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Denis (“Mr Dinny”) McGrath (1894–1982)

Nlresize Denis Mc Grath
Denis (Mr. Dinny) McGrath dressed in his Sunday best (photo courtesy of Rita McGrath; used with permission).

Denis McGrath, or “Mr Dinny” as he was known locally, was born in Patrick’s Cove in November 1894. He had a farm on which he kept sheep, hens, and cattle, and raised hay for his horses—activities for which he was constantly prepared, as he always dressed in hip-wader boots and heavy shirts.

Employed at the Naval Base in Argentia, he walked the approximately twenty miles from Patrick’s Cove to Freshwater each Sunday, staying during the week at his sister’s house and returning home on Friday. Mr Dinny was also the local undertaker, responsible for laying out anyone who passed away in the area.

He and his wife, Rose, had four sons and eight daughters.

Mr Dinny grew up and lived during a time when music and song were a regular part of life, making it difficult to sort out exactly where he learned his songs. He sang many long ballads in the old style, with beautiful vocal ornamentation decorating the melodic lines of his songs. One of his favourites, called “Morrissey and the Russian Bear,” was about a celebrated boxing match. He often sang it at Christmas when guests came to call, or when he visited Bride and Patsy Judge’s house for a bit of merriment.

Mr Dinny passed away in January 1982.


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The northeast gale / Denis McGrath

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The northeast gale / Denis McGrath

The northeast gale, song (Ye hardy sons of Newfoundland pay attention to my song ...) Composed by Walt Young, this song tells the story of a gale that arose off the coast of Newfoundland on 18 June 1906. Several fishing craft from Placentia Bay that were fishing off Cape St Mary’s were caught in the storm and men were lost at sea.

Colonna's lone shore / Denis McGrath

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Colonna's lone shore / Denis McGrath

Colonna's lone shore, song (I will sing the word of young wandering Nellie ...) Written by Andrew Sharpe during the early 19th century, this song describes the death of a soldier at the Battle of Corunna on 16 January 1809. The focus, however, is on the reaction of the soldier’s sweetheart when word of his death arrives back in Scotland. Song collector Robert Ford writes in Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland:  “Andrew Sharpe had observed that, since Herdman’s departure, Ellen Rankine was greatly changed. Her passionate blue eyes had begun to fade, and her luxuriant brown hair, the pride of better days, to get tangled and dry; but when the news of his death came she sank into helpless idiocy, and despite the careful watchings of her distressed parents, she stole from them in a luckless moment, and, taking the back of the hill, went crooning and singing for a whole week away through the Howe of Strathmore” (1904:84).

Morrissey and the Russian bear / Denis McGrath

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Morrissey and the Russian bear / Denis McGrath

Morrissey and the Russian bear, song (Come all ye gallant Irishmen wherever that you be …) This ballad relates the tale of 19th-century Irish prize-fighter Johnny Morrissey and a boxing match that lasted twenty-eight rounds between him and a Russian sailor


Biographical Information

Courtesy of Rita McGrath & Bill Roche