Percy French


1854-1920 [William Percy French]; b. 1 May 1854, at Clooneyquin [Hse.], nr. Tulsk, Co. Roscommon; son of a land-owner; ed. at Kirk Langley, Derbyshire; Windermere College; Foyle College (Derry), and TCD, 1876 (BA Engineering), 1881; wrote songs for a ‘smoking concert’ at TCD, 1877 and published “Abdallah Bubbul Ameer” under pseud. while still a student, selling the royalties for £5; appt. to the Board of Works as a surveyor of drains in Co. Cavan [engineer]; m. Kathleen [“Ettie”] Armitage-Moore (2nd. dg. of William Armytage-Moore, br. of Countess of Annesley), 1890; d. in childbirth, 1891 [aetat 20]; ed. The Jarvey, a comic mag., in 1887, but failed; turned to writing and professional entertainment; wrote tuneful songs, comic and sentimental, in Hiberno-English in the tradition of Samuel Lover;

in 1891 he met his musical and stage collaborator W. Houston Collison [var. Collisson; later Canon Collison] with whom he wrote his most enduring song “The Mountains of Mourne”, and co-authored with him The Knight of the Road (opera, 1891), a play produced in Dublin and later known as The Irish Girl (pub. [1918]; later gave charity performances with Collison during World War I; painted Irish scenes for George V; his best-known songs incl. “West Clare Railway”, “Slattery’s Mounted Foot”, “The Garden of Eden”, and “Phil the Fluther’s Band” - which Joyce evokes in Finnegans Wake; his books incl. Chronicles and Poems, Racquety Rhymes, Prose, Poems and Parodies (1925), and More Poems and Parodies;

d. 24 Jan. 1920, of heart-attack, in Formby, Lancs.; bur. in St. Luke’s Churchyard under a plain cross with enscribed plinth; his works were collected and edited by his sister Mrs. De Burgh Daly, as Prose, Poems and Parodies (1925); also collected as James N. Healy, ed., Percy French and His Songs (1966); the memory of his songs - so widely known to contemporaries - was dimmed by the cultural politics of Irish independence but perpertuated by the voice of Brendan O’Dowda, and revived by the scholar-player Sam McCready in 2016; there is a seated sculpture of French by Alan Hall in Ballyjamesduff town square, the location associated with his song “Come Back, Paddy Reilly ..”; there is a Percy French Hotel in Strokestown, Co. Roscommonn. PI DIW DIB DIL BREF JMC OCIL FDA

Percy French Home-place
Percy French
Cloonyquin House, Co. Roscommon (by Percy French)

[ The Percy French Festival held annually at Castlecoote House, Co. Roscommon, was founded in 2009 and developed an annual conference in 2015. See - online. ]

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  • Prose, Poems and Parodies [1925] (Dublin: Talbot 1962, 1964);
  • Brendan O’Dowda, The World of Percy French (1981; rev. ed. Belfast: Blackstaff 1991, 1997) 206[208]pp., [incls. biographical article, bibliography and a discography];
  • Alan Tongue, A Picture of Percy French (Greystones Books 1991) 107pp. [‘an illustration of the Irish Song-writer, Entertainer, Poet and Painter’, concentrating on surviving drawings, watercolours and paintings];
  • James N. Healy, sel. & ed., The Songs of Percy French (Cork: Mercier Press 1966, 1983; Cork: Ossian [1995]).

Note: The Love Letters of Percy French have been published with a preface by Paul Muldoon - viz., ‘Percy FrenchPF was one of the great Irish poets of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a writer who offers an insight into Irish society no less telling than Yeats or Kavanagh or MacNeice.’ (Post to BS on the Facebook “Percy French” page

A List of Songs Attributed to Percy French
“Abdul Abulbul Amir” (1877)
“Andy McElroe” (1888)
“Are Ye Right There, Michael?” (1897)
“Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff” (1912)
“The Darlin’ Girl from Clare”
“Donegan’s Daughter” (1908)
“Eileen Oge” (The Pride of Petravore)”
“The Emigrants’s Letter”[“Cutting the Corn in Creeslough]” (1910)
“Father O’Callaghan” (1910)
“Fighting McGuire”
“Flanagan’s Flying Machine” (1911)
“The Fortunes of Finnegan”
“The Girl on a Big Black Mare”
“The Hoodoo” (1910)
“I Fought a Fierce Hyena”
“Jim Wheelahan’s Automobeel”
“The Kerry Courting” (1909)
“The Killyran Wrackers” (1914)
“Kitty Gallagher”
“Larry Mick McGarry” (1915)
“Little Brigid Flynn”
“Maguire’s Motor Bike” (1906)
“The Mary Ann McHugh”
“Mat Hannigan’s Aunt” (1892)
“McBreen’s Heifer
“The Mountains of Mourne” (1896)
“Mick’s Hotel”
“Mrs Brady” (1907)
“Mulligan’s Masquerade”
“The Night that Miss Cooney Eloped
“No More of Yer Golfin’ for Me” (1906)
“The Oklahoma Rose” (1910)
“Phil the Fluther’s Ball”
“Pretendy Land” (1907)
“Rafferty’s Racin’ Mare” (1906)
“A Sailor Courted a Farmer’s Daughter” (parody of the folk song)
“Slattery’s Mounted Fut” (1889)
“Sweet Marie”
“Tullinahaw” (1910)
“When Erin Wakes” (1900)
“Whistlin’ Phil McHugh”
“Who Said the Hook Never Hurted the Worms?”

—from the Wikipedia article on Percy French [online; 05.03.2016].

See also the list given at Percy French (Ireland)
“Come Back, Paddy Reilly”
“The Mountains of Mourne”
“The Emigrant’s Letter”
“Phil the Fluter’s Ball”
“A Fairy Song”
“People I Don’t Want to Meet”
“Ach, I Dunno!”
“McBreen’s Heifer”
“The Road to Ballybay”
“The End of the Holiday”
“Rafting Down the Rio”
“Later On”
“To E. R.”
“Things that Matter”
“Eileen Oge”
“The Fisherman’s Wife”
“Not Lost But Gone Before”
“‘A Reaction’”
“George Grossmith”
“In the Studio”
“Galloping Hogan”
“An Irish Mother”
“The Four Farrellys”
“To the West”
“The Kindly Welcome”
“In Exile”
“Whistlin’ Phil McHugh”
“Mrs. Brady”
“Rafferty’s Racin’ Mare”
“The Queen’s Advice to Lord Zetland”
“The Queen’s After-Dinner Speech”
“Song of William, Inspector of Drains”
“The Mary Ann McHugh”
—Percy [online]

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Some Songs

The Mountains of Mourne  
Oh Mary this London’s a wonderful sight
With people here workin’ by day and by night
They don’t sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat
But there’s gangs of them diggin’ for gold in the street
At least when I asked them that’s what I was told
So I just took a hand at this diggin’ for gold
But for all that I found there I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I believe that when writin’ a wish you expressed
As to how the fine ladies in London were dressed
Well if you’ll believe me, when asked to a ball
They don’t wear no top to their dresses at all.

Oh I’ve seen them meself and you could not in truth
Say that if they were bound for a ball or a bath
Don’t be startin’ them fashions, now Mary McCree
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

There’s beautiful girls here, oh never you mind
With beautiful shapes nature never designed
And lovely complexions all roses and cream
But let me remark with regard to the same
That if that those roses you venture to sip
The colors might all come away on your lip
So I’ll wait for the wild rose that’s waitin’ for me
In the place where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea. ;

Are Ye Right, There, Michael?  

You may talk of Columbus’s sailing
Across the Atlantical Sea
But he never tried to go railing
From Ennis as far as Kilkee.
You run for the train in the morning,
The excursion train starting at eight
You’re there when the clock gives the warnin’
And there for an hour you’ll wait
And as you’re waiting in the train,
You’ll hear the guard sing this refrain —

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Do you think that we’ll be there before the night?
Ye’ve been so long in startin’,
That ye couldn’t say for startin’
Still ye might now, Michael,
So ye might!

They find out where the engine’s been hiding,
And it drags you to Sweet Corofin;
Says the guard, Back her down on the siding
There’s the goods from Kilrush comin’ in.
Perhaps it comes in two hours,
Perhaps it breaks down on the way;
If it does, says the guard, be the powers,
We’re here for the rest of the day!

Spoken: And while you sit and curse your luck
The train backs down into a truck.

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Have ye got the parcel there for Mrs. White?
Ye haven’t, oh begorra,
Say it’s comin’ down tomorra —
And well it might now, Michael,
So it might.

At Lahinch the sea shines like a jewel,
With joy you are ready to shout,
When the stoker cries out, There’s no fuel,
And the fire’s taytotally out.
But hand up that bit of log there —
I’ll soon have ye out of the fix;
There’s fine clamp of turf in the bog there.
And the rest go a-gatherin’ sticks.

Spoken: And while you’re breakin’ bits of tree,
You hear some wise remarks like these —

Are ye right there, Michael? Are ye right?
Do ye think that you can get the fire to light?
Oh an hour you’ll require,
For the turf it might be drier —
Well it might now, Michael,
So it might.
Long, long ago in the woods of Gortnamona, 
I thought the birds were singing in the blackthorn tree;
But oh, it was my heart that was ringing, ringing, ringing,
With the joy that you were bringing, oh my love, to me

Long, long ago in the woods of Gortnamona,
I thought the wind was sighing round the blackthorn tree;
But oh, it was the banshee that was crying, crying, crying,
And I knew my love was dying far across the sea.
Now if you go through the woods of Gortnamona,
You hear the raindrops creeping through the blackthorn tree;
But oh, it is the tears I am weeping, weeping, weeping,
For the loved one that is sleeping far away from me. 
Come Back, Paddy Reilly  

The garden of Eden has vanished they say
But I know the lie of it still
Just turn to the left at the bridge of Finea
And stop when half way to Coote Hill
'Tis there I will find it I know sure enough
When fortune has come to my call
Oh, the grass it is green
Around Ballyjamesduff
And the blue sky is over it all
And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff
Are whispering over the sea
“Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home Paddy Reilly to me.”

My mother once told me that when I was born
The day that I first saw the light
I looked down the street on that very first morn
And gave a great crow of delight
Now most newborn babies appear in a huff
And start with a sorrowful squall
But I knew I was born in Ballyjamesduff
And that’s why I smile on them all
The baby's a man now, he’s toil-worn and tough
Still whipsers come over the sea
“Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home Paddy Reilly to me.”
[ See further lyrics - attached. ]

Some Poems

Remember Me
Remember me is all I ask,
And yet
If the remembrance prove a task,

Celestial Painting (Sunset At Renvyle)”
When painters leave this world, we grieve
For the hand that will work no more,
But who can say that they rest alway
On that still celestial shore?
No! No! they choose from the rainbow hues,
And winging from Paradise,
They come to paint, now bold now faint,
The tones of our sunset skies.
When I see them there I can almost swear
That grey is from Whistler’s brain!
That crimson flush was Turner’s brush!
And the gold is Claude Lorraine

If I Should Die Tonight  

If I should die tonight
And you should come,
And stand beside me,
Lying cold and dumb,
And if while standing there,

You whispered low,
“Here’s the ten pounds
You lent me years ago,”
I would arise, although they’d laid me flat,
And say, “What’s that?”

If I should die tonight
But rose to count
With trembling fingers,
That long lost amount
I might live on;

But when
You said, “Here’s your umbrella
And your fountain pen,”
For one short space
I’d gaze into thy face
And then
Drop dead again.

To The West
The Midland Great Western is doing its best,
And the circular ticket is safe in my vest; 
But I know that my holiday never begins 
Till I’m in Connemara among the Twelve Pins. 

The Bank has no fortune of mine to invest 
But there’s money enough for the ones I love best; 
All the gold that I want I shall find on the whins 
When I’m in Connemara among the Twelve Pins. 

Down by the Lough I shall wander once more’ 
Where the wavelets lap lap round the stones on the shore: 
And the mountainy goats will be wagging their chins 
As they pull at the bracken among the Twelve Pins. 

And its welcome I’ll be, for no longer I’ll meet
The hard pallid faces I find in the street; 
The girl with blue eyes, and the boy with brown shins, 
Will stand for their pictures among the twelve Pins.

Tonight, when all London’s with gaslight agleam, 
And the Carlton is filled with society’s cream’,
I’ll be ’takin’ me tay’ down at ould Johnny Flynn’s 
Safe and away in the heart o’ the Pins. 

[ The above poems and songs above are given at Poem Hunter - online; accessed 05.03.2016. ]

Fogeys: “I was born a boy and have remained one ever since. Friends and relatives, often urge me to grow up and take an interest in politics, whiskey, race meetings, foreign securities, poor rates, options and other things that men talk about, but no - I am still the small boy messing about with a paintbox, or amusing myself with pencil and paper, while fogies of forty determine the Kaiser’s next move.” (See Percy French website - online; accessed 05.03.2016.]

The Queen’s After-Dinner Speech
(As overhead and cut into Lengths of Poetry by Jamesy Murphy, Deputy-Assistant-Waiter at the Viceregal Lodge.)

“Me loving subjects,” sez she,
“Here’s me best respects,” sez she,
“An’ I’m proud this day,” sez she,
“Of the illigant way,” sez she,
“Ye gave me the hand,” sez she,
“Whin I came to land,” sez she.
“There was some people said,” sez she,
“They was greatly in dread,” sez she,
“I’d be murthered or shot,” sez she,
“As like as not,” sez she,
“But ’tis mighty clear,” sez she,
“ ’Tis not over here,” sez she,
“I have cause to fear,” sez she.
“ ’Tis them Belgiums,” sez she,
“That’s throwin’ bombs,” sez she,
“And scarin’ the life,” sez she,
“Out o’ me son and the wife,” sez she.

—See contination as attached.

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D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912);, ‘librettist and song-writer of the present day’; some works listed.

Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists The First Lieutenant and Other Stories (1890). BREF notes that he is primarily a painter, and that his water-colours are in demand on modern markets.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991), Vol. 2 selects Chronicles and Poems, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ [104]; Prose, Poems and Parodies, ‘Are Ye Right There, Michael’ [104-05]; 114, BIOG.

Harry Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography (1988 edn.): ed. Foyle College and TCD; Board of Works, drains, Co. Cavan; ‘The Mountains of Mourne’; lost capital in unwise distillery investment; The Jarvey failed after a year; The Knights written with Dr. Collisson, success at Queen’s Theatre; toured Canada, USA and West Indies and England with Collisson; ‘West Clare Railway’ led to libel action by directors; ‘I am still the small boy messing about with a paintbox.’ Moved to London in 1890 and died at Formby, Lancs.

Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (1979) notes that he accompanied his songs on the banjo; viz., ‘Come Back, Paddy Reilly’; ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’; The Golden Years, in the 1950s, based on his life and songs. Justin McCarthy, Irish Lit., gives ‘The first Lord Liftinant’.

Irish Arts Review : Price Guide to Irish Art (Sept 2000-Aug. 2001) lists paintings: A Sailing Ship in Harbour; James Adam; 27 Sept. 2000; £15;000; other titles [mostly in range £3;000-6;000]; inc. A Wooded Pathway; Bogland Landscape; Sailing Boats; Two Fishermen in a Currach; Bogland in West of Ireland; Penmaenmawr from the Chapel [at] Gogarth Anglesey; Sunburts over the Bog; Seascape; Pathway through the Forest; In Donegal; Peat Stacks; War Torn France - Ypres; Connemara Landscape; Cottages in the West; December 1st 1912; Coastal Scene - West of Ireland; West of Ireland Coastal Scene with Cottage; A footbridge in an Extensive Landscape; An Evening on the Moor; Connemara Landscape; Cottage in a landscape; Portrush; Co. Antrim [£10;000]; Sun setting over a Lough & Coastal Scene [pair]; The Grey Ass; View of Bundoran; Bog Scene with conifers; Coastal Scene with Boat; Meandering Stream in a Hilly Landscape; River Scene; West of Ireland Landscape; Out Fishing at Kylemore Abbey.

Emerald Isle Books (Cat. 95) The Mountains of Mourne (1939); Phil the Fluter’s Ball (London & Dublin 1937); Little Bridget Flynn (London: Prowse 1947); Prose, Poems and Parodies (Dublin: Talbot 1962, 1964).

Belfast Public Library holds Prose, Poems and Parodies (1925), and three other titles.

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Emily Lacy de Burgh, a sister, lived in China through the Opium War and Boxer Rebellion and wrote of her adventures there; see A. A. Kelly, ed., Wandering Women, Tow Centuries of Travel out of Ireland (Wolfhound 1995).

Are you right?: Purportedly French was sued by the West Clare Railway Co. for libelling them in his song “Are Ye Right There Michael”, and, on arriving late in court, was questioned by the judge on the reasons for his doing so, only to respond, “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway” - a rejoinder that resulted in the case being thrown out. [See Wikipedia’s article on Percy French - online.]

Ballyjamesduff: ‘... famous for being in the Percy French song “Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff“, which was written about a man from the area who acted as Jarvy (coach driver) for French and decided to emigrate to Scotland. It is said that he drove his horse and cart to Carrick-on-Shannon, parked the horse and cart outside the railway station and took the train to Dublin. Legend has it that the horse ran all across Ireland looking for Paddy, until Paddy Reilly was said to have returned. Paddy Reilly is now supposedly buried in St Joseph’s graveyard, in the town of Ballyjamesduff.’ [See “Ballyjamesduff” in Wikipedia - online.]

Picture Sales: "Mayo Mermaids" by Percy French sold for 44,000 euro at Whyte's Gallery in Dublin in 2005

Mayo Mermaids
“Mayo Mermaids” by Percy French. (Available at Robin Hutton - Flikr online.)

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