Page 8 - The 15th Percy French Festival: French Awakenings
P. 8

Again, it is humorous and again he redeploys his comic genius to the task and
           it is masterful in its imagining. French sets the scene, we are in the Royal court
           laughing and cheering, French being the royal Jester is cheering with us, but
           then ingeniously out of a situation of whimsy, the court Jester !rst drops his
           head in repentance, asks for forgiveness . . . and then out of nowhere comes
           ’when we’ve got all we want we are as quiet as can be’.

           Words politically charged no matter what way you look at them. And surely
            it is a pitiful state for us to be in as a nation and French includes himself in this?
           We can be bought in other words? We have to look at the subtly of French at
           work here. French !rst asserts himself alongside us, his audience, he is laugh -
           ing and cheering with us, but equally he is asking us to watch out, not to get
           caught up in all the pageantry/splendour and pomposity of the royal entour -
           age. Do not sell yourselves short. And remember too, the context of this verse;
           in the previ ous verse he asks Mary ‘not to be startin them fashions now, Mary
           mo chroi, where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea’. Percy
           French is plac ing the emphasis here on natural beauty and simple living, which
           serves the purpose of demarcating the Irish way of life from that of industri al -
           ised Britain. He wanted Ireland to be Ireland, for Ireland to hold on to its Irish -
           ness. In other words you can ’tug the forelock’ but be careful, is what he is
           cautioning his audience. French knew that his family’s social standing, as
           landlords, was entwined with acquiescence within the British class system.
            By the turn of the century in Ireland he saw how with political developments
           social percep tions were changing too, and he noted he was now part of  ‘not
           the landed gentry but the stranded gentry’. Though rueful of his past acqui -
           escences nonetheless he is a happy witness to the erosion of class status.

           And if we think about it, what is PF doing but putting words on his beautiful
           Irish landscape paintings (which he did abundantly), where he depicts the
           simple natural beauty of the land–the stream, the bog, a clump of heather,
           or perhaps a cluster of trees in a bereft landscape. This is our magni!cent
           countryside, this is us, this is who we are, we are a product of this countryside,
           hold onto your rela tionship with it; be careful, in other words, because he too
           fell into all of this stu$ that leads nowhere but repentance, ‘forgive me I too
           cheered with the rest’. Bear in mind the timing of this lyric (%('"), Parnell was
           dead and Home Rule was the dominant language on the political landscape.
           It was in the evol u tionary period which preceded the revolutionary period and
           French, though mournful was extremely mindful and as always had his !nger
           on the pulse.

     •$•                                                 FRENCH AWAKENINGS
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