Roscommon Holiday

Roscommon Ireland

Percy French - songwriter and entertainer

From: Elphin

Percy French was a multitalented Roscommon man who was one of the most popular Irish songwriters and entertainers of his time.

The son of a Protestant landlord, French was born just outside Elphin at Cloonyquin House. French wrote his first song during his academic time at Trinity College Dublin. He graduated as a civil engineer and was employed by the Board of Works in Cavan, during which time he wrote many songs and also painted, a talent that would not be truly acknowledged until much later.

French showed his adaptibility when he became editor of a weekly paper when his time with the Board of Works came to an end, before coming to prominence as a composer of comic songs. One of his most famous songs 'Are Ye Right There Michael’ lampooned the rail system in County Clare, which was directly responsible for French missing a performance due to delays. The rail company took French to court over the song but French travelled to the hearing on their service, was late as a result and the case was thrown out.

A performer until the end of his life, French died from pneumonia in England days after falling ill during a concert in Glasgow. His legacy remains through dozens of songs and many paintings. A memorial statue of him sits in Ballyjamesduff, a Cavan town that featured in one of his songs 'Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff’.