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.
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.
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.
This is a strong, poignant account of MacGill’s hunger to return to the place of his birth, and his tragic expulsion.
Patrick MacGill, Rifleman No. 3008, London Irish, was one of many thousands of Irishmen who fought in the First World War, and he articulates the experience of that tragic generation, conveying the horror of war but also the resilience of the men.
Filled with superb characterisation, humour, poignancy and eloquence, Moleskin Joe is a vivid portrayal of the hardships of Irish immigrant experience,
The book’s appearance proved deeply divisive owing to its fierce anticlericalism and unflinching portrayal of social conditions in the early years of the century. In the intervening years it has lost none of its power to shock
A classic of war literature, a 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.
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.
The collected poetry of Patrick MacGill
Children of the Dead End: The Autobiography of a Navvy
The Amateur Army
The Red Horizon
The Great Push: An Episode in the Great War
The Brown Brethren
[as John O’Gorman] The Dough-Boys
The Diggers: The Australians in France, foreword by W. M. Hughes, Australian PM
Lanty Hanlon: A Comedy of Irish Life
The Carpenter of Orra
The Glen of Carra
The House at the World's End
Gleanings from a Navvy's Scrapbook (Derry: Derry Journal 1910)
Songs of a Navvy (Windsor: P. MacGill 1911)
Songs of the Dead End (London: Year Book Press 1912)
Soldier Songs (London: Herbert Jenkins 1917)
Songs of Donegal (London: Herbert Jenkins 1921)
The Navvy Poet: Collected Poetry of Patrick MacGill (London: Caliban 1984) [Songs of Donegal; Songs of the Dead End; Soldier Songs]