JOHN CORBETT recalls the life and career of the Kinvara native who never lost his love for Ireland, though spending most of his adult life in England, where he died in 1935.
Kinvara, a pleasant seaside village in Co. Galway, is one of the most westerly points in the island of Ireland. It’s just over 20 miles from Galway city, close to The Burren. Dunguaire Castle is nearby and visitors can enjoy local fish and food at the medieval banquets that are held there.
Cruinniú na mBád and Féile na gCuach are two of its best known festivals and they both attract large crowds in the summertime. It was also home to one of the great songwriters of the 19th. Century, Francis Fahy.
Francis Arthur Fahy was one of seventeen children born to Thomas and Celia (Marlborough) Fahy in the parish of Kinvara on September 29, 1854. Losing young children was one of the unfortunate aspects of life at that time and only seven of his siblings survived into adulthood.
He attended Kinvara National School. However it’s suggested that Fahy was basically self-educated and this is borne out by his efforts when he left his native village to travel overseas.
Bearing in mind that he was born shortly after the series of disastrous famines that blighted the country, the economic status of the family was relatively good. Francis’s father owned the solitary hotel that existed in the town. He also had a post office and drapery business.
According to reports, the hotel was frequently a place of refuge for Fenians fleeing from the forces of the Crown. The Fahys were dedicated nationalists and this had a major impact in the life of young Francis.
From an early age, Fahy displayed signs of literary talent. He was just 15 years old when he authored and acted in his first play, which was a fund-raiser for political prisoners. It was staged in a home-made theatre, handsomely decorated for the occasion and was warmly received by the local audience. The title of the play was ‘The Last of The O’Leary’s’, and a critic commented, “The writer displays a considerable amount of skill and histrionic merit.”
A PROLIFIC WRITER
Later, Francis became a regular contributor to various newspapers and magazines. Among them The Weekly News, The Irish Fireside, The Liverpool Nationalist and Young Ireland. His first piece in The Nation was a poem called ‘The Exile’. The title was apt when one considers the fact that Fahy spent most of his life away from home.
Although living in London, his thoughts never drifted too far from his native land. Evidence of his strong attachment to Ireland permeates his songs, populated with place-names and characters that meant so much to him.
Francis Fahy’s best known song is ‘The Ould Plaid Shawl’, which is a great favourite among balladeers. The final lines from it are etched in the plaque erected in his honour at the house where he was born.
There are many other marvellous melodies that came from the pen of this Galway Gael, including ‘The Queen of Connemara’, ‘Little Mary Cassidy’, ‘The Donovan’s’, and what is known as the old ‘Galway Bay’, a best seller for Dolores Keane, as distinct from the one recorded by Bing Crosby and Josef Locke.