The Lyrics and Background of The Mountains Of Mourne

The Mountains of Mourne, sweeping down to the sea at Newcastle in County Down.
••• The Mountains of Mourne, sweeping down to the sea at Newcastle in County Down. © Bernd Biege 2015

There are Irish songs that evoke a certain landscape, and Percy French's "The Mountains of Mourne" certainly tops the bill. Its evocative imagery of the Mourne mountains sweeping down to the sea. In just this one phrase, as otherwise the song lyrics are just rambling musings that could fit any place in Ireland.

The Mountains of Mourne

Oh, Mary, this London's a wonderful sight
With people here working by day and by night
They don't sow potatoes, nor barley nor wheat
But there' gangs of them digging for gold in the streets
At least when I asked them that's what I was told
So I just took a hand at this diggin' for gold
But for all that I found there I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I believe that when writin' a wish you expressed
As to how the fine ladies in London were dressed
Well, if you believe me, when asked to a ball
Faith, they don't wear no top to their dresses at all.
Oh, I've seen them myself and you could not in trath
Say if they were bound for a ball or a bath
Don't be startin' them fashions now, Mary Macree,
Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I've seen England's king from the top of a bus
And I've never known him, but he means to know us.
And tho' by the Saxon we once were oppressed,
Still I cheered, God forgive me, I cheered with the rest.
And now that he's visited Erin's green shore
We'll be much better friends than we've been heretofore
When we've got all we want, we're as quiet as can be
Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

You remember young Peter O'Loughlin, of course
Well, now he is here at the head of the force
I met him today, I was crossing the Strand
And he stopped the whole street with a wave of his hand
And there we stood talkin' of days that are gone
While the whole population of London looked on
But for all these great powers he's wishful like me
To be back where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.

There's beautiful girls here, oh, never you mind
With beautiful shapes nature never designed
And lovely complexions all roses and cream
But O'Loughlin remarked with regard to the same
That if at those roses you venture to sip
The colours might all come away on your lip
So I'll wait for the wild rose that's waitin' for me
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

The Mountains of Mourne - the Background Story

"The Mountains of Mourne" is fairly typical of Percy French's many works, which are aimed straight at the sentiments of the Irish diaspora. You are in a foreign land, you remember the old folks, the old places, you wax lyrical about them. Basically the song could be about any Irish landscape. Here French chose the Mourne Mountains - a mountain range in County Down, which indeed sweeps straight down to the sea. It is said that the signature line was, however, inspired by French viewing the far-away mountains from Skerries, County Dublin. A monument to French and the song is, nonetheless, located near the seaside in Newcastle, County Down.

As an aside ... the Mourne Mountains also inspired an Irish writer of far higher quality, namely C.S. Lewis, who created his fantasy world of Narnia in their image.

Who Was Percy French?

William Percy French, born on the 1st of May 1854, and dying on the 24th of January 1920, may be regarded as one of Ireland's leading songwriters of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. A graduate of Trinity College, civil engineer by trade, he was employed by the Board of Works in County Cavan, with the exciting title of "Inspector of Drains".

Later, and a victim of staff cuts, French became the editor of "The Jarvey", a weekly journal. This venture into publishing failed, but French forged himself a full-time, successful career as a songwriter and entertainer out of the ashes. Percy French became a household name for composing and singing mostly comic songs, but also many using emigration (and the resultant home-sickness) as a theme, and often name-checking towns around Ireland - one of his signature songs being "Come Home Paddy Reilly".