Percy French (1854- 1920) was a man of many talents, he wrote and performed numerous popular songs, parodys, plays, and also was a keen painter of watercolours.
Born at Cloonyquin, near Elphin, Co Rosocmmon, he was the son of a Protestant landlord. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin as a civil engineer in 1881 and joined the Board of Works in Cavan as what he termed an “Inspector of Drains.” It is said he wrote his best songs during this period and it was during this time that he frequently visited Carrigallen, Mohill, Aughawillan, Coraleehan aswell as Corlough in West Cavan.
Many of his songs are well known and very popular such as ‘Mountains of Mourne,’ ‘Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff’, ‘Sweet Marie,’ ‘Dear Danny - The Emigrants letter’, and ‘West Clare Railway - Are you right there Michael?.’
One lively tune ‘Phil the Fluters Ball’ is based on a colourful character from Gortletteragh. Percy heard of the man when visiting the Godley family at Druminichin, Carrigallen. Mr Godley was the minister of Carrigallen’s Church. The character mentioned was known as Phil Brady (a native of Ballinamuck) who had been in bad health. To help the poor man out the neighbours held a monthly “ball” - local musicians came with their fiddles, accordions and flutes. One such session was in progress when the great Percy called and this is where he composed this famous ballad “Phil the Fluters Ball”. He gave a concert in Carrigallen and included this song.
‘Fightin Maguire’ is a song based on a feud in Coraleehan. The song centres on a bully names Maguire who was intimidating a family called McTagues.
Eileen Oge - the Pride of Petavore is based on a young lass from Corlough, West Cavan who lived in the townland of Pedar a Voher.
Percy French was drawn to visit Leitrim to see his maternal grandfather W.A. Percy who was rector of Kiltoghert Carrick-on-Shannon and Mohill area.
When the Board of Works reduced its staff around 1887, French turned to journalism as the editor of the Jarvey, a weekly comic paper. He was married twice, his first wife died in childbirth, but he married again and had three daughters.
French died from pneumonia in Liverpool, aged 65. His grave is in the churchyard of St Luke’s Parish Church Formby in Merseyside. A statue of him sits on a park bench in the town centre of Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan in honour of him and his famous song “Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.”