Ballads about the Glenaloon seem as though they are about a real shipwreck. However, we could not find any data to support this idea. Online we found a reference to a barque (a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts) called Glenaloon: “Glenaloon, Barque “(1856-1864) Windsor, N.S. (Dalhousie Archives Locator number: MS-2-154).
We also found a poem by the Boston born poet Francis Alexander Durivage called “The Glenaloon; or, the Skippers Yarn,” which seems to have been the basis for the song lyrics. The poem claims to be “founded on fact,” but it is otherwise unclear about the particulars of the actual incident (Durivage 1881: 41).
With this information we began researching the actual Glenaloon. We checked The Halifax Chronicle from mid April 1864 (as the online reference suggested) to early July 1864 (the poem and songs mention finding the wreck on “a summer night in June”) and found no reference to the Glenaloon anywhere. We are thus unsure whether the incident described in the poem and the songs actually occurred, and how much of the story can be considered truth. Even if it is entirely fiction, we find it interesting that this song seems like it is about a real calamity.
It is also interesting to note folklorist Roy MacKenzie’s assessment of the song, although he doesn’t mention its veracity:
This song, also a late acquisition, belongs with “The Wreck of the Atlantic” and “The Cedar Grove” (Nos. 88 and 89). In spite of its self-conscious and occasionally thwarted attempts to achieve emotional intensity through the power of description it is, on the whole, a very effective tale. Its model, apparently, is not the popular ballad, but rather the literary narrative poem in which the story is subordinated to description and introspection. There is too much insistence upon the sombre accompaniment of night, but the scene is somehow realized; and the fourth stanza, at least, serves as a link to bind the song to the poetry of the folk (1963: 387).
Any further information on the historical Glenaloon is welcome!
Durivage, Francis Alexander. 1881. The Glenaloon and Other Poems. New York: Trow’s Printing and Bookbinding Co.
Mackenzie, William Roy. 1963. Ballads and Sea Songs from Nova Scotia. Hatboro, PA: Folklore Associates, Inc.
Tags: 1872 Glenaloon