1912 - Words and Music by Jack Judge and Harry Williams
The history of the origin of “It’s A Long Long Way To Tipperary” includes a bet, a change of title, and a dispute about where it was written. There are rival claims as to where the song was written between Balsall Common near Solihull in the West Midlands and Stalybridge in Greater Manchester.
In Balsall Common there is the Tipperary pub where Harry Williams lived. Jack Judge, the song’s co-composer and the man who performed it in music halls before WW1, has a life-sized statue commemorating him in Stalybridge along with a plaque on the wall of the pub where he said he wrote the song.
The two men originally met in Oldbury where Jack Judge was making a living selling fish outside a pub. At the time Harry Williams was in a wheelchair after an accident and lived with his parents in The Plough Inn (now renamed The Tipperary) in Temple Balsall. Meg Pybus, great niece of Mr Williams says this is when they started to write songs together and said:
“It’s a Long way to Connemara” was written in 1909. There were a lot of similar ballads because Irish people were leaving Ireland and coming to London and it was a very upsetting thing to leave. She said Mr Judge came from Ireland and “Harry was able to put down exactly what he felt”.
In Stalybridge they tell a different story claiming Jack Judge wrote the song overnight in 1912 to win a bet. It was written at the now-demolished New Market Tavern and was given its first public performance the following night at the Grand Theatre.
Apparently Jack Judge was bet five shillings (25p) that he couldn’t write a song in 24 hours and as he was making his way to his digs that night a man, possibly drunk, was trying to find his way home and said he had a long, long way to go. Judge tied that up with the fact that his own parents were from Ireland and the rest is history.
However, there is no argument that he was appearing in the Grand Theatre in January 1912, but Ms Pybus believes he ‘pulled a fast one’ to win the bet.
“He had the Connemara song with him and I won’t say he lied, but he pretended he’d written it [overnight]. “When he got back to the pub I think Harry was extremely angry, but on the other hand it worked.”
As war with Germany became more likely their publisher suggested turning their music hall number into a marching song by adding a second ‘long’ to the title. And so It’s A Long Way to Connemara became It’s A Long, Long Way To Tipperary.
A Daily Mail journalist, George Curnock, saw some soldiers of the Connaught Rangers singing the song as they disembarked in France in August 1914. He reported this in the dispatch he sent back to his newspaper and that popularised the song to a big readership. In November it was recorded by a popular Irish singer called John McCormack and was a big hit single.”