February 2, 1962
By Joe Minogue
“It’s a long way to Tipperary,” the song that has lasted a lifetime and gathered its own moss of memories, is 50 years old. This jaunty simply worded song has survived the demise of the music halls in which it was first sung. It came safely through trench fever and Tickler’s jam in the First World War, took its demobilized, out-at-elbows place in the soup and singsongs of the thirties, echoed year in and year out through Saturday nights in thousand of pubs, raised fresh smiles or sniggers in its bowdlerized versions-in the last War, and is now wavering sotto voce in semi-retirement in “the cup of tea and a bit of a song” atmosphere of the old people’s clubs . . .
The song has humble origins-in Stalybridge. Yesterday, Mr. Leo Harris recalled how it came to be written there in January 1912. Mr. Harris and his partner were on the same bill at the Grand as Jack Judge, a fishmonger who had turned singer comedian, after two Monday night houses with wooden audiences the three were discussing the need for a new song to “really shake ’em up”. Judge claimed that he could write a song that night and sing it on the stage the next. Mr. Harris bet him a pound-quickly scaled down to 5s-that he could not. Mr. Harris recalls that the next day Judge “had the dots” to prove it.
They were discussing future bookings and Judge said that from Birmingham he was going to Tipperary. “I said that’s a long way, Jack, from Birmingham to Tipperary,” Mr. Harris remembered, “He said, ‘you can’t pick and choose these days,’ and I said “That’s true, but it’s a long way to Tipperary.”’ Judge jumped up- “knocking beer over the table” and shouted: “That’s it, the title I have been looking for.” The following night Judge sang “Tipperary” but Stalybridge did not open its heart and the song languished until the following year when Florrie Forde vitalized it enough to become the feature of her Isle of Man season.