Michael Whelan by Louise Manny

Information on poet Michael Whelan by Louis Manny in Songs of Miramichi.

Michael Whelan was born at Renous in 1858, and died in Chatham in 1937. He was a clever and well-read man, who taught school for some years, and later worked as a bookkeeper for a lumber firm. His real vocation, however, was writing poetry, especially poetry praising his native land and the people who lived in it. Many verses from his pen were published in the local newspapers, and in his later years he augmented his income by selling off-prints of these in pamphlet form. His title of “The Poet of the Renous” was well earned.

This song about the Dungarvon River and its whooping ghost was written by Michael Whelan, the “Poet of Renous”, to be sung to the tune of Where the Silvery Colorado Sweeps Along. Nicholas Underhill of Nor’West Bridge sang it at the Miramichi Folksong Festival in 1961.

The tale of the Dungarvon Whooper is firmly imbedded in Miramichi folklore. It is probably the only ghost in history that ever had a railway train named after it.

There are at least three versions of the story, of which Michael Whelan narrated this one. Possibly the awful shrieks had often been heard in the woods before the alleged murder of the cook, and were those of a screech owl, or possibly of a panther. However, the story of a murder made a most satisfactory explanation, and other bits of folklore have been attracted to the tale, like filings to a magnet. It now has among its attributes ever-blooming flowers on the grave, a ghost which rises screaming if the grave is disturbed, a feu follet type of apparition, or rather sound, which entices the hearer into the woods, where he is lost, or sometimes lures him with the smell of frying bacon, or a shrieking spectre which comes nearer and nearer to the unlucky person who answers the sounds. Finally, in this last version, the scream is heard directly over the answerer, in the open air, and he is too terrified to answer it again.

At any rate, Rev. Edward Murdoch, the Roman Catholic parish priest at Renous, felt seriously enough about the matter to come up to Dungarvon and read the church service of exorcism. It is said that after this the evil spirit which was responsible for the horrible sounds was heard no more. But people still say they sometimes hear the Whooper, and they fear to visit the grave by the Whooper Spring.

The Dungarvon River is a branch of the Main Renous River, which it joins above Quarryville. There is a local tradition (quoted by Ganong) that once a log drive was “hung up” below the mouth of the river, and the crew amused themselves by dancing, with much stamping of their heavy boots, while they waited for the logs to be floated. During the dance a big Irishman shouted: “Come on boys, we’ll make Dungarvon shake.” Perhaps some of the crew came from Dungarvan in Ireland. At any rate, the name clung to the river. It is said that the Dungarvon “turns” resemble those of the winding Irish river.

The train on the Canada Eastern Railway, between Fredericton and Newcastle, named for the Whooper, made its last run in 1936.

The first appearance of Michael’s poem in print seems to have been in a local newspaper in January 1912.

Louise Manny, Songs of Miramichi, p. 81
Louise Manny
19th Century
CANADA Northern New Brunswick, New Brunswick, Northern New Brunswick, CANADA
© 1968, Brunswick Press. All Rights Reserved.

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