Paddy Made Us Happy

By Bill McEvoy

The passing of Paddy Fallon at his home in Castleknock, County Dublin, March 18 removes from among us a truly colourful entertainer and immensely popular Fear An Tí, a legendary character who brought joy and happiness to many an Irish heart especially those in exile over his many years on the concert stage.

Paddy was born in Corrigeenroe near Boyle, County Roscommon more than 80 years ago. He was the oldest of five children, two boys and three girls. His father had a small farm and a blacksmith’s forge. He attended the local school and left after his primary certificate. In a joking way, he often referred to his youth as a time of great uncertainty. He remembered the lines from the late John Cowley’s verse, which go as follows:

My school days were full of confusion, I wasn’t bright, I’ll tell you the truth. My parents came to the conclusion, That I wasn’t fit for Maynooth. Too tall for a dwarf in a circus, Still I hadn’t the height for the guards, An in-between ignorant gasún Ill-designed for financial reward.

It was here near the plains of Boyle that Paddy grew up and became of age. He joined the Irish Army around 1941 and served there till 1946. During his service in the Army he rose to the rank of Army Sergeant. It was in the Army that Paddy became interested in becoming a barber. Joking about these good old days and gents hairdressing, he said “if the lads had to pay for haircuts, they would have nothing left” Meaning the paycheck was so small.

It was during his service in the Irish Army that Paddy linked up with another jovial character. John Colum Mulligan from Mohill, County Leitrim. From then on they both remained lifelong friends. But they became separated when Colum Mulligan decided on coming to America where he helped with the founding of Comhaltas here in 1972 and served as Regional Co-ordinator until he returned to Ireland in 1989.

Paddy Fallon was first introduced to North America audiences in the late seventies as a member of annual Comhaltas Concert Tour wich was really booming at that time. On the earlier tours, Labhras O’Murchu had served as Fear An Tí, telling numerous jokes that he had picked up from his travels in Ireland. As Comhaltas continued to expand, Labhras found that he could no longer travel with the concert tour.

The general feeling was that despite the great talent in those days, there was a missing link, we needed a humourous presenter that would add a new dimension to the already popular show. Paddy Fallon was selected and became an instant hit, particularly with the native born Irish living here, who could immediately associate with his hilarious jokes about life back home. Nobody escaped from his ready wit, particularly the performers on the show who took their licks as Paddy introduced them to the audience. If anyone came from Cavan, they were sure to bear the brunt of his untiring wit. He had a particular affinity for Cavan, and could easily imitate the Cavan accent leaving one to feel that he was born in Mullahorn. He depicted the Cavan people as being very frugal, tight with money, they weren’t spenders at all. He often told the joke about the Cavan man who had a hip replacement. Before leaving the hospital he asked the doctor for the bone that he removed from his hip! The fact is Mullahorn and Cavan were his favourite haunts, he rarely ever missed a Cavan Festival.

As the years went by, Paddy became a permanent fixture on Comhaltas tours. He was known loved and respected from Boston to San Francisco and from New Foundland to the Island of Vancouver in British Columbia. When the Concert Tour was announced in early Spring, it was not unusual to hear people asking “will Paddy be coming?” He was responsible for filling many a concert hall. Together with his B.Flat Bodhrán and untiring wit, he articulated the Emerald Isle on the concert stages of the world. He was a true Ambassador who brough a joy to many an Irish heart in exile.

Then there came a time when Paddy had to relinquish his place on the Comhaltas tour. He never lost interest in the organisation, he continued to entertain at local funcitons. He and I remained good friends. He told me about having to go to hospital for treatment. Don’t come to see me he would say, I’ll be home before you get to the hospital. Then as time went by, I got the sad news that his illness was more serious. Paddy still remained jovial and light hearted to the end. The announcement of his passing brought great sadness to Comhaltas here in North America.

Paddy will not be coming to us again, and we will surely miss him. The legacy he left will live on and the ideals which he espoused will always serve as a beacon to all who wish to embrace our Irish culture and tradition. “Keep sending the money”, was his clarion call, a call that did not go unheeded by audiences and supporters everywhere, a call that now seems to have lost its relevance as we try to embrace this new era of modernisation and technology.

It was great to have known Paddy Fallon, we were all enriched by his boundless spirit.

On behalf of Comhaltas North America, we extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Emily and the Fallon family.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.