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The Quarterclift;  or  The Life and Adventures of Hudy McGuigan,  by Hugh Harkin

published in booklet form 1841; published in facsimile 1993 by Ballinascreen Historical Society
(144pp, + brief introduction and notes)
available from Ballinascreen Historical Society, Draperstown, Co Derry

an edited transcript, with notes and a glossary

characters may replace dashes in the original publication,
 eg "Lord Caledon" replaces "Lord C──n"

The Real Hudy McGuigan (c1767‑1847)

Harkin's stories are by turn briskly eventful and turgidly over-larded with comment; but hiding behind the text there is a real Hudy McGuigan, who lived in Ballinascreen and did crazy things in various parts of south County Derry.

The famous Irish scholar John O'Donovan met Hudy on Monday 15 September 1834; O'Donovan included a record of this meeting in a letter from Draperstown Cross dated Tuesday 16th September 1834; the letter was sent to Thomas Larcom of the Ordnance Survey, for whom O'Donovan was tirelessly criss-crossing County Derry at that time.  The following paragraphs are transcribed from O'Donovan's letter (Ordnance Survey of Ireland: Letters, Londonderry. O'Donovan, John, 1806-1861. Royal Irish Academy: 14 D 21 /31):

Maguiggan forms the termination of the names of several townlands in this County.  It is a family name very common here.  I met yesterday one of the name who is one of the most extraordinary men that Ireland ever produced.  He is capable of reasoning well and perfectly moral, sober and correct in his conduct, but from reading Don Quixote, the Seven Champions of Christendom, and other books treating of Knight-errantry he has undertaken to perform most surprizing feats, and thinks that he has exceeded any knight or hero that ever appeared in this world.  His Life has been ably written in the stile of Don Quixote by Henry John O'Hagan, a classical teacher who taught for some time in Ballynascreen but who is now in America.  The MS. is entitled "the Life and adventures of the most renowned and illustrious chevalier Hugo de Godwino alias Hugh Maguiggan of Ballynascreen, the most chivalrous and magnanimous Knight that the world ever had the honour of producing."

Hugo has leaped 30 feet across the Moyola, rode a mad bull on the fair of Magherafelt in despite of all the animal's strength and ferocity, surprized and astonished an English general in the year '98 on the Feeny mountain by extraordinary feats of horsemanship, rode his horse Beucephalus over horses, cows and standings at the fair of Tobermore without doing the slightest injury, and tied together the and procured the wings of 24 geese which he tied together and formed into two enormous wings, which he fitted on himself and flew off the precipice of Cregnashoke.  But the God-like man's wings failed, and his leg was broken.  He had intended to fly across the channel, and perch on the highest of the mountains of Albion.

I met the chevalier yesterday dressed in the most chimerical manner walking along the road from Draperstown to Dungiven with two greyhounds and three terriers.  I asked him if he had ever tried Shane Crossagh's leaps on Carn an Togher.  "I have;" answered the Chevalier, "but by Jepurs I have never leaped them.  I am the most renowned, illustrious, chivalrous and sublimely magnanimous Knight and Champion that the world ever had the honour of producing, and I could not jump that distance in three standing leaps.  Shane jumped 21 feet by the first spring, 21 by the second and 24 by the third.  I sprang 7 yards in the first, 8 in the second and 9 in the third leap, but I had a run - he stood.  But the world must know that I am a greater man than Shane because he was a common latro, I am a magnanimous chevalier of divine symmetry, of lofty conceptions; distinguished above the sons of men, acquainted with the whole circle of human learning, could direct the sun in his course, master the Devil and mount upon the wings of the wind.  At the sound of my name monarchs tremble on their thrones, the Turk sighs, Nicholas weeps, the Devil roars, and Jupiter shudders."

O'Reilly translates Guiggin, silly man!! it is commonly remarked here that all the Maguiggins are light-headed!

Stokes ought to take a sketch of this extraordinary human production of Ballynascreen.

O'Donovan may have been mistaken in thinking that Hudy had himself read Don Quixote etc; it is generally considered that Hudy was proudly illiterate, certainly Harkin presents him so.  In his essay "Ár Scéal Féin" (Dublin Review of Books website) Brian Earls suggested that O'Hagan had done the reading, and had used his "Life" to cast Hudy somewhat ironically as a gallant Knight of old.  Certainly O'Hagan's long-winded title supports this idea; unfortunately O'Hagan's manuscript does not appear to have survived.  O'Donovan names O'Hagan as "Henry John" - in Harkin's stories there seem to be two writers named O'Hagan: one named "Jack Archy", who established that Godwino was a version of McGuigan; and another named "Henry John", who wrote a song about "Nora Murphy up the glen".

Hudy must have been in his mid sixties when O'Donovan met him; and he still seems to have been active six years later, when a Belfast newspaper published in its social column the following article (The Vindicator, Wednesday 22 April 1840):

"Fashionable" Arrival. ─ Hudy McGuigan, the wild-witted scapegrace, the now far-celebrated hero of flood and field, who has for some time past figured before the public, in the pages of this journal, as "the Quarterclift," arrived in Belfast last Saturday night.  He came for the express purpose of visiting the clever chronicler of some of the striking incidents of his life.  We had also the honour of a visit from "the Clift" in this office.  He left town yesterday, on which day he had, as he himself said, some "capitial splores".  He knock[ed] down, consecutively, on one of our quays, three able-bodied porters, who were attempting to play off some tricks upon him.  A few strikes from "Black Bess" taught these gentlemen a necessary lesson in prudence.

This newspaper article has clearly been written by Harkin, or by somebody imitating Harkin's style; nevertheless it seems likely that the basic facts are correct: that Hudy (now in his early seventies) visited Belfast for a couple of days round Easter (19 April) 1840.  The short article above was followed a few days later by Hudy's "letter" from Belfast to his Ballinascreen friends; then a couple of months later by Hudy's "letter" from Ballinascreen to "the editor of the McGuigan papers".  Both letters are self-promotion by Harkin, the second one specifically mentioning the forthcoming book.

Hudy died in Ballinascreen on 6 June 1847, as reported in The Vindicator, Wednesday 30 June 1847:

Death of Hudy McGuigan, or the Quarterclift.─The last of the ancient sept of the M'Guigans is no more─Hudy McGuigan is dead!  He died at Strawmore, in the county Derry, on the 6th instant, at the advanced age of eighty years.  This most eccentric and extraordinary specimen of Irish wit, frolic, and fun, whose thousand "splores" have been so humorously described by the graphic pen of Mr. Harkin, is, after an eventful career, gone to the "bourne whence no traveller returns."  Finding his death approaching, he hastened to his native place, Strawmore, where his old friends and neighbours provided a comfortable asylum for him.  He became delirious, and whilst in that state fancied himself in Belfast, "limb-lashing" the "blaggards" of Ann-street and Donegall-quay with his favourite companion, "Black Bess;" and at other times he would be mounted on his matchless mare, "Shela," flying over the country; sometimes he would be on his feet again, in the full possession of his pliant limbs, and bounding over "Glenadry, or the Crooked Burn."  He was interred in the family burying ground of Ballinascreen.  The people of the surrounding country purpose raising a monument to commemorate his extraordinary adventures.

This page was last updated 24 Oct 2018