Macilwaine, Herbert Charles (1859–1916), Irish writer and music teacher

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Macilwaine, Herbert Charles (1859–1916), Irish writer and music teacher

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Herbert Charles MacIlwaine was born in Belfast in 1859, the son of William MacIlwaine (1807–1880), minister of St George’s church and a literary scholar and writer. As an adult he lived for several years in Australia. The details of his time there are scanty, but he appears to have spent at least some of the time in Queensland, perhaps at Townsville (he may have been related to F. B. MacIlwaine, an auctioneer there). On 17 December 1891 he took the part of Blazenbaig in a production of Tom Taylor’s comedy New Men and Old Acres at the Townsville School of Arts, and exactly a year later The Queenslander, a Brisbane newspaper, published in the supplement to its Christmas number ‘Snags’s Last Tramp’, a short story specially written by MacIlwaine for that issue.

Some time in the next five years or so MacIlwaine returned to London and took a job as a publisher’s reader for Constable. In the succeeding years he produced a series of works of fiction based on his experience in the Australian bush, including two collections of tales, The Twilight Reef (1897) and The Undersong (1903), and five novels, Dinkinbar (1898), Fate the Fiddler (1900), The White Stone (1900), Anthony Britten (1906) (dedicated to Mary Neal), and The Tower Maiden (1907), as well as short stories in various periodicals.

It has been suggested (see that MacIlwaine probably met Mary Neal through their shared connections with the Passmore Edwards Settlement at Mary Ward House, but the grounds for this conjecture are not clear. At any rate he was evidently in frequent contact with Emmeline Pethick, Mary Neal, and other members of their circle by the middle of 1900 (see PETH 7/44 and 7/64), and when she married in October the following year he took over as musical director of the Espérance Club. In 1905, while discussing with Mary Neal the musical programme for the winter, he suggested, having just read an interview with Cecil Sharp in the Morning Post, that the folk songs Sharp was collecting might appeal to the ‘musically unlettered’ members of their singing class, stimulating Neal to contact Sharp and thus beginning a celebrated association between the Club and the revival of folk song and folk dance. MacIlwaine contributed an article on ‘The Revival of Morris Dancing’ to the Musical Times in December 1906 and collaborated with Sharp on The Morris Book (1907), a history of morris dancing, for which he devised a system of dance notation. (Sharp had also spent part of his life in Australia, but the Introduction to The Morris Book appears to indicate that he and MacIlwaine were not acquainted before 1905.) MacIlwaine left the Espérance Club in 1907, being out of sympathy with the Club’s support for the suffrage movement. He married in 1911 and a son, Anthony Charles (d. 1990), was born in 1913. He died in 1916, and in 1920, presumably after the death of his widow, his son was adopted by Mary Neal.


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