Saturday, 23 January 2010

Performance, Phantom and Poetry

I have a vivid memory of being a young boy (in the early 1940s) listening with my parents to the radio (sorry, wireless - isn't it interesting how this word has come back into use!). The voice on the wireless was that of a Comedian and a character in one of his sketches was a Mrs. McIlhagga. Clearly he'd picked up the name from somewhere and though it suited his character! I honestly can't remember what kind of a character Mrs. McIlhagga was, nor can I remember the name of the Comedian, though I suspect he had a northern English accent. There may be a recording in the BBC archives that could enlighten us.

I thought of this incident quite recently because I came across another fictional McIlhagga on the Internet. A site had been set up to offer space to new authors who needed to try out their attempts at writing short stories. This time the character was male with the first name of Phelim. The 'original' Feilhlim (pronounced Felim) was the name of three early kings of Munster, so you can guess the story was set in Ireland. In the story Phelim McIlhagga was a rather strange fellow who owned a general store in a seaside village on the west coast where a family have a 'very peculiar holiday' adventure involving a phantom train and a phantom ship flying the flag of The Three Headed Dragon. The fantasy perhaps goes a step too far for those of us who work with genealogy when we discover that the genes of the three family members are half human and half 'fairy'! The author was a retired academic in earth sciences from Northern Ireland.

The second performance example I've come across was brought to my notice on a 2008 Christmas Card from a friend in Bathgate, Scotland. She mentioned a local theatre production - it may have been a pantomime - that had a character in it with the name McIlhagga. There are quite a few McIlhaggas in Bathgate! Enquiries have not yet thrown more light on this event!

The Internet has also revealed two poems written by teenagers who were (they are now well beyond teenage) at school in Northern Ireland. In accord with my blog policy I won't name them, though I think I can say both were female. The first poem I came across was published in the book illustrated above, Kaleidoscope, in 1999. It was written by a 15 year old at Bangor High School. The second was published in the magazine Relax at Hopefield Secondary School, Newtownabbey and then picked up by a national newspaper on 30th August 1972. Both are I think very worthy poems.

If Only They Knew

There he sat in the dark corner,
Alone and out of place
No one to talk to, no one to laugh with,
No friend to tell you what to do.
The coloured boy stares with filled eyes,
at the class of pupils far whiter than he.

I can be a friend too, he thought
I can play games, play ball and I can
even crack a joke.
They are all the same you know,
They take one look at you and
without a word, they pretend you're not there.
If only they knew what I was like inside
and didn't judge me by my dark dull colour.
I have a heart too, but if only they knew.

The Gravedigger

He comes home and washes his hands
For it's time to sit down to tea
And he thinks about the soil he's washing off -
"It covered a coffin today
Somebody probably crying over it now".
He thinks about the fresh-laid wreaths
The pretty flowers covering a sad grave
And he wonders "Why flowers?"
Flowers are supposed to cheer you up
Why put them on a grave?

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