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It's a long, long way to Tipperary: inspiring peace, not war

The annual Tipperary Peace Convention takes place this week as the song which inspired it celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Bronze statue commemorating Jack Judge in Stalybridge, England
Bronze statue commemorating Jack Judge in Stalybridge, England
Image: Cyan22 via Wikimedia

A SONG THAT was written as a result of a five shilling bet in a small English town a century ago continues to have a major impact on Tipperary Town.

One hundred years on, ‘It’s a long, long way to Tipperary’ is instantly recognisable but it has also associated its eponymous town with war…and now peace.

The music hall song was penned by English musician Jack Judge in January 1912 after he performed his ‘song overnight trick’ at the Grand Theatre in Stalybridge, just east of Manchester.

A few things happened in the next two years which ensured its place in musical lore.

Judge advertised his song for less than a year before a royalty agreement was signed by Bert Feldman on 18 September 1912. Florrie Forde, a music hall artiste, took the song on her tour and, according to Dr Terry Daniels of the Oldbury Local History Group, the tune was well received leading to an official recording in 1914.

Judge himself sang the song in Dublin where, crucially for its longevity, it was heard by a number of Irish Connaught Rangers. Those same soldiers made up part of a force that was caught singing the song by a Daily Mail reporter who included lines from it in his report that day.

It is believed the war correspondent described hearing songs from each company, battalion and regiment on that same day but singled out ‘Tipperary’ because he was not familiar with it.

After that publication, other army units began to sing it, while civilians went out to buy the sheet music. It was translated into dozens of languages and snippets were used on posters.

Its status as an unofficial anthem was sealed when the war ended in November 1918. A lone soldier reportedly made his way into the ruined town of Mons in Belgium, climbed to the top of the belfry as the song was played.

‘It’s a long, long way to Tipperary’ had become a war time tune, despite its origin as a fanciful bet and its subject matter – a young Irish man going to London but writing to his girl back home.

Judge, although only 44 when the age of conscription was raised to 46, avoided the trenches because of an exemption granted as it was deemed he would do more good by raising funds and spirit at home. However, he did not escape the tragedy of the Great War as his son John died in action.

It's a long, long way to Tipperary: inspiring peace, not war
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  • Tipperary Cover

  • Jack Judge

  • Loss

  • Bamforth Cards depicting the story in 'Tipperary'

  • Bamforth Cards depicting the story in 'Tipperary'

  • Bamforth Cards depicting the story in 'Tipperary'

  • Bamforth Cards depicting the story in 'Tipperary'

Stalybridge in England celebrated the 100th anniversary of the song in January but Tipperary has been recognising the composer’s connections to the county for almost 30 years.

The Tipperary Peace Convention, which begins today and runs through the weekend, was set up as a response to Tipperary Town’s long association with war because of the tune.

Martin Quinn from the Tipperary Peace Convention told TheJournal.ie that the Englishman had links with Tipperary through his father but it was the song he wrote that has been the most enduring bridge.

“The objective in 1983 when the festival was established was to change what Tipp was known for.”

It was known the world over because of the song, which is of course a World War I song. A group of people came together and felt that modern Tipperary should be associated with peace. The convention aimed to foster and develop peace while acknowledging the past.

For the past 29 years, the convention has ran open discussion forums and a song contest, as well as presenting a special peace award. This year, former president Mary McAleese and her husband, Senator Martin McAleese will receive the honour. The formal ceremony is due to take place this afternoon at the Ballykisteen Hotel while a civic reception will be held later by the Town Council.

Tomorrow, the annual Peace Forum will be headed by a four-strong panel, including former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, former Ulster Unionist Party member and current Irish News columnist Roy Garland, Reverend David Carr and Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. The topic of the talk will be how the lessons of the troubled past can be used when planning for a peaceful future.

On Saturday night, the 10 finalists in the Tipperary International Song of Peace Contest will battle it out for the €1,500 prize. The songwriters, who have all submitted a song with a theme of peace, hail from Ireland, the UK and the US. Irish singer Mundy is also due to perform.

-Special thanks to Dr Terry Daniels for providing background information on the Judges of Oldbury

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