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Long way from Tipperary as song turns 100

CENTENARY celebrations for the song 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary' are to be held this month -- but, like the song says, they'll be a long way from the Golden Vale.

The writing of the seemingly timeless song is to be celebrated in the small English town of Stalybridge -- approximately 315 miles from Tipperary. While many people here still mistakenly believe it's an old Irish song, it was in fact whimsically written for a bet by an Englishman in a Stalybridge pub in Greater Manchester 100 years ago.

Historians and local residents of the town, which is in the Tameside area of Greater Manchester, are now hopeful that the wartime hit will once again be music to their ears and put the town firmly on the tourist map for once and for all -- since Tipperary town has benefited most to date.

There is already a bronze statue of the songwriter, Jack Judge, in the centre of the town. He penned the song in the New Market Inn on January 30, 1912. It was subsequently used as a marching song by British soldiers in both world wars, and went on to become one of the best-known songs in the world.

Judge, who died in 1938, accepted a five shilling bet that he couldn't produce a song that could be performed the following day. Just hours later, the music hall performer was counting his cash as it was being performed in the Grand Theatre across the road.

Within a couple of years it had become a marching tune for the British army -- in particular the 7th Battalion of the Connacht Rangers, which numbered among its ranks many who had strong links with Tipperary -- in World War One.

The song tells the story of an Irishman who goes to find work in London, leaving his sweetheart behind in Tipperary. The Stalybridge Historical Society is urging people to come together to celebrate the centenary. Society chairwoman Joyce Raven said: "It's a big thing because everyone knows it. It's a song that has gone through two world wars. It's very much knitted in with Stalybridge. We hope to have everyone standing around the square singing it."

The society will give a talk at the Stalybridge Buffet on Tuesday, with the main celebrations on January 30.

As the crow flies it is 264 miles from the Tameside town to Tipperary, but taking the Holyhead ferry makes it a trip of 315 miles.

The song, which has been performed by everyone from Julie Andrews to Judy Garland, is known worldwide.

And Tipperary town has also cashed in on the association, organising the Tipperary Song of Peace Contest every year, which attracts entrants from all over the world and has been running for over a decade. It started as part of the Tipperary Peace Convention, which gives an annual award to peace-makers. Former Irish President Mary McAleese will receive the 2011 award this July, while former recipients include Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

According to Martin Quinn of the organising committee, the event will tie in with Tipperary's own celebrations of the birth of the song.

"The song is very much a part of the contest, it's why people want to enter it. We started the peace convention on the back of it as it is a war song, so we wanted to turn it around and do it for peace."

The closing date for entries is February 1. www.tipperarypeace.ie.

Sunday Independent