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Johnny Patterson

Date of Birth: 
Date of Death: 

Johnny Patterson was born at a roadside forge house in Kilbarrnon, Feakle.  He was orphaned at a young age and was reared by his uncle Mark in Ennis.  Mark noticed his musical ability and encouraged him to become a young drummer boy with the army band in Limerick.

He developed an exceptional talent for comedy and witty songwriting and also eventually became a popular circus clown. 


American circuses had long realised the audience potential that existed among the Irish emigrant population and were always on the lookout for new talent.  Word of Johnny’s act reached Cooper and Baiiley’s circus and an agent was sent to engage him.  Realising that an opportunity like this might never present itself again, he signed a one year contract.  It is not clear what relationship existed between him and his wife at this stage, but on his departure for America, the three children were put in the care of his sister Betty, now married in Killaloe, While Selena continued on her own circus career.  So in 1876, Johnny set out to conquer America.  Writing what must have been one of the first advertising jingles, he wrote the now forgotten Cunard Line.
“On the 17th March which is known as Patrick’s Day,
From out the River Mersey the “Batavia” sailed away;
We first put in at Quenstown for passengers and the mail,
Then our ship she slewed around and for America did sail”’
For would be emigrants he concluded with the advice;
“Now I’ll give advice to all my friend who think of leaving home,
To travel by the Cunard Line when ere they wish to roam;
For safety and civility I’m sure they take the shine,
Oh, there’s no boats half so jolly as the Cunard Line.” 
How lucky Johnny must have considered himself as he sailed to America as a comfortable cabin passenger when he could so easily have been numbered among the thousands of his countrymen who made the journey under sadder conditions as destitute emigrants, and he now composed an emigrant song which soon became popular all over America, “Goodbye Johnny Dear”.
On landing in America, Johnny quickly adapted to the faster pace of life and realised that he needed that extra something, which would make his act stand out from the countless others on the market.  The stage Irishman was emerging at this time but Johnny would not change his act.   While prepared to laugh at himself as an Irishman, he wanted to show there was something deeper in the Irish, a sharp native wit, a keen sense of humour, and a musical appreciation. He recalled a song he had learned as a boy and adapted it as his signature tune.  The song “The Rambler from Clare.” was an old ballad dating from the rising of 1798 but it suited him perfectly and he was billed in America as “Johnny Patterson, The Rambler From Clare.
He spent 9 successful years in New York and then returned to Ireland.  His nostalgic lyrics in these songs such as "The gardens where the praties grow" and "The stone outside Dan Murphys door" indicated how he observed the impact of leaving Ireland on emigrants and how they enjoyed music and humour.
Other popular Ballads written by him were "The gardens where the praties grow" and "The stone outside Dan Murphy's door" 

Ennis Arts Festival featured his story during a special festival which paid tribute to his talent.


Thank you to Harry Bradshaw and Clare County Library