Hudy Home     Hudy Search     Contact

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"


What does Quarterclift mean?

Harkin refers to Hudy as Clift rather more often than as Quarterclift; but it is definite that the same person, and likely that the same meaning, is intended by both - Harkin may have considered Clift a convenient abbreviation.  And the title of the book is very definitely The Quarterclift.  In the following paragraphs the meaning of Quarterclift is considered.

The meaning intended by Harkin is probably crazy rascal; and this meaning is sometimes given (without explanation) in glossaries and dictionaries.  But how might this meaning have come about?

In "Ned McKeown", the first story in William Carleton's Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, Carleton introduces (first edition (1830), p 4):

Bob McCann, "a three-quarther clift," or mischievous fellow, half knave, half fool,

but gives no further explanation of the term.  In the seventh edition (1867), Carleton adds a long footnote.  The bulk of the footnote is Carleton's memories of the real-life character on whom Bob McCann is based; but the first sentence of the footnote is a short explanation of Carleton's use of "three-quarter clift":

This is equal to the proverb - "he wants a square," that is, though knavish not thoroughly rational; in other words, a combination of knave and fool.

This seems a satisfactory explanation, as it connects the proverb (meaning "he's not all there") to the literal meaning of quarter-clift: wood split lengthways into four equal pieces.  The problem is that, while Carleton's explanation is good for his own use of three-quarter clift, it does not work for Harkin's use of quarterclift; for Harkin to mean the same as Carleton, we have to assume that the expression has lost its three along the way. [To lose one clift, Mr Harkin, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose three looks like carelessness.]

The correctness of this modified explanation seems borne out by the otherwise nonsensical description of Hudy in Chapter XVI:

sometimes he wants three squares of bein' round.

That Harkin's use carries the pejorative sense intended by Carleton seems proven by a sentence near the beginning of Chapter III, where Hudy's father Jack Roe McGuigan speaks to Hudy's mother:

Bad luck to me, Jenny, but you might have more wit!─you're as great a Clift as him: by my sowl he's a chip aff the ould block.

In reading the Hudy stories, the meanings crazy rascal or mischievous fellow seem to work for every occurrence of Clift and Quarterclift.  Harkin himself summed it up (rather crudely) in what seems to have been the first of his Hudy stories to be published, printed in The Vindicator, 16 November 1839:

Hudy was all that is expressed by the appellative of Quarter-Clift; and, as we say far North, he "gave no green barley for that", because so was his mother; and his only sister too was one of the same family.  To be plain, they were all "touched in the upper storey"; but, whatever disadvantages may be supposed to result from such a circumstance, nothing like melancholy speculation possessed them; and if there were more solid, there certainly were not brighter brains in the seven parishes.

This page was last updated 14 Nov 2018