Sunday 18 March 2018

Poetry: Percy French's celebrated ballad

Percy French
Percy French

Ulick O'Connor

This year is the 95th anniversary of the death of Percy French.

I was reminded of him as I watched on television the Irish Golf Championships from Royal County Down Golf Club a fortnight ago and saw the Mourne Mountains under storm looking like a backdrop for a horror movie.

In fact, they are the most beautiful in the country, and that's where Percy French comes in. He has celebrated them in a magnificent ballad which has brought the wonder of the Mourne Mountains before audiences everywhere.

Percy French came from the landed gentry, but managed to create an image of the Irish character in his poems and songs that entitles him to a place amongst the poets of the Irish renaissance.

This strange little Anglo-Irish gent with his big moustache used to tour both the country houses and the town halls, and later skip off to New York or London to perform to packed houses his sparkling repertoire.

Don McLean, who is coming to Dublin in September, has had a big hit with The Mountains of Mourne.

Let's hope he will include it in his line-up. Percy would be pleased.

Mountains of Mourne

Oh Mary, this London's a wonderful sight,

With people here working 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've found there, I might as well be

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 O'Loughlin remarked with regard to the same

That if at those roses you venture to sip

The colours might all come away on your lip

So I'll wait for the wild rose that's waitin' for me

Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

You remember young Peter O'Loughlin, of course,

Well, now he is here at the head of the force.

I met him today, I was crossing the Strand,

And he stopped the whole street with a wave of his hand.

And there we stood talkin' of days that are gone,

While the whole population of London looked on.

But for all these great powers he's wishful like me,

To be back where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.

Percy French


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