Come Home Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff - the Story of a Song

Percy French, holding the sheet musing calling out to Paddy Reilly, in the centre of Ballyjamesduff.
© Bernd Biege 2015

Come home, Paddy Reilly, to Ballyjamesduff - a well-known song in Ireland, full of sentimental lyrics. But who was paddy? And was Ballyjamesduff worth coming back to? Because whatever Ballyjamesduff, a small town in County Cavan, might be - the Garden Eden it is not. Even when folk-sy poet Percy French passed through, it was a remarkably unremarkable place. Never mind, said French, and set down (as was his wont) to compose some poetry about the town.

Or, rather, using the town name in another of his usual "local flavour" pieces, name-checking Finea and Cootehill in the progress. And the song became a bestseller and French is still remembered by a charming statue in Ballyjamesduff's centre.

By the way - as French forgot to secure the US copyright, he never received any payments from across the water. Despite the immense popularity his little song enjoyed there.

Come Home Paddy Reilly - the Lyrics

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".

The Black-a-moor Irony

When Percy French mentioned the exotic delights like women from Fiji and "of the Black-a-moor brand", he could not have foreseen that Ballyjamesduff in the 21t century would have a very high proportion of non-Irish citizens. Many of which are of African and Brazilian origin. So meeting a "Black-a-moor" in Ballyjamesduff would be an everyday occurrence today, not something exotic.

Who Was Percy French?

William Percy French, born May 1st, 1854, died January 24th, 1920, is regarded as one of Ireland's leading songwriters of his period.

A Trinity College graduate and civil engineer by trade, and was employed by the Board of Works in County Cavan, with the exciting title of "Inspector of Drains". When the Board of Works cut staff, French became the editor of "The Jarvey", a weekly offering light entertainment. After this venture failed, French turned to a full-time (and successful) career as songwriter and entertainer. Percy French became a household name for composing and singing mostly comic songs, and often name-checking towns around Ireland - his maybe best known song being "The Mountains of Mourne".