A periodical series of reflections on recorded and unrecorded works by Charles Villiers Stanford
by Christopher Howell
18. Father O’Flynn
A favourite with our grandparents, the rollicking Irish song Father O’Flynn has rather faded from view. Today you are more likely to hear, from bands specializing in traditional Irish music, a lively jig that often goes under this name but would more properly be called The Top of Cork Road. Recordings in the years 1899-1931 applied lax standards to the labelling of their wares. Since Father O’Flynn as a song is mainly hunted down by collectors of old recordings, you will find it described variously as composed by Stanford, arranged by Stanford, a work by A.P. Graves and an Irish traditional melody. There is part truth in all of these, so let me try to sort it out.
A.P. Graves’s claim to be the author of the words is not usually doubted, but there has been a suggestion that they originated in a broadsheet published by the Poet’s Box of Dundee. Anyone can put things on the Internet, but this is from the site of the National Library of Scotland, which lends it some authority. They suggest a date c.1880-1900 and remark that “Father O’Flynn’s name has a definite Irish origin and the lyrics of the song refer to areas in and the ideals of Ireland. … It is not clear from this sheet though whether the lyrics were written in Dundee or if they were copied directly from an existing Irish tune. … Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites”. So, apparently, anonymous words to an unidentified traditional tune.