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Michael (“Mike”) McGrath (1919–2008)

Nlresize Patsy Judge Mike Mc Grath
Helen McGrath, Patsy Judge, and Mike McGrath at the Judges’ house in Patrick’s Cove, October 1984 (photo courtesy of William Roche; used with permission).

Born in 1919, Mike McGrath lived his life in Patrick’s Cove. He was a fisherman, carpenter and painter—one of many tradesmen from the Cape Shore who helped to build the American military base at Argentia during the 1940s. He also was a man with an extraordinary memory for local history.

That man has so much information in his head! He’d say, ‘I’ve got five hundred years of history up here.’ He could go back to hearing his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather talk about the first settler in Patrick’s Cove, 1797.
Agnes Walsh on Mike McGrath (quoted in Riordon 2010: chapter 6)

Mike’s ancestors came to Patrick’s Cove from Co. Tipperary at the turn of the 19th century. Like so many of the families that settled in the region, they were farmers who only took up fishing and boatbuilding after more than a generation of living and working in Newfoundland.

Mike also knew a great number of songs and he enjoyed singing. Indeed, poet and playwright Agnes Walsh, who was a friend of Mike’s, notes that he had songs in his repertoire that she had never heard anyone else sing. And though he did not consider himself to be a good singer, it is clear from Mike’s rendition of “The Schooner Maryanne” that he had a fine voice.

Mike passed away on 12 September 2008.


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The schooner Mary Ann / Mike McGrath

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The schooner Mary Ann / Mike McGrath

The schooner Mary Ann, song (Oh ye landsmen that live on the land, it's a little do you know …) Strong shipping links connected Newfoundland and New York during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This song tells the story of a smallpox outbreak on a ship travelling this route. In Songs of the Newfoundland Outports 3, Kenneth Peacock publishes the title of this song as “Bound down to Newfoundland” and observes that, though the subject matter might point to its being quite an old song, the reference to the Statue of Liberty dates its composition to after 1886 (1965:905–6).

The bleach of Strathblane / Mike McGrath

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The bleach of Strathblane / Mike McGrath

The bleach of Strathblane, song (As I roved out one morning in May …) In this Scottish song, a young man proposes to a woman. Though she initially refuses, she relents when the young man threatens to propose to someone else. He, however, proves inconstant and leaves. The “bleach” refers to the hills around Strathblane where local women laid their laundry to dry.


Biographical Information

Courtesy of Agnes Walsh & Bill Roche

For further reading

Placentia Bay Historical Society, and The Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media and Place. N.d. “Mike McGrath.” Voices of Placentia: Songs, Stories and Tunes from around Placentia Bay

Riordon, Michael. 2010. An Unauthorized Biography of the World: Oral History on the Front Lines. Toronto: Between the Lines.