C.S. Lewis, Percy French and their Love of The Mourne Mountains

Updated: Mar 2

The Mountains of Mourne in County Down are well known for their majestic beauty with their peaks shadowing the beaches. The highest of these peaks is Slieve Donard, The Mournes as they are referred to by locals are steeped in history and Irish folklore. It is unsurprising that these 12 mountain peaks have inspired many authors and artists.

At The Harrison we have the CS Lewis and Percy French rooms both of whom are prolific international writers of poetry and prose and who loved the Mournes. To view these rooms click here.

Percy French

Percy French (1854-1920) had remarkable talents for song writing, dramatics, banjo playing and water colour painting.. He died over eighty years ago but his songs live on, as do recollections of Percy himself who was quite the character and loved by all wherever he travelled.

Percy French - Water color of the Mourne Mountains


Percy French is said to have written his most famous song ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ after seeing them from Skerries, North of Dublin in 1896. His sister in law Countess Annesley owned land in the Mournes and this seems to have started Percy’s link to Newcastle and nearby villages and towns dotted around the coast at the foot of the mountains.

The song was recorded by Don McLean in 1973, and achieved international success It tells the tale of a young man who moves to London and writes home to Mary, yearning to be back. In real life Mary was a Mary Hodgson, married to Dr Samuel Ferguson Floyd. Percy stayed with the couple often at their home in Kilkeel at the foot of The Mournes. And when Percy was over in London Mary wrote to him asking the question that prompted the song "How's London "?



Oh, Mary, this London's a wonderful sight With people here working by day and by night They don't sow potatoes nor barley nor wheat But there's gangs of them diggin' for gold in the street At least when I asked them, that's what I was told So I just took a hand at this diggin' for gold But for all that I've found there, I might as well be In the place where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.


To hear the original version with some beautiful footage of the scenery click here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4M_0Bvk10Q

CS Lewis

CS Lewis holidayed with his Mother and brother for six weeks every year around the Mourne Mountains located near the seaside town of Newcastle Co Down.

C.S. Lewis wrote : "I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge,'


'I yearn to see County Down in the snow, one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.'

'That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.' C.S. Lewis On the summit of the Mournes are two prehistoric Cairns which are believed to be the entrance to the other world or Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal beauty and youth. The young Jack, as CS Lewis liked to be called, was captivated by the idea of such stones leading to another magical kingdom.

C S Lewis returned to the Mournes as a young man in 1915 for an Easter holiday and wrote this poem.

Old, snow pure wells

Sweet with the spring tide’s scent

Forsaken fells

That I only frequent-

And uplands bare

Would call for me above,

Were I not there

To roam the hills I love

For I alone

Have loved their loneliness:

None else hath known

Nor seen the goodliness

Of the green hills of Down The soft low hills of Down.


Smugglers

The mountains were not only a dream location for writers, but the wilderness was also a favorite hideout spot for smugglers looking to avoid taxes on luxury goods and outwit the authorities. In the 19th century, ships loaded down with silk, spices, and brandy would land on the coast near Newcastle and then the cargo would be carried over the mountains, following a trail known as the “Brandy Pad” which can still be walked today.


Come and stay at The Harrison only 30 miles from the Mournes.

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