Fahy, Francis Arthur (1854–1935), songwriter and Irish-language activist, was born 27 September 1854 at Kinvara, Co. Galway, one of eight children of Thomas Fahy, shopkeeper, of Co. Clare, and Celia Fahy (née Marlborough) of Gort, Co. Galway. Educated at Kinvara national school, he moved to London (1873) and spent his working life with the British civil service, where he was a clerk at the board of trade. In London he became one of the best-known and respected members of the Irish community over the following six decades, and his house at Crozier St., Lambeth, was a regular meeting place for the Irish in London. He started a branch of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain, which later became a branch of the Land League, and then the Irish National League.
In 1881 he founded the Southwark Junior Literary Club to teach Irish language and culture to the children of emigrants. In January 1883 he co-founded and was president of the Southwark Literary Club to spread a knowledge of Irish literature and to cultivate Irish talent. This, in turn, developed into the Irish Literary Society (December 1891). He was also a member of Cumann na Scríbheann Gaeilge, founded in 1898. He was not a native speaker, but became a competent one, and was president of the Gaelic League in London (1896–1906).
Although it was his songs that brought him acclaim, his first creative foray was the staging of his play ‘The last of the O'Learys’ in Kinvara (1870). His first poem appeared in the Nation that same year. As part of his Southwark activities, two books were published, The child's Irish songbook (n.d.) and Irish history in rhyme (n.d.). He was the leading figure of the Southwark Literary Club's ‘original night’ and his contributions were published in Irish songs and poems under the nom-de-plume ‘Dreoilín’ (1887). He also co-wrote Ireland in London (1889) with D. J. O'Donoghue (qv) and wrote A Gaelic League catechism (n.d.). Amongst the many newspapers he wrote for were the Dublin Journal, the Weekly Sun, the Shamrock, the Irish People, the Weekly Freeman, and the United Irishman. He briefly produced his own newspaper, Erin, for the Irish in London. He also lectured extensively, and a memorandum that he wrote on bilingualism influenced a debate on Irish education in the house of commons.
A much-loved figure in the Irish community, Fahy with his equable nature was crucial to holding the disparate elements of the various London-Irish societies together. His songs, especially ‘The ould plaid shawl’, ‘Little Mary Cassidy’, ‘Galway Bay’, and ‘The Donovans’, were hugely popular. He married (1891) Agnes Duff of Limerick; they had four sons. He died 1 April 1935 in Clapham, London, and was buried in Putney Vale cemetery. A collection of newspaper cuttings on his life is in the NLI. In 1949 P. S. O'Hegarty (qv) edited a collection of his work, The ould plaid shawl and other songs.