Patrick Joseph McCall – or P J McCall as he is more usually known – was one of Ireland’s greatest songwriters.
He is now best remembered for three classic rebel songs which have become standards on the Irish folk music circuit – Boolavogue, Kelly the Boy From Killaneand Follow Me Up to Carlow.
But there was much more to McCall than just those three songs – he wrote numerous other verses, poems and essays.
He was also a prolific collector of Irish folk tunes and a champion of all aspects of Irish culture.
Links with Dublin and Wexford
McCall was born on 6 March 1861 in Patrick Street in Dublin. His family were prosperous merchants specialising in groceries and spirits.
McCall eventually inherited the business from his father and remained in Dublin throughout his life.
However, he also had close links with Rathangan in County Wexford where his mother’s family were based.
Musical suppers where folk tunes were collected
McCall spent many summer holidays and weekends in Rathangan where he held suppers for local musicians.
He regarded these days in Rathangan as among the happiest of his life and he collected numerous melodies from the Wexford musicians. As well as being a writer, McCall was a good musician. He was able to transcribe melodies by ear and so help to preserve them for future generations.
Some of those tunes, such as Follow Me Up to Carlow, have since become folk music standards. If not for McCall, they might have been lost forever.
Renaissance man with widespread interests
McCall was something of a Renaissance man with talents across a wide range of activities.
He was an astute businessman and ran his affairs so efficiently that he was able to devote himself almost full time to his outside interests.
These included politics, helping the poor, promoting Irish music and culture, collecting and preserving Irish folk music, editing various publications and, of course, writing.
On 3 October, 1900, he married Margaret Furlong, the sister of writer and poet, Alice Furlong.
McCall’s home was known as Poet’s hall
McCall was heavily influenced by his father John McCall who was also a prolific writer and leading light in Irish literary circles.
The family home in Patrick Street became known as Poet’s Hall because so many writers, musicians, ballad makers were invited to stay there as they passed through Dublin.
The young McCall soaked up the literary and musical influences and began to follow in his father’s footsteps. In 1902, he took over from his father as the editor or Old Moore’s Almanack.
Click here for McCall begins his own songwriting career.
Pictures taken from Glory O! Glory O! The Life of P J Mccall by Liam Gaul (used with permission).