Delicious Mirth

The Life and Times of James McCarroll

Written by Charlotte Gray

August 1, 2019

James McCarroll would have loved to bend your ear about one of his hobby horses, and chances are that you would enjoy listening to this flamboyant, opinionated Irishman. Celtic folk music, Irish politics, railways, governmental shortcomings — McCarroll had views on any subject of interest to nineteenth-century Upper Canadians. And his views were influential. He counted prominent politicians such as Thomas D’Arcy McGee among his friends.

McCarroll arrived on this continent from County Leitrim, Ireland, as a teenager with his Protestant family in 1831, and he tried several careers — including musician, shoemaker, and teacher — before focusing on his first love: writing. For four decades his poetry, humorous columns, essays, and editorials appeared regularly in smalltown newspapers. When he wanted to be particularly sarcastic in his ad hominem attacks or political rants (he was a dedicated Reformer), McCarroll hid behind a pseudonym (“Terry Finnegan” was a favourite) and affected a broad Irish brogue.

Michael Peterman, a professor emeritus at Trent University and an authority on Susanna Moodie, first discovered McCarroll’s writing while exploring nineteenth-century Canadian literary culture. He wondered why this colourful character had been largely forgotten.

As Peterman sleuthed through old newspapers, he realized that McCarroll’s footprint had disappeared from history because of the pseudonyms, the lack of a coherent archive, and McCarroll’s ignominious tumble into Fenianism in the late 1860s. But now, thanks to Peterman’s careful research, McCarroll has been reinstated as an Irish-Canadian of wit and cultural significance.

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This article originally appeared in the August-September 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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