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Percy French was 'driven' to write song by a Paddy

By Eddie McIlwaine

It's 100 years since Percy French's song, Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff, was first sung in the Irish town it made famous. Foyle College old boy French (1854-1920) wrote the ballad in 1912, but it took another couple of years to negotiate copyright and production deals.

And, in the summer of 1914, the song went down well with all of the townsfolk – except one. The real Paddy Reilly didn't like it one bit. Oh yes, Paddy was real flesh and blood. A jarvey who drove his jaunting car around the town, often with French as a passenger.

Then one day he and his wife emigrated to Scotland and Percy was upset that his driver had gone. So he wrote his song, a little bit tongue in cheek I suspect. Paddy eventually did return to Ballyjamesduff, but stressed to his friends that the song had nothing to do with it. He and his wife are buried in a local cemetery and there is a bronze replica of Percy in the town square, seated on a bench.

The legend in Ballyjamesduff a century after the song was first performed in the square is that, when he headed off on his way to Edinburgh, Paddy drove his horse and jaunting car, like this one, to Carrick-on Shannon, tied the animal and cart outside the railway station and then took the train to Dublin. According to folklore, the horse broke free and ran all around Ireland searching for his master.

Sadly, by the time Paddy did come home, his hoss was dead for real. What I'd like to know now is who was the first artist to sing that lovely old ballad in Ballyjamesduff.

By the way, there is a Percy French restaurant at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle at the foot of the Mournes.

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