Monday, 8 August 2011

High Society!

I think it has been a rare thing for a McIlhagga to move in 'high society', so it was with interest that I noted the entry in my last blog, that probate of a will had been granted to Robert McIlhagga, merchant, by one James Sloan, alias Crawford, 'gentleman'. It so happens that I have recently acquired a book with a few McIlhagga references which fits the theme. This blog entry is really an addendum to the one I wrote on 23rd January last year entitled Performance, Phantom and Poetry. The phantom reference was in an experimental piece of short-story fiction set in the west coast of Ireland and included a character called Phelim McIlhagga. The book I have just acquired, to add incidentally to the clan archive, is also set on the west coast of Ireland, in County Connaught, and also has a McIlhagga character. It is a substantial hard-back of some 430 pages describing itself as a 'Romantic Novel'. It is entitled Maeve , the huntress by James Reynolds who is/was apparently an artist as well as an author. It was published in 1952 by Farrar, Straus and Young, Inc, 101 Fifth avenue, New York. It is the story of twins, Maeve and Mark, coming of age in Irish upper-class society, of which I myself saw a little in the 1950s when I was a student at Trinity College, Dublin.

The first reference comes in chapter 5 (page 62) devoted to the twins' 18th birthday dinner, preceding the evening ball, 'At dinner Maeve and Mark sat side by side at the middle of the long table... Mark had Fanny McIlhagga on his right. Kinky-haired Fanny chatted away on all manner of topics, from how she had at last learned to knit without dropping stitches "like scandal", to trying to pin Mark down to a date when he and Maeve would come on a yachting holiday. "Maeve will love to come, so you must", she pressed.
Fanny could accent every fifth word even with her mouth full of spring lamb, so Mark paid not too much attention to Fanny's strident voice. He was guaging the attractions of the women at the table, with the problem of his choice of partner for the first dance in mind.'

Fanny next appears, equally incidentally, 220 pages further on, when Maeve has been showing her American visitor some of the grand houses of Ireland: '"Dromore". answered Maeve () that's lovely in summer. The gardens along the Shannon are like some I saw in Italy. And then the view of the Ballyhoura Hills covered with red and pink rhododendron. I often visited there when my roommate from the Academy, Fanny McIlhagga, was home'.

The final reference comes as part of a guest list at an engagement party for Maeve and her American fiance from Virginia, 'Old schoolmate Fanny McIlhagga, beaued by Shaun Bellow drove over in a gig'.

It is intriguing to think where an author gets the names of his characters from. Fanny McIlhagga is only a minor one who appears fleetingly and incidentally, with a name quite incidental to the story's context. The story's setting is the Catholic Republic of Ireland. McIlhagga is found primarily in the Protestant North. Admittedly there are a couple of instances in the south, one of a police sergeant in Galway (McIlhagger) and one of a horse-breeder in Dublin (McIlhagga), both of which 'fit' the novel's 'scenary', so it is possible that an American author who had done his research well, might have come across 'McIlhagga' in the South. However there is no known 'Fanny', north or south, and no known daughter who went to a private academy in Dublin. Intriguingly the one 'Frances' we have is found in Virginia, USA, with the right dates for an author born in 1891 and publishing in 1950, though with a variant of the clan name unlikely to have been known to originate as McIlhagga. Frances A. McHagg lived from 1857 to 28th January 1925, and may have been related to three McHaggs to be found in the 1881 English Census, Mary (born 1843). John (1851) and Peter (1856). Frances is recorded in the International Genealogical Index. Her father was Thomas who married Letisha Bishop. Frances married a Thomas Bishop on 10th March 1874 in Scott County, Virginia.

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