On 30th November 2013, we woke to the terrible news of the police helicopter accident in Glasgow. Amongst the nine people who lost their lives, was John McGarrigle who was an active member of the WEA. John’s funeral takes place in Glasgow today.
The following tribute was written by WEA Scotland Ambassador and former Scottish Secretary Joyce Connon.
Poet John McGarrigle was sitting in his usual seat in the Clutha on that Friday evening, when the unthinkable happened, a helicopter crashed through the roof, with tragic consequences for so many people. John was a regular in the Clutha, which was a Glasgow city centre venue for folk music fans and writers. Only a few weeks before, it had been the location for a farewell gathering in honour of writer Janet Shepherd who, like John, was introduced to writing through a local WEA Writers’ Workshop.
John was a stalwart of the WEA Castlemilk Project, which, between 1984 and 1994, offered a rich range of adult education experiences drawing on culture, heritage and creativity in support an urban regeneration initiative in Castlemilk, one of Europe’s biggest social housing estates. The Project left a lasting legacy in publications like the Big Flit the stories of people moving from the inner-city to the modern housing estate and trying to build a new community and the Incomplete History of Castlemilk.
John’s first encountered the Writers’ Workshop in Castlemilk when he offered to be the eyes of a friend, a member of the writers’ group, who was blind and felt uncomfortable presenting his work because he could not see the members’ reaction to his writing. John’s friend left the group after few weeks but John stayed on. He talked about the stick he got from his mates. “Working-class men don’t go to writing classes.” Despite the ribbing his commitment to the group grew. Over the years, the group published several volumes of their work, they organised readings and events and enjoyed support from established Glasgow writer, Liz Lockhead later to be Scotland’s Makar.
At the time the WEA was supporting a growing movement of working people finding their voice, recording their experiences and expressing their creativity through writing. John participated in a Federation of Scottish Writers’ Workshops ‘Come All Ye’, a weekend event at Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland’s only residential Adult Education College. Here he met with and shared his work with writers from around Scotland.
He attended the WEA Edinburgh Festival Fringe Summer School, staying at Edinburgh University’s Pollock Halls, seeing a wide range of official festival and fringe events and meeting writers, directors, performers. His enthusiasm for the experiences the school offered was infectious. The morning after seeing a dance presentation of the Temptations of Dr Faustus, John delighted in telling everyone that he had breakfast with Lust, as the members of the Dance Theatre Company were also staying at Pollock Halls.
Through his engagement with the Castlemilk Project, John was elected to the WEA West of Scotland District Committee during the difficult time when the merger of the three Scottish Districts was under negotiation. Following the merger, he became the first Chairman of the new WEA Glasgow Local Association, playing an important role in ensuring the work of the Association in the city continued under the new structure.
By the time the Castlemilk Project came to an end, John and two other members of the Writers’ Workshop had gained places at Glasgow University, where John graduated with an Arts Degree.
Although he moved around a bit, John was a Glasgow poet who wrote about the city as he saw it. His work was published in various compilations about the city such as Workers’ City: the Real Glasgow Stands Up. His own volumes included Glasgow’s McGarrigle. He loved to write and to present his work live to an audience. John will be greatly missed but his work will not be forgotten.