Advent Poetry Calendar – Day 11 – “Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake”
“Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake”
Submitted by Joanne Quinn. Joanne Quinn is the team leader for Communications and Marketing at Falvey Memorial Library, and she submitted this fun filled Christmas ballad with the comment, “I like this one ’cause it reminds me of my own cookin’!” While I’m sure Joanne isn’t quite so bad, it certainly reminds me of her larger-than-life sense of humor.
While looking for information on this ballad I came across this piece from the National Library of Scotland’s digital archive, and decided to share it since it gives a great explanation of the ballad and its origins. You can also view the article and a digital facsimile of the original printing of the ballad here.
“Verse 1: ‘As I sat at my windy one evening, / The letter man brought unto me / A little gilt edged invitation, / Saying, Gilhooly, come over to tea. / Sure I knew that the Hooligans sent it, / So I went just for old friendship’s sake, / And the first thing they gave me to tackle / Was a piece of Miss Hooligan’s cake.’ The text beneath the title reads: ‘Sung by Harry Melville and J.M. Oates with success.’ The song was published by the Poet’s Box, 10 Hunter Street, Dundee, priced one penny.
This comic ballad describes a monstrous Christmas cake that poisons everyone who eats it. Although the broadside was apparently published in Dundee, some surnames and phrases in the ballad suggest that it is about a group of Irish acquaintances. The large number of Irish-themed broadsides found in Scotland reflects the high level of Irish migration to Scotland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a major urban industrial centre, Dundee become home to a large Irish migrant population.
The Dundee Poets’ Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poet’s Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poet’s Box. Many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet’s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no. 203 and 207.
It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet’s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other’s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet’s Box. There was also a Poet’s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one at Paisley in the early 1850s, owned by William Anderson.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term ‘ballad’ eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.”
“Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake”
As sung by Harry Melville and J. M. Gates
As I sat at my windy one evening,
The letter man brought unto me
A little gilt edged invitation,
Saying, Gilhooly, come over to tea.
Sure I knew that the Hooligans sent it,
So I went just for old friendship’s sake,
And the first thing they gave me to tackle
Was a piece of Miss Hooligan’s cake.
There was plums and prunes and cherries,
And citron and raisins and cinnamon too,
There was nutmeg, cloves, and berries,
And the crust it was nailed on with glue.
There was carraway seeds in abundance,
Sure ‘twould build up a fine stomach ache,
‘Twould kill a man twice after ‘ating a slice
Of Miss Hooligan’s Christmas cake.
Miss Mulligan wanted to taste it,
But really there wasn’t no use,
They worked at it over an hour,
And they couldn’t get none of it loose.
Till Hooligan went for the hatchet,
And Killy came in with a saw,
That cake was enough, by the powers,
To paralyze any man’s jaw.
Mrs Hooligan, proud as a peacock,
Kept smiling and blinking away,
Till she fell over Flanigan’s brogans,
And spilled a whole brewing of tay.
’Oh, Gilhooly,’ she cried, ‘you’re not ‘ating,
Try a little bit more for my sake,’
’No, Mrs Hooligan,’ sez I,
’But I’d like the resate of that cake.’
Maloney was took with the colic,
M’Nulty complained of his head,
M’Fadden lay down on the sofa,
And swore that he wished he was dead.
Miss Daly fell down in hysterics,
And there she did wriggle and shake,
While every man swore he was poisoned,
Through ‘ating Miss Hooligan’s cake.
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Some days we need a laugh!