Chasing the green ghost


Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2019.

Vindy Exclusive - Puddler Poet Michael McGovern

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In this St. Patrick's Day Vindicator Exclusive, Vindicator Editor Todd Franko discuss The Puddler Poet — Irishman Michael McGovern, who died in Youngstown in 1933. Great-grandson Kevin McGuire joins, as do Michael McGovern historians Jim Fahy and Leo Finnegan from Williamstown, Ireland.

A year ago on this great day, I was able to write about perhaps Youngstown’s most profound Irishman, Michael McGovern – the Puddler Poet. He arrived here in the late 1800s and died in 1933.

By occupation, McGovern worked in the steel mills. But his passion was poetry. He used powerful prose to promote the plight of the impoverished and the working class. He attacked the excesses of the rich. The Vindicator and The Telegram newspapers were peddlers in the works of The Puddler. His death drew significant coverage.

Today, his work has a small base of fans here who are relatives, historians and literary folks. To them, he is no stranger.

But in his birthplace of Williamstown, Ireland, just outside Galway on the west coast, a passionate group that just recently discovered their native son has taken the McGovern torch with fervor.

Leo and Eileen Finnegan and Jim Fahy lead a group of heritage and literary enthusiasts who are on a mission to elevate McGovern’s work. I wanted to check in with them a year later. This time, we elevated the chat by connecting by video. That video call is available to watch on Vindy.com. Additionally, we were joined by McGovern Valley blood – Kevin McGuire, owner of MVI Homecare and a great-grandson of McGovern.

For his new Ireland friends, McGuire brought to life his childhood and tales he knew of McGovern. “The Puddler,” as McGuire cousins, aunts and uncles called him, was a constant topic for the family. Long after his death, his words lived on. They are proud of the work and the impact.

“People from seven states contributed to his gravestone,” said McGuire, showing awe in the outpouring toward McGovern. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery under a magnificent stone cross.

Equally in awe was Finnegan and Fahy listening to McGuire share family tales. They have been chasing McGovern’s ghost for a few years. In McGuire, they had their first human contact with the ghost. Fahy has dug through enough files, talked with many Youngstowners and penned enough words for a McGovern biography.

That is on the retired Irish journalist’s to-do list. They have a big list, which includes these ideas to re-awaken interest in McGovern:

Entice the universities in the two McGovern towns – Youngstown State University and National University in Galway – to collaborate on research about the impact of labor-related prose.

A McGovern symposium tied to the same theme that would enjoin business, humanities and others on the working-class life and impact.

Each local library establish and promote a collection of McGovern work.

A McGovern Literary Trail in Youngstown connecting places where he lived and worked to the text he wrote related to those locations.

What Fahy most wants is the rest of McGovern’s work. In a 1933 obituary that appeared in The Vindicator, it was reported that McGovern was working on his second book of poetry. Just 150 of his thousands of poems are collected in his first book, “Labor Lyrics and Other Poems” published in 1899.

Fahy believes 30 years of work is stacked somewhere in an attic. He might be right.

So determined is Fahy in his hunting, he found a 1992 YSU article about McGovern written by now Vindicator reporter Joe Gorman. In that story, a McGovern cousin talked of having McGovern’s desk and a collection of handwritten poems.

McGuire is now on the hunt for the work.

He’s always enjoyed that McGovern has been part of his family. That there’s new vigor from across the pond is a green-laden incentive.

And with some luck o’ the Irish, it is somewhere waiting for him.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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