The Prisoner and the Poet

Filed under: Media,Web Links; in the year 2019, on the 2nd day of March at 11:22 am

Today’s Courier contains an extraordinary story about an effort to produce a statue of McGonagall. Convicted murderer and “Scotland’s most violent man” Jimmy Boyle was given the commission in 1979, after having discovered a talent for sculpture on a prison art therapy programme. Perhaps fittingly, the whole process ended in failure, despite two large chunks of sandstone being delivered to Barlinnie jail.

Ten “New” Gems

Filed under: Site News; in the year 2019, on the 21st day of February at 11:35 am

I’ve added ten new poetic gems to the site, that come fresh from holdings of the Dundee Central Library. The library has a considerable collection of McGonagalia, including 41 manuscripts written in the poet’s own hand. But more treasures lie among their huge assemblage of 344 broadsheets, once hawked by the great man himself on the streets of Dundee.

McGonagall only produced two books of poems in his lifetime, the first and second volumes of Poetic Gems, published in 1890 and 1891 respectively. His usual practice was to have broadsheets printed with just one or two poems on them, that he could sell on the street for a penny or two. It is from these broadsheets that the content of all subsequent volumes of “gems” have been drawn.

But some have still managed to slip through the net. This latest trove brings their number up to 40, and the overall number of gems on the site to 257. Is that it? Is that the completion of Absolutely Final Poetic Gems? No it isn’t. I’m aware of one broadsheet, sold at auction a decade ago, that I don’t have in my collection, no doubt there are others out there too.

So, without further ado, here are ten works of dubious poetic genius, unseen outside the library’s reading room for over a century:

Taken as a whole, the selection makes quite a representative sample of the great man’s oeuvre. We have two dedicated to places in Scotland, and two describing appearances of Her Majesty in all the excruciating detail McGonagall could muster. Then there are two historical works: one involving, curiously, Willie’s only known portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots (whose life story could have furnished him with subject matter for a whole book of disastrous gems), the other concerns a spectacularly unsuccessful pirate. Two local clergymen are celebrated, one posthumously after his habit of bathing “at dangerous places where other swimmers were afraid” finally catches up with him. Finally, we have two moral tales, the main moral being “don’t be poor in Victorian Scotland.”

I hope these offerings entertain, and help distract from our current catalogue of disasters. Let me know what you think…

New Look for Gem of the Day

Filed under: Site News; in the year 2019, on the 13th day of February at 8:32 pm

If you are a subscriber to the “Gem of the Day” service, you should notice a difference the next time your regular dose of literary lunacy hits your inbox. The Gem of the Day post office has finally entered the 21st century, and is sending out Gems in HTML format instead of plain text. This means they look more like they do on the website, provided you have a reasonably up-to-date email client that can handle such things. Basic email clients (such as you may find on some phones) will still show the plain text version.

Another innovation is that a “What’s new this week” section has been added to the email. A list of content added in the last seven days (when there is any) will appear in just below the daily Gem. The “What’s New” box on the website home page will continue to show the five most recent additions, regardless of how old they are.

If, for some strange reason, you’re haven’t yet signed up to receive a regular dose of McGonagall (you can choose which day(s) of the week a Gem is sent to you), you should register now! Your email address and other details will not be passed on to anyone else – it’s bad enough receiving McGonagall poetry in your inbox without getting a load of spam too!

I hope people like the changes I’ve made, let me know what you think in the comments below.


De Tavi Pontis Clade

Filed under: Web Links; in the year 2019, on the 14th day of January at 1:44 pm

Ain’t the internet wonderful? Over on fanworks website Archive of our Own, user “cnoocy” has discovered fragments of the best known work of “Caledonian poet Gulielmus McGonagall” in the original Latin. Here is the opening stanza:

Trāminis ō pulcher pons tū Tāvī radiantis!
Mortem (vae!) vītās nōnāgintā rapuisse
Lūmine postrēmō sanctō cūjūspiam || annī
(Hic millēsimus atqu’octōcentēsimus annus
Undēoctōgēsimus est) mē dīcere lædit
Cūjūs nos memorēs erimus per sæcula multa.

Cnoocy has also translated, oops, sorry, discovered the last stanza similarly transposed into Virgilian hexameters. I encourage you to go over there and read it. You can also find some other works inspired by the Tay Bridge Disaster there too.

Of course, you only really appreciate McGonagall if you read him in the original Klingon.

McGonagall’s Chronicles

Filed under: Events; in the year 2019, on the 10th day of January at 7:19 pm

There’s a treat for those able to get to Glasgow later this month, a short run of Gary McNair’s one man show dedicated to the life and works of our favourite poet and tragedian:

A biography of the late Dundonian poet, Sir William Topaz McGonagall, the play charts the poet’s life story, trying to understand how he could be so bad at what he did. It addresses the dilemma that surrounds his legend – is it okay for us to laugh at someone’s obvious and relentless failings?

The tale is brought to life by music from Frightened Rabbit’s Simon Liddell, and is directed by multi-award winning director Joe Douglas.

This theatrical gem will be performed from the 22nd to the 25th January at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, as part of the Celtic Connections festival. I won’t be able to go myself, but if anybody is able to see it and provide a review, I’d love to publish it.

Find out more at the theatre’s web site. Hat tip: The Scotsman.

Tribute to Dundee’s V&A

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2018, on the 16th day of September at 10:19 am

A new edifice has appeared on the banks of the silvery Tay, and one named after William’s favourite monarch to boot! The Dundee V&A opened to general acclaim yesterday, but one notable worthy was missing from the festivities on account of having died in 1902.

According to the Dundee Courier, local writer and longstanding McGonagallite Eddie Cairney has sought to correct this omission by penning an ode in suitable poetic style. I’m sure the shade of the Poet and Tragedian is suitably impressed.

Poetic Farewell to West Calder High School

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2018, on the 2nd day of July at 1:55 pm

Readers of the great poet and tragedian will be aware that William did not restrict himself to the great public figures and disasters of the day, Occasionally events from his own life would inspire a gem.

As it was with the master, so too with the disciple. Our own Stephen Midgley has penned this epic to mark the relocation of the West Calder High School where, he tells me, he taught for most of his working life. I think you’ll agree that it’s a splendid send off for the old building…

Lines in Memoriam Regarding the Great Farewell Event at West Calder High School

’Twas in the year of 2018, on the 23rd of June,
When the flowers and shrubberies were in full bloom,
That the great West Calder High School did hold its Final Farewell event
To which many pupils, teachers and friends with eager anticipation went.

To see it once again, many a heart with excitement did race,
And former pupils flocked in their hundreds to the place,
Their beloved old school one last time for to see
And, as they approached, their hearts were filled with glee.

The reception they received was quite magnificent,
And many former teachers did also attend the event.
We were taken on guided tours round the classrooms and corridors,
As pupils, teachers and parents passed through long-remembered doors.

Many people did see the sign on the door of the famous Mr. Gruber,
Who had taught them much geography including the location and climate of Cuba,
And they recalled how in his lessons they had to stay wide awake,
So that, even to this day, seeing his name made them with fear for to quake.

There were photographs from former times upon the noticeboards,
And pictures of pupils holding aloft their many awards;
Old school magazines and notices were on display,
As well as articles, cuttings and stories all laid out in grand array.

A fine musical entertainment did continue through the day,
In which the West Calder High School Wind Bands most splendidly did play,
And the hearts of the visitors were full of glee
As the dinner ladies served most excellent food, drinks and tea.

Old friends and fellow pupils did meet again with great delight,
For some had remained close friends, while others were scattered far and wide,
And talking with long-remembered faces many an hour was spent,
Exchanging stories of old times to their hearts’ content.

Many former pupils greeted their teachers as long-lost friends
Even if at school they had sometimes driven them round the bend.
‘You were a brilliant teacher, miss or sir’, they did chime,
Although, strange for to tell, ’twas rarely mentioned at the time.

And ’twas a great delight to see old pupils present,
Who in their teenage years had varied from delightful to truculent,
But now are upstanding citizens most kind and sensible,
Many with families of their own, and in occupations worthy and respectable.

The school building at Limefield had first opened in the year 1965,
When many pupils and staff, past and present, were not yet even alive.
Since that time, thousands of young people had approached its portals with trepidation,
But once they entered in they did receive an excellent education.

And so the great school stood for fifty-three years until this day,
But alas! I am very sorry to say
That new safety regulations did finally come into play
Which filled the hearts of West Lothian Council officials with dismay.

For an underground gas pipeline close to the school had long ago been laid,
Which now did cause the authorities to be sore afraid,
For the further away from pipelines we our schools do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Oh heaven, ‘twould have been a dreadful sight
To witness by day or in the dusky moonlight,
If the gas pipeline had exploded, and into pieces the building would blast,
At which the pupils and teachers would feel very downcast.

Therefore to replace the old school with a new one is no crime,
And let us hope that it will stand the test of time,
For the splendid new West Calder High School is now completed,
And its location closer to the town by many local people has been greeted.

Its classroom walls are strongly built of concrete, glass and steel
And the car park is big enough to accommodate many a wheel.
The new dark grey building is most handsome to be seen,
And ’tis to be opened on the 20th day of August in the year 2018.

I hope the boys and girls of the new school will work hard on their education
Whether they be from West Calder or its surrounding conurbation,
Because knowledge is sweeter than honey or jam,
Therefore let them try for to gain knowledge as quick as they can.

To the new West Calder High School let us wish happiness and long life,
May you always be prosperous and free from strife,
And success to all your pupils, be they of high or low degree,
In your brand new building which is a most magnificent sight to see.

But I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That the Final Farewell event on the 23rd of June
Was a day of great delight which chased away all gloom.

For this great occasion did mark the end of an era,
’Twas both a fond farewell and the start of a new and glorious chapter
In the history of an institution most sublime,
On a day which will be remember’d for a very long time.


Filed under: Site News; in the year 2018, on the 1st day of May at 12:53 pm

When I started writing this site, back in the mists of time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, it was often difficult to find sites to link to which dealt with the subjects of McGonagall poems. Pick any battle, place or Victorian celebrity – who would bother to build a web page about that? The answer, in the early noughties, was all too often “nobody.”

Well, that was then and this is now. We now have Wikipedia to give us a page of (mostly true) information about any subject under the sun, including many of the subjects of William’s poetic gems. As an indication of the factual nature of William’s oeuvre, almost exactly 60% of the gems can be tied to a Wikipedia article.

So, I have added a new section to poem pages linking to the wikipedia article(s) most closely associated with the poem in question. This is not intended to take the place of the background notes I add to some poems (and, one day, will have added to all of them), but acts as a useful supplement and/or stand in.

The Great American Election Disaster of 2016

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2018, on the 30th day of April at 10:48 am

We’re nothing if not topical here on McGonagall Online, so here’s a gem that reader Tom Kinghorn has just sent to me about happenings eighteen months ago (how time flies when you’re having fun). Since the usual political coverage here concerns such hot topics as women’s suffrage or the death of Gladstone, I think it’s pretty up-to-date.

Tom writes: “In an idle moment I composed this some time ago and forgot about it. Perhaps it may be of some interest/amusement.”

The Great American Election Disaster of 2016

Oh beautiful country of the USA
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That it seems that all sanity has been taken away
To elect a President you did try, on the 8th of November
A day, for a very long time, we surely will remember.

At start of day folk from as far as West Linton
Said “please have good sense and elect Hilary Clinton”
In your masses to the polls you went to vote
Even on the Silv’ry Tay they were sure you’d not elect that other goat.

The whole world would watch, without fail
At home, in bars and possibly in jail
Votes were cast with the greatest of elation
To find out which numpty would govern your great nation
Some remained awake and vigilant throughout
To see who would triumph in each and every bout

But alas, it soon became evident that, with great sorrow
That the wrong winner might emerge, on the morrow
And indeed it was, in the middle of that fateful night
The final result began to hove into sight
In great numbers votes had come down
It looked more and more like you would elect that bloody clown

Some viewer’s hearts were sad, some full of glee
As they watched the horror unfold, on their TV
Soon the catastrophic result was known
And alarm and panic from country to country was blown
This would be a terrible night we would always remember
The night you voted in Donald Trump on 8th November

Hilary’s supporters, who once had hearts that were glad
Were now sorely downcast after their loss and woefully sad
They all wondered how this terrible result could have been
On the day they’d remember for ever, in November 2016

After this catastrophic electoral disaster
A day that would be remembered for ever after
We’d wonder how this mouthy orange haired figure
Could ever have got his small hands on the nuclear trigger

I must now conclude my lay
But at their next election, it is safe to say
The strongest case against his re-election America can build
The less chance there is of us all getting killed.

Thomas Opal McKinghorn

Help Required!

Filed under: News; in the year 2018, on the 17th day of April at 8:40 am

Fans of McGonagall should be well attuned to the problems of the struggling artist, so should be well disposed to lend a helping hand to Andy Crichton. Fortunately, Mr Crichton does not have to contend with showers of potatoes and rotten fish, nor even a shortage of filthy lucre, but a lack of inspiration in producing an artwork dedicated to our favourite poet and tragedian.

I’ll let him speak for himself:


I’m an art student and looking for ideas for a painting about McGonagall. This would be my final piece for my course and I’d be interested in hearing any suggestions from other admirers of the man himself.

Put simply, if you were in a position to commission a painting that celebrated his life and/or his work, what would you be looking for? Would it be about scenes from his work or aspects of what we know about his life story.
Any suggestions or ideas gratefully received

Many thanks


So, give the muse of artistic inspiration full rein, and offer your suggestions in the comments section below…

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