Posted by: Ardcrú Books | December 1, 2014

Are There Two Galway Bays?

IMG_1353By Ronan Nolan

There is only one Galway Bay – but there are indeed two songs of that name. The first, known to many as The Old Galway Bay and made famous by Dolores Keane, was written by-

Francis Fahy (1854-1935).
Born on September 29, 1854, into a family of 17, eight of whom survived. Francis Fahy’s father, Thomas, came from the Burren area and his mother was Celia Marlborough, who was born near Gort. A very bright lad at school, he became an assistant teacher in Kinvara Boys School.
At Christmas, 1866, his first play, The Last of the O’Leary’s, in which he played the lead role, was performed at Kinvara Courthouse. His poem The Exile was published in The Nation in December, 1870.
He took a civil service exam and emigrated to England in 1873. His father sold the family hotel and both parents emigrated to England to live with their son.
While on a return visit in 1899, Francis met his future wife Agnes Duff from Limerick. His poem, Maid of Garryowen, dedicated to her, was published later that year. They married two years later.
They lived in Clapham, London, and Agnes bore four sons, one of whom, Dermott, unveiled the commemmorative plaque at Fahy’s place of birth, now John Griffith’s pub, The Plaid Shawl, in 1967.
In London he helped found the Southwark Literary Club, to engender a love of Irish culture amongst the children of Irish emigrants. This became the Irish Literary Society, and later, the Irish Texts Society, being addressed by the likes of Yeats and Shaw.
In 1886, he became president of the emerging Conradh na Gaeilge in London, a position hew held until 1908. Described as a small, brisk man, he retired form the Civil Service at 65, and died on april 1, 1935, aged 81.
His most memorable poems and songs include The Ould Plaid Shawl, The Queen of Connemara, the original Galway Bay, and The Tide Full In. His publications included: The Child’s Irish Song Book, 1881, The Irish Reciter, 1882, Irish History in Rhyme, 1882, and Irish Songs and Poems, 1887.

Here is his version of Galway Bay.

It’s far away I am today
from scenes I roamed as a boy
And long ago the hour, I know
I first saw Illinois
Not time nor tide nor water wide
could wean my heart away
But straight and true ’twill fly to you
my own dear Galway Bay.

My chosen bride is by my side
her brown hair silver-grey
Our daughter Rose as like her grows
as April dawn to day
Our eldest son, our chosen one
his father’s pride and stay
With gifts like these I’d live at ease
Beside you Galway Bay.

By shore and creek both grey and bleak
the rugged rocks abound
But sweeter green the grass between
than grows on Irish ground
So friendhip fond all else beyond
and love to live always
Bless each dear home beside your foam
my own dear Galway Bay.

Had I youth’s blood and hopeful mood
and heart of fire once more
For all the gold the earth could hold
I’d never leave your shore
I’d live content whatever God sent
midst neighbours old and grey
And leave my bones ‘neath churchyard stones
beside you Galway Bay.

The blessings of a poor old man
be with you night and day
The blessings of a poor old man
whose heart will soon be clay
‘Tis all the heaven I ask of God
upon my dying day
My soul to soar forever more
above you, Galway Bay.

Dr Arthur Colahan (1884-1952)
The Galway Bay made famous by Bing Crosby was written by Dr Arthur Colahan in his adopted city of Leicester. He was born in Enniskillen on August 12, 1884 and, still a boy, moved to The Crescent in Galway. He qualified as a medical doctor at University College, Galway, in 1913. When the First World War broke out he joined the British Army Medical Corps, Ireland being then a part of the British empire. He became a captain and served in India.
Although he was to visit the city of his birth regularly throughout his life, Arthur Colahan settled down in Leicester where he established a medical practice. He married Maisie Curley who also came from Galway. He pracitised psyciatry and was regarded as a specialist in neurology.
Whenever he returned to Galway he would gather with his brothers and sisters and they would sing until late into the night. According to Michael Hannon of Galway he wrote Galway Bay in 1927, years before it gained popularity among the general public. Close friends and relatives knew the words and melody. In fact it was being sung in Ireland many years before its publication.
Years later while Dr Colahan was again holidaying in Ireland, a music promoter heard him singing the song. The promoter did a deal with him and the song was published in Dublin. The line “For the English came and tried to teach us their way” was replaced by “For the strangers came and …” It was broadcast regularly on Radio Eireann and became a firm favourite among Irish-Americans after Bing Crosby recorded it.
While the song has become an evergreen, but Dr Arthur Colahan was forgotten, according to Michael Hannon, until in 1986 when Leicester City Council erected a plaque on the wall of his former home at 8 Prebend Street to honour him as a composer and as a medical doctor.
One who did remember him was his sister-in-law Gertie O’Conner who emigrated to Boston. “He was a funny little man who had little interest in either money or glory,” she said. “A very gentle and humble man.”
Other songs he composed include The Claddagh Ring, A Storeen Bawn, The Kylemore Pass, Until God’s Day and Machusla Mine. He died in Leicester on September 15, 1952, and is buried in Galway.

(Dr Arthur Colahan)
If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Then maybe at the closing of your day
You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay.

Just to hear again the ripple of the trout stream
The women in the meadows making hay
And to sit beside a turf fire in the cabin
And to watch the barefoot Gosoons at their play.

For the breezes blowing o’er the seas from Ireland
Are perfumed by the heather as they blow
And the women in the uplands diggin’ praties
Speak a language that the strangers do not know.

For the strangers came and tried to teach us their way
They scorned us just for being what we are
But they might as well go chasing after moonbeams
Or light a penny candle from a star.

And if there is going to be a life hereafter
And somehow I am sure there’s going to be
I will ask my God to let me make my heaven
In that dear land across the Irish Sea.



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