“The lights of London are far behind us”, the unmistakable opening lyrics of Home to Donegal, and one of the most beloved songs to come out of Inishowen, is now an internet sensation.
Just over a week ago, Greencastle's Patsy Cavanagh, who wrote the evocative waltz, set up a Facebook page to curate and celebrate the song and the artists all over the world who have performed it.
More than a dozen videos later and counting, Patsy said it was especially nice to see younger singers covering the song.
Speaking to Inish Live, Patsy said Home to Donegal was written over a couple of evenings in 1989.
He added: “It has the very simple theme of coming home for the summer holidays. I would have been playing in a lot of hotels at the time and you would see the person coming in with their parents for a meal and the sing song.
“On Sunday mornings, you would meet some of them visiting their family cemetery to say a prayer, so the words sort of wrote themselves. Over the years, Home to Donegal has been recorded by Daniel O'Donnell, Mick Flavin, Nathan Carter, Lisa McHugh, Skerryvore, Celtic Brothers and lots more.
“There are so many good versions of Home to Donegal recorded it is impossible to pick a favourite. I still think it is humbling to think these fine musicians are rehearsing my song and adding their talent to it. I enjoy listening to each new version I hear to see what they have added to it.
“I decided to set up the Home to Donegal Facebook page because every few days I would see another version of the song on Facebook or YouTube. I like to keep tabs on my songs, so I decided on gathering all these versions on one page with some information on the singer.
Not just the professional recordings but there are so many online with someone sitting with guitar or backing track. It is especially nice to see young singers covering it,” said Patsy.
According to Patsy, a lot of the performers have taken Home to Donegal away from the original waltz time but he thinks that is good too.
He said: “I have heard a couple who have gone completely over the top with it!
“Originally, I was going to keep the page private but so many people have their story to share about the song that I have left it public and, so far, I have received very nice feedback.
“Several singers have posted their version of the song to me. It will be great to have them all together. Lots of people have a St Mary's in their life and can identify with the words. I have versions in Danish, Norwegian and Irish, versions on piano, saxophone, accordion and keyboard. I have even heard choirs and schoolchildren singing Home to Donegal.
“Some performers substitute the word Donegal with the name of their own area, so it's good to be aware of that,” said Patsy.
Home to Donegal received an IMRO award in 2018.
Patsy said he got a pleasant surprise when he was told the news and he now has the disc proudly displayed on the wall.
A prolific songwriter, Patsy has had 15 songs recorded by other artists.
“But, Home to Donegal is the one most people identify me with so it has to be one of my favourites,” said Patsy.
During the lockdowns, Patsy said he finished some “bits and pieces”.
“I wrote a small book, Home to Donegal and other stories, about my songs in November 2019 and it had a great run.
“I included lots of local photographers' pictures and that added a lot to it. I then compiled a CD to accompany the book and the two, combined, went very well. The local papers were very supportive and I got a call from Joe Duffy’s Liveline to chat about the book, which gave it a great boost. All that, plus Facebook, made it a nice wee project.
“I did a few songs online but I wouldn’t be all that comfortable with it. I also compiled a concert with The Cairn Theatre Group, when everyone came at different times to do their songs but it wasn't the same as a live audience.
“The Cairn has not had a show for two years and the future is not too clear yet. If everything keeps improving we plan to do a show over the summer. The Cairn summer show had become part of peoples', locals and tourists alike, summer on a Tuesday evening, so, here’s hoping,” Patsy continued.
Meanwhile, he mused that there would be long lasting effects from the lockdown.
“I think it's very important to keep occupied. I had a few photos of neighbours from years gone by and I put them on Facebook. Other people started adding to it and it became the page, ‘Moville to Shroove, people that we used to know’.
“At present there are around 600 photos of people from around the area and plenty of stories and comments. It surprises me to see the kindly comments about some people who never heard a kindly comment when they were living
“Since the mid 1990s, I have presented living history through music and drama in primary schools in Donegal and throughout Northern Ireland.
“Like everything else school visits came to a halt with Covid so I developed an online school visit through Zoom. This has opened doors further afield as I can do a school in Cork or Kerry as handy as one in Inishowen. Children adapt very quickly to working online so I plan on keeping this going to the summer.
“In the meantime, if anyone performs a version of Home to Donegal and would like to see it on the page please get in touch at: email@example.com,” said Patsy.
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