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Published: 17 October 2020

By Andy Ross

The Poet, William McGonagall

Known for his poems celebrating important events and people of the 19th Century, Scotland's unofficial second national poet is famous for being "the worst poet ever" but he has intriguing links to Orkney and to weaving.

Born into a hand-loom weaving family that ended up living in Dundee, then a city of jute manufacture, the McGonagalls also lived in Orkney for a brief period... possibly. No records survive of the family being in the islands but intriguing hints exist of the truth in William's claim to have lived there. Whatever the truth of that particular claim, it is certain that they lived and worked in Dundee. The Orkney question is not the only one to hang over the poet. Records indicate that the family was Irish, immigrants to Dundee, yet William claimed to have been born in Edinburgh! It is indeed a convoluted life.

The poems William wrote are similarly convoluted as in this piece for the Newport Railway, however, in spite of the ridicule poured upon his work, McGonagall is much more famous than some of his contermporaries and is regarded with fondness and, indeed, admiration today. 

A new book for the library, Poet McGonagall by Norman Watson celebrates the life of this most-unusual personality. It will be, I am sure, an entertaining read. If you cannot wait, have a look at this website, complete with autobiographical details. How much fun!