The Mourne Mountains e1586188988363
The Mourne Mountains e1586188988363

Percy French Sculpture Unveiled

In 2020, a Percy French sculpture was unveiled in County Down in honor of the famous composer/songwriter who wrote the popular Irish song, “Mountains of Mourne.”

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The new piece of art is located on the grounds of the Slieve Donard Hotel, where the Mourne Mountain Range provides a picturesque backdrop and where the mountains “drop down to the sea” outside the town of Newcastle.

Incorporating the words to the famous song, the Percy French memorial contains three metal panels.

It was commissioned by the hotel to mark the centenary of French’s death in 1920.

French was not a native of Co. Down.

In fact, he was born in Co. Roscommon, which is about a 3-hour drive southwest from Newcastle.
The beautiful Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

His first wife, Ettie, who died in childbirth, was a sister of Countess Annesley, whose family owned the land on the mountain range.

That inspired him to write about the region, which is renowned for its spectacular natural beauty.
While that was undoubtedly his most popular creation, French penned several other tunes, many of them humorous.
These are the stunning Mourne Mountains, including Slieve Donard, its highest peak at 849 meters (2,785 feet) as seen from Murlough beach. Photo: Andy SG for Getty Images Pro.

They included Phil The Fluther’s Ball, Slattery’s Mounted Foot, Are You Right There Michael, and Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.

Surrounding the Percy French sculpture are four granite seats, which are dedicated to French’s second wife and daughters, with special waymarkers to several locations associated with the composer/songwriter.

They include his birthplace in Roscommon; Ballyjamesduff; Drumcolligher in Co. Limerick, a town he once stayed in and wrote a song about; the English town of Formby, where he died, as well as the city of London.
The interior of the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa. Photo courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland.

The Slieve Donard Hotel, with its stunning views of the Co. Down coastline, is a fine example of a Victorian hotel complete with balconies, dormers, and a seven-story tower.

It was originally built by the Belfast and County Down Railway as an “end-of-line” holiday destination.

Construction began in 1896 and was finished by 1898.

While much of its original interiors are gone, the outside of the hotel is similar to the way it would have looked when it was built.
Afternoon tea at holiday time at the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

Visitors planning to spend a few hours in the area can cap off their day with an afternoon tea at Slieve Donard?

The tea must be booked in advance.

A selection of finger sandwiches, home-baked cakes and pastries, and tea is available for $28 per person. Check out a sample menu here.


people hiking Percy French sculpture
Hiking in the Mourne Mountains. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

Walking and Hiking in the Mourne Mountains Region

The “Mournes” as they are affectionately known, offer some of the best hillwalking and rock climbing in the province.

There are several accessible walks in this region.

Serious walkers and hikers can check out the Walk NI website, where walkers guides can be downloaded.

Information on the historic Mourne Wall, a 1.5 meter-high dry-stone wall (about 5 feet), which stretches for 32 km (20 miles) across the mountain range, is also included.

The Mourne Wall was built between 1904 and 1922 by the Belfast Water Commissioners to enclose the catchment area for the Silent Valley Reservoir, which supplies most of the water for County Down, including Belfast.

Read More: 24 Hours in Belfast on a Budget

It is a very challenging route and is only suitable for those who are able to withstand long-distance walking at high elevations.

It is no doubt one of the best mountainous walks on the island of Ireland.

rocks in a river Percy French sculpture
The beautiful Mournes region with Slieve Donard in the distance. Photo: Dawid Kalisinski Photography for Getty Images.

Some of the other, more manageable treks include the Donard Forest Walk, a 3-mile walk with commanding views of Newcastle town, Dundrum Bay, St. John’s Point, and Slieve Croob; the Fairy Glen Circular Walk, which includes a combination of scenic parkland and woodland; and the Hare’s Gap, a 2-mile walk that takes walkers through the most dramatic pass of the entire mountain range.

an archway in a forest Percy French sculpture
The Gothic entrance to Tollymore Forest Park. Photo: Chris Hill for Tourism Ireland.

Other attractions in the area include the Tollymore Forest Park, which should be of particular interest to Game of Thrones fans as this was one of the locations for the popular HBO series.

Other, not-to-be-missed attractions in the park include the Victorian folly, known as the Clanbrassil Barn, which is located at the entrance to the park, as well as grottoes, caves, bridges, and more interesting features.

a castle Percy French sculpture
Castlewellan Castle in Co. Down. Photo: George Munday, Tourism Northern Ireland.

Another place to enjoy in the Mournes region is the Castlewellan Forest Park, which is located on the grounds of the Victorian-styled Castlewellan Castle, constructed in 1856 by William Richard Annesley, the 4th Earl of Annesley, and served as his main residence.

The Castlewellan Forest Walk takes visitors around the nearby lake with fabulous views of the mountain range in the distance.

Closer to the castle is a fine garden, a great example of 18th-century landscaping, complete with terraces, fountains, ornamental gates, and flower borders, as well as a collection of rare trees, shrubs, and plants.

Seeing the sculpture of Percy French at Slieve Donard is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring this beautiful region.

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