Hoping for a Winning Combination

“Come back, Paddy Reilly, to Ballyjamesduff, come home, Paddy Reilly, to …” To check your winning numbers? Indeed it looks as if Percy French is having a (very composed) game of bingo here. He’d have, wouldn’t he?

Percy French , born on May 1st, 1854, and finally shuffling off this mortal coil on January 24th, 1920, is often regarded as one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters. He certainly wrote a lot. That is without question, though the jury might be out on the quality of his writing. Trained as a civil engineer, he became Inspector of Drains in County Cavan, than a journalist and editor, than a popular entertainer.

Part of his popularity was undoubtedly due to the sheer sentimentality of his songs, making them the perfect Irish mix of longing and pining. Bringing to mind the old joke about how many Irishmen it takes to change a light bulb. And French had a knack for name-dropping … so he’ll find somebody whooping in any audience, either at the mention of the family name or the place of the old homestead.

Ballyjamesduff, a downright sleepy town in the middle of nowhere, has erected this (rather charming, I have to say) memorial to Roscommon man Percy French. Because of Paddy Reilly. Whoever he was. But he is wanted back home, as the song goes …

The Garden of Eden has vanished, they say
But I know the lie of it still;
Just turn to the left at the bridge of Finea
And stop when halfway to Cootehill.
‘Tis there I will find it,
I know sure enough
When fortune has come to me call,
Oh the grass it is green around Ballyjamesduff
And the blue sky is over it all.
And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff
Are whispering over the sea,
Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

My mother once told me that when I was born
The day that I first saw the light,
I looked down the street on that very first morn
And gave a great crow of delight.
Now most newborn babies appear in a huff,
And start with a sorrowful squall,
But I knew I was born in Ballyjamesduff
And that’s why I smiled on them all.
The baby’s a man, now he’s toil-worn and tough
Still, whispers come over the sea,
Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

The night that we danced by the light of the moon,
Wid Phil to the fore wid his flute,
When Phil threw his lip over Come Again Soon,
He’s dance the foot out o’ yer boot!
The day that I took long Magee by the scruff
For slanderin’ Rosie Kilrain,
Then, marchin’ him straight out of Ballyjamesduff,
Assisted him into a drain.
Oh, sweet are the dreams, as the dudeen I puff,
Of whisperings over the sea,
Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

I’ve loved the young women of every land,
That always came easy to me;
Just barrin’ the belles of the Black-a-moor brand
And the chocolate shapes of Feegee.
But that sort of love is a moonshiny stuff,
And never will addle me brain,
For the bells will be ringin’ in Ballyjamesduff
For me and me Rosie Kilrain!
And through all their glamour, their gas and their guff
A whisper comes over the sea,
Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

I’ve struck oil at last!
I’ve struck work, and I vow
I’ve struck some remarkable clothes,
I’ve struck a policeman for sayin’ that now,
I’d go back to my beautiful Rose.
The belles they may blarney,
the boys they may bluff
But this I will always maintain,
No place in the world like Ballyjamesduff
No guril like Rosie Kilrain.
I’ve paid for my passage, the sea may be rough
But borne on each breeze there will be,
Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

Yeah, well, what can I say … it is a popular song …

And, by the way, how many Irishmen does it take to change a light bulb? Six – one changes the bulb, while the other five sing a lament, that the old one was far better, and that they’d rather have it back …

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