Tag Archives: William McGonagall

Almanac – December 28

1734 – Rob Roy MacGregor died.  Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century,  sometimes known as the Scottish Robin Hood. Rob Roy is anglicised from the Scottish Gaelic Raibeart Ruadh, or Red Rober – he had red hair, though it darkened to auburn in later life.

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1879 – The Tay Bridge Disaster: The central part of the Tay Rail Bridge in Dundee, Scotland collapsed as a train passes over it, killing around 75.

On the evening of 28 December 1879, a violent storm (10 to 11 on the Beaufort Scale) was blowing virtually at right angles to the bridge. At 7.13 a train from the south slowed to pick up the baton from the signal cabin at the south end of the bridge, then headed out onto the bridge, picking up speed. The signalman turned away to log this and then tended the cabin fire but a friend present in the cabin watched the train: when it had got about 200 yards (183 m) from the cabin he saw sparks flying from the wheels on the east side , this continued for no more than three minutes, by then the train was in the high girders; then “there was a sudden bright flash of light, and in an instant there was total darkness, the tail lamps of the train, the sparks and the flash of light all … disappearing at the same instant”

 The signalman saw (and when told believed) none of this  but when the train didn’t appear on the line off the bridge into Dundee he tried to talk to the signal cabin at the north end of the bridge, but found that all communication with it had been lost.

Not only was the train in the river, but so were the high girders, and much of the ironwork of their supporting piers. Divers exploring the wreckage later found the train still within the girders, with the engine in the fifth span of the southern 5-span division.

 56 tickets for Dundee had been collected from passengers on the train before crossing the bridge; allowing for season ticket holders, tickets for other destinations, and for railway employees 74–75 people were believed to have been on the train. There were no survivors; there were 60 known victims, but only 46 bodies were recovered, two not until February 1880.

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William McGonagall wrote his (in)famous poem The Tay Bridge Disaster about it –

 It begins:

    “Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay
    Alas! I am very sorry to say
    That ninety lives have been taken away
    On the last sabbath day of 1879
    Which shall be remembered for a very long time.”

And  ends:

    “Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv’ry Tay
    I now must conclude my lay
    By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
    That your central girders would not have given way
    At least many sensible men do say
    Had they been supported on each side with buttresses
    At least many sensible men confesses
    For the stronger we our houses build
    The less chance we have of being killed”

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1932 – Nichelle Nichols born.  American actress, singer and voice artist. She sang with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before turning to acting. Her most famous role is that of communications officer Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the popular Star Trek television series, as well as the succeeding motion pictures, where her character was eventually promoted in Starfleet to the rank of commander.

Her Star Trek character was groundbreaking in U.S society at the time, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. personally praised her work on the show and asked her to remain when she was considering leaving the series.

In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols famously kissed white actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the November 22, 1968, Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of an inter-racial kiss on United States television.

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William McGonagall – Collected Poems

  Showcasing items from our online bookstore.

As today is the 110th   anniversary of the death of the near-legendary Scottish poet William McGonagall,  we take the opportunity of pointing you towards –

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AUTHOR-          William McGonagall

PUBLISHED-     Birlinn, Edinburgh. 1992

FORMAT-          Pb, 558pp

CONDITION-     Used. Some wear around the spine and cover.
Otherwise good, sound & clean condition.

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“The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877”

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William  McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was a Scottish weaver, doggerel poet and actor. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of or concern for his peers’ opinions of his work.

He wrote some 200 poems, including the infamous “Tay Bridge Disaster”, which are widely regarded as some of the worst in British history. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his works; contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many of these listeners were appreciating McGonagall’s skill as a comic music hall character, and as such his readings may be considered a form of performance art.

The chief criticisms of his poetry are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. In the hands of lesser artists, this might generate merely dull, uninspiring verse. McGonagall’s fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings generate.

The inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most spontaneously amusing comic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of verses written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public.

This omnibus volume brings together his three famous collections –
•    Poetic Gems
•    More Poetic Gems
•    Last Poetic Gems

and includes all the valuable autobiographical material which appeared in the original volumes.

This book is available for purchase at a very reasonable price. You’ll need to sign up for an account with our store’s host, eBid (works basically the same as eBay, and you can use your PayPal account just the same).

Will mail worldwide.

William McGonagall –   Collected Poems page.  

Wolfs Head Bookstore front page.

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Almanac – September 29

Michaelmas
One of the old Quarter Days of the year, and also a time of hiring fairs

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1902 – William  McGonagall died. Scottish weaver, doggerel poet and actor. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of or concern for his peers’ opinions of his work – at least that’s the official view. Contemporary accounts suggest that he was actually a pretty good performance poet,  and his works were made to hear, rather than to be read. He wrote about 200 poems, including his infamous “The Tay Bridge Disaster”, as well as one about the Victoria Hall Disaster, here in Sunderland.

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1916 – John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire during a share boom in the USA.

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1935 – Jerry Lee Lewis born. The Killer.

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1997 – Roy Lichenstein died. American pop artist. During the 1960s, along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist, and others he became a leading figure in the new art movement. His work defined the basic premise of pop art better than any other through parody, favoring the old-fashioned comic strip as subject matter, his work was heavily influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style. He described Pop Art as, “not ‘American’ painting but actually industrial painting”.

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