Patrick MacGill - born Donegal in 1889 - became known as the ‘Navvy Poet’ when a slim little volume of poetry which he had mostly written when working on the railways in Scotland and which he called ‘Gleanings from a Navvy’s Scrapbook’ came to the notice of the literary critics in Britain. It was at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century and the young MacGill was only about twenty years of age. He had, though, already lived a hard and adventurous life.
During the First World War he served with the London Irish Rifles and was wounded at Loos in 1915. His novel The Great Push was written as result of his wartime experiences.
Even though he had but a rudimentary education he read voraciously. His poetry, much of it based on his own experience as a navvy, reflected his growing preoccupation with the poor and the downtrodden and those navvies who, like himself, toiled in the muck to build civilisation but lived on the outside of society. His first collection of poetry, which he published himself and sold, at sixpence a copy, from door to door in Greenock where he was living at the time, together with articles he had submitted to the Daily Express in London incredibly resulted in his being offered a job by that newspaper. Thus his life was to change utterly.
Children of the Dead End
Starting with an account of his childhood in Donegal, Ireland at the end of the 19th century, the story moves to Scotland where, living as a tramp, then working as a gang labourer, and for some years as a navvy at Kinlochleven near Fort William, Dermod Flynn (as he calls himself) begins to discover himself as a writer.
Peopled with extraordinary characters, suffused with humour and yet unflinching in its portrayal of the near slavery of the poor in Scotland and Ireland, Children of the Dead End sold 50,000 copies a year in the 1920s. It was as influential in its own way as the work of social investigators such as Rowntree in bringing about change in British and Irish attituddes to poverty and destitution.
Both a sequel and a parallel to Children of The Dead End, The Rat-Pit (the name of a Glasgow lodging house) tells the tragic tale of Donegal girl Norah Ryan's struggle against poverty at the turn of the century.
Forced into a life of vice, this is the moving story of one woman's decline and death. At thesame time it is also a much larger story ofthe oppression, poverty and racism suffered by Irish immigrants to Britain at that time, and of the hypocrisy of a society which used and abused, yet turned away from teh dark underbelly it had created.
The Great Push
Who is going to benefit by the carnage, save the rats which feed now as they have never fed before? What has brought about this turmoil, this tragedy that cuts the heart of friend and foe alike? Why have millions of men come here from all corners of Europe to hack and slay one another.
In 1915 Patrick MacGill, the 'navvy poet' whose autobiographical novel about his life as a potato harvester and roadwork in Scotland, Children of The Dead end, had been a publishing sensation the year before, enlisted as a private in the London Irish Rifles. He was sent to the front line in France, where, between raids, and in the ghastly conditions of the muddy trenches, he wrote The Great Push, a description of his experiences during the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Towards the end of the offensive he was wouunded in the hand and wrote the last two chapters of the book from a hospital bed in Loos.
A classic of war literature, The Great Push is a passionate and compelling book which describes the fear, resilience, humour and fatalism of those who fought at the raw edge of one of the most terrifying wars ever to have been waged.
The Literary Estate of Patrick MacGill is represented by Knight Features.