McGlinchey, Charles 1861-1954

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MCGLINCHEY, Charles 1861-1954

PERSONAL:

Born December 21, 1861, in Meentiagh Glen, Clonmany, Inishowen Peninsula, Ireland; died 1954; son of Niall (a weaver and tailor) and Sile (Harkin) McGlinchey.

CAREER:

Weaver, tailor, and storyteller.

WRITINGS:

The Last of the Name, edited by Brian Friel, Blackstaff Press (Belfast, Ireland), 1986, J. S. Sanders (Nashville, TN), 1999.

SIDELIGHTS:

Although Irishman Charles McGlinchey rarely left the small town of his birth, he managed to weave grand tales of Irish culture and history, relying on the observations he made of his friends and neighbors, as well as on the stories handed down to him by previous generations. One of six children born to a weaver and his wife, McGlinchey was never formally educated, and followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a weaver and tailor. His family spoke only Gaelic, but as he grew older, he learned to speak English, and later taught himself to read both English and Gaelic.

McGlinchey never married; as a young man he had no property or money that could be offered as the dowry necessary in order to take a bride. As an adult, McGlinchey became increasingly isolated after family members emigrated to the United States or died. Eventually he was left to live alone on his family's farm, but rather than withdrawing into seclusion, the ever-sociable and optimistic man became an important fixture in his local community. He was known for his ability to recall ancient legends and events of past eras as well as for his storytelling ability. In the late 1940s and early 1950s he became friends with a local schoolmaster, Patrick Kavanagh, who realized that McGlinchey's tales were an important historical and cultural link to Ireland's increasingly forgotten heritage. Kavanagh spent long hours with McGlinchey, listening to his stories and transcribing them longhand.

These manuscripts remained in the Kavanagh family until the mid-1980s, when Patrick Kavanagh's son gave them to playwright Brian Friel, who edited them into a book, The Last of the Name. The book preserves McGlinchey's stream-of-consciousness narrative style and is divided into eighteen chapters dealing with subjects such as the Irish Potato Famine, emigration from Ireland, poets, Irish whiskey, pubs, and religious pilgrimages.

The book is notable for its emphasis on local events in McGlinchey's remote village; as George O'Brien noted in the Washington Post, although McGlinchey occasionally traveled to Dublin and even into England, he spends only a line or two on these events, preferring to discuss events in Clonmany in great detail. Friel commented in his introduction to the book, "Nothing but life in the Glen was important to him." O'Brien remarked that McGlinchey did not focus on himself, however; he is "less interested in drawing attention to his own experiences than in mulling over his immediate milieu.… [Earlier] generations have such a prominent presence in The Last of the Name that they amount to a virtual, or parallel, community." Stories handed down from these generations give the book a vast historic range, reaching as far back as the Napoleonic wars and occasionally farther. In British Book News, D. W. Harkness described the book as "a pleasure to read," and Carol Peace Robbins, writing in the New York Times Book Review, praised McGlinchey's "wonderfully appealing" voice.

In Clonmany a summer school has been named after McGlinchey. The author of a profile of McGlinchey on the town of Clonmany's Web site noted, "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."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

McGlinchey, Charles, The Last of the Name, edited by Brian Friel, Blackstaff Press (Belfast, Ireland), 1986.

PERIODICALS

British Book News, November, 1986, D. W. Harkness, review of The Last of the Name, p. 668.

Library Journal, September 15, 1999, Pam Kingsbury, review of The Last of the Name, p. 91.

New York Times Book Review, Carol Peace Robbins, review of The Last of the Name, October 17, 1999, p. 23.

Washington Post, September 26, 1999, George O'Brien, review of The Last of the Name, p. X04.

ONLINE

Clonmany Web site,http://www.clonmany.com/ (November 24, 2003), profile of McGlinchey.*

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McGlinchey, Charles 1861-1954

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