"You've heard of Julius Ceasar and the great Napolean too,
And how the Cork militia beat the Turks at Waterloo;
But there's a page of glory that as yet remains uncut,
And that's the warlike story of old Slattery's Mounted Foot.
And down from the mountains came the squadrons and platoons,
Four-and-twenty fighting men and a couple of stout gossoons;
When going into action held each musket by the butt,
We sang this song and marched along, the Slattery's mounted Foot"
- Percy French 1854-1920
One of Roscommon's most famous sons, Percy French, was born less than a mile from Camogue. When I was growing up there was not much left of the French estate, it had been divided up among local farmers by the Land Commission in 1965. The house was demolished and Michéal told me some of the rubble went into the floor of our silage pit... to think that maybe a brick where PF as a boy scratched his initials with a penknife is now under the hoof of a heifer. Percy would probably laugh and write a catchy song about that one.
I remember riding my bike home from Killina school one time and sneaking in under the fence wire at Cullen's to check out the remains of Cloonyquinn House. One of the tall gable walls was still standing but the most exciting remenants were the cellars - if I was brave enough I could have crawled down in there.
Cloonyquinn House, as drawn by Percy French, watercolor, 1895
I heard stories growing up about the successful Percy French Festivals held in the late 1950's and the huge crowds that came. The picture below of the organizing committee is a real treasure, not just for our parents Michéal and Rita (circled), but for all the other neighbors as well. What enterprise they had! Percy's nieces are seated upfront.
The Percy French Society at Cloonyquinn House, 1957
Click Photo to Enlarge
Mickey Beirne, Michael Finnerty, Frankie Rushe, Mickey Croghan, Fergus Beirne, Michael Peter Padian, Harry Connor, James Kelly, Jim Dalton, Rita Croghan, Kate Dalton, Patsy Cunnane
Three men standing: Seamus De Nash, John Joe Burke, Mehaul Beirne
May McGrath, Sonny Cunnane, Marie Kelly, Teresa Keenan, Carmel Kelly, Rita Beirne, Bride Connor, Ms H. French, Nancy McGrath, Alice Beirne, Teresa McGrath, Marie Beirne, Mary Kate De Nash, Rita Kelly, Molly Brady, [Unknown], Tom Beirne, Peter Carney, Mary Carroll
Robbie Kilgallon, Mrs Kilgallon, Joan French, Harry French, Ettie French, Paddy Dillon, John Finnerty, Tom McHale
One outcome of their efforts was the creation of The Percy French Memorial Scholarship Fund. Fergus took advantage of this in 1972 and attended St. Nathy's in Ballaghaderreen. Former distinguished St. Nathy's alumni included Dermot Earley and John O'Connor ("Jigger")... see earlier entry - this blog has now come full circle.