Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Puddler Poet

Michael McGovern, the “Puddler Poet” was born in Castlerea, Roscommon, Ireland, in 1847 or 1848 at the height of the Famine crisis. Like many refugees, McGovern first immigrated to London, and there he met and married Anne Murphy in 1872. They eventually came to the United States, circa 1881-1882 first to Pennsylvania and then to Youngstown, Ohio where McGovern found work as a puddler in the rolling mills. Puddlers were highly skilled iron workers who labored in heat and smoke and stirred molten iron which was then shaped and rolled into ingots. While McGovern stirred the iron, he also stirred his thoughts and impression, gathering the words to be molded into the poetry for which he is best remembered. As the McGovern family settled into permanent life in the Mahoning Valley, his poems became numerous. McGovern wrote about the mills, the laborers, Ireland, love and the injustices imposed upon the working class. His writings appeared in many newspapers and Irish-American periodicals. His book of poetry, Labor Lyrics, appeared in 1899 and received acclaim through the United States.

Labor’s Cause

We meet today to sympathize
With Homestead men who seek redress;
To soothe with hope the widow’s cries
And aid them in their sore distress;
To join in saying, that as sure
As reigns a supreme judge on high,
Who sees what men who toil endure,
The cause of labor shall not die.

It was not Washington’s intent,
Whose patriot soldiers overthrew
Oppression that these states were meant
As Eldorados for the few.
Their fight is ours again today,
Their wrongs and ours the same imply,
And in those patriots’ names we say
The cause of labor shall not die.

Send forth the words on spirit wings
That wealth no longer shall maintain
In this free land its petty kings,
With armed thugs to guard their reign.
With justice in this noble fight
Wealth’s private armies we defy;
With votes as weapons wielded right,
The cause of labor shall not die.


Tim Walsh said...

I am a decendant of the "Puddler Poet" and actually have a couple paintings from him. One is of Lantermen's Mill in Youngstown, the other The Lakes of Kilarney. The ladder is being restored, and the former is framed beautifully! I'll try to take a picture of both to send to you.

Benjamin said...

Every day you learn something new. today's learning was "puddlers", a term I haven't heard in 30 years of living! Thanks for the education, as I'm even from Pittsburgh, and haven't heard that term in historical references to the steel era.

Jim Fahy said...

Does anybody know anything about Michael's Irish ancestry or his early life in Ireland?
Are his books still in print or online?

WilliamstownHeritage said...

We in Williamstown Herirage Society are certain Michael McGovern was born in the parish of Williamstown, the parish being also known by its older name of Templetogher, in County Galway, Ireland. Our parish is divided into 50 townlands, and Michael was born in the townland of Castlefield. The ruins of his homestead remain there today. We have found his family name in a land survey which was done in the 1850's. We have found members of the McGovern family in baptismal records for our parish. Jim Fahy who has posted above, a retired television correspondent, did an interview with a local poet named Tommy Scally, many years ago. Jim still has this interview on tape. In it Tommy Scally mentioned Michael McGovern. Tommy's mother came from Castlefield and would have been a neighbour of the McGovern family. Tommy recalled how Michael McGovern emigrated to America and became a famous man of literature. He recalled how his mother saw Michael home from America when she was a little girl.
We in the society had never heard of Michael McGovern until Jim Fahy, mentioned above, contacted us with this wonderful news. We would love to hear from you. Eileen Finnegan, Williamstown Heritage Society