BOOKS: THE HARP AND THE VIOLET BY FRANK GILFEATHER

By Bill Heaney

It’s remarkable how much Dumbarton and Dundee have in common, especially in regard to the large number of the Irish diaspora who immigrated into Scotland at the turn of the 19th and 20th century.

While Dundee had its own Irish ghetto known as Tipperary, Dumbarton had Wee Dublin on the banks of the River Leven at Dennystown.

The football ground at Dennystown was known as the Phoenix Park, which is of course the name of the vast public park in Dublin, which houses the President’s residence, Aras an Uachtarain.

The social similarities don’t end there, of course, and both the Dundee and Dumbarton Irish had their own football club called The Harp.

Boxing with the likes of Teddy O’Neil, Poker Law, Donald McQueen and Wattie Glover (aka Frankie Narrow, pictured) and football with of Johnny Madden of Celtic and Findlay Speedie of Rangers taking part were the main sports. 

These towns, along with Vale of Leven and Renton, which boasts Alex Jackson of Arsenal and the Wembley Wizards, were widely known as “the cradle of Scottish football”.

I suppose the men and boys took up these sports because they came cheap; they could be played in the street and the Irish urchins could not afford to do anything else.

Frank Gilfeather is a former Scottish amateur boxing champion and represented Scotland 17 times at home and abroad.

He  was Dundee-born but he has lived in Aberdeen since he joined the Press and Journal  as a news reporter in 1969.

Frank moved into television with Grampian TV as its first sports correspondent in 1980 and stayed there on staff till 1989, though he worked for them for many years after as a freelance.

He has worked for most of the national newspapers as a sportswriter, from The Times to  the tabloids and broadcast regularly for Sky Sports.

Frank, pictured right,  has written two previous books, Confessions of a Highland Hero and Ross County: From Highland League to Hampden.

The Harp & the Violet began life as a play, produced by Dundee Rep in 1991 and he decided to expand it into a short novel.

It was no surprise then for me to discover that third, or possibly even second, generation Irishman Frank Gilfeather’s new book The Harp & The Violet has a distinctive Irish flavour to it.

He is very good at what he does, and has been for many years, and is a respected veteran in Dundee and far beyond the city of journalism, jute and jam.

The main character in the book is one Frank McGarrity, and Frank Gilfeather introduces him thus:

It’s a long way to Tipperary for Frank McGarrity. But will his unexpected homecoming to the ghetto in the Lochee area of the bustling city of Dundee be all he hopes for?

Britain is in the grip of World War II. Little has been heard from the Pioneer Corps soldier in the two years since he left his wife Bridget and their son, John.

His return to the enclave of jute workers dubbed Tipperary because of its many Irish settlers, sparks disruption.

And when he learns his beloved local football team, Lochee Harp, will play their bitter rives, Dundee Violet, the following day, his priority shifts from family to football – and the socialising that accompanies it.

Thoughts of being reunited with Bridget and John are pushed aside as hubris takes over.

The Harp and the Violet tells of love, sorrow, religious friction (inevitably) and anguish during desperate times. Meanwhile Bridget carries a deep secret.

Frank McGarrity’s return to his roots proves troublesome and unpredictable. Nothing is the same.

With Christmas just around the corner, many readers of The Democrat will be looking around to buy a present for their relatives and, especially if they have – or their parents have – an Irish connection this is just the book for them.

* The Harp & the Violet by Frank Gilfeather is available from Amazon. Don’t miss it.

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