Page 4 - The 16th Percy French Festival: Our Great Disconnect
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The Jarvey, 1889–1890: The Irish Punch?



           Although it was not until the early 1890s that William Percy French embarked
           on a career as a professional entertainer, for many years before this he had been
           delighting family, schoolmates, his fellow university students, work colleagues and
           a wide circle of friends and acquaintances with his versatility as a comic artist, with
           amusing songs (usually accompanied by playing the banjo) forming a prom inent
           part of his humorous repertoire. As several scholars have noted, French was much
           keener on his comic performances than he was on his studies or the two main jobs
           that he worked at after eventually completing his engi neering degree at Trinity
           College Dublin, f rstly as apprentice engineer on the Midland Great West ern Rail way
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           and then as a Board of Works inspector of loans to tenants in Co. Cavan in the 1880s.
           When visiting farms in Cavan as a self-styled ‘Inspector of Drains’ French often travel -
            led by tricycle or bicycle. Using cycles allowed French and his friend, J. W. Weekes, to
           visit more farms in a day than if they had relied on outside cars. French was also able
           to save the 9d. per mile travelling expenses which the Board of Works paid its of   -
           cials. The time that the two friends saved as a result of cycling was devoted to one
           of their favourite pursuits, playing the fashionable game of tennis at country houses
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           in Cavan.  Cycling was more than a mere utilitarian activ ity for French at this time,
           as evidenced by the fact in 1888 he also made occa sional comic sketches to Ireland’s
           only cycling newspaper, The Irish Cyclist, which was edited by a man who was soon
           to become a friend of French’s, Richard James Mecredy. Mecredy was obviously
           impressed by French’s contribu tions, because when French approached him
           towards the end of 1888 for a per ma nent post on The Irish Cyclist after his Board of
           Works employment was termin ated, Mecredy respond ed instead by of ering him
           the position of editor of a new weekly comic paper that he was about to publish,
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           which was to be called The Jarvey.

           The f rst edition of  The Jarvey was published on 3rd January 1889. (Illus. 1) Costing
           2d., its contents consisted of one page of advertisements (many of which were for
           publications produced by Mecredy and Kyle, printers of The Irish Cyclist), with the
           rest consisting of a series of cartoons, drawings, jokes, comic poems and amusing
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           comments on incidents of Irish life as well as events over seas.  This set the general
           pattern for The Jarvey for the two years of its existence. In order to drum up public ity,
           advance copies were sent to editors of the Irish national and provincial press. Several
           of these responded by printing their favour able impres sions of the new publication,
           thereby helping to publicise it, but not all responses were complimen tary. Sport’s
           editor stated on 5th January that ‘Some of the jokes I have seen before, while some
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           of the others I do not even see now’.  However, he softened this by add ing: ‘All the
           same, here is luck and long life to  The Jarvey’. The most negative review came from
           another Dublin publication, the society newspaper Irish Society, which was owned
           by the publisher Ernest Manico. The editor recorded his disap poi ntment at The


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