Thanks to Alan Mason -
It was one hundred years ago today, 30 January 1912 that the song “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary” was published. Most of us know the chorus, but few of us know the verses which tell the story. A young Irishman has been induced to go to London to work, where fabulous wealth was supposed to await him. In his disillusionment he longs to leave London, “Goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square,” and return to “the sweetest girl I know” back home in Tipperary in central Ireland.
The song was taken up by the regular soldiers fighting in the early campaigns of the First World War in 1914. It continued to be popular by troops throughout the war, because it is a good tune for marching. Despite the sad wistfulness of the lyrics, the chorus is jaunty and cheerful. Apparently the song was taken up by other armies and translated into French, German, Russian and other languages.
One reason for its popularity is the fact that it has nothing to do with the army or warfare. Some of the most popular songs of the war period were distinctly un-military. (“I want to go home”, “Forward, Joe Soap’s Army, not too fast in front,”, “We are Fred Karno’s Army, the ragtime infantry, we cannot fight, we cannot shoot, what bloody use are we?”)
In Britain we regard “Tipperary” as a soldiers’ song, particularly of the First World War, but this not always the way in which other nations see it. In the 1970s I was on holiday in Norway with a group of English friends. We were staying at the Dalane Fjellstove in south-west Norway, some miles from Bergen.
A “fjellstove” is a kind of youth hostel, literally, a stove for warmth and cooking, out on the fells. The name was quickly corrupted by our group to “Delaney’s Fellstove”, which made it sound like an Irish establishment. There was a group of German schoolgirls staying at the fjellstove at the same time as we were there. They were sweet children, with ages ranging from about ten to fourteen, and they were in the care of a rather severe-looking woman teacher of about fifty.
On their last evening, the German children wished to put on a small entertainment for us, and we sat down in the big meal room. It was mostly songs and at the end some requests were made. We wanted them to sing, “The Happy Wanderer” which needs no translation, and sounds as good in German or English. The children had a request for us. Would we sing “Tipperary” for them?
I was astounded. Here were German children asking for a song, which most older British people was firmly associated with Tommies, in two world wars, marching off to fight the Germans. For these innocent children, born in the late fifties or sixties, “Tipperary” was simply a typical English song, so we sang the chorus and the children joined in with us.
For me, as a small child during the Second World War, this was a treasured moment.
By Alan Mason
Here is a fine rendition by John McCormack recorded in 1914 – Deskarati