Percy French may be synonymous with song, but Roscommon’s Renaissance Man left a substantial legacy in other fields, too. Born in 1854, French was the son of a Protestant landlord who went on to work as an engineer and journalist before winning fame as a songwriter (The Mountains of Mourne, Are Ye Right There, Michael) and later, a watercolourist. He was also a concert promoter, poet and banjo player, wrote the libretto for two comic operas, and played the leading role in both! An annual summer school is held in his honour in Castlecoote House.
Turlough O’Carolan, the legendary harpist (1670-1738), lived much of his life in Roscommon. Born in Meath, he moved with his family to Ballyfarnon at the age of 14, where he was blinded by smallpox four years later. For 50 years, O’Carolan travelled the highways and byways of Ireland composing and performing his works, and he is today buried near his home. An annual O’Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and compositions in Keadue.
Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) was Ireland’s first President. Born near Castlerea, he was educated at his home near Frenchpark, and graduated from Trinity College. A lifelong love of the Irish language led him to help found the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) in 1931, and he was a prolific composer of Irish verse under the pen name, ‘An Craoibhín Aoibhinn’. Hyde was elected unopposed as the first President of Ireland in 1938, and his legacy lives on in countless memorials, from the Hyde Museum in Frenchpark to the home of Roscommon GAA, Dr. Hyde Park.
You’ll know Chris O’Dowd as the Hollywood heartthrob from Bridesmaids, or Roy from The IT Crowd. But did you know Ireland’s hottest acting property grew up in Boyle? There’s a clue in his Twitter handle (@BigBoyler), not to mention the many fond memories Chris has of growing up in Roscommon’s undulating countryside. Watch out for those childhood memories in a new sitcom, Moone Boy, which the star co-wrote and filmed in large part around Boyle.
“Everything about Roscommon is home to me. There’s nowhere like it. It’s untouched by the cynicism of modernity, and has remained true to its identity through bubbles and dips. It’s no coincidence that it lies in the heart of Ireland, either. I love walking down to the Doon Shore in Boyle on summer mornings. And Stephen’s Day, when hot toddies are served up during the treasure hunt at Lough Key, remains my favourite time of my year.”
Una Burke has travelled a long way from the lush forests and wildflower-strewn meadows of North Roscommon. Today, the designer is based in London, and her leather accessories and sculptural body pieces have been worn by Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Daphne Guinness. Since studying at the Limerick School of Art and Design, Burke has presented at Milan Fashion Week, seen her work in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and won the title of Irish Designer of the Year 2011.
“I feel so lucky to have grown up in an area of such natural beauty, where I had the freedom to explore and have adventures every day. It was so peaceful and serene, allowing my mind to roam freely and take time to appreciate everything from the tiniest insects to the tallest trees. I loved to spend my days on the swing outside our house, looking up at the treetops and the clouds imagining they were turning into fairytale things. I wandered the meadows picking such enormous bunches of wildflowers that I could often only barely fit both my hands around them. My dad, with his practical farmers’ eye, sometimes pointed out that some were weeds. I strongly disagreed. Living in a city now, I long for this space and freedom, so I try to get home as often as possible. My favourite Roscommon memories surround the beautiful Lough Key and so many summer days spent by her shores or in boats visiting the Islands for picnics with family and friends. I remember incredible summer sunsets over the lake, and wonderful frozen landscapes in the winter.”
Having grown up in Roscommon Town, Ruth Scott has, over the past 10 years, worked her way up to co-hosting one of the most requested shows on 2fm with her voice being instantly recognisable on the national airwaves.
“I’m always going on about my home county of Roscommon. I’m immensely proud of it. It’s amazing scenery has some real hidden gems. Its lakes and wooded walks are amongst Ireland’s finest. Everyone knows that nights out in the county are amazing but I promise you, the days out are even better.”
Cathy Jordan was born in Scramogue, County Roscommon, the youngest of seven children. Her love for traditional singing and music in general was instilled at a young age and music and song was abundant in her house as she grew up. After finishing school Cathy kept herself surrounded by music and worked as a radio DJ on two radio stations, Elphin Radio and Independent Radio Longford as well as playing numerous gigs at the weekends. In 1991 Cathy joined Sligo based traditional group Dervish and started her recording career. Cathy is now the front woman and bodhran player with the group and has led them through thousands of concerts in hundreds of cities in nearly 40 countries. Some of the more memorable of these were playing at the Great Wall of China, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and at the biggest rock music festival in the world - Rock in Rio to over 250 thousand people.
“There is so many things I love about Roscommon. I love walking in the Monagh bogs, they're so unspoiled and wild, I always hear the Cuckoo and see a wild hare down there. I love Antony Beirne's pub in Strokestown, it hasn't changed in years. I used to go there with my father, it's exactly the same as it always was, shop at the front, pub at the back, Bridie and Antony always have a great welcome for you and they love traditional Irish music. Most of all I love the people of Roscommon, they're so friendly andgenuine and always have time to chat and ramble. They're fun loving and quick witted and have mischief in their eyes.”