herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

This year marks the one hundred and sixtieth anniversary of the birth of Roscommon lyricist and entertainer, Percy French the Anglo Irish landlord who wrote songs like The Mountains of Mourne, Phil the Fluther's Ball and Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.

Percy French 1854-1920

This year marks the one hundred and sixtieth anniversary of the birth of Roscommon lyricist and entertainer, Percy French the Anglo Irish landlord who wrote songs like The Mountains of Mourne, Phil the Fluther's Ball and Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.

It is splendid to see that Culture Night 2014 is celebrating him in many parts of the country from his birthplace in Roscommon to Galway and Killarney. Percy was also an accomplished artist and in 1914 he held a solo exhibition at the United Arts Club in Dublin. Today his work is highly recognised and valued, and there is a fine collection of Percy French watercolours in the North Down Museum in Bangor.

Percy French gained international fame with a worldwide hit in the 1900s. This was Abdullah Bulbul Ameer which described a duel between a Turk and a Russian during the Russian-Turkish war and which made millions of pounds across two continents. The trouble was that Percy, like a lot of writers, wasn't too good at the paperwork when it came to money. He hadn't taken out the copyright and a London firm brought out a pirated edition of the song without Percy's name on the cover and he never received a cent. This strange little Anglo Irish gent with his big moustache used to tour the big country houses, entertaining his own class, and later skip off to New York or London to perform to packed houses his sparkling repertoire.

Here is a poem Percy wrote but had not set to music before he died. It has its own internal word music however, the fifth word of the second line in each verse rhyming with another in the following two lines. But that was his gift. In a Percy French piece each word had its place blending with the music in a perfect marriage.

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