As an athlete, he was up there with the best in Ireland from around 1906 to 1913 and his big rival was Percy Kirwan from Kilmacthomas, County Waterford. My father was trained by Willie Frazer of Fermoyle, Calry who first noticed his potential as an athlete. Frazer himself was a renowned long-distance runner in his day. Frazer mentored my father and accompanied him to various sports and athletics meetings around Sligo. They were life-long friends up to Frazer’s death in 1934.
My father’s main events were the high jump and the 120 yards high hurdles and he excelled in both of them. His prowess as an athlete first came to prominence at an athletics meeting at Rosses Point, Sligo in 1904 when he entered an open high jump and beat a reigning champion with just one jump. He had obviously set the bar very high and saved the stewards some time in unnecessary raising of the bar. He was just 16 years old at the time and in his autobiographical notes, Incidents of My Career, he refers to this victory as the one he valued most in his entire athletics career. On 15 September 1906 at Sligo Wanderers Club Sports he cleared 5 feet 11 inches to win the high jump, aged 18 years. During his time in Leinster he competed at sports meetings all over the province.
As a reporter for the Kilkenny People and Carlow Nationalist, he covered social, sporting and political events of that time but he was also busy writing poetry in his spare time. Inspired by the beauty of his native county, he had published three collections of poems: A Wreath of Song, Two Churchyard Yews and the critically acclaimed A Lovely Home, before leaving his country of birth in July 1915.
He resigned from The Nationalist in June 1915 and packed up in Baltinglass for good, never to return to live in Ireland. He bought his sailing ticket from Thomas Mullaney, drapers and travel agents in Sligo, and set sail for Canada on the Missanabie arriving in the port of Quebec City on 25 July 1915.
After arriving in Canada, he worked as a journalist for the Montreal Daily Star. Towards the end of 1915 a campaign was launched in Canada to aid the families of soldiers who had gone to fight against Germany in World War I. He wrote an inspirational poem entitled To Those They Left Behind to solicit help from the public for this worthy cause. The poem was published widely in Canada and so successful was the venture that a fund of several million dollars was subscribed to within a short time and his name became well known across Canada. In 1921 he was a founding member of the Canadian Authors Association.
He then left the Montreal Daily Star and joined Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as their Publicity Officer, a role that took him across Canada where he got inspiration for many poems about the scenic beauty of his adopted country.
On 5 June 1919 he married my mother Stella Lawrence at St Leo’s Church, Westmount, Montreal. The Lawrences came from Luton, England and my grandfather Frederick Daniel Lawrence emigrated to Canada in 1869 and originally worked in the fur trade before establishing his own contracting business. He was credited for being one of the contractors who laid roads on many of the streets in Montreal around the turn of the century.
Michael and Stella raised a family of three boys – Kevin, Nial and myself. We grew up in Montreal and summer holidays were spent at Leggatt’s Point on the St Lawrence River.
My father published his fourth collection Irish and Canadian Poems in 1921 followed by Among the Mountains in 1925. Both collections applaud the scenic beauty of such places as Banff, Lake Louise and the Three Sisters peaks and the latter contains beautiful colour illustrations of places he visited while working for CPR.
His poems about the scenic beauty of Canada contributed significantly towards the promotion of tourism in the Canadian Rockies and elsewhere. He then re-located for approximately one year to Santa Monica, California where he published Sweethearts and Things in 1930.
As a founding member of the Canadian Authors Association, he knew and maintained contact with all the great Canadian writers such as Hugh McLennan (Two Solitudes), John Murray Gibbon (Canadian Mosaic) and Joyce Hemlow (The History of Fanny Burney). He was also an avid correspondent and accumulated a large collection of letters. Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, known as “Lolly”, the sister of William Butler Yeats and founder, with him, of the Cuala Press
After retiring from CPR, he established a new home in Ormstown, Quebec where he continued to write up to the time of his death on 28 January 1968. He left behind a significant legacy of unpublished works. The working titles for these unpublished collections were:
- Choice Poems
- Lines of Love
- Lovely Ladies
- 1916 Rising
As a contribution to the exhibition on his life and works, staged at Sligo City Hall in August 2018, I wrote the following personal memoire on my father:
“There were annual events never to be missed: the Santa Claus and the St. Patrick’s Day parades, and listening to the Kentucky Derby on radio – the commentator being Clem McCarthy. Throughout my early years my father would recite poetry, discuss the authors and their historical significance. The same went for Irish heroes and how they fitted in to the story of Ireland, his favorite being Theobald Wolfe Tone. He possessed an amazing memory. My most memorable event was attending the Canadian Authors Association meeting in Toronto, in 1946 at the age of 15. The train ride from Montreal was something to be remembered because in those days the trains would exceed 90 miles an hour (145 Kph) on that route. There was a formal dinner with authors from the United States, Canada and a few from Europe present. Hugh MacLennan was among them and he was Canada’s best-known author, having published a best seller, Two Solitudes, the previous year. My father was busy renewing friendships and I was right in the middle of it. The guest speaker was Sir Anthony Eden who would later become the Prime Minister of Great Britain. We rounded the trip up with a visit to Niagara Falls. Whether in the country, Ormstown or in Montreal, my father surrounded himself with great friends, many Irish born, all interesting people, some characters, all very intelligent. I was often fortunate enough to be allowed to sit in on the gatherings. Not a dull childhood.”
This is just a brief account of his life. More information on Michael A. Hargadon is available on the homepage of the Memory of Calry website.
Contributor: Brian Hargadon
Sources: Michael Hargadon family archive