John Gillan 1 - Sligo Poets

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John Gillan Poems 1 - The Sligo Nationalist 1913

John Gillan was a Sligo native, living in
Lord Edward Street or Georges Street, Sligo in 1911, married to Ellen. They were married for thirteen years and five of seven children born to them survived and were living with them. All of the surviving children were sons. John spoke Irish and English.

His mother, a widow, lived with him in 1911. She had been born in Co. Leitrim.

He was a l
inotype operator with the Sligo Nationalist. In 1901 he gave his his occupation as printer-compositor. I presume he originally worked at the Sligo Champion and moved to the Nationalist when it was founded.

A.P.N. refers to John Gillen in his poem Old Friends published in the Sligo Nationalist in September:


There I saw my friend, "Jack," who works the "lino,"
   His verses are quite up to date,
He is losing his time making up local rhyme,—
   He should be a Poet Laureate.


These poems by John Gillan were turned out very quickly, sixteen of his poems were printed in the Sligo Nationalist between the end of June and end of the years 1913. There are no copies of the newspaper in the National Library of Ireland for the first part of 1913 and he may have contributed as many during those months.

These poems have
nothing to commend them from the point of view of literature or craft. They are poorly composed, have awkwards rhythms and predictable rhymes. At their worst, as in the lines on the Strandhill drowning tragedy and those on the Holy Well near Sligo town, they rival the efforts of the famous William McGonagall.

However what Gillan's verses usually have are informative local references, to events, buildings, characters and practices. Verses on Sligo Borough Court
give a good idea of what the weekly Monday court must have been like and what crimes were usually dealt with there.

The two poems on the Rink Picture Palace give a real first hand account of the excitement of the early days of the cinema in Sligo. Tadhg Kilgannon had opened the first cinema in Sligo in late 1911 or early 1912, the Picture Theatre in Thomas Street. In March the Rink Picture Palace, on the site of a roller skate rink, was opened in Adelaide Stree by local man John Monson. In September it reopened under the management of the Sligo Living Picture company. W Payne Seddon was the Managing Director and Monson the manager.

In a local press report it was said that the Rink Picture Palace could seat seven hundred people in plush tip-up seats. The theatre's sidewalls and front of stage had large painted panels showing Sligo views including Lough Gill, Knox Street, Rosses Point, Victoria Bridge and the Belfast Bank etc. Music was supplied by Miss Newton’s orchestra.

The October cinema poem tells us that film of Sligo street scenes were being shown in the Rink cinema. Tadhg Kilgannon filmed the laying of the foundation of the P.A. McHugh monument in Sligo on St. Patrick's Day 1913 and showed it in his cinema in Thomas Street. This was, the local press reported, his first effort at such. I presume Kilgannon's films were not being shown in a rival cinema in Sligo which suggests there were two persons at least involved in filming local scenes at the time.

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Sligo Nationalist 28 June 1913
Holy Well (Tubbernalth).
(By J. Gillan).

On Garland Sunday morning it’s the custom every year
For Catholics to visit Tubbernalth, a place we hold so dear;
There to perform stations, on that blessed day,
Or kneel before the altar, there some
prayers to say.

On this historic spot one hundred years and more
To hear the Holy Mass our ancestors suffered sore;
The priest and people hunted, and many of them fell
Rather than surrender, just beside the Holy Well.

This sacred place — situated close to Cairns Hill—
Is not far from Sligo on the shores of sweet Lough Gill;
On Garland Sunday evening the people gather there
And recite the holy Rosary, that beautiful Heavenly prayer!

There the Temperance band does go to play fine Irish airs,
And on cars and boats large numbers flock to join in the great prayers;
Pilgrims come from distant parts, and often we heard tell
Of those who suffered from disease cured
at the Holy Well.

All Catholics should visit Tubbernalth the last Sunday of July
To see the place our fathers prayed many years gone by,—
Where Irish martyrs blood was spilt (on the thought it’s hard to dwell).
For our holy Faith they gave up their lives there at the Holy Well.

Thank God, those Penal days are gone, and that we do not fear
To go to our grand Churches now, Holy Mass to hear;
Unlike the times of long ago, when was heard the "bloodhounds" yell
On their way to murder Papists praying at the Holy Well.

Sligo Nationalist 12 July 1913

(By J. Gillan).

I went to those grand pictures
   Again on Tuesday night
To see the great Napoleon,
   Which was a beautiful sight.

At "Pollidor’s New Premises"
   I’m "kilt" laughing still,
And the "whacking’" that the "Bobby"
   Gave poor "Lazy Bill."

"The Chief’s Blanket"–a splendid film–
   We there also saw,
And the awful death in the forest
   Of the cruel, bad, outlaw.

How old Cornafeu was tricked
   Is surely worthy of note,
Also saving of the oyster girl
   By the artist, with his boat.

There were many other pictures,
   Both dramatic and funny,–
No doubt, I must admit,
   They were all worth any money.

On Wednesday night "The Last Rose"
   In excellent style was shown,
And the rivals fight on top of the cliff,
   Down which one of them was thrown.

"Simple Simon’s" acting
   Could not, indeed, be better;
He was greatly disappointed when
   He got his lover’s letter!

’Twas good to see "Portuguese Joe"–
   How the sailors gay
Humbugged him by getting drinks
   For which they didn’t pay!

"Just Like a Woman" and "The Dress Suit"
   Were very fine to view;
"How the Robbery Was Prevented"
   Showed the reporter was so true.

There was also a cowboy picture
   Called "The Fighting Instinct,"
And I left for home satisfied
   With a pleasant night at the Rink!

Mr. Monson deserves great credit,
   So to his Palace give a call
And see grand paintings of Sligo streets
   Around his lovely Picture Hall.

                       Sligo Nationalist 16 August 1913
                          THE STRANDHILL TRAGEDY.
                                      (by J. Gillan).
(Lines written on the drowning of five young ladies at Strandhill
                      on Saturday, the 2nd August, 1913)

Sad news came to Sligo, which made us shake with fear,–
’Twas the drowning of five young ladies in the midst of sport and cheer.
On the 2nd day of August, just at one o’clock,
At Strandhill those girls were drowned, which was a frightful shock.

When those ladies on that morning saw the day was fine
They little knew that they would die within so short a time.
For the bathing place they started, with others who went, too,
And into the water they did go, and soon were lost to view.

Two of them being sisters, who from Newtownforbes came
To spend a few weeks at the sea, and good health to gain.
When they that day went bathing, the tide was very low,
And not accustomed to the place, to a whirlpool they did go.

A man named Mr. Kielty their lives to save he tried,
But had to swim back to shore where their comrades loudly cried.
Late on the same evening three of them were found
Not far from the awful place where those poor girls were drowned.

Slowly came their funerals–the sight we can’t forget,
And many people dropped a tear for how those ladies met their death.
"May the Lord have mercy on their souls!" is what we all should say.
And their afflicted parents, God comfort them, I pray.

Sligo Nationalist 9 August 1913
Verses on Sligo Borough Court.
            (By J. Gillan).

Sometimes at Sligo Borough Court
There does be the best of sport.
While the magistrates hear the cases
There you’ll see "sticking-plaster faces."

Fellows with noses red as a rose,
Others with eyes hidden from blows;
More "simple drunks" are brought up,
And a poor "dacent" woman for "takin" a sup!

A publican now and then is fined
Because on a Sunday to a friend he’s
too kind";
The "Cruelty" man who looks after the
Brings up an odd mother, and to Jail maybe send her.

A "poor devil" is summoned for having no light,
Or for "drunk and disorderly and refusin' to fight!"
Corner-boys often are there for black-mailing,
And shopkeepers stamping their
weights and scales failing.

The poor dairyman, too, gets into a row
Because he won’t sell his milk as it comes from the cow!
Those who’ve dogs unlicensed are made
Part with their "doggies" or the fine must be paid.

Great gentlemen with high collars round their necks
Are sometimes brought up for passing bad cheques.
If on a Monday for work you’re not caring
Just stroll to the Courthouse–there’s where you’ll hear swearing!!!

Sligo Nationalist 18 October 1913
   The Rink Picture Palace
          (By John Gillan).

When just at the end of Wine Street,
I looked to my left one night,
There I saw the words: "Picture Palace"
In letters of gorgeous light.

I took a walk up Adelaide Street,
And oh! such a splendid Hall!
At the door was a man in uniform
And large posters on the wall.

I went into this grand Palace—
No seat vacant, I had to stand—
And I listened there with pleasure
To the fine orchestral band.

A piano, ’cello, and two violins,
Would anyone delight
Played by four young ladies
Dressed in spotless white.

There was such a monster audience
(Packed from the balcony down)
It would surprise me if there was one at all
Left outside in the town.

The beautiful films then commenced,
Which appeared so fine to me;
One was men discharging boats
At our splendid Sligo Quay!

We could see the congregations
From Cathedral and Friary coming,
And well-known little boys and girls
Through the streets were running.

Lovely Lough Gill was also shown,
Of which many poems were wrote;
We could see there plainly sailing
Dominick Gallagher’s motor boat.

Cairns’ Hill and Tubbernalth,
Where often we have stood,
And the wind-mill on the other side
At far-famed Hazlewood.

The people leaving St. John’s Church
To us were also shown,
And persons walking through John Street,
Everyone of whom were known.

"Les Miserables" was a powerful piece—
Excellent, no doubt—
That brave hero, "Valijean,"
Who was so tall and stout.

Other pictures were also screened
(Seeing them I’d never weary)
Including that popular "Yankee" tale:
"What Happened to Mary."

Mr. Seddon and Mr. Monson,
In their praise here I must speak
For giving two performances each night
And two matinees each week.

The twice-nightly "houses"
Are at seven and at nine,
To suit many business people
Who must be "up to time."

It keeps many from the public house,
From quarrelling and from malice –
No one should miss to give a call
To the Grand Rink Picture Palace.

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