Friday, October 27, 2017

'Donald McElroy, Scotch Irishman' (1918) a novel by Mrs. Willie Brown Walker Caldwell (1860–1946)


Willie Brown Walker was born in Wytheville in south west Virginia in 1860. She also wrote The Tie That Binds (1895) a love story set during the American Civil War;  and Stonewall Jim, a biography of her father, the Confederate General James Alexander Walker.

She seems to have been what some in Northern Ireland would call a ‘mad Prod’ - she got in trouble in 1928 for declaring that American women needed to save the country from being ‘Romanized and rum-ridden’ following the Democratic Party selecting Al Smith, a Catholic, as a potential candidate for President. She was strongly rebuked for this by Herbert Hoover.

Donald McElroy, Scotch Irishman is interesting as it has touches of attempted Ulster-Scots dialogue and a clear sense of cultural identities. There are tinges of clichéd Ulster Protestant v Irish Catholic tensions for some of the characters (you wonder how those kinds of ideas could still be persisting in late 1800s rural Virginia - these people were probably over 100 years away from an actual experience of living in Ulster). In the story a young Catholic girl called Ellen O’Neil from Baltimore enters the McElroy family circle (her parents had died of smallpox) and the McElroys decide to take her in - they also to try to “make a good Presbyterian of her in no time”.

Donald McElroy and Ellen O’Neil eventually fall in love, get married and agree to tolerate each other’s faith. Although in the final paragraph it seems like she does become Presbyterian. 

Willie Walker married local lawyer Manley Morrison Caldwell in 1887 and the couple moved from Wytheville to Roanoke around 1906, where she became Vice President of the Woman's Civic Betterment Club and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Walker family ancestry is in the Virginia Valley Records (online here), as far back as a John Walker who left Scotland for Ulster in the 1600s.

Donald McElroy, Scotch Irishman is  online here.

Pic below is from the Library of Congress here.