Poet from 'Little Ireland'
Mick Garngad by Jim Friel
The district called Garngad, which is only a few hundred
yards north of the 12th Century Cathedral of Glasgow has been
known for the past hundred years as Little Ireland.
When the Irish navvies, after digging the Monkland Canal,
which was opened in 1790, left the bothies to settle in the
industrial city, it was tenement districts like the Garngad
and Gorbals in which they settled. With the building of the
railway lines to the rich mineral deposits of Lanarkshire,
these hardy labourers were assured of employment for a decade
or two, and in the same locality stood another great industry,
the St. Rollox Chemical Works, the largest of its kind in
Mick McLaughlin, or as he was better known by his pen name,
Mike Garngad, was born here in the beginning of the century.
Like many other Garngad people, Mick was of Irish descent,
his parental forbears hailed from the fabled Inishowen peninsula
in north Donegal. Mick was well-known as a raconteur, poet,
song-writer and practical joker and was a popular figure at
Wakes: an Irish tradition which persisted until the demise
of the old Garngad itself in the late 1950s. In the
tradition of the old Gaelic shanachie, he chronicled various
Glasgow events, particularly in the Gargad-Townhead area.
Yet he occasionally wrote verse and song outwith his immediate
environment; but some of these creations were unclaimed by
the modest Mick. They are still sung to this day without the
singer of the wider public being aware of the authors
The best example of this anonymity is Micks great tribute
to the memory of the Easter Week leader and martyr, the ballad
to James Connolly, Many years have gone by since the
Irish rebellion with its fine stirring air of Lochnagar.
The lyrics of the latter ranks among the very best of Lord
Byrons works, and it is a tribute to the quality of
their work that both songs have long survived, and are very
likely to continue to do so. Whenever an Irish theme presented
itself, Mick Garngad was more than eager to find immediate
inspiration and circulate it in either broadsheet or hand-written
form, among his cronies. A good example of this happened in
1921 in the High Street, Glasgow (beside the Garngad) when
a number of republican sympathisers tried to rescue Frank
Carty (alias Somers) from a prison van, an incident reminiscent
of the Manchester Martyrs several decades earlier. Mick wrote
his song, The Smashin of the Van on this
event. The song is included in a 1967 ballad collection Rebel
Ceilidh Song Book. This is now a collectors item
and has a foreword by the poet Hugh McDiarmid. Mick was about
twenty-one years old at the time when he wrote this ballad
and like many more in Little Ireland, he carried
his torch for the freedom and unity of Caitlin Ni Houlihan,
until his death in the early 1960s. Some Garngad men
were involved in this incident.
No great promoter of his own fame or fortune, Mick McLaughlan
set no higher target for himself than to be the local poet
of Garngad and a voice for the Irish community in Glasgow.
Almost inevitably this entailed being involved in enthusiastic
support for its great favourite football-team, Celtic, and
the immortal Jimmy McGrory, a Garngad lad himself and local
hero. Countless songs about Celtic poured from the pen of
Mick Garngad and among them some of the most cherished ones
in the Irish repertoire of the terraces at Parkhead. The
Celtic Song written by him to the tune of the overture
from The Pirates of Penzance is famous, as is
Oh Hampden In The Sun! celebrating the great seven-one
victory over Rangers in the League Cup. Mick sold The
Celtic Song to Gen Daly, the popular music hall singer,
for a mere fiver, but this is understandable, as cold
cash was the least of his objectives. He also wrote
that very moving lyric on the tragic death of the prince
of goalies, Johnny Thompson, from Cardenden, Fife, who
lost his life in an Old Firm game. Yet for all
his pro-Celtic bias, there was always a good sportsmanship
side to Mick. It is said that a man bearing an uncanny resemblance
to our author was occasionally seen at Ibrox (the Rangers
base) with song-sheets signed by the anonymous Blue
Knight. This would not be outside the practical joker
side of Micks character which deserves some notice on
its own account. He also wrote the popular Barlinnie
Blues, part of Glasgow folklore. Theres
bars on the windaes
A touch of harmless fun has for centuries been a warm ingredient
of the traditional Irish character. Mick McLaughlan had this
quality in plenty. One of the humorous anecdotes related about
him tells how he boasted to a stranger in a Garngad pub how
he had inherited the mighty strength of the great Irish giant,
Finn MacCool, and to prove it, he would the very next morning
at ten-o-clock uproot a telegraph pole in the main street
and carry it down the High St. to Glasgow Cross. Bets were
laid and next morning a small crowd, including the challenger
and the bold Mick appeared on the hour at a telegraph pole
which conveniently lay beside a police-box. Just as Mick bent
down and set himself to the task, a burly cop emerged from
the box with hand-cuffs. Oh no you dont, Mick,
not this time! Thats the third pole youve nicked
this week an if you dare, its Barlinnie jail for
ye! The stranger, unaware that it was all pre-arranged,
pleaded with Mick to let the pole lie and settled for a round
of drinks. On another occasion, he made bets that Madame Blatavaskys
lectures had endowed him with powerful hypnotic energy which
could stop the No. 32 tram on its deep descent of the hill
from Provan Mill. This experiment was carried out successfully,
but of course he concealed from the spectators that the tram-driver
and he were old buddies. Mick McLaughlan was such a well-beloved
character of Garngad, that he has become an outstanding legendary
figure of the district to this day.
In the 1950s and early 60s, many of the old tenements
were demolished and their tenants transported
to the huge, rather bleak and soulless housing schemes (the
graveyards with electric light) on Glasgows periphery.
Garngad, though it still exists, was robbed of an essential
part of its character and colour. Mick wrote its elegy in
Farewell to Garngad to the same tune as Skibbereeb;
it is a song which brought a tear to the eye of many an old
inhabitant. Michael Keenans history of the Garngad in
the Mitchell Library devotes two of its pages in a tribute
to its local Bard. This is the district where the Radicals
and weavers of Glasgow set out from in 1820 in their brave
struggle for Freedom at the battle of Bonnymuir. Mick Garngad
inherited, not perhaps Finn MacCools strength, but the
great energy of two great traditions in the struggle, one
Scottish, one Irish.
Garngad historian Michael Keenan recalls Mick in a recent
Wheres Mick McLaughlan
the Garngad Rhyme.
The tricks he got up to were ever well known.
The man was a legend in his own time.
His fame on the road it has grown.
He was known to make dour people smile.
And also to make hard men cry.
His poems were simply true Garngad style.
Poets mention his name with a sigh.
Micks origins (like Matt McGinn of the Carlton), lay
in the ancient province of Ulster, and like Matt he deserves
to be remembered as a man of the people and a bard of the
Note to Editor Many other well-known people were born
in this Irish enclave on the North side of Glasgow. These
include: Jimmy McGrory, Malcolm McDonald, Joe Baillie and
Lisbon Lion Steve Chalmers of Celtic fame, the
former General Secretary of the Print Union Sugat, the late
Vincent Flynn and of course the world renowned Villean piper
about Provanmill and Blackhill
about Garngad and Royston
about Garngad characters (Mick McLaughlan by Michael Keenan)
about politics in the area
about entertainment in the area
about sports in the area
about schools in the area
about churches and religion in the area
the 'Farewell to Garngad'
the conclusion by writer James Friel
to history index page
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