Born in the townland of Macknagh halfway between Swatragh and Maghera. To judge by one of his earliest verses he must have opened his eyes to a wintry scene.
I was born on a stormy morning in eighteen-sixty-two,
The snow was flying and I was crying,
There wasn’t much else that I could do.
He grew up in post famine Ireland where the ravages of enforced emigration cast a long shadow over the land.
He attended Killyleagh School and worked on local farms. At the age of eighteen he left for Scotland and the industrial heartland of Clydeside to work in the shipyards. He wasn’t happy and returned to Swatragh after a short time. In 1885 he headed for America and the land of opportunity.
He often said, “I was in every State in America except the State of GRACE! ”
I put a penny on a thumb-nail, And tossed it up to see,
If I was going to Pittsburg,
Or Memphis, Tennessee.
It came down a head for Pittsburgh, I retrieved it from the snow,
So I took the Kitty-Stockdale
Up the Ohio.
The Kitty Stockdale.
His wanderings took him to 31 states and he had a fondness for the forests and lakes of Minnesota and Michigan.
In 1929, Americas economic roller-coaster jumped the rails and the New York stock market collapsed. Mick left America and returned home to south derry in 1932 where he set up home in Moneysharvin.
It is often difficult to unravel fact from fiction in recounting McAtamneys adventures in America.
Over the next few years his poems appeared in the local press.
“The smiddys hammer said it upon the anvil clear,
And Quintins Pat relayed it and sent it in the air ;
Mc Quillan took his hammer, he smiled “I think “says he
“If they want some anvil grammar let them harken here to me.”
Full poem is located beside the fireplace in our back room.
When Mick came home from America his only possession was his own hand-carved stick which is now hanging up behind Friels Bar. This stick was left for Jonny’s Friels Wife as she always admired it when he frequented the bar.
Mick McAtamney was a natural. He is true to the old conventions of the folk-song, and there is a free and easy run to his lines. He calls us back to poetry’s origin in speech and chant work-songs, and at one point he makes a lovely link between the hammer and the blacksmith and the beat of the poems metre, thereby giving a new life to the old image of a poet “forging” his lines.