear Deireanach den tSloinneadh (2003); a Charles McGlinchey Summer School was founded at Clonmany in 1998 [see link]. ORM

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Works
  • Brian Friel, ed. & intro., The Last of the Name (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1986, 1992; rep. edn. 2007), 144pp., ill. by Ciaran Hughes [1 lf. of pls. between chaps.], and map [i];
  • Desmond Kavanagh & Nollaig Mac Congáil, eds., An Fear Deireanach den tSloinneadh, foreword by Patrick Kavanagh [a bhreac síos] (Dublin: Arlen House 2003), 112pp. [commissioned cover by Ciaran Hughes].
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Commentary

W. G. H. Flood
Brien Friel
Seamus Heaney
Alan Titley

William Grattan H. Flood, A History of Irish Music (Dublin: Browne & Nolan 1905):
 
See William Grattan H. Flood’s remarks in his chapter on “Irish Music in the Seventeenth Century, 1650-1700” regarding the origins and use of the song “Tá mé ’mo chodladh is ná dúisitear mé” which McGlinchey recites in full in The Last of the Name (1986), attributing it to one ‘Denis O’Donnell and died in 1778’ (p.54f.; as attached).
 

Grattan writes: ‘Another very characteristic melody of the pre-Restoration epoch is the well-known “Atáim im’ codlad ’r ná dúirig mé,” or “I’m asleep, and don’t waken me.” Although Mr. Moffat failed to trace it farther back than the year 1726, we have ample evidence of its existence in 1645, and it was printed by John Playford in 1652. It appeared in Scotland fifty years later, and was printed in Allan Ramsay’s Tea Table Miscellany in 1726, under its Irish name. Charley Coffey, of Dublin, adapted the air to a song in the “Beggar’s Wedding” in 1728, commencing: “Past one o’clock on a cold, frosty morning.’ / We read in an old manuscript that this air was generally used by the “hedge schoolmasters” of the last years of the seventeenth century, set to the first Ode of Horace. / Not [201] only did the Scotch purloin the air itself in its original state, but they evolved a new melody out of it by a simple change of rhythm, calling it “Peggy, I must Love Thee.” In 1687 this transformed version was printed as “a Scotch tune in fashion,” arranged by the celebrated Henry Purcell, England’s greatest composer of that period. / Tom Moore, in 1810, utilised this lovely air for his lyric “When Cold in the Earth,” keeping fairly close to the original. In Moore’s Melodies Restored, by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, there is a note that “Moore’s version is wholly different from Bunting’s and Carolan’s, and is probably his own,” a statement that is absurd, suggesting, indeed, that the restorer never examined the old versions.’ (Chap. XIX; pp.201-02.)

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Brien Friel, Introduction to The Last of the Name (1986): ‘If the chosen period were McGlinchey’s life - 1861-1954 - attention would rightly focus on issues like Home Rule and the land wars, the rise and fall of Parnell, the Rising in 1916, two world wars, the atomic bomb. McGlinchey does not mention even one of these events. They are overlooked in a manner that is almost Olympian. they do not merit notice. But by his concentration on the everyday, the domestic, the familiar, the nuance of the phrase, the tiny adjustment[s] to a local ritual, the momentous daily trivia of the world of his parish, he does give us an exact and lucid picture [1] of profound transition: a rural community in the process of shedding the last vestiges of a Gaelic past and of an old Christianity that still cohabited with an older paganism, and of that community coming to uneasy accommodation with the world of today, “the buses, the cars, the silk stockings.”’ (pp.1-2) [Cont.]

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Brien Friel (Introduction to The Last of the Name, 1986) - cont. ‘Anything that was not rooted in the daily life of the glen did not merit his observation [...] McGlinchey, reared on the stories of Fionn and Oisin and the Fianna - “stories so long that they wouldn’t be finished at bedtime, so the old man would carry on the next night where he left off” - lives uneasily under that kind of regimentation; his remembering style resists such external structuring; a conversation has a right to be meandering and repetitive - maybe for emphasis, maybe for the music of the speech, maybe just because the old man is forgetful.’ (p.3.; [Cont.]

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Brien Friel (Introduction to The Last of the Name, 1986) - cont. ‘But despite my formal disciplining [of the chapters] there are some themes that keep recurring throughout the text. Religion is a preoccupation, and the behaviour of Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, and the mixed marriage of the old pagan practices with the new Christian dogmas, and the power of the shaman’s curse. McGlichey was a Catholic but his Catholicism is closer to the eighteenth century than to the twentieth. He likes the mendicant friars with their raucous drinking and their “breezy” ways and their open hearts. He is less happy with Father Shiels who in 1820 built a big house for himself, and “in order to make up the farm seven families had to be evicted. He helped at the evicting himself, too. I heard that he evicted one family after he had said Mass and before he took his breakfast; and he even carried out a cradle with an infant in it and left it on the street. The old people didn’t want to talk about it.” The story is told in a flat voice, the same tone he uses to describe the death in 1703 of Colonel McNeill, the notorious landlord - landlords are another preoccupation - “Things got so bad [... &c.]”’ (p.3.; for the full text of this episode, see attached.)

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Seamus Heaney, ‘[It] already feels like a minor classic … This is a book full of emotional truth and the beauty of immediate trusting speech, overbrimming with folklore of great imaginative richness’ [n. source; quoted in Blackstaff Catalogue, 1987].

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Alan Titley, review of An Fear Deireanach den tSloinneadh, in The Irish Times (12 April 2003), Weekend Review, p.11: ‘[…] what we have here is that story lovingly organised and put in context by Kavanagh’s son and by Nollaig Mac Congáil. This is a roundabout way of explaining that autobiographies are never simple. / McGlinchey was one of the last native speakers of Irish in Inishowen. There is, therefore, a kind of tragic voyeuristic fascination in reading the speech of one whose tongue was being wiped from the earth. When he was young, everyone spoke Irish; when he died, virtually nobody did. It is the story of Ireland of the 19th century writ small. For social historians it is a riveting account from the inside of what life was like from somebody with a prodigious memory and a sense of language. The writing is hard and unwasted. The, mind is unsentimental but kind. Life was a bed of mangles where men slaved and where women could be kidnapped into marriage. The cliché has it that life is changing rapidly now. It was always rapidly changing, and McGlinchey bore witness with clarity and strength.’

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McGlinchey Summer School [webpage]: ‘McGlinchey [...] stayed a bachelor all his long life as he never had enough money or property to offer a wife until it was too late. With his mother and father dying in the early 1900’s and his brothers and sisters having either emigrated to America or having died away from their native home, Charles could have lived a very lonely existence. But the warm, energetic way in which he spoke and his insatiable spirit for life reveals a man at ease with himself, a man never wallowing in self pity or begrudging happiness to anyone. / A talented weaver by trade and a lively story teller by nature, Charles McGlinchey, through his wit and charm has ensured that the past will never be forgotten. A man who having milked his tea directly from 2 goats situated on either side of the hearth is a man of great character. And after all, how many people can claim to have a book written about them and a Summer School named after them? Charles McGlinchey lives on in the hearts and minds of the people of Clonmany as he has given them a gift that no money can buy – the gift of their past. / Charles McGlinchey has become a man of great historical importance. Seldom leaving his native townland, his commitment and interest in his locality served him an opportunity to fulfill his talent for observation. / Charles McGlinchey and local schoolmaster of Gaddyduff National School struck up an intimate relationship which resulted in the book, ‘The Last of the Name’. An insightful account of the contemporary culture of McGlinchey’s generation was the outcome of this collaboration. The history and traditions of our ancestors are in danger of being forgotten but Charles McGlinchey united with the resourcefulness of Patrick Kavanagh and the credulity of Brian Friel have safeguarded our heritage for the time being.’ (Online; accessed 15.09.2009).

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Quotations

For full text extract from ‘The Fair at Pollan’, in The Last of the Name (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1986) [Chap. 7], see RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, as attached.

Story-telling: ‘Most nights the time was passed listening to the old people telling stories about Fionn MacCumhaill and Oisin and the Fianna and Cuchulainn and Conor and Fergus, and stories of giants and witches and fairies and what-not.’ (q.p.)

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References
Frank Ormsby, ed., Northern Windows, An Anthology of Ulster Autobiography (Blackstaff 1987), incls. extract from The Last of the Name (1968), here pp.13-25.

Charles McGlinchey (Annual) Summer School
There is a Charles McGlinchey webpage, with details of contributions to the 1998 McGlinchey/Macklin Summer School online.

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Notes
The Last of the Name (1986): According to the publisher’s catalogue, The Last of the Name tells of a vicious landlord who takes the girl of his choice on every Fair Day until castrated with an old hook; evocative turf-lit pictures of hardworking neighbourly peasantry and matter-of-fact accounts of shocking rape-marriage; describes clothes, food, cures and superstitions, dancing and ceilidh; priest evicting families to make himself a large farm; hard-drinking mendicant friars; faction fights and poteen-making; ‘At night there was no light about the house only what came from the fire … If anybody came into the house, someone always turned a turf in the fire to see who it was.’ ‘Women were often seized … and taken away to marry some man.’ (Blackstaff Cat., 1986.)

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