A short history of John Mallaghan (Snr)

by Author on November 2, 2010

It struck me as I started on my latest blog that – unsurprisingly -  I know a lot about my father, and that it might be useful to flesh out a few details for the vast majority of people out there who don’t! Reading The Knitter will tell you all of course, but even then, since the book is not written as, or structured like, a normal biography, I thought it might be time to offer a short bio of the man without whom The Knitter would not have happened. You know where you can find out more …….

John Mallaghan, know as Johnnie to most that knew him well, was born in 1915 near Holytown, a small working class village in Lanarkshire Scotland, shortly after the start of World War 1. Many of the residents worked in the nearby steelworks and coal mines after the war.

Johnnie grew up in a typically large Catholic family of the time, one of seven children. He went to work in the coal mines after leaving school. However he also began to show his talent in a broad spectrum of the arts at an early age, and started a 4 year correspondence course in Commercial Art from Bennett College Sheffield, being awarded the equivalent of a modern degree in May 1940. By this time of course, the Second World War had started, during which he served in the Home Guard.


During and after the war, he continued to become well known in the local community for his paintings, poetry and musicianship, playing accordion, mouth organ, and piano at parties, weddings, and occasionally semi-professionally at various functions. Some of his best poems were written during the war, particularly the two written especially for the fund-raising effort for the “V-Fund” – “We Didna Forget” and “Why Can’t They Understand”. Interestingly his name was missspelt on the front page, which he would not have liked!


Johnnie married Margaret Shaw, from Calderbank – all of two miles away from Holytown – a few years after the war. He had returned to the coalmines, but was determined to make something better of his life and make use of his qualifications. However, the reality of post war life, and the fact that Margaret also came from an even larger Catholic family, made that difficult. He briefly left the mines to take a commercial design job in Glasgow, but a combination of his own concern about his colour blindness, and the birth of the first of his four children, soon saw him back in the coal mines until his eventual retirement in 1970.

He continued writing poems, painting wonderful pictures and playing his music right up until his death in 1994. The picture below shows him playing his accordion to two of his grandchildren (the authors two children) around 1985/6.


Before he died, his family helped him collect together his poems – or at least those we could find or he could remember – and had him record them on an old cassette recorder, complete with introductions and background, and with each poem interspersed with him playing some music. After this, we arranged to publish them in a limited edition, principally for the extended family.

Sixteen years after his death, his poems have inspired the book written by his son John, a book taking its name, structure and themes from one of his father’s poems, “The Knitter”. All of the poems, and the readings of them digitised from the original cassette recordings, can also now be found on the web site for the book
The poems finally have the “world-wide” audience they deserve.

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