Welcome to the official website of ‘The Percy French Society.’
Percy French is acknowledged as one of Ireland’s greatest songwriters and all round entertainers.
It is sad to think that although he is remembered and celebrated worldwide for his most famous song, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’, this one fact, is all that some people know about Percy French. It is appropriate to describe him as a great songwriter but that description only serves to scratch the surface of his genius. ‘The Mountains of Mourne,’ set to the traditional air, ‘Carrigdhoun’, has been recorded the world over by artists as diverse as Don McClean and Daniel O’Donnell. There is a Dixieland trombone version by Chris Barber, featuring Ottolie Patterson and there is even an ‘a-capella’ version currently available on YouTube sung by a group called Wall Street Crash.
Song writing however, reflects merely one facet of this truly, ‘Renaissance’ man. He was a qualified Civil Engineer and his talents extended to sport, watercolour painting and journalism. He was not only outstanding at writing sketches, verse and monologues but displayed the all-embracing talent of entertaining, whether from stage and platform or in the private drawing room. His ability to create a masterpiece from candle smoke on a dinner plate using nothing more than a matchstick, together with his fine voice and his lifelong love of playing the banjo endeared him to all who heard him. Some of our younger readers might well be able to identify with Percy French as he was arguably, an “accomplished texter”, about 100 years before the advent of the mobile phone. He too abbreviated words and truncated text when writing to his daughters and friends.
He was indeed talented in all fields, save one perhaps, his inability to garner wealth. He was a man of enormous generosity, demonstrated by the way he donated part of the fees for his performances to the Red Cross. Yet maybe this, his, “…giving with an open hand,” is not truly a flaw.
Beyond the manifold mathematical, musical, sporting, artistic, journalistic and poetic talents of Percy French lay a deeper talent, the ability to empathise with people, irrespective of whether they were in elevated and lofty positions or were simply the common man in the street or field. His ability to see through the decorum and propriety of late 19th Century society and discern its absurdities enabled him to parody this behaviour, always with humour, sometimes gently and at other times acerbic yet never with vulgar ridicule. Through his entire career he also demonstrated the greatest talent any entertainer could wish for, the unique gift of making audiences love him.
An example, typical of French’s gentle humour, taken from The Jarvey No. 75 on Page 1213.
Housekeeper: “Bridget, how many lemons have you left?”
Bridget: “Only four ma’am, and one o’ them’s an orange.”
We hope that as you continue to use this website you too will come to a deeper appreciation of Percy French.
You never know, you might even grow to love some of his work.